Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Just Because You Run a Small Business Doesn’t Mean You Should Answer the Phone Like Your Kid

Entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes, much as their businesses do.

Sometimes you’ll never know they run a small business unless you actually meet them.

Then, there are others, that have the telltale signs of being a small business:
  • Their email address is a Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail or some other free one.
  • Their email address is
  • Their web address is some free-hosted site.
  • When you call them, they answer the phone as your kid does when you’re calling him downstairs for dinner.
Seriously, I’ve been talking to a handful of small business owners recently, and more than just a few answered the phone in such an unprofessional manner, I had to double check to see if I dialed the wrong number.

“Yo,” is not an acceptable way to answer your phone if you want to be taken seriously as a professional.
Neither is: “Hey, how ya doin’?”

Nor does: “What?” inspire great things when calling someone you might be looking to hire.

How you answer the phone makes a big difference, even if you’re running a small business.

You’d think this would be common sense, however, as with most things in life, common sense doesn’t seem to be all that common.

When you answer your work line as above, you instantly put your potential customers on edge.

“Does this bozo really think I’m going to pay him for his services?”

How can you trust someone with your money, if they can’t answer the phone like an adult?

Unless I’m calling a stand-up comic, or someone that works in a business where light-hearted fun is the business, anything as the above tells me I’ll be looking elsewhere to spend my cash.
So, how should you be answering your work phone?

A good rule of thumb is to simply say your first and last name as the introduction: “John Smith.”

That works in the mega-huge faceless corporate world, so it also works in a small business.

Though adding some personality and customer service isn’t a bad idea: “Hi, this is John Smith, how can I help you?”

Want to sound like a big company? Use the company name in your greeting: “Thanks for calling XYZ Inc., this is John, how can I help you?”

We’ve all heard the saying, you never have a second chance to make a first impression – that is very true on the phone, especially if this is the person’s first time calling you and your business.
If you don’t sound like a reputable, professional person, you won’t get that person’s business.

Competition in all fields is immense these days, so you really don’t have a second chance to make that all important first impression.

So, unless you’re a Sylvester Stallone impersonator, answering your business phone: “Yo” just doesn’t cut it.

Once you’ve established a rapport with someone, and know the number, then perhaps you could answer slightly less formal.

However, that’ll never happen, if you scare off potential customers by answering your phone like your kid.

So, until that time, always answer the phone like a business person – unless of course, you don’t want to be in business.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Never Toss Anyone Under The Bus

Years ago, when I worked in the corporate world, I remember sitting in on a project meeting that still to this day sends a cold chill down my spine.

My team was designing a new learning platform for one of the big automakers, and this was just one of our regular project meetings to update the client on our progress.

As we showed off our latest developments, one of the team leads for the client scoffed at one of the images used in the application.

Immediately – and probably without thinking – one of my team’s project leads said: “Oh, that’s what happens when designers use clip art, sometimes they just toss any ol’ thing in there – we’ll change that right away!”

The problem, that wasn’t clip art, it was a painstakingly hand-drawn graphic, by one of our top designers – who happened to be sitting in on this meeting -- and it was specifically requested and approved by the client months ago.

I saw the poor designer turn ghostly pale and sink into her chair.

She didn’t want to be in that room.

And after her silent tears turned into audible sobbing, neither did anyone else.

I suggested we take a five-minute break, and you could almost see the vapour trails as most raced out of that room, leaving just me and the sobbing designer.

Luckily, I was able to turn things around, and I even managed to get her laughing and joking with me about the silliness of the situation.

However, my discussion later with the person who threw her under the bus was not so jovial.

He didn’t have anything personally against the graphic designer, he just did what unfortunately a lot of people still do in business – kiss the client’s butt.

My problem with people that think butt-kissing is the best way to build and foster client relations, is that they won’t hesitate for a second to blame themselves, or a member of the team to satisfy a client’s complaint – no matter how ridiculous – as in this situation, where the offending art was actually requested and already approved by the client.

Never throw anyone on your team under the bus.

Blame doesn’t get you any further in business – or anything else in life.

All blame does is create unnecessary frustration and anger with those the blame is directed at. Hardly an efficient or effective way to solve a problem.

That’s what the team lead should have done – suggest a solution to the problem.

As a team lead, he should have known that the artwork in question was already signed-off by the client.

He should have NEVER blamed anyone on any team.

I’m just glad he didn’t blame our client for approving artwork they didn’t like – that would have been a bigger fire to put out.

Never throw anyone on your team, or anyone’s team, under the bus.

I have never seen a personal or professional problem resolved by blame.

Blame is just a way to pass the buck. It shifts the attention away from working towards a solution, by pointing a finger at someone, and saying: “this is your fault!”

Blame is a huge problem in offices around the world. It creates hostile workplaces, where no one wants to be, because you never know if one day, you’ll be the one taking the blame.

Don’t blame people on your team, in your office, or in your company for anything ever.

Blame is bad for those you blame.

Blame is bad for those who blame you.

Blame is bad for the entire corporate culture, as it creates an environment of fear and angst.
Blame is bad – period.

Next time you feel the urge to blame someone, go punch a pillow, to relieve the stress, and then work out a solution that does not assign blame.

Because any solution that blames someone else isn’t a solution, it’s just another way of saying: “not my problem.”

As part of the team, every problem is yours – that’s the whole point of being on a team.

But that’s another rant, for another day.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Is Authenticity in Business Best?

Thanks to podcasting, social media and the very public world we’ve created for ourselves through similar technologies, there is a growing trend towards authenticity.

Want to succeed in romance, your career, business or anything in life? Just be yourself.

Tell it like it is.

I’m a big fan of some of the most popular blogs and podcasts in the entrepreneurial space which tell you to just be you, as the hosts demonstrate by just being themselves.

From the always informative and interesting Smart Passive Income blogs and podcasts, where host Pat Flynn shares his story of personal success – leaving the world of architecture, to start and run several successful online businesses.

To Entrepreneur on Fire, where host John Lee Dumas interviews successful entrepreneurs, sharing their stories of failure, success and tips for starting their own businesses.

I love these guys, for their bravery in being honest, true, and authentic.

There’s that word again.

It’s the new buzzword of the business world. Just be authentic while providing any product or service, and watch your customers line-up ‘round the corner.

If being authentic is the best thing to be, how come the biggest money makers online still dabble in the totally unauthentic worlds of sex and drugs?

Porn still makes up over 70 percent of the commerce traded online, according to several studies. The next biggest money maker online? Discount prescription drug sales, most notably, for erectile dysfunction – you know – that purple pill called Viagra.

Neither of these businesses uses authenticity to sell – quite the opposite! The whole porn industry is based on creating entertainment based on our fantasies.

And it is not just the realm of the online business world.

Yes, I’m a proud '100 percenter' – someone who’s listened to the Humble and Fred podcast since it first hit iTunes, and has listened to every episode then and since.

Humble and Fred two well-known Toronto radio personalities, have been together for a quarter of century, making listeners laugh with their silly – some may say offensive – fart and dick jokes.

Since embarking on their own entrepreneurial ventures, they boast about being authentic too. They talk about their lives, the lives of their guests, and share their blunt opinions about the world around them.

Their unique format has done them well -- although they began their podcast because they claim no radio station would hire them – since launching their authentic talk radio show, it has been picked up by several terrestrial radio stations, and has become the morning show on SiriusXM’s Canada Laughs channel.

Humble and Fred talk about being authentic as the key to their success – people don’t like being sold personality – they want the real deal.
Humble and Fred, Entrepreneur on Fire and the Smart Passive Income podcasts and blogs are among my favorite guilty pleasures when I have a moment to spare.

They are all exceptionally entertaining, and informative.

Yet, they always talk about being authentic.

Tell it like it is.

Yet we still live in world where the biggest businesses don’t.

Like the joy ride automakers take us on when they show off their latest cars, speeding down a narrow mountain road -- with lots of fine print about it being a closed course, and do not ever attempt what we're seeing.

To beer commercials still selling us good times over cold brews – with more fine print reminding us to please drink responsibly.

Even burger joints like McDonald’s are trying to sell us on their “healthy choices menu” even though the number one product McDonald’s sells are their French fries.

If the truth will set you free, and being authentic in business is the new norm, why are the biggest and most recognized brands on the planet still peddling products and services the old fashioned way?

Truth is, sometimes the truth hurts.

So being authentic just isn’t in the cards for most of our guilty pleasures.

Think about it – would you buy beer if the ads showed overweight men with beer bellies, getting into bar room brawls?

Probably not.

Clearly, authenticity isn’t always best.

Being authentic really depends on what it is you are selling.

If you’re selling entrepreneurship, being your own boss, and making it on your own – authenticity works. Authenticity works here, because it’s all in the self-improvement space.

However, if you’re selling things that are more status symbols – like high end sports cars – or ways to escape reality – like porn and beer – than being authentic could actually hurt your business.

So, does the truth set you free in business? Depends on the business.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Having Trouble Keeping Customers? Maybe You’re Not Giving Them What You’re Selling Them

Computer programmers know all too well what “vapourware” is.

Vapourware, is when the sales guys get so caught up in the sale, they tell a potential customer that your software product does “X” – when in fact, it doesn’t.

“X” is something that particular customer has always wanted done.

So, naturally, they buy.

Next day, the head programmer is freaking out, because he’s been told to make the software product do “X” within an unreasonably short amount of time.

Because software development usually takes more time than less, the sales guys keep stalling the new customer, to buy time for the developers to create the feature which never existed in the first place.

Hence the term, “vapourware” because the software to do “X” never existed before – but was sold as if it was.

Vapourware occurs in all industries and sectors, not just ones based on software.

Anytime a company makes a claim about their products or services which is NOT true – that’s a form of vapourware.

For the company, it’s a seemingly great way to steal customers from the competition.

Internet Service Providers are a great example of this – each one promises faster, more reliable service than their competition.

The second they have a disruption in their service, which causes a massive slowdown or shutdown, all those customers that were falsely promised faster, more reliable service, call to complain.
It’s why so many of us have jumped back and forth from one Internet Service Provider to another, and even back again.


There is a misconception in business, that constantly bringing in new customers sustains a business. This misconception starts at the top, and flows down throughout all levels of a business.

When this misconception reaches the marketing and sales teams, they figure they can say or do anything to convince a potential customer to become a new customer, because it's the new customers which sustain the business.

Why is that a misconception?

Here are the latest stats from some of the business world’s best sources:
1.     A customer is four times more likely to defect to a competitor if the problem is service-related than price- or product-related – Bain & Company.
2.     The probability of selling to an existing customer is 60% to 70%. The probability of selling to a new prospect is 5% to 20% -- Marketing Metrics.
3.     For every customer complaint there are 26 other unhappy customers who have remained silent – Lee Resource.
4.     96% of unhappy customers don’t complain, however 91% of those will simply leave and never come back – 1Financial Training services.
5.     A dissatisfied customer will tell between 9-15 people about their experience. Around 13% of dissatisfied customers tell more than 20 people. – White House Office of Consumer Affairs.
6.     70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated – McKinsey.
7.     55% of customers would pay extra to guarantee a better service – Defaqto research.
8.     It takes 12 positive experiences to make up for one unresolved negative experience –“Understanding Customers” by Ruby Newell-Legner.
9.     A 5% reduction in the customer defection rate can increase profits by 5% to 95% – Bain & Company.
10.  It costs 6 to 7 times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one – Bain & Company.

So what can we learn from this?

Constantly bringing in new customers is important to any business, however, it is far more important to take care of your current customers, because keeping them happy is what drives your business.

What’s all this have to do with “vapourware” and selling products and services that don’t exist?

It’s the broken promises we make to our customers which cause the biggest headaches, and lead to the highest customer turn-over.

Sell your customers on the Sun, the Moon and everything in between, but if you can’t deliver that, then when they find out – and they always find out – that customer will drop you like a hot potato.

Leaving you with one less customer – or a hundred, or a thousand, or even a million fewer customers – because the more you promise but don’t deliver, the quicker your customers will come and go.

Like a revolving door of customers.

Consider this, there is a high end coffee shop in one of the poorest parts of Toronto. They sell exceptional coffees, lattes, teas, fancy drinks and gourmet baked goods, at high-end prices. They provide up-scale service too – if you get anything from them that’s not just right, they’ll immediately take it back and replace it free, without any questions. Your satisfaction is their top priority.

Yet, this high end coffee shop, is in one of the poorest areas Toronto.

How do they stay in business?

The people in the area can’t afford a $5 cup of coffee every day.

The answer – they have regular, repeat customers. The coffee shop has been in business over twenty years, and over that time, has built a large following of people that will come from all over the city, to munch on a $4 cookie, while sipping a $5 hot caffeinated beverage.
Years ago, the area was more prosperous, and those living there were well to do. As the neighborhood changed, the wealthy customers left the neighborhood.

Had this coffee shop relied on attracting new customers to sustain itself, it would have gone out of business a long time ago. However, they've constantly delivered what they promised – exceptional foods, drinks and service.

So their customers keep coming back. Despite no longer living or working in the area.

Do you tell your customers one thing, but deliver another?

Do you have issues retaining customers?

Perhaps you should look at your products and services, to make sure they deliver what you are telling your customers they deliver.

Because it’s easier to keep current customers, rather than replace them with new ones.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Want to Run a Successful Business? Be There for Your Customers

Just this weekend, the girlfriend and I were discussing where we wanted to go for dinner. We had a pleasant day out and about, and wanted to close it out with a nice big meal.

Problem – it was about 10:30pm.

I figured we could go to a local bar – part of a chain of bars – and grab a nice meal. Bars are open late, especially on a Saturday night. It’s date night – Saturday night.

I called the bar to double check.

“Sorry, the kitchen is already closing, but we’re open for another hour,” said the voice on the phone.

What? Closing before last call? Last call here is not until 1:30am.

We called around to a bunch of places, bars, restaurants – most were already closed, or closing.

Finally, we ended up going to Pizza Hut. Pizza places are always open.

Not the most romantic dinner for two, but still a very enjoyable experience. Good food, prompt service, and they were there when we needed them.

Perhaps it is the never-ending recession we’ve been in, but I remember a time when restaurants and bars were open late on Friday and Saturday nights, because those were the night's people went out.

All the places we called previously lost our business, simply because they weren’t open.
Want to run a successful business, here’s a tip – be there for your customers.

It’s not rocket science, just be there when your customers are most likely to be looking for you.

This goes for ALL companies, big and small alike. You don’t have to be on call 24-seven, just be there when your customers are most likely to be.

That’s it.

Nothing complex.

No fancy, deep thinking, mind blowing strategy.

Just be open for business when your customers are in need of your services.

You’d think bars, restaurants and clubs would be open until the wee hours of the morning on Friday and Saturday nights.

When I was a kid in university, Thursday night was bar night – and nothing ever closed until last call.

I'd like to think I'm not THAT old, and times haven't changed that much that people don't go out anymore.

And it's not like we were in a third-world country, or living in the back woods of a small town either.

My girlfriend and I were shocked and bewildered by the lack of places to grab a nice meal and some drinks in one of the largest and most cosmopolitan cities of the world – Toronto.

Toronto, is like New York -- only smaller, cleaner and safer. 

No, it wasn’t busy in the Pizza Hut. But it wasn’t deathly quiet either – there were a couple of young families with their kids, some teenagers, and us.
When you’re in business, any business is good business.

So it pays to be there for your customers.

Sure, have a skeleton staff, close off a section, or even tell customers that you might take a little longer to get something done, because it’s late.

That’s fine – we’ll understand.

Just don’t leave us stranded with nowhere to go.

That’s far worse customer service than not being there at all.

Because if you want to run a successful business, you have to be there for your customers.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Has Linkedin Become Just Like Every Other Social Network?

Social media is a great addiction of mine.

I enjoy checking out my Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, Tumblr, Instagram . . . you see why it’s so addictive?

When each one of these first started, people actually posted quality, interesting things that might be useful.

Believe it or not, there was a time when there was more than celebrities getting themselves into hot water, useless quotes from long since dead famous people, pictures of gorgeous women in skimpy outfits, and cat photos dominating the social networks.

As each of the social networks matured, they unfortunately deteriorated into much of the above – don’t believe me?

Skim through the trending content on any given day, and you’ll see pretty much all the above mindless drivel.
There still are some jewels in the rough on social media. Great infographics that turn complex processes into easy to follow steps. Sometimes even the latest news breaks first online, instead of CNN, BBC or CBC.

However, Linkedin – that’s always been the professional network, where people only post content relevant to their career or business, and use it to connect with those business people.

That may be changing, sadly.

Oh, I have yet to see the mindless crap that passes for content on the other social networks appear on Linkedin.

However, Linkedin is very different from just a handful of years ago.

When Linkedin began, it was a great place for professionals to network, to build connections, to reach out to one another for legitimate career or business opportunities.

I’d send out an Inmail, or email to one of my Linkedin contacts, and receive a response, which would lead to a discussion, and possibly an opportunity.

Recently I noticed, my Inmails and emails to my contacts were being ignored.

Now, that doesn’t seem to professional to me.

At the very least, a professional would send a polite response back saying “not interested.”
To be clear, I wasn’t selling anything. I’m an entrepreneur, and as I build a business, I often explore Linkedin, and reach out to people whose profiles may be a good fit with the business I’m building. I may be looking for business partners, employees, or even someone that might be interested in working for us on a contractual basis.

I’m not recruiting others for some borderline legal Multi Level Marketing (MLM) scam, nor am I asking for any investment.

I’m just reaching out to people whose profiles match with what I’m doing, to have a professional chat and see if there is a good fit.

That’s all.

And I thought I was expressing that in my communications.

But still, out of a handful of Inmails and emails sent, only a couple generated any response.

So, I began asking people why they don’t respond to messages on Linkedin.

I asked people who responded to my messages. And I asked people that I actually know over the phone, if they too ignore messages from others on Linkedin.

The results of my informal survey were sadly stunning – there is so much SPAM, scam and other junk communications coming across Linkedin, that most people treat it just like any other social network.

They post stuff, hoping it gets lots of traction, but ignore anything directed at them from anyone they don’t actually know.

That's beyond tragic.

Because, if everyone is being bombarded with so much crap, they ignore everything from anyone they don’t really know, then the one good thing about Linkedin is gone forever – the ability to really connect with others professionally.

Linkedin has become nothing more than another Facebook. They might as well add the option to poke people on it, because it’s so dominated by SPAM, what’s another annoyance?

Perhaps this great social media experiment we’ve all been participants in has taught us one lesson. If you want to really get to know someone, pick up the phone, and call them.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Why You Don’t Know What You Need to Know Right Now and Ways to Fix That in a Hurry

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know I was supposed to do that. . . “

“What do you mean I overstepped my authority? You told me to do what I thought best.”

“You did WHAT?!?!”

Funny, sad, ironic – we live in an era where we can reach out to anyone, at anytime, anywhere across the globe – yet we don’t talk to those working for us, with us, or among us, be it around the corner, down the hall, or even standing next to each other in the same room.

It’s why you don’t know what you need to know right now.


Or, rather – lack of communication – is why we’re constantly apologizing to our staff, our colleagues, our business partners, even our better halves.

It’s why arguments, disagreements, anger, and frustration with each other happens.

It can turn a positive, fun, and enjoyable corporate culture into a living hell.

And it’s dangerous.

I met with a young person recently, that began as an intern, and was now charged with the task of building the business by his bosses – the owners of the business.

He told me he doesn’t use contracts, but if I wanted one, that I should just “send me anything, and I’ll sign it.”

That kind of attitude could easily cost not only this person his job, but his bosses their company.

Luckily, I’m a nice guy, and just walked away from the company.

I don’t do business on a hand-shake alone.

Though, it’s an example – a blatantly serious example – of how dangerous lack of communications in business is.

The former intern, now business developer, should have been given clear expectations of what is expected in his new role. And, you’d hope that he’d be bright enough to communicate with his boss anything that wasn’t covered, BEFORE taking action.

Because, if I wasn’t such a nice guy, I could have easily given him a lengthy contract, filled with page after page of legal mumble jumble, which he’d sign, giving me some outrageous thing that could easily bankrupt the business.

Think that never happens in business?

Years ago, investigative journalism television show “60 Minutes” did a piece about various male executives in the auto sector, taking clients to strip clubs on the day the “big deal” was to be signed. They did this, because the other male executives would be so caught up with the naked chicks, they wouldn’t notice the last minute changes made to the contracts they just signed.

Granted, this is a form of distraction – not a lack of communications. However, it paints a nasty picture of how low corporate ethics and values may be at some companies.

So low, that a lack of communications could be a fatal blow to a business’s bottom-line.

Which brings us back to why you don’t know what you need to know right now.

Because you’ve been doing what most people do at work these days – NOT talking to your staff, your teams, your colleagues or even your boss.

Here’s how you fix that – right now.

Get to Know Your Colleagues Communication Styles

Think about who you’re communicating with and how they communicate with you. Introverts think through things on their own – so email with a follow-up call after they’ve had chance to absorb and think about it works best. 

Extroverts like to talk through a solution, so a face-to-face meeting, where you mention the issue, and let them talk, probably is the best course of action. They may also enjoy using a whiteboard, to work out their problems in a mind map.

Meet More Often, But For Less Time

Finding time when everyone can get together is tough enough, but don’t waste precious time. Shorter meetings provide a definitive end time to the meeting, making everyone focus on what needs to be done. Having more frequent short meetings – say a 10-minute checkup the next day – sets the expectation as to what everyone should be accomplishing by the next meeting, and this pattern connects people, while improving the overall workflow process.

Get Out of the Office

I’ve been known as a coffee shop fiend, for constantly taking people out to grab a coffee to discuss important and even mundane tasks. It’s a great way to break the ice, get to know your colleagues, and to establish an open communications dialogue between you and those you work with. Going out for drinks after work, grabbing lunch together, even walking to the parking lot or subway are also great ways to connect with colleagues, and open the doors of communications.

Be Mindful of How You Respond

Quick – your colleague is yelling and screaming at you. Do you:
  1.  Yell and scream back
  2. Try to talk loudly over their yelling to drown them out
  3. Talk softly, slowly, and deliberately in between their outbursts
  4. Walk away, ignore them – how dare they yell at you!

The correct answer is 3 – talk softly, slowly and deliberately in between their outbursts. By lowering your speaking voice, you take the passive stand, and force them to listen to you. By slowing your speaking style, you send out a wave of calm, over their angered storm. And by waiting for them to stop talking, before you talk, you are showing you are listening to them – instead of just brushing them off.

If the yeller is relatively normal, they’ll calm down, so you can both work through the problem, rather than getting into a yelling match, or worse, a fistfight.

Be aware of how your responses can improve the situation, or make matters worse. Try to aim for a calm collaboration, rather than heated debates. Think about what your body language is saying, your tone of voice, your level of volume – all can be just as important as what is actually said.

The main thing from all of this is to get you to communicate with each other. Because not knowing what you need to know right now, is killing your business.