I was a newbie at Banfield-Seguin Advertising & Design in Ottawa back in the late 80’s when I met Bill.
I had heard so many epic stories about Bill and his antics before I got to know him.
Working with him every day was a hoot. I have never met anyone with more spirit and sense of adventure. He could figure anything out. He had an idea for every prank - no matter how complicated - and a costume for every event. Bill was legendary.
My favourite Bill story took place in 1988.
Bill was contacted by Randy Travis - actually, it was Randy’s “people” - they wanted to do a photo shoot at Bill’s barn. (Yes, THE Randy Travis, the country music star.)
The day before the photo shoot, Bill told Randy’s crew that he was going to call his boss and let him know he was doing this photo shoot at his barn with Randy Travis so he wouldn't be coming in to work.
Well, Randy's people freaked out when he said that! No! You can't tell ANYONE we're coming. It needs to be super secret. TOP secret. We’ll pull the plug on the whole thing if anyone finds out about this.
Bill said, “Trust me.”
So Bill called into work the next day and said, "Hey! Randy Travis and his team just rolled up the driveway with a couple of large trucks and they want to shoot an album cover in my barn, so I won't be coming in to work today. I'm going to stick around here and help them out."
When he told Randy's people what he'd said to his boss, they were shocked. But Bill knew this was the way to go.
Bill knew no one would believe a single word of it. Not one word.
The photo shoot went off without a hitch. No prying eyes or zoom lenses peeking through the bushes. No one from Banfield-Seguin drove out at lunch time to get autographs or sneak a peek.
Bill showed up at work the next day with some interesting Polaroid pictures from the photo shoot. (Way back then, before digital cameras, we used polaroid cameras for test shots. They were handy for taking pictures of dinosaurs.)
Randy Travis got his privacy and a nice album cover. Bill pulled it off.
Bill, as it turns out, was predictable, except when he wasn’t. Always pranking, pulling our leg. And he was hyper aware of how people perceived him. He used this superpower to his advantage.
Do you have a superpower? It can be a skill, a special mindset, or perhaps a unique perspective. Something that comes naturally to you.
Not sure what your superpower is or how to find it? Look at what energizes you, what inspires you! How do you save the day? What feels effortless? How do you amaze others? When do you feel most confident?
Here are a few superpowers I’ve noticed in people I know - clients, friends, and colleagues. See if you recognize some of these traits in others, or maybe in yourself?
Is your superpower...
Figure out your superpower and start spending more of your day wearing your cape!
You probably noticed that I didn’t include superpowers like invisibility, x-ray vision and shape-shifting on my list. If you have any of these special powers then I can’t see you, you can see too much of me or you aren’t what I just thought you were.
A few weeks ago, on my quiet residential street, I saw Alexander’s cool, kinda vintage, burgundy car go by my window on the bed of a tow truck.
Was this out of the usual? Yep. My typical entertainment through that window consists of commuters (some wave to me, hi!), random deer jaywalking, joggers jogging and dog walkers. Normally, I don't pay much attention to the comings and goings while I’m working.
Then Alexander’s car went by.
And on this day, it feels like a monumental event. I immediately fire off a text to his mom to get all the deets. I had to know. I had to know. Turns out, the car just needed a repair - no big deal. Mystery solved. Phew.
I don’t think I would have noticed his car getting towed on a normal day. But lately, not much has been going on outside that window, due to social distancing and stay at home measures. I guess I am a little more distracted and maybe a little less productive for the same reason. My head is up more, and I’m noticing different things.
That really got me thinking about what we pay attention to in our businesses in quieter times, when we have time to look up and take notice of the things happening around us - things we were too busy to notice before we were forced to slow down.
How can you take advantage of this unusual time, now that your head is up and you have time on your hands?
Here are 6 things you can do that you normally can't fit into your day...
1. Go Directly to Your Own Website
I mean, really take the time to go through your site page by page. Read and click through all the links. Make sure your email sign-up link goes to the right place. Any new clients to add to your client page? Do you have new testimonials to add? Have you changed your services lately? How old is your bio picture? (if it’s pre-1997, it might be time to freshen it up!)
2. Get Planning
Take the time to put a solid plan to some of those big goals you’ve been thinking about. It’s crazy the progress you can make when you break those goals down into bite-sized tasks and start chipping away. Go for it.
3. Polish Up Your Skills
I wasn’t really thinking you should learn how to knit, but what about diving in and figuring out some online tools to help you with communications and meetings (ZOOM), content creation (Picmonkey), CRM (Agilecrm), eCommerce (Shopify) or productivity (Evernote). So many tools. So little time.
4. Fire Up Google
Is there something you’ve been wanting to check out - I mean a deep dive? You’ve got time now, to see what your competitors are doing on Facebook or what’s going on with your existing customers (ask them). What about identifying possible new customers and cool promotion opportunities?
5. Get Yourself Organized
What does your workspace look like? Can you see your desk? Are you happy to spend time there? If not, take the time to clear off your workspace and file away (or throw away) everything that’s getting in the way of your productivity.
6. Put your Expenses in Check
A quick review of your credit card statement might reveal monthly payments for apps or programs you no longer use. I paid for an Adobe product for almost a year after signing up for one month. Ooops. The money you can save by putting those monthly expenses into check regularly can really add up.
PS: I know some of us are actually crazy busy right now in our businesses - I had one client in the food industry tell me he's working twice as hard for half the income right now - your quieter time is ahead, hopefully! (and thank you!)
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Having a pet snake made us the most popular family in the neighbourhood - let me rephrase that - the most popular among the KIDS in the neighbourhood.
Our oldest son, Joey, not only loved all creatures but he could actually seek out, find (and capture) just about any living thing in the great outdoors.
It was like living with the Canadian version of the Croc Hunter!
When it came to getting a pet, allergies put the kibosh on bringing anything with fur into our house. So our reptile-loving boy chose a baby corn snake, the size of a pencil, as boy's best friend.
Slick the snake was a very docile, beautiful and fast growing creature who enjoyed squeezing the life out of dead mice and swallowing them whole at his infrequent meal times.
Slick was eating large mice and measured almost 4 feet long when Joey graduated from high school and ventured off to University. No snakes allowed in residence, unfortunately. So Slick became the family snake and we all pitched-in to keep him happy and fed.
I told people that Slick had never escaped his enclosure until one particular day, at feeding time, when that little varmint ruined our track record. That lazy Sunday morning we placed him in a high sided plastic bin, like we always did, and gave him some time to swallow his mousies. (he took his time)
Then we forgot about him.
The next time we looked in the bin, it was empty. Ooopsies.
I immediately rallied the troops and we started looking everywhere for our elusive pet. I mean, how far could he go on a full belly?
We looked and looked. When we had exhausted all the hiding places we could think of, my youngest son, Liam had an idea. He said “I’m going to think like a snake”.
He got down on the ground and started sliding around, looking at the world from Slick’s vantage point. It wasn’t long before he spotted a small hole the size of an average corn snake, under the counter, where our dishwasher met the cupboards - a hole we would never have noticed while standing up.
And sure enough, when we removed the face-plate from the machine, there was Slick, with a smug look on his face. (Getting him uncoiled and out of there is a story for another time.)
That rescue mission got me thinking about how changing your perspective - in your life and in business - can change everything.
When running your small business, are you looking at your product or service from the perspective of a snake, I mean, the perspective of your customer?
How often do you put your feet in their shoes, with empathy and take a good look at what’s keeping them up at night?
There’s one thing you can do to gain your customer’s perspective and a couple ways to do it. I don’t recommend getting on your hands and knees and crawling around on the kitchen floor - there’s a simpler way, I promise.
You could talk directly to your customers and the people in your target market or you could create a survey with key questions to really get the lay of the land, to find out how they see and what they feel.
It’s a great perspective to have and it can give you the insight you need to find your missing snake, or pivot your business to meet real needs in the marketplace.
Here are a few questions that you can ask - to get you started - to help you perfect your value proposition and differentiate your business from the competition.
Figure out what questions work for you and add to the list. But take the time, periodically, to ask your customers some of these questions so you can keep yourself, and your business, in check.
It’s your customer’s voice and perspective that can add real value as you work to increase your bottom line and create positive experiences.
And you don't have to lose a snake to gain that perspective!
Note: It's Joey in the picture but the snake is NOT actually Slick - it's about the same size but it's just another random large snake that Joey found in the woods and wanted to show us.
I found out I was pregnant (with Joey, my first born) on my very first day of work at Shoreline Graphics. It was March, 1990.
Despite the inconvenient timing and the thought of the dreaded conversation I needed to have with my brand new boss, I was pretty excited. I had left a sample at the corner drug store (because that's what we did back then) and on my way home for lunch (it was walking distance from home, a great perk of the new job) I stopped by to get the test results. The woman behind the pharmacy counter (why are they those counters so high?) delivered the results in a very serious and hushed tone. When I started jumping for joy at the news, her demeanor changed completely and she started celebrating right along with me. (I think she may have been slightly more excited than me, actually)
This pregnancy test result giver was very good at knowing her customers. She knew, from experience, that the result of a pregnancy test, negative or positive, could yield a negative or positive response in her customer. She didn't assume someone would be happy about a positive, or about a negative result. Her initial response was appropriate and her timing was perfect.
Being sensitive to your customer's needs is important. Especially when you are building relationships online. (or giving pregnancy news)
As a small business person, the messages you send by email or on social media should be helpful and timely to your audience. Providing good, relevant and helpful information that will help your readers solve their current problems is ideal. You need to know what they need.
How can you tell you're meeting their needs? You'll get likes, comments and shares on your facebook posts and you'll get consistent opens and clicks on your email newsletters.
What if you're not getting good response to some of your online marketing efforts? Take a step back and look at the reports for your email and social media marketing. (I recommend looking at your stats at least monthly.) What content is getting more attention, more clicks? What kind of content is being shared? When you know what your audience likes and responds to, re-direct your efforts to content that is more in-line with what resonates with your audience.
Bottom line. Your stats can tell you a lot. But you have to look at them. And then you have to adjust what you're doing if you're not getting the results you want. Simple.
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Shoreline Graphics was a small, progressive design agency made up of four young, creative, go-getting guys when they hired me. I was young, keen and had no idea what I was getting into. (I'm saving my stories about being the only girl in an all boy agency for another day.)
I think the small office was about 800 square feet total and I shared a small portion of that space with Jimm, one of the co-owners. We were the sales department - the suits. We often worked together on proposals...I mean, he was sitting right there and often verbalized his thoughts. (I'm not complaining - I learned a lot from listening to Jimm on the phone and all his out loud thinking.)
Most proposals we wrote included not only graphic design but film and printing costs too (this was before websites and social media, guys). And it never failed...every time Jimm had to choose a few printers to contact for an estimate, he'd lean way back in his chair, look up at the ceiling and mutter, "Hmmm, who should we use to get this printed?". Then the same old banter about this print firm and that print firm would ensue. It started getting a little annoying, getting asked the same question over and over again. It was funny, but annoying.
In the name of efficiency, and saving my sanity, I researched all the printers within a 100 km radius, ranked them by quality, size and pricing and made a comprehensive list. I always end this story by telling people I pinned that list to the ceiling just above Jimm's chair, so the next time he leaned back and said, "so who should we get to print...", voila! He was beholding the list. But I'm pretty sure the truth is, when he leaned back in his chair the next time and asked the question, I reached for list of printers and threw it at him, mumbling something about getting organized under my breath.
That was just one of many processes we streamlined as we grew the company. It's funny, sometimes, to think about the way we used to do things, before a time saving process was established.
Are you creating processes in your business?
If you're doing something over and over again, are you thinking of ways to streamline that process? It happens in my business almost every day. If I'm not creating a checklist for logging my expenses, I'm reviewing the social posting process for a client or fine-tuning my client intake questionnaire.
If you want to grow your business, one way to help get there faster is to get more efficient.
Do you develop simple tools and systems for your small business? You don't have to be big to be organized and efficient! If you need to manage repeatable tasks, get a process so you'll have more time to lean back in your chair...and just daydream.
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The sun had just come up when I noticed that a particularly impish bird landed on the ledge of our deck. The same ledge where I have all my beach finds on display. We are living and working in Costa Rica right now and because I had a full suitcase when I arrived (I mean packed-to-the-hilt-stuffed suitcase) there is no room for any shells, cool rocks or beach glass for the trip home. Well, maybe some beach glass will fit.
So why even collect these treasures? To enjoy them while I'm here, of course. So there they all are, on the ledge, on display, being enjoyed.
So, this particular morning, as I watched with delight while this plucky little bird poked at some of the smaller shells, my jaw dropped in horror when I saw what he was really after. WILSON!
I found little Wilson on the beach the day before. He reminded me of Wilson, you know, the soccer ball from the Tom Hanks movie, Castaway - Wilson, his best and only friend on the deserted island.
My Wilson is much smaller. Probably some sort of a golf-ball-sized nut that got tossed around in the wild surf of the southern pacific. (I know how it feels, I've been tossed around quite a bit by the same crazy waves) But when I saw my Wilson on the beach, I immediately thought of the Castaway Wilson.
Back to that damn bird. So when that mischievous little varmint started to poke around at my prized beach find, I swear, I yelled, "Wilson"! (ask my husband - this really happened) My outburst scared the bird off the ledge and I managed to rescue Wilson before he was stolen by that crazy bird. I'd become really attached to this rotting, ridiculous looking nut.
But that whole experience got me thinking.
We get attached to things. And in business, we get attached not only to things but to the way things are done.
If you are attached, say, to what you think of as a tried and true way to do your books (don't tell me it's an excel spreadsheet), and you are avoiding a move to something like Quickbooks, you may be attached to a very sad, worn out version of Wilson!
Or maybe you are used to slogging away on Quickbooks every month when it's really time to outsource this painful and time-consuming task. (sound familiar?) You may be looking to expand your social media reach but are attached to certain platforms because you are familiar with them - regardless of whether they are the right channels for your message. Yep, you're attached.
We get set in our ways while running a business and get attached to the way things have always been done. We don't always want to change but often we do want the business to grow. That's when you need to step back, examine why you are attached, and explore the new, and often, more efficient approaches to running and growing your business.
It can be painful - like watching your beloved Wilson get stolen by an impetuous bird - but if you keep an open mind and are willing to move forward with new tools and new approaches in your business, it may just help your business thrive!
I'm dealing with my attachment issues one waterlogged nut at a time. What are YOU doing?
I saw the Titanic movie. I know how it's supposed to feel when you wave good-bye to people heading out to sea on a big ship. It's fun. It's romantic. It's heartwarming. It's a special event.
That's why I thought it would be a great idea to see off a group of family members as they headed out to Bermuda on a ginormous cruise ship, from a port in New York City, not far from where I'm living at the moment.
Instead of going to the actual pier where the ship was docked, I thought I'd go down to a public pier, a little further down, and on their sailing route. It looked like I'd be pretty close to the sailing ship when I checked the map, but as the massive ship pulled out of it's berth, I could see that it wasn't going to be passing by me all that closely. I was going to have to wave extra furiously.
So there I was, almost alone on the end of Chelsea Pier. I say "almost" alone because there was a couple sitting at a table on one end of the pier, a family perched on the benches and two homeless men asleep under the trees. So, basically, alone on the end of the pier. And that's what I told my sister-in-law by text when she asked what I was wearing. They were on the ship, trying to spot me. It was going to be tough. But I was up for the challenge.
They texted their whereabouts on the ship's deck very clearly - I knew exactly where to look, and to wave. And as the ship got closer, my waving & jumping began. Big arm sways, double arm waves, single arm waves when my arms got tired. I was giving my good-bye everything I had.
And as the ship slowly lumbered by, I got a few photos and enlarged them to see if the group of people I was waving to were actually my family members. I think they were. It was hard to tell.
When I stopped my full body, super physical good-bye, I slowly began to notice the people around me on the pier, watching me curiously. I'm sure they were thinking, "what the hell is she doing?". What a random display of excitement THAT was, for a passing cruise ship.
And that's when I realized...my message was NOT meant for them.
Your message should always be aimed directly at your target audience.
This applies when you're talking to your customers too. You know who your customers are. And you also know what your customers need and would like to hear. Your customers will understand your messages, because those messages are meant for them. And you have directed your messages to them.
If someone outside your target market happens to see you jumping around at the end of a pier, all excited to see a cruise ship, I mean, if they see your targeted message, they are likely to misunderstand it, dismiss it, ignore it, or get a good laugh. And that's a good thing.
Direct your efforts towards talking to YOUR people, your customers and prospective customers - don't worry about talking to everybody. You know what they say, "if you try to talk to everybody, you'll talk to nobody". (who are "they" anyway?)
And don't worry about what people think. If they don't understand what you're trying to say, chances are you aren't trying to get THEIR attention anyway!
PS: You're never too old to get excited about a passing ship!
PPS: Yes, standing on Chelsea Pier reminded me of my one & only Chelsea girl xoxo
1. How many cruises have you been on?
2. Did anyone wave good-bye to you from the dock?
3. Do you know what your customers want/need to hear about?
Share your comments below...
It happened in a split second. Do you ever have that thought, that sinking feeling, that you want to go back in time, just one or two seconds. If you could just get time to back up a smidge, so you could re-think a decision, or undo a really dumb move.
As I stood in total disbelief, with mounds (and mounds) of shattered glass everywhere, I'm pretty sure I said a bad word (the air was blue), then I actually put my head in my hand, and shook it a little.
I like doing things all by myself.
I can do it all. And there are a lot of things that I can manage just fine on my own, thank you. But apparently, putting the umbrella through the hole in the centre of our glass patio table, and placing that long metal pole perfectly into the small hole on the stand below was a two person job. I knew that as soon as I heard (and felt) the explosion of glass. I think I knew before I started. That's why I felt soooooooooooo stupid.
As I waited for time to start going backwards, I began plucking the shards of thick green glass off my feet. And started googling how to get all this glass off a wooden deck, out from between the slats, out of the dirt below the deck. It was brutal. A huge job. I'm still working on it. (still muttering bad words)
And that really bad day made me think about the things people do in their small business all by themselves, without help, sometimes creating big messes that could have been avoided if there were another pair of hands to help.
Here are 3 big areas in a small business where asking for help may avoid a big pile of broken glass (you know what I mean)...
1. Bookkeeping & Accounting
Keeping track of sales, expenses (cost of replacement glass, etc), is repetitive stuff. It's something that someone else could easily do for you if you'll let them. There are organized, knowledgeable people out there who do this for a living. If you face that big pile of paperwork every 6 months (OK, every year), and have to re-figure it out because it's been so long, you'd be wise to outsource this to someone who does it every day and can do it for you in a snap.
2. Administrative stuff
Whether it's a real administrative person or a virtual one, (I know they are real too, kind of), if you find yourself too busy organizing your business to actually do business, a little help on the admin side will free you up to focus on what you do best - procrastinating about getting real work done! Get help with things like incoming email, scheduling, booking appointments, and using a piece of bread to pick up the really small pieces of glass on the deck.
Do you stare at the blank page, waiting for inspiration, every time you attempt a communications or promotional project? You aren't alone. Everyone has their own approach to getting ideas out there. You may be able to tell a story easily but struggle to write it down. Or, you write stories but hate editing them into masterpieces. Find a writer/editor to help you over these writing speed bumps. You can share your great ideas regularly without the pain. Get some help if being a thought leader will help your bottom line.
I'll add a fourth area - I wonder why? Websites, email marketing & social media. Some small business owners are good at this and enjoy doing it. It's fun, I know! But if you don't have the time or the inclination, and being on-line is important to your business growth, outsource it! (I know someone who can help with all this and sweeping glass too)
1. Have you done anything as shocking as breaking a glass table, ever?
2. I have.
3. What do you outsource in your small business?
Share your comments below...
It was a fixture on Beechwood Avenue until Saturday night. Yes, our beloved New Edinburgh Pub closed its doors for the last time. I happened to be in Ottawa on the weekend of the closure and it took me by surprise.
I know restaurants come and go. But I was pretty sad and nostalgic about the loss of this well worn corner pub. It was the go-to place for many of our family gatherings - we celebrated birthdays, anniversaries and sometimes, nothing at all.
The booth by the window was the perfect perch to people watch and gab. And they'd happily pull a bunch of tables together to feed our big clan.
It was the last place we ate before our 17-year-old son left the nest and moved to Ottawa for the summer...one last meal before launching!
So you can imagine my excitement when I drove by the shuttered Pub the day after it closed and saw a large rack on the sidewalk out front, filled with a hodge-podge of items - everything from pizza pans to shot glasses. They were cleaning out! My son and I doubled back, parked, and grabbed a few goodies. Liam took the practical approach and grabbed glasses, a dish bin and a few odds and ends for his kitchen. I saw some water jugs and thought they would be perfect mementos of our favourite family restaurant.
I was sure my kids would see the sentimentality in these well-loved gems and be super thankful that I was able to score one for each of them. Ahhh...a little piece of history.
Nope. That's not what happened.
My daughter recoiled in horror when I handed her the worn plastic water jug. Ewwww...I don't want that! Even after I explained the sentimental value of these items, she laughed and ran empty handed, away from the car.
My oldest son took a couple of the smaller jugs, not because he felt even a drop of sentimentality but because he thought they would be handy in his kitchen.
Turns out, as usual, I assumed wrong.
That made me think about all the things I might be assuming wrong in my business.
Are you making assumptions about what your clients need, and what they want? Quite possibly.
Here are 3 Things You Should Never Assume About Your Clients...
1. Don't assume they communicate the same way you do.
Understanding how your clients like to talk to you sounds simple but it's so important. Some of my clients prefer email. Some text me. Others use the phone. A few used to prefer carrier pigeon, but I put my foot down. If you haven't figured out how your clients want to connect, you should ask them! (or text them...)
2. Don't assume they have the same priorities as you.
You can assume your clients have the same priorities as you—especially if you’re collaborating on the same project. But you'd be wrong. In fact, your clients often have more pressing work to get done before focusing on the things you're working on together. And chances are, they hired you take on the things they can't put at the top of their priority list. Get over it.
3. Don't assume you know how to best help them.
Lately, I've been simply trying to ask, how can I help? The more I assume what my clients need, the further I get from the truth. That's because I'm not asking, and not listening! Practice listening carefully. Ask questions and get the conversation going. It will help clarify the problems so you can come up with some real solutions. No need to guess. Who knew?
And don't overestimate the sentimentality of your kids. One person's priceless memories are another person's disgusting garbage. Does anyone want a plastic water jug? Two?
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It's been a very busy couple of weeks since I joined a welcome team for a Syrian refugee family that just arrived in Canada. The experience has been really great - for me, anyway - I'm not sure if our new Syrian friends have figured out these crazy, super friendly Canadians are only trying to help! (Can you be too welcoming? Not in Canada!)
The welcome team model is unique to Saint John and from what I hear, it's a model that more towns and cities should consider in their own effort to welcome new Canadians.
There are a lot of challenges to helping a family, who arrive with nothing, to settle into Canadian life (in the middle of winter). And as serious as that sounds, we've had a lot of laughs. Our new friends know as much English as we know Arabic, so communicating is interesting.
Our welcome team includes students, a PR expert, Moms, Dads, business owners, a retiree, musicians, and a scientist - a pretty shifty bunch, I know. Fortunately, it wasn't long before our new friends started to trust us. And with trust came more smiling and laughing. We use charades and a smartphone translation app to chat. We understand each other most of the time. We think.
I ventured down to my favourite beach with my new Syrian friends last weekend. It was sunny and pleasant, by Canadian standards - above freezing with only a slight wind chill. They really enjoyed the stroll and were consumed by their new hobby, the quest for beach glass.
As we were heading for the car, they asked me if we could "see birds". I stopped to look around for birds. No birds. So we pulled out the smartphone and started translating back and forth. The first message said, "Can we go see birds?" No problem, I thought. We saw ducks the weekend before at a local park. They must want to see those birds again. So we piled in the car and headed to the park.
When we pulled into the parking lot beside the duck pond, my Syrian friends couldn't control their laughter. The smartphone came back out, between giggles, and they typed another Arabic message for translation. "We want to go shopping for a bird." Oh, OK. I don't get it. Did they want to buy a bird to eat? I translated that to Arabic and got uproarious laughter. OK. I was stumped.
My next question, typed hastily into the phone, "Do you want to buy a bird for a pet"? Bingo. They wanted a bird in a cage. So we went to the pet store, on a mission. My assumptions had led me on a wild goose chase - so to speak - that afternoon.
And that got me thinking about some of the assumptions we make when we communicate, especially with our customers.
Don't assume people really understand what you mean.
As small business owners, it's so important to communicate clearly to our customers all the time, with signage, in online posts, and in advertising. You are nurturing your client relationships with every email, every social media post. It's part of providing great customer service, which is more important than ever in this age of online communications. Bad news travels so fast. Especially on Facebook!
Want to communicate clearly? Here's how...
1. Listen well. (And take your customer feedback seriously) If you listen carefully, your customers will tell you what they need, how they are feeling about your products and services and how they are being treated by your staff. If you can't be face-to-face with your customers regularly, consider using surveys and polls to help gather important feedback. Because the more you understand your customers, the better you will be at talking to them.
2. Spell it out. Stay away from confusing acronyms when describing your products and services. Put your feet in the shoes of your customers. If you write that your ASM is at the FoH behind the EHD drinking an AHC, your audience may not realize your assistant store manager is out front at the enterprise help desk drinking an at home coffee. Don't CYC (confuse your customers)!
3. Write clearly. It's OK to make writing mistakes SOMETIMES - it happens. But don't make it a habit. You can avoid chronic mistakes by taking the time to re-read your writing. Get a second set of eyes on it, if you can.
4. Say thanks. Remember to thank your customers from time to time - in person and in your marketing messages. Have a contest or draw to show your appreciation. Be creative. It's always a good idea to say thanks. No need for your customers to assume you are thankful for their business. Tell them!
5. Be honest. Especially if you've made a mistake. Being open and authentic in your communications with your customers is the best policy. Always. It builds trust. You're in this for the long haul.
You have an advantage with your customer communications that I don't have with my Syrian friends - your customers probably speak the same language that you do! That's a really big first step in being understood!
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I started playing hockey at 40. I think it was a mid-life crisis. A few women in Sandy Hill (a neighbourhood in downtown Ottawa) who were tired of just watching their kids have fun playing hockey, decided to secure the outdoor rink once a week, for an hour, for a women's only scrimmage.
We equipped ourselves with soccer knee pads, our white figure skates and our husband's hockey sticks and helmets. It was fun - slightly pathetic - but fun. We've come a long way, baby.
Fast forward fourteen years. A woman over 40 playing hockey is no longer a novelty. There are well over 100 women in my small community (the Kennebecasis Valley) that play hockey now, on a few teams that have formed since my arrival in 2003. I'm on the Moms in Gear team. We were one of the first to form - we just celebrated our 10th Anniversary last year. I think the median age of our players is 52. Yes, we have players in their 60's and a few newbies closer to 40. These are, for the most part, women who have stepped into the game for the first time in their life. Some have actually had to learn how to skate! But we can all agree on one thing. It's soooooooooooooo fun!
Women's hockey is different than men's hockey. In pretty much every way it can be. I'm talking about OUR "older women's" hockey. Women stop skating mid-game when someone falls down. We help you get back up. Women often apologize to the goalie when they score against them, or at a minimum, we tap them on the helmet. (and say sorry) We giggle on the bench. We smile at our opponents at the faceoff. We congratulate the other team when they score. There is so much joy in the change room and on the ice. But there is one ritual that has puzzled me since my first day on the ice. The incredibly complicated process of dividing ourselves into two teams before starting a scrimmage. (oh, and actually starting the game on time)
This ritual occurs a few times a week. The banter in the change room is lively. Not many are looking at the clock. By the time most of the players are on the ice, skating around slowly, chatting about the kids or the weekend plans or having a quick stretch, someone usually attempts to herd the cats. First there is a count. Ok, we have fifteen. How many are still in the change room? Who can remember that? There are five in black jerseys, three in white, four in blue, three in red. Ok, let's go black & white vs. blue and red. Does that work? Wait, here come three more from the change room. Ok, two in black and one in pink. Someone is asked if they have a different colour jersey they could change into. We get rolling about ten minutes into our ice time. And it takes another ten minutes to figure out which team you're on. (was it black & red vs. blue & white?)
I think most hockey players just dump all their hockey sticks in the centre of the ice and have someone divide them into two teams. Go find your stick, and you find your team. Maybe they just remember who their team mates are, no matter the colour of their jersey. We've tried that, but it works best with hockey players who can actually recognize their own stick in a pile. (no, seriously)
Some people are ok with this process, some have very little patience for it.
Where do you draw the line?
In business, like in hockey, there are things you do that you simply don't sweat. And in other areas of your business, you stick to hard and fast rules. I believe you have to decide on the lines you will and will not cross in your business.
Over time, in my small business, I have adopted the lines I will not cross. Here are my top three:
First, after working for many years at advertising agencies and in industry, selling everything from cell phone chips to facial tissue, I decided that I would only do marketing for good and not evil. What does that mean? It's a dramatic way to say I won't work with clients that have a product or service that I don't believe in or that I don't like or use.
Secondly, and this may sound a little unusual, but I won't work long term with a client that I don't enjoy. If we aren't having fun, it's just not going to work out. Don't get me wrong, I'm very serious about our business goals, content and results but if you can't have fun in the process, well, life is too short!
And last but not least, I invoice once a month. If an invoice is unpaid, I stop working until it's paid. I've had people advise me to get paid in advance for the work I do but I've never found that to be necessary. My clients pay their invoices so I've barely ever had to even think about this.
Have you established some lines you will not cross in your business? (or on the hockey rink?) (tell me in the comments!)
Fortunately for me, I don't care what time our hockey scrimmages start, so I'm happy to go along with the curious process of splitting into teams. Others, however, may look for another group of people to play hockey with - you know - organized, efficient leagues with a good set of pinnies and a quick process. (yawn, so boring!)
And I'm happy to report that this season, we are now dividing up into 2 teams in the change room, in advance of hitting the ice - every second person is handed a black jersey. We arrive on the ice ready to play. No need to draw the line on these hockey scrimmages now!
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If you've ever taken in a show at the majestic Imperial Theatre in Saint John, New Brunswick, you won't be surprised to know that, according to the Globe & Mail, it's the "most beautifully restored theatre in Canada". (And they should know, right?)
It doesn't matter what type of show I see there, whether it's live music, comedy, a musical or a movie, I feel kinda special just sitting in that plush seat, looking up at the chandelier, waiting for the show to begin. It's a very special place and sometimes I think for a second, do I belong here? (Then I realize I bought a ticket and they actually let me in the door).
And everyone who has ever been to a show there knows there is an army of volunteers who work every door (and window, I'm sure) of every event, making sure you aren't bringing in anything that could harm those fancy seats - no Imperial Theatre contraband allowed.
At one time, it was so strict that I don't think you could even bring in water. Just sit still, watch the show and please eat & drink in the lobby, or at home!
But nothing could prepare me for the unbridled joy I felt last Halloween. The glorious "don't even think about eating in here" Imperial Theatre was showing Rocky Horror Picture Show and there was a list of "approved" props we were allowed to bring - and throw - during the movie. Really? How could this be? Were there defibrillators handy to help revive the diligent white coated volunteers when they witnessed the shenanigans of a no holds barred Rocky Horror audience?
It's one thing to throw rice, cards, and toast around your own house - you do that, right? But to have the pleasure of toilet papering the most beautifully restored theatre in Canada? Well, let's just say, we didn't leave the place the way we found it.
With our newspapers on our heads, rubber gloves on and noisemakers handy, we proceeded to lovingly litter to our hearts content. It was therapeutic and fun.
This got me thinking about the kind of experiences that small businesses can offer.
You need to offer memorable experiences. When someone shops at your store or orders a product or service from you online, is the experience memorable? I'm talking about "good" memorable. (maybe not "throwing rice all over the floor" memorable)
Be attentive and extra helpful! Is your staff trained to ask questions and make sure your customers have found everything they need? Going above and beyond makes a big difference in your customer's experience.
Show your appreciation. Do you regularly show your customers how much you love them? It could be as simple as having a special sale or an event where you give a special discount. You could offer a free service that you know they need. These are simple things you can do that will help increase loyalty.
Get to know your customers. I don't mean you need to yell out your customers' names as they come into your shop (like the treatment Norm gets on Cheers) but remembering a name of a regular customer is important. Remembering how they like their coffee or whether they prefer paper bags is an added bonus for their experience.
Create a happy place. Make the experience for your customers fun. It's never a bad idea to help cheer up someone's day. You have the opportunity to do that with every customer experience. It doesn't cost anything and adds so much value to the shopping experience. (if letting your patrons throw toilet paper around makes them happy, why not?)
It's the little things that keep them coming back.
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The Small Business Guide
Kim Houlahan is a marketing consultant who loves helping small business owners connect with their ideal customers.
Small Business Guide ~ Archives
6 Things You Can Do Now
Perspective is (Almost) Everything
Are You Sensitive to Customer Needs?
Got a Process for That?
Don't Get Attached!
Aim DIRECTLY at your audience
Know When to Ask for Help
3 Things you Should Never Assume
Avoid the Wild Goose Chase
Where do you Draw the Line?
Give'em a Memorable Experience