Acronym Rehabilitation

Acronym Rehabilitation

The world has gotten fast paced enough that we have developed ways to make it a little bit easier on all of us. We have iPhones so that our music, phone, and email can all be carried in the same place.  Text messaging has replaced the need for pagers. Video conferencing has replaced the need to travel around the world to have a face to face get together. On top of this, more companies are implementing the use of IM in their offices to be able to share information. 

We used to use IM here in the office and writing this reminded that it's not always the clearest form of communication.  I once asked my boss a question and he responded with "y". I proceeded to tell him why I needed to know the answer only to be informed that he meant "yes". That seems like a pretty easy conclusion for me to draw, but maybe there's a reason why I didn't quite connect the dots.

In our zest to get things done faster, we've cut out a lot of "unnecessary" steps to get to where we need to be. Sometimes that can be a step in the right direction - look at companies like Toyota, who have benefited from "cut the fat" policies on their production floors. As great as these policies can be for the bottom line, there comes a time when we need to admit that we've cut out too much.  

Communication is the key to any beneficial relationship and if you can't communicate effectively, you'll never be able to close a deal or get a promotion. While most people are very careful about keeping their "net-speak" and their English separate, who hasn't accidentally dropped a "BTW" or a "BRB" on another person while speaking face to face?

Think about the up and coming generation of business leaders.  They are sixteen now, forever on their laptops or phones, texting and emailing choppy messages to each other. Not because it's the way you should speak, but because it's quicker.  They will change the world, shape the future, and one day, will be working for you. 

The question is, will you understand anything that comes out of their mouth?

Do you feel that acronym addiction will affect the way that communication occurs?  What can we do to rehabilitate ourselves and fast?

A Wrinkle in Time

Hour Glass

The English language is full of clichés about "time". What is time? I looked it up and there are a lot of different definitions and I came to realize the word "time" stretches across a lot of variants. It's a word that has a lot of power but in my opinion, not a lot of substance.

I have a theory about the "value" of time. It has a value because we have given it one.  We use it as a way to define getting out of a situation ("Oh, look at the time! I have to go") or a reason not to do something ("Oh, gee, I'm so sorry, I haven't had the time to call you back"). We wear watches and check our phone to see what time it is, gauging our lives out in precious minutes and seconds. While it is important to know if it's 6 AM or 10PM, because we are human and we do need to sleep and eat at proper times, we have a tendency to blame time for everything.

Oh I'm sorry, I didn't get to that, and I've been so busy. Oh, wow, I ran out of time today. Did you really? If you have a customer that you failed to call back, get a hold of, what do you tell them when they finally have to call you and then you're fumbling for excuses as to why you didn't get back to them? As a customer, we want to feel like we are number one when it comes to our potential business partners. When you tell a client "I'm sorry I just ran out of time", it means that that you, as the business, don't value me, as the client. Telling me that you didn't have time for me is like a slap in the face, instantly placing me down at the bottom of your list. If you wanted my business that badly, you would have made time for me.

The same goes in your personal experiences. I will admit that I am guilty of using this excuse with personal friends when I am just not in the mood to be chatty. Sometimes, it's a true statement. Sometimes there just aren't enough hours in the day to fulfill your commitments as well as find time for yourself, and that's okay.  It's what you are telling those waiting that matters.

The question to you is, instead of "I'm sorry I just ran out of time" what's a more viable reason for not following through completely?  Is there something you can say in place of "I ran out of time" that will mean the same thing but sound better? Comment your opinions here and let's redefine the value of time.

Confessions of Collector….. of Junk

Clutter

Have you ever see Clean House? It is this amazing show on Bravo where a team of designers  go into messy homes and clean everything out of it, show them how to organize, and hopefully the homeowners will stick to it.  TV shows like that always make me look around my own home or office and wonder: "Am I hanging on to anything that I don't really need?" I recently moved and threw out box after box of stuff that I had just held onto, for no other reason than the fact that there was a story to it.

It wasn't on display, nor precious enough that it was wrapped in a towel and carefully protected; it was-as my mother had been telling me for years-just junk. A collection of movie stubs from when I was in junior high, a plethora of pop tops from soda cans from a day spent at Carowinds Amusement Park, notes passed between classes from friends. What was the point of holding onto this stuff?

While I was packing, I realized that there were a lot of really great things that triggered some wonderful memories, but that I was just gumming up my life with a bunch of things I didn't have a use for.  New technology is helping us to lead less cluttered lives.  Just look at the iPhone, when the first generation came out, I remember seeing commercials where the advertising was all about having just the one device to grab while you were running out the door.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all about nostalgia, in fact, every time I go to my hometown in South Carolina, I have to drive by my old high school. There's something sweet and wonderful about the flood of memories that comes back to me as I stare at the blank scoreboard on the football field.

Ask me if I still have any of my Green Wave paraphernalia, and the answer is no.

I don't think being "nostalgic" has anything to do with holding onto junk or slowing down your progression.  There's a big difference between framing the first dollar you ever made and framing the first years worth of deposit receipts.  Nostalgia is about remembering where you came from and how you got to where you are. You don't need a bunch of junk to remember that.

So, come on, admit it. What are you holding onto for no other reason than the fact that you just can't bring yourself to throw it away?  Identify why you're holding onto it so tightly.

Then throw it out. I dare you.

Are you Excited?

My best friend started a new job yesterday. She lives in an area of the US that's feeling the pangs of the economy, so finding a job that she can be happy about (and not just pay the bills with) has been a chore for her. After a long wait, she's really excited about it and hearing her has really got me to thinking about work and the passion that goes into our jobs.

Think about the first day you had at a new job. Was it the most exciting and nerve wracking day of your life? I remember my first day here, defiantly a ‘deer in the headlights' day, but still great. Talking to my friend really made me think about how long that excited feeling lasts. Do you still feel that way about your job? If you don't, are you doing anything to put the passion and excitement back into it?

I spoke to a client not too long ago who told me about his "spirit tree". I didn't know what it was and when I asked him to explain, there was a smile in his voice. He explained the spirit tree to me as something he has in his office that has little mementos (a bell from a Tampa Bay Devil Rays game, for example) hanging from the branches. He said whenever he needs a pick me up; he pulls something off his tree and remembers the day he got that trinket.

For me, I still get excited when I have a new project; I love a good challenge, and the people I work with help to keep me motivated when things get frustrating.  I think that everyone goes through a period when they feel the repetitiveness of their lives; get up, go to work, come home, cook dinner, and watch General Hospital. The important thing is that you find ways to put the passion and excitement back into what you're doing.

What puts the smile back on your face and excites you about what you do? Do you have something like the spirit tree? How about positive affirmations ("I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggonit, people like me")? What do you do? 

How To Be A Good CEO In a Recession

OneNews in New Zealand reports on being a good CEO in a time of recession. Simon Monks from recruitment firm Heidrick and Struggles (also in New Zealand) had a list of twelve skills and qualities corporate boards will be looking for in a CEO when companies, banks, and entire countries face troubling financial difficulties.

Here are some tips for being a great leader (headings from Simon Monks of Heidrick and Struggles; explanatory statements are new):

1. Love learning as much as knowledge. There is no room for a CEO (nor is there a need for one) that doesn’t desire to learn more than she already knows. If a CEO plans to lead many people who should continue to learn, than he should be prepared to do the same.

2. Challenge the status quo. Many companies are looking for warm bodies to fill vacancies, hoping to train them once they find the person willing to learn. Why not look for specific strengths instead? That way your company is assured that it will have a person skilled in interacting with the public should you decide to promote him to head of customer service.

3. Learn to listen. If you want your company to appear transparent to its customers, you yourself must be able to listen well. Listening before speaking helps you to appear that you are considering all communications before making a snap decision.

4. Have a presence. Eclectic is status quo these days for many CEOs, but a even the most plain-jane CEOs can command the respect they deserve by determining how they carry themselves and how they come across to others. Also, be accessible to your employees at all times.

5. Access all areas. Not only is listening vital, so too is the ability to communicate effectively. If you can express yourself in a meaningful way, your leadership will succeed.

6. Empower your employees. Let your employees make some decisions on their own; this can be as small as pricing and returns or as large as promotions and hiring. The fact that you trust them will go a long way.

7. Choose character. Choosing people with character along with their professional skills is a plus every time. Trustworthy and honest employees are hard to come by, so snap them up when you can.

8. Get an expert. If you don’t know, find someone who does. There is nothing wrong with hiring an expert to bring you up to speed on an aspect of your company or business sector. Bring in managers to learn along with you. It will strengthen your entire company.

9. Build a reputation. Do you focus on health and safety or green manufacturing? Play up those traits whenever you possibly can.

10. Give thanks. Praise when praise is due. Don’t be shy about praising employees for a job well done. Let the praise and thanks flow freely in your company.

11. Get used to not being liked. Be prepared for folks to not like you, just because of your power. People will find any excuse to not like someone in authority over them, so don’t be afraid to focus on your or others’ strengths.

12. Have an escape route. Give yourself time away from the job in order to return refreshed and ready for another week. If you need time off during the week, take it, but be prepared for the burst of energy you’ll have once you get back in the office.

A Small Idea to Turn To When Things Are Tough—#3 of 3

The third post in our series for small business survival during this economy focuses on an important part of your business - customer service. This part of a business is often overlooked, but it is relatively easy to spruce up your customer service practices and practically guarantees referral and repeat business. (For previous posts, see the first one here and the second one here.)

Customer service is one of those terms slapped on the end of lectures about succeeding in business. Yet, it is really a fine-tuned machine that can work to your benefit. A few tips on customer service that I've learned when times are tough.

1. How is your customer service? If you've never really thought about it (many small businesses are really small, especially b2b industries and service businesses; a single person even!) and the idea of customer service makes you want to run the other way—don't! It's as simple as a pleasant voice answering your phone (can you be pleasant?) to quick replies to emails to understanding when a customer or client is delayed or having problems on their end, even when it inconveniences your schedule.

2. Thank you goes a long way in the business world. Did a client refer you to another? Did you thank them? How about a thank you gift? How about referring them to someone you know? Mutual back scratching is one thing, but kindness goes far. And a heartfelt thank you goes even farther.

3. I may be too nice, but I think it serves me very well as a small business professional. There is nothing wrong with nice. It does not mean you are a pushover or that you won't ever completely lose your cool at one time or another; you just know how to be nice. It's easy. One thing that helps me is to realize that there is one fact I will never know in the life of my client and that one thing may be why they are late with their order, or why they never sent the work instructions they promised a week ago. Let it go and be nice. Be firm, but be nice.

The above tips may seem inconsequential at first glance, but when you think about how many times in a day you “touch” your clients and customers with your customer service, just picking up one of these ideas may be the difference between a one-order customer and a customer who comes back again and again. Try it!

A Small Idea to Turn To When Things Are Tough—#2 of 3

In the first post in this series, we talked about how the economy is still hovering between sort of good and not good and small business owners are looking for ways to jumpstart their profits and sales. We discussed email newsletters as a way to encourage a conversation with customers as one possible solution.

In the second post, I'd like to discuss how to jumpstart a small business owner's interest in the business itself. Perhaps there is another angle on your business you haven't considered, or perhaps your business has moved past its original existence and has morphed into something else entirely.

In a recent article on Scotsman.com, as an antidote to boredom and burnout, author Peter Ranscombe suggests a life coach.

"A life coach may not be the first person a small business turns to when times get tough. But James McKim, one of Scotland's leading practitioners, thinks companies should treat coaches as trusted advisers, in the same way they would an accountant or solicitor – and he's not the only one who thinks so."

Now, before you panic, a life coach is not voodoo. A life coach is not even a therapist. A life coach is someone who takes stock of where you are in your life, what your goals are, and helps to match up the day-to-day activities between the two. A life coach won't fix your family issues nor will it save your marriage (unless you get that work/life balance down and rekindle the romance with your significant other), but it will help you to find ways to deal with your business as it affects you on a daily basis.

"McKim's training for small businesses runs from skills such as resolving conflict and public speaking through to tips for managing stress or achieving a balance between work and life. ‘It's business coaching but incorporating sales training.'"

Interested? Good. But let's say you're not really into a life coach, but want to learn how to be more objective about your business and its impact on your life. Two books might help: Arlie Russell Hochschild's Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work and Michael Port's Beyond Booked Solid: Your Business, Your Life, Your Way—It's All Inside.

Addendum: Port's first book, Book Yourself Solid: The Fastest, Easiest, and Most Reliable System for Getting More Clients Than You Can Handle Even If You Hate Marketing and Selling is also really good.

Moral of the story: Maybe the solution you're looking for is already there and you just need poke around a bit inside in order to find it.

A Small Idea to Turn To When Things Are Tough

So the economy's still just kind of hovering there, not really improving, but still diluted enough so that things are tough. So I went and did some research.

Want to know what I found?

Email marketing is back. Not emails blizzarded out to 5,000 strangers you don't even know, no. But email newsletters, sent out to a targeted list of clients or customers who you've worked with, or who have expressed (even if it was years ago) an interest in working with you. Another word for email newsletters? Follow-up. Something most business owners are really negligent about.

So how do you do an email newsletter?

It's not hard. You need to sign up for a service or a program that lets you send mass email without marking you as a spammer. A few examples are Constant Contact and Aweber (Google will get you to them). Aweber has exceptional functionality as well as the ability to make macro and micro changes without having to call customer service or get someone to make the changes for you. If that flusters you, no worries. Aweber has a large collection of FAQs and tutorials guaranteed to make the process go smoothly.

What do you write about in an email newsletter?

You become a resource. What are your clients or customers (aka readers) wanting to know? What is the core issue they think about and that would interest them? That's what you want to write about. Say you're a HVAC company (I know, always an example of mine; my sister and brother-in-law own one and I brainstorm with them a lot) and your customers want to know about the latest geothermal advances (how to heat or cool a home using natural ventilation). There's your topic. And then you can have one line at the bottom of your newsletter stating that if the reader wants to know more about the geothermal products and services that you offer, they can give you a call.

It's that simple. And in the spirit of simple, keep the newsletter short, less than 500 words so that it can be scanned or read in less than five minutes. Any more and you'll lose their interest.

Next up in the series, how a life coach can help a hurting small business owner.