Sunday, July 29, 2012

Getting to WOW

Can you remember when you had a WOW experience? 

What was it about the experience or product that captured your attention and led to such a high, memorable rating?  That’s just one of the questions asked by Michael Hyatt in his new book Platform.  Get Noticed in a Noisy World:  A Step-by-Step Guide for Anyone with Something to Say or Sell.

As I reflected on the question, a couple of occasions immediately came to mind, and each time it was the attention to detail, coupled with the atmosphere created that blew me away. 

One was the first ATHENA leadership conference that I ever attended, where its high calibre speakers impacted my life, creating a defining “ah ha” moment.  Based on that experience, I have since tried to replicate those inspiring moments in the conferences I have organized.  The second was a building, a club – the Verity Club - with its bursts of colour  (orange walls), beautiful artwork and atmosphere of acceptance.

So often the WOW factor is about going the extra mile; doing the unexpected that will grab the person’s attention. In both these instances, efforts were made to make the space or learning environment not only women-friendly but warm, with those little touches such as fresh flowers, that tell you someone cares, and that unquestionably a woman is involved in the design.  (Sorry guys)

So what can you do to create that same level of WOW in your business? 

Part of the secret to a WOW experience, explains Hyatt, is truly knowing your audience and not only talking in their language but demonstrating that you understand their challenges. As a result, you choose to provide a service or product that really addresses those needs, remembering always that it is not about you, it’s about them.

But it is not just about knowing your target group, it is also knowing and believing in your brand; and nailing down the detail to best message what you offer.  Doing your homework and checking out popular trends as well as your competition helps build that foundation.

As Hyatt says “you won’t get a second chance to make a first impression.”  So you need to make sure that your package captures their attention straight away.  But, he cautions, let your designers have some leeway to create something innovative and different.

His favourite designs are simple and elegant and I would concur.  When we make the message too difficult to decipher, we lose out and dilute the impact.   Short, punchy and to the point says it all.

However, he also warns that we have to be clear on our messages and stick to our gut instinct and not let the designers get too carried away in the design element.  Last but not least, check in with your fans, he advises, they will quickly tell you if you are on track, or not.

Bottom line, the more clear you are on what you want to create – be it product or service – the better able you will be to provide that extra WOW factor.

And that is what we all want and deserve.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

True Customer Service

Every Saturday without fail, I head off to our local farmers’ market.  It is more than a shopping expedition, it has become a community experience, one that other business owners could learn from, particularly in terms of customer experience.  Let me explain why.

1.        The space is bright and airy, with daylight flooding in through the Plexiglas windows. 
2.        It is open for five hours, so it is never super-crowded, so you don’t have to fight your way around.
3.        Parking is easy, nearby and free.
4.        If you need help getting around, there are walkers to use (and return)
5.        Shopping baskets on wheels are also available.
6.        If you go on a regular basis, people get to know you and greet you by name.
7.        The “vendors” are knowledgeable and can answer questions on the produce, how they grew it and how you can cook it.
8.        Local musicians play each week, creating a wonderful ambiance.  Sometimes it is a quartet, a fiddler or a guitarist, respectful of everyone’s musical tastes.
9.        It’s not just farm produce on sale, but local crafters get a chance to showcase their wares.
10.      There’s a charity table available and so each week a different non-profit gets to promote its organization.
11.      If you buy something big, volunteers are there to help load it into your car.
12.      In buying local, you are not only supporting local farmers, but you know what you are buying is fresh
13.      There are picnic tables set aside so you can stop, have coffee and visit with friends and neighbours.
So yes, shopping may take a tad longer, but the market has become an important hub in our community, linking people and bringing them together to support each other.  Isn’t that what it is all about?

When you look at your business, what could you do to encompass this sense of community?  What changes could you make that would help accommodate your different customers. 

When we put the needs of the customer first, then we are saying something important to them – you matter.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Are you at risk of over-extending yourself?

I love the summer because I get to take leisurely lunches with friends.  But the other week, as I chatted with and caught up with one of my girlfriends, I realized something really important - I was in danger of over-extending myself, again.

As we talked and I updated her on my plans for the fall, the penny dropped that

 a) I had taken on several new projects, which excited me; and
 b) none of them directly related to Company of Women, but were potential offshoots of  
     my business.

Given that in the fall I will be back to being a solopreneur, with no staff in the office, this could be a big problem as time will be precious.  Yet I don’t want to give up on these commitments as they offer a growth opportunity for me personally and professionally.

I am sure I am not alone as we juggle the demands on our time and the priorities for our business.   So what is the answer?

1.        Determine your priorities.  Know at the outset what you want to achieve in the year ahead. Set goals. When something new comes up, ask yourself if it fits your priorities, and if it doesn’t, perhaps the answer should be “no.”
2.        Be aware.  As you take on new work, check to be sure that there are not too many conflicting demands on your time.
3.        Do a schedule. When I scheduled out the timeframe for the projects, I was relieved to see that they are spaced out over several months, meaning that I am not going to be working on them all at the same time and there’s little overlap.  Whew!
4.        Determine when enough is enough.  It will take a very exciting project to persuade and entice me to take on anything else.  My plate is full.
5.        Automate.  Because I will be the only one in the office, we are automating our processes, so that my time is not taken up with routine, admin work. 
6.        Delegate.  I plan to build a team around me who will take on some of the tasks I used to undertake, thereby freeing up my time to get involved in the new projects and different revenue streams.
7.        Change is OK.   I have given myself permission to pursue new avenues that will enable me personally to gain some new skills sets and experiences.

Being more self-aware has helped me to step back and review what I have taken on.  Maybe I am getting wiser in my old age, because in the past, I would have just said “yes” to everything that came my way, without reflecting on the impact that response would have on the rest of my workload or the members of my team.

What about you?  Do you need to step back and double-check that what you are doing fits with your vision and mission in life?  Remember we can all shape our own destiny. You are the captain of your own ship, so make sure you are steering it in the direction that suits you. Don’t feel locked in to doing something because you always have, that is not a good enough reason to continue.

I am excited about the year ahead.  Yes, it will be busy but personally I do my best when I have a lot on the go.  What about you?

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Detours in Decluttering

In his book Driven, Robert Herjavec shares how often successful entrepreneurs have messy desks, a sign of their creativity and drive to succeed, he says.  I chuckled when I read that, as it meant that I qualify; I have what it takes.

Although this summer I have declared war on my office and am determined to declutter and get rid of the paper and stuff that holds me back.  I have to admit it is a bit overwhelming – I mean where do you start?  Right now I working systematically around the room, creating even more chaos until order can be restored.

I should also confess that I do this every summer with varying degrees of success, but this year I mean business as we plan to put our house up for sale and so I really do have to clean out the cupboards and reduce the signs of a busy home business.   No mean feat.

I also know it will take me time as I sort through the files and books I have collected over the years.  With the books in particular, it is like parting with old friends and my preference is to find a good home for each of them. Want a collection of business books?
Even the local library has turned me down.

While it is early days, I also know that the process will serve to remind me of how far Company of Women, and myself as well, have come in 10 years.  Yesterday I opened my Success Box – a treasure trove of notes and cards from people who took the time to thank me and express their appreciation for what I had done for them. You know the kind of stuff.  I keep it all in this beautiful box, so that when I am having a down day, week, whatever, I can turn to its contents and remind myself of what I have accomplished and how much my work has impacted other people.

Well hidden away at the bottom of this box was a little sculpture of two birds, sitting close together, one with its wing wrapped around the other.  I have had it for years. It was a gift from a former colleague and at one time it literally was perched on the top of my desk, reminding me daily of our friendship.  But it kept falling off, so I had carefully stored it in the Box.

I really smiled when I saw the birds, because that friend has just come back into my life.  For years we had kept in touch but it had been the odd card or email now and again. But now she too has joined the world of entrepreneurship, become part of Company of Women and it is truly wonderful to have her back.

All of which just goes to show that the world keeps evolving, bringing people into and out of our lives. I say out of our lives too because 2012 seems to be a time of transition for many of my friends as they chose to downsize, move out of the city to start afresh in smaller communities. 

But the moral of the story I guess, is with true friends you never really say goodbye, as I found last summer when my husband and I looked up folks in England that we hadn’t seen in 40 years and with whom we just took up where we left off.

This little detour via the Success Box has made the decluttering less painful.  It is perhaps taking longer, but the journey to reconnect with myself is worth it.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Make It The People Who Count, Not The Money

A wise friend sent me this quote “ Change your focus from making money to serving more people. Serving more people makes the money come in.”  And she is right.

So often we get caught up in the numbers game – be it number of sales or number of people attending an event or number of members.  But when we do that, we run the risk of diminishing what we are offering as our focus is on the money, not on the customers.

And people can pick up when you are treating them just like a meal ticket. I am sure we have all been in situations when we’ve felt nickel and dimed or treated shabbily.  It doesn’t feel good and you leave feeling somewhat disillusioned and disappointed.   Yes, we have to keep an eye on the bottom line, but when that is all you focus on, to the detriment of fostering meaningful relationships, then I suspect your business suffers.

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when we had ten people registered for a lunch meeting.  “Only ten women,” I thought to myself and I questioned whether we should cancel or not.  I am so glad we didn’t, because the right ten people were there, and they rallied around one of the women who needed a boost, and who received encouragement and support from the others.

She left with her head held high and the other women also had a bounce to their steps because they knew they’d made her day and had made a difference.  That is what it is all about, not the number of participants, not the money made, but helping each other.

It served to remind me of why I started Company of Women in the first place and was a lesson I needed to learn that day.  Sometimes we can wander off track and get caught up in the chase for the all-mighty dollar, but when you are genuine, honest and care, I have to believe that others pick up on your authenticity, and your business benefits, and in turn so does your bottom line.