Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Doing well by doing good

Growing up my father always talked about having a sense of balance.  What he meant was that when you were fortunate, you needed to balance out the scales and help someone else get ahead.

He was a real role model for me, always supporting the underdog.  He’d grown up on the “wrong side of the tracks” and never forgot his humble beginnings. It wasn’t until he died that I learned just how generous he’d been. You could say he was a dragon before we had the den, lending money to people starting a business. 

With giving back in my DNA, it should come as no surprise that it is also an integral part of Company of Women.  Over the years we have supported numerous charities – Opportunity International, Girls Inc, Because I am a Girl, World Teacher Aid to name but a few, as well as scholarships for women entering the skilled trades.  The common thread is that they all focused on women and girls.

And that makes senses.  When you are picking the organization or cause you want to support, there should be a strong tie or link to what your business does.   For example, if you are in real estate, perhaps Habitat for Humanity fits the bill.  Or if you are in the beauty industry, Look Good, Feel Good, a program for cancer patients might be a good fit.

We once had a speaker, who armed with copies of SNAP, got the women in the audience to check through the paper to see if there were local causes or events that they could get behind.  That isn’t a bad place to start, but make sure you do your homework on the cause selected, because not all charities are created equal.

As well as the business fit, there may well be a cause that tugs at your heartstrings. Perhaps a disease has inflicted someone in your family and you want to help raise funds for a cure, research or support for families.

You might want to get your feet wet and just dip a toe into the cause-related pool. See how that goes.  Working on a smaller project, gives you a chance to see how well the organization functions.  How much of the funds raised go towards the actual recipients, and how much is swallowed up in administration?  Who is on their board?  How many staff is involved?  These are good questions to ask.

This year we have chosen to get behind the Canadian Women’s Foundation, and particularly their program aimed at young girls and how they feel about themselves. I am excited about this partnership, and particularly interested in their As We Are Project 

Still need convincing that giving back is a sound business decision?  Putting sentiment aside, it earns you brownie points with customers and staff alike.  People, especially millennials, like to work for a company that takes corporate responsibility seriously.  It gains you credibility with your client base and bottom line; it fees good to be doing good.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Trust your gut

This summer on our trip to Nova Scotia, we rented a car plus a GPS.  Past experience told us that this was a good move for the sake of our marriage. 

I always remember our first romantic getaway without children when we had to rely on my navigational skills to reach our destination.  We were barely speaking to each other by the time we got there.

Let’s just say that map reading is not my forte!

So armed with our GPS I thought we’d be safe.  Wrong. This navigational tool wasn’t always accurate.  We unwittingly drove down dead end roads, and her slight left turns were really full-blown left turns.  And as for getting to the airport, she clearly was asleep at the wheel, as she neglected to say take a right turn.  

Fortunately by this time, we knew not to rely on her whimsical directions, and were watching out for where we needed to turn.  In the absence of any direction from our automated friend, we used our common sense and made the right move.

The other quirky foible with this GPS was that when she wasn’t sure of the best route, she’d issue a disclaimer saying we were in unknown territory and then proceed to tell us exactly how to get there.  It was almost as if she was hedging her bets.

Truth is I am a nervous driver, so I’ve found having a GPS takes away some of my fear of driving into new territories.   My trusted friend has broadened my horizons, giving me the confidence to drive and travel to places I would have previously avoided.  

I have often compared having a GPS with having a coach, as like the GPS, a coach helps guide you and lends her insights and expertise to help you reach your destination.

Personally I’ve found having a business coach gave me the confidence to move forward.  She would push me outside my comfort zone and helped me realize my goals.  Yet, as we found on our trip, at the end of the day, you have to rely on your own intuition and rather than second-guessing which way to turn, follow your gut.

My advice? Make the most of your GPS/coach, utilize the expertise and knowledge available to you, always remembering that it is YOUR business and YOUR life, and whatever direction you go in, it has to fit with your vision, values and goals.  

And making a wrong turn isn’t the end of the road, literally.  You can reverse and redirect.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Putting your customer first

If you want to learn more about customer service, go to Nova Scotia.

We found in our recent trip that staff at hotels, restaurants and in local stores all treated you with such a friendly, helpful manner. It was refreshing.  Everyone was cheerful, asking questions and would strike up a conversation with you. As a result, you left feeling respected and valued. 

And who doesn’t want to feel that way?   It was almost as if they were thrilled to see you.  When I think about how you are received elsewhere, it can be way different.  Sometimes you are lucky to get a smile and everything seems a chore to the person "helping" you.

We chose to stay in bed and breakfasts as we travelled around, and that’s where we noticed some real differences.  At the first B & B, the owner, who in fairness was heading off to Europe the following day, was a bit curt.  Quick to tell us all the rules and regulations of the establishment, and we had to say exactly what time we would be down for breakfast, with three choices provided.  And when we selected the latest time possible, it was met with a frown of disapproval.

Fortunately for us, the “guest hosts” were charming.  Hannah Clare was warm and friendly, taking an interest in those staying there.  She’d just retired as a palliative care nurse, and I am sure she was amazing with her patients and their families.

At our next stop, the welcoming reception was so different.  Maps, advice on local places of interest and restaurants all provided. Breakfast was available for three hours and you just came down when you were ready to eat. 

Whereas the first B&B was focused on what worked for them, the second one was paying attention to the needs of the guests. Now, there’s a real customer service lesson to be learned here. 

When we focus on what we want to deliver, whether it suits the customer or not, we somehow miss the boat. On the other hand, when we think about what the customer needs and wants, and provide it, we hit the jackpot.

I know I have been guilty of putting my needs first.  For the last couple of years, for example, I stopped offering evening events.  Oh I kidded myself that the women were busy and didn’t want to come out at night, but truth is, I was the one who didn’t want to work evenings.  Wrong decision, made for the wrong reason.

When we let go of what we want, and focus on what our customer wants – we are way ahead.  I am pleased to say evening events are back at Company of Women.  I don’t come to them all – but then I don’t need to.  I have a great team – but that’s a whole other blog.

To wrap up this one, I thoroughly recommend Nova Scotia and if you want to know where to stay – give me a call.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Planning for success

“People commit to what they help create”

This back to school time of year also marks a fresh start for many of us in business. It’s a time of planning and focusing on the future

As someone from the non-profit sector, and even within my business, I have tended to use a SWOT analysis to determine future plans.  SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.  This strategic planning exercise is one commonly used by organizations and has its place in the planning of your business, organization and even your life.

However, at a recent conference I learned more about another strategic planning tool that excited me.  It’s acronym is SOAR – strengths, opportunities, aspirations and results.

What appealed to me is the focus on the positive.  While yes you do need to look at what could hold you back from achieving your goals, with SOAR the focus is on the future, while SWOT can leave you stuck, particularly if the weaknesses and threats seem overwhelming.

The presenter also advised that while SWOT tended to be a top-down approach, the SOAR process was inclusive, involving everyone, including members and clients.  As he shared, people commit to what they help create.  The advantages of SOAR is it draws on the energy and creativity of the participants, and fosters ownership in the outcome.

“You are starting from a different mindset.” he observed, and went on to suggest several questions to ask when going through this particular process:

  • ·      What are the root causes of our success?
  • ·      What key achievements are we most proud of?
  • ·      What positive aspects of service have others commented on?
  • ·      What are we known for?
  • ·      What makes us unique?
  • ·      What key resources and areas of expertise give us an advantage?

As you will see they are all forward-thinking, positive questions, helping you to look to the future and to build on your strengths.

While the presentation was aimed at non-profit organizations, I see great merit in using these questions to help you determine what you want to achieve moving forward in your business.  The terminology is just different, for example we’d talk more about brand recognition and unique value proposition, but bottom line whether you are running a charity or a business, we all want our endeavours to be financially successful and meet the needs of our clients.

So as you plan where you want to take your business next, consider using this technique – you may even want to involve key customers and members of your team in the process.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Stay alert - there's a new scam, a new victim - don't let it be you...

“We live in an uncomfortable world,” observed my daughter last week.  An interesting observation which came up because I had my rewards account hacked and a substantial number of points stolen and used for a plane ticket.  My guess he was off on a world trip!

Then I had this red alert on my computer, saying my computer had been closed down because my credit card and bank accounts had been hacked, and for security purposes I had to phone this number so we could correct it.

I didn’t call.

Instead, I checked on the latest scams, and sure enough there it was.  But the noise and ferocity of the message were scary.  It was like one of those Amber Alerts when a child goes missing – loud and menacing. To get it to stop, I had to turn off my computer completely.

It all left me feeling somewhat unsettled, especially given that I’d had my rewards account hacked the day before. So I spent my afternoon, changing passwords and checking bank balances – all was safe.

However, it is a statement on our society today, and as my daughter suggested, it leaves you feeling uncomfortable, jaded.  Even with Google, you check something out, and next minute on Facebook there’s a related ad to what you’d been investigating.   Very Big Brother.

However, I have learned from this experience and I no longer store my passwords and account numbers on my computer … far too easy for someone to gain access. Unfortunately I have also learned to be suspicious of callers, email messages and the like.  I no longer take information at face value.  And that’s kind of sad.