Friday, July 31, 2009

What Are They Hearing

Strange how one event triggers thoughts and sends you off on a different yet somehow connected tangent. But, that is exactly what happened to me this morning.

At our regular Friday morning Rotary meeting we had the spokesperson from Listen Up Canada. Christine De Luca is an educated and knowledgeable person when it comes to the field of hearing and hearing support devices. These items are commonly known as hearing aids but I believe the naming conventions should be changed. They are support devices. OK, enough with the battle of semantics.

Christine's talk led me to thinking about those of us in business who communicate regularly with existing or potential clients. Clearly from our perspective our message is clear and easily understood. But then let's take another look at that concept.

First, the words we choose may have a totally different meaning for someone else. Just look above to see my ramblings on whether it is a hearing aid or a hearing support device. Now, think of all those fancy adjectives and phrases used in promotion material:
newest; outstanding; life time guarantee; powerful; exciting; thrilling; renewing;
Each of these can mean something different to the receiver.

Each of us has had a number of experiences throughout our lives. Some of us, like the writer have had a lot more years to have these experiences in. Regardless of the number of years of experiences, those experiences have created filters for hearing messages sent to us.

Perhaps, we were told something had a lifetime guarantee and yet when it broke down we found out the guarantee was only for the lifetime of the company and they were out of business now. Perhaps we were told our used car was in excellent condition and after only a few short months we had to invest significant dollars in repairs.

The message here, again I may be making the same mistakes in assuming it is clear to you, is that we need to consider the hearing filters of our audiences. Then we need to work to ensure the message is able to come through the filters clearly and accurately.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Some time back, perhaps about 8 years ago, a very knowledgeable person told me that a reward is only a reward when it is both wanted and valued by the recipient. At the time this made an impact. Truly, we need to value the reward for it to be important to us. However the part about it being wanted well that was another matter. After all, don't we all want rewards?

Having now passed the anniversary of my fifth year as an independent business owner, that concept means a lot more to me. To be clear, there are no employees here, just little old me. So the reward is both given and received by that one employee. Guess that makes me the employee of the month over 60 times. Anyway, back to the point.

My efforts for the past two weeks have been multi-faceted. In other words it has required a bit of a grasshopper mind. First work on promotion of one workshop. Then move on to service an existing client contract. From there it was time to start a total new promotion concept for a new avenue of business. This is not a complaint as that kind of environment is stimulating.

The issue is that it also means that rewards, i.e. cash in the bank, may be quite a way off. Therefore there was a need for some other type of reward. Not later but now.

Mine today was basic, took a little time to visit my daughter and pet her dog. He loves that so it was a treat for both of us. Then it was really basic, a chocolate dipped ice cream cone from Dairy Queen. No big deal in most people's eyes.

However, after that little break and treat I was ready to tackle another challenge and start yet a third project. Guess my boss is a pretty nice guy after all.

Each of us has a need to be treated once in a while. Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs and small business owners hold the opinion that the rewards will come later. Sometimes later never arrives.

Think about it. When was the last time you rewarded yourself with a simple treat. Perhaps a walk in the park. Perhaps a ride on a bicycle around the neighbourhood. Or, like me today, buying an ice cream cone.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Technical Frustration

Have you ever experienced that unknown technical problem with anything? It could have been your digital television set up that just did not seem to work as it should. It might have been that you could not get voice mail set up as it should. Perhaps it is email you are not getting.

If you are one of those serious bloggers who has a great technical background you might want to stop reading right about here.

Over the past couple of weeks all of the three technical difficulties have been experienced by me. Take the digital television set up. Based on the commercials it seems really easy right? All you have to do is plug it in. Right. There is no question that is all that is needed to be done and the system should set itself up (if you follow the instructions in the booklet provided). However, our experience is that if the remote does not point directly at the box and the television at the same time, only one of them will go off. Then every time you press the power button you turn one off and one on. This means resetting the system again. Total frustration.

How about voice mail and call forwarding. For some telephones, such as the one we have in our dining room, all you have to do is dial *98 and you get voice mail. However, on other telephones, such as the one in my office upstairs, *98 connects you to the traffic reporter for CHFI radio. If you have a digital phone it is one number to call, if you have an analog phone a separate number is required. Again, remembering the right combination or not can lead to frustration.

Now to the email item. You set up your email to be forwarded from your web mail to your Outlook. All works just fine until one fine day someone asks why you did not respond to their email. What email? you say. Then you go searching through your web mail (remember you set up the auto-forward so you would not have to do that). Sure enough it is right there, just did not get sent to you.

You must have changed something, right? Wrong. All the settings are just as they should be. So, like any good consumer you contact your web host. In the middle of your on-line support chat you get a note, "server disconnected". Which server? Your web host? Your ISP? Your computer itself? Who knows, the message does not clarify but only adds to confusion and confusion leads to frustration.

So you try again. This time the rep tells you that is was an unexpected cancellation at their end. However, if you have every technical spec for the missing emails they can look into it for you. Of course, not being a techie all you know is who sent the note and when. To your surprise, an email to their support tells you that their server was down for maintenance and items got dropped. Sure would have been nice to know. However, the assumption by those working on the server is that you will know that through some inspired vision or technical knowledge.

Talk about adding to your frustration, you contact the support centre for your event promotion only to find out it is on the west coast and they will not be in until about 3 hours after you start your day. An email to them gets a stock response that your inquiry has been received and a response will be sent within 24, 48 or 72 hours (depending on which one you use). Not much use if you want to know how to do something now.

The bottom line to this rambling is that not everyone has the same level of knowledge about something that you might take for granted. The individual may simply be a client/user that expects things to work as promised. It is understood that often something can "go bump in the night". People accept that. Just let us know in layman's language and the world will go a lot smoother for everyone concerned.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Enjoy Today

It seems no matter what age we are we as human beings tend to think that certain actions can be put off until tomorrow. After all, there will be more time tomorrow, right?

A fellow Rotarian recently sent me a PowerPoint presentation with some beautiful pictures of orchids. With each picture there was a bit of sage advice. Most of the advice was something that was said by someone else in my life at least a dozen times or more. So, like most people, I watched the presentation, thought about it for a minute or two and then forwarded to a few very close friends. That action being done I moved on to other things.

Then came a couple of emails from other Rotarian friends advising of the passing of people I knew and did not know personally. People who have left this earth far too early or quickly. This caused a pause. What if it was me? What would I have left undone that needed to be done?

Now I am not talking about things in the business but rather my personal relationships. When was the last time I saw our two children? When did I last hug one of our three grandchildren? When did I last tell my wife or the other members of my family that they were loved?

Separate these two occurrences might not have had an impact. However, taken together they were a real jolt of reality.

Perhaps as my friend Glenn would have you do, it is time to stop and listen to good music and look at some beautiful flowers. I know I will be doing a lot more of today stuff as a result.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Take Advantage of the Advantages

One of the best things about being self employed and working from home is the lack of need to dress up for work every day. Meeting people on a professional basis, such as a networking group or one-on-one meeting it is best to dress accordingly, of course. However, the rest of the time we have an advantage over those in the "corporate world".

Another advantage is the opportunity to work to your own schedule. You do not have to clock in or clock out. You do not have to be there to cover for others at lunch or wait until someone else comes back in before you can go to lunch or coffee.

Just this morning I had the opportunity to take advantage of those advantages. The sun was out and it was a warm but not yet hot day. So, I took my work to the back patio. With wireless connections on a laptop, a Blackberry and call forwarding from the office line, it was just like being in the office.

The advantages:

a) I was not locked inside breathing recycled or air-conditioned air

b) I was able to get that vital dose of vitamin D we all need, direct from the sun not from a pill

c) I was able to do my work in a pair of shorts and comfortable t-shirt (OK, the t-shirt did have the word STAFF in big letters on the back but that is another story entirely)

d) At noon I was able to turn on the barbecue and grill up some nice pork chops.

As there were a few potatoes baking in the oven, it made for a great lunch-time meal. Those in an office environment had to go out and pay a minimum of $10 - $15 for a meal like that. For me, it was a little diversion from work and a total cost of just over $5. for a meal for two. Another advantage, the cost of meals can be brought way down without sacrificing the quality of meal.

Bottom line, I say to all you independent business people out there who happen to work out of their home, take advantage of the advantages. As long as you are moving forward with business initiatives, does it matter whether you are inside or outside?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Retired - Now What

You are retired, perhaps a bit earlier than you expected. This you see as a blessing and a curse. First, it is great not to have to get up every day and go to that "job", right? However, this is not when you planned on retiring. As a result you now find yourself with extra time but not always extra money.

For the first couple of weeks or even months it is fantastic. All those jobs you were going to do around the house but never had time on weekends are able to be finished. You have been able to get to the golf course mid-week when it is slow. You are able to work on your yard on a Tuesday when it is sunny rather than wait for the weekend or rush to cut the lawn after a full day at work.

Now reality is setting in. You have a whole lot of years ahead of you and no specific plans for them. Perhaps your life partner is still working so you are home alone. Again, nice for a while but soon you miss the simple pleasure of adult conversation during the day.

Now is the time to think outside the box. Take an inventory of what it is that you really liked about what you did when you were working? Were you also good at that particular task? Great! Now you have the opportunity to share with someone else.

Recently heard a presentation by the Dean of Workforce Development at Sheridan College. The demographics of the GTA are changing rapidly. A great number of local residents are immigrants. Many are talented folks who need help either in learning English, getting their credentials recognized, upgrading their skills, or learning how business works in Canada.

If you were in business and had a passion for what you did why not turn that passion into a hobby/job? Determine what you are good at. Ask yourself that question posed by my friend "Who cares". Then set up your own business providing that skill to the market.

The values are numerous:
  1. you get self satisfaction from helping someone
  2. you have an opportunity to earn some extra income
  3. you get to do what you most love to do
  4. you still have the opportunity to take time off when you want to
  5. you keep yourself active and evidence shows that active people live longer happier lives

The pluses are there. The question is how are you going to make it work for you. As the commercial for Everest schools says, What are you waiting for?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Customer Service

Had an opportunity today to experience customer service close up and personal from two different yet similar organizations. That is to say that they both provide quite different services yet both are large corporate entities with countless layers of control and management.

In the first instance it was to have been a simple transaction. Having taken over as treasurer for a service organization it was necessary to go in to the bank and change the signing authorities. In preparation of this a letter, on letterhead had already been obtained bearing the signatures of the two individuals presently signing, stating who the new signatories should be.

However, the branch officer informed me that those two individuals who signed the letter could not sign on the account according to her computer file records. This in spite of the fact that they have been writing cheques for the past two years. Upon insistence that they were the signing authorities, the manager was called. Again, the same line was given. However, I did manage to prevail upon them to check the paper documents files. To their surprise, the paper files were up to date and the computer files were out of date by two years. Not exactly a glowing report for the "control" of that financial institution is it?

Upon getting back to the office the mail produced my monthly Bell phone bill. Mid June I had talked to an individual and arranged to change the service to reduce the monthly charge. However, to my surprise the bill was not reduced but was rather over $60. higher than before.

This resulted in a call to Bell and a fun experience with voice activated service. After telling them I wanted to be serviced in English a billing officer answered the phone in fluent French.

When he was switched to English the situation was explained and the comment made, "that should not have happened". Understandably that is a valid statement. However, not what you want to hear as a customer.

To be fair, the individual did check into the situation and determine there was an error and provide an instant credit on the account. The question this begs is; what would have happened if it had not been spotted? What if that bill went directly to an accounting department solely charged with tracking expenses and writing cheques?

Overall, these two experiences lead to a serious question:
"What has happened to quality control in large organizations and to customer service?"

For readers of this item, it raises another question. What is your quality control like and what is your customer service like? Errors happen, we all understand that but how they are handled is critical to maintaining a satisfied client base.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Customer Service or Customer Response

Recently downloaded two different applications to my Blackberry. This was the first time I had downloaded anything as up to now the standard applications always seemed to be enough. However, my son was showing me some of his applications and they looked great.

After downloading it was clear that the two applications did not do what was wanted and would end up costing quite a bit. This in spite of the fact that they were free downloads.

One download for GPS mentions, after you download mind you, that unlimited airtime is required of significant costs could be incurred. The other application for audio email was one that spoke your emails to you not one you could voice record emails. Thus it was of little use to me.

Contacted the support / service area of both organizations and asked for instructions on closing out my account and removing from the Blackberry.

In one case the response was a rather lengthy email extolling the virtues of the software. It went on and on for two pages about what the program could do and why it should be kept. At no time did they mention anything about how to cancel the account or delete from the Blackberry.

The second firm sent a very nice email advising they would cancel the account and gave me a specific link to very clear instructions on how to remove the application. Turns out all Blackberry applications can be deleted that same way. This was new to me so a great help.

The difference was that the first firm practiced "customer response". They did not answer the request made nor provide valuable information to make their client satisfied. That email was clearly a sales pitch in hopes you would get so bogged down in the rhetoric you would keep the application on your Blackberry.

The second firm responded with a precise answer to my request. In fact, sent them a email telling them how much their service response was appreciated. You see they were practicing "Customer Service".

Each of us in business could do well to learn from this experience and make sure that when we are contacted by a client that we are providing service not just a response.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Mental and Physical

On Saturday morning the alarm went off well before it should have. OK, it went off when I set it for but at that moment it seemed far too early. I had an extremely busy week, one of those when everything seems to occur in rapid succession. As a result it was a total of five days early rising and late getting to bed.

This is not to say that the week was not of my choosing. Nor is it to say that the week was not one that I felt like something was accomplished.

However, this Saturday morning I had agreed to get up and help out all day at a charity barbecue. Oh, yes, one other thing. The weather forecast for the day was thunder storms with heavy rain. Just the sort of day you want to be in an open plaza cooking and selling hot dogs.

The temptation was to turn off the alarm and go back to sleep. Perhaps call someone and say I was not feeling well. For those who care, I did not call in but rather went to the event. Yes the rains did come. Then the sun came out. All in all we had a great time and raised funds for a worthy cause.

This whole episode made me think of people who face a similar situation every Monday through Friday. The job they have is either mentally or physically exhausting. They do obtain a certain sense of satisfaction when the job is done but it is not a true passion of theirs. These are the folks who work to live rather than the ones that live to work.

In these cases, it is a matter of the mental being able to win out over the physical. The body is saying "call the boss and say you are not feeling well". The mental is saying "get going now you have important work to do that people care about".

Unfortunately, the mental needs reinforcement just like the physical does. People exercise and train to keep their bodies in condition to do the physical tasks required of them. No doubt you have received an offer from a health club in the past 2-3 months. We all do, and some of us actually sign up. Again, the mental aspect comes into play again. We sign up then do not go.

Thinking of it from a business perspective, business owners should focus on making the mental message the stronger of the two. That means showing employees that their work is valued. Showing employees that their coming to work every day counts for something. The recognition need not cost a lot in terms of dollars. However it needs to mean something to the recipient.

Just something for all of us, both employees and employers to think about.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Direction Makes A Difference

Recently had to take several trips on a major highway. In one case was heading East on the 401 across the top of Toronto early in the morning. Traffic was steady but flowing not too badly. We managed to keep at least at the limit of 100 Km. Looking to my left it was clear to see that those folks heading West were not doing as well. The cars were barely moving and in some places they were totally stopped on the road.

That same day was now driving west on Highway 401 and saw the same phenomenon only in reverse. The westbound was moving well but eastbound was stop and go. Must admit that this made me feel great. Perhaps a little sorry for the plight of the drivers on the other side of the highway but really glad it was not me over there.

This got me to thinking how business is often like a highway. Depending on the direction we are taking it can be stop and go or moving steadily forward. This led to wondering what was the difference, can a business truly decide the direction it wants to take?

Clearly the answer to this rather rhetorical question posed to myself is, YES. As a business owner one can decide which direction to travel and therefore influence significantly how well the trip goes.

For example, let's say you want to do exactly what everyone else in your industry is doing. That would be the equivalent of my going westbound on Highway 401 in the early morning. Clearly, everyone is coming into Toronto to work and do business. True it did depend upon where I started my trip but that is always the case, is it not.

Now, what if you were to decide to go a different route with your product or service. To focus on one or two aspects of your organization's offerings that are unique. This would be like going out of Toronto in the early morning to conduct business. Now the trip is much more enjoyable and less stressful. You are not battling the other businesses (cars) for space on the road.

Looking at the direction of our company may mean challenging the norms. It may mean stepping out of our comfort zone. That said, it may mean a true breakthrough in business and in turn mean we start to enjoy the trip more.

Which direction are you driving in?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Cutting the Grass

Took advantage of a break in the rain yesterday morning and got around to finally cutting my lawns. Looking around the neighbourhood it was easy to see that I was the first on the block so to speak. Soon the sound of lawnmowers could be heard up and down the street as neighbours worked on their own lawns.

This phenomenon made me think of how it often is in business. As soon as someone does something to improve others are quick to follow. One clear example is the number of corporate presidents / CEO's / owners who do their own pitch on television. At one time you could count them on one hand now it seems to be all the rage. Some, unfortunately are not as good as others and could possibly be better off by not following the trend.

While my mind was spinning out of control so to speak, another thought occurred to me. It. appears home ownership has both an upside and a downside. The upside being that we have something to call our own and do with pretty much as we please. The downside is that we are responsible for keeping everything looking like it should.

Again, the similarity to owning and operating a business came to mind. One of the main reasons people give for opening their own business is to be their own boss. This being a very laudable purpose it often does not work out as expected. You merely change one boss for another. The new "boss" is you and/or your client base.

We find we are doing more and enjoying it less. Perhaps this is because our passion now has become a job. Perhaps it is because we are technicians who are good at doing one thing but the other aspects of business are just not our forte (to make a poor pun on a recent car commercial).

The challenge is to be able to put enough of ourselves into the business to make it a success while at the same time taking enough from the business to allow us to enjoy our success while we can. Every now and then we need to stop and ask ourselves a key question:

"Am I running my business or is my business running me?" The answer we get if it is an honest one can either stimulate us to keep doing what we are doing or stop doing what we are doing or perhaps start doing something different. Rather like coming to an interesection and deciding what to do depending on the colour of the traffic light.

What colour is your traffic light?

Friday, July 3, 2009

Who Cares?

One statement that can really set you back on your heels is "Who cares?". That statement can be made by someone who quite honestly could care less about your product / service / comment / etc. In that case you may well be startled or perhaps become upset at the comment. However, it can also have a very positive effect.

Consider this scenario. You are meeting with a friend and seeking input on how to promote something. It could be a service you provide, a program you are passionate about, a charity function. In my case it was quite simply a labour of love so to speak, my recently published book.

To explore how to go about publicizing this work I met with a good friend. After some social chat he bluntly asked me the question "Who cares?" At first the question took me by surprise. Then the great wisdom behind those two words started to materialize.

Clearly the majority of entrepreneurs have a passion for what they do. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but for them it is everything. It is that passion that drives them forward. It is that passion that keeps them labouring at their craft in spite of setbacks and failure. They are out there selling something they truly believe in, but to whom are they selling. Are they truly marketing to the people they should be marketing their product or service to?

If we simply stop, take a deep breath and bluntly and honestly answer that question we would be so much further ahead. Our efforts would be reaching those who do care about what we are promoting. The result would be far more acceptance. This would in turn result in the building of our confidence and resilience for the fewer rejections that will inevitably still occur.

So, the next time you are preparing a presentation, a sales pitch, a promotion flyer, before you send it out to the world, ask the question "Who Cares?" Then contact those folks. For this and some great music I thank my new sounding board. Thanks Howard.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Sunglasses and Rain

Like most of you reading this posting, I have had to put up with mother nature's joke of wet weather for the past week or so. In fact, one day had to make quite a lengthy trip in a rather heavy rain. It was during that trip that I was given a great tip and made an amazing discovery.

The sun would be out for a short while then it would get cloudy and start to rain a bit. Next we would be driving in heavy rain, then back into moderate sun. As usual, my sunglasses were on when it was sunny, then off for the rain, back on when it got sunny again. Quite an exercise given the short periods between the different weather conditions.

My wife, on the other hand kept her sunglasses on during the entire time. When asked about it, she commented that it was easier to see the road and other vehicles in the daytime rain with sunglasses on. OK, I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer but do know when to take advice. So, on came the sunglasses and incredibly the view was sharper and more defined than it had been without the sunglasses.

The point, my wife knows best. Of course that goes without saying, right guys, but also the learning from this experience is twofold:

1. Experiment, you may find you can get great benefit using a product for different purposes

2. Learning is a continual effort throughout our lives. Listen to others and learn many new things.

What could you learn today?