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 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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The Small Business Guide
Kim Houlahan is a marketing consultant who loves helping small businesses connect with their customers online.