Tuesday, September 29, 2009

If there is one thing that is common to every business sector, it is the interest in automation. Many entrepreneurs believe that the secret to becoming successful is to automate. A common theory is that through automation, of a process or system, more can be done with less.

More often than not, it is true that automation generates cost savings because of increased efficiency. However, it can not be assumed that automation will automatically result in savings. All too often businesses merely automate their manual systems. In so doing they only increase the speed with which the inefficient process can be completed. What is needed is the ability to analyze and eliminate redundant steps before the automation. For this we need the human elemant.

The process of automation is definitely important to growth and success of a business enterprise. However, the systems often overlooked are the human resource assets rather than the computers and technology systems.

So what are the Right Systems for Success? I consider them to be:

Having the Right People in the Right Place at the Right Time doing the Right Thing in the Right Way for the Right Reason at the Right Cost. In fact, I consider it to be of such importance that I wrote a book about it, There Has To Be A Better Way.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Rainy Days

Today has been another of those rainy fall days. One minute you look out and see bright sunshine and the next the rain is pelting against the window pane of your office. Of course, as Canadians we all know that this is normal so we go about our daily routine anyway.

However, this particular phenomenon caused me to think of how running a small business is like fall days. It occurred to me that the bright sunshine was akin to those days when we had plenty of business. Our income stream was, if not full, still running nicely. People we try to connect with whether by telephone, email, fax, or in person are able to be connected with. Our sales programs are generating interest if not specific sales.

Then we find the rainy days. On those days it seems that no matter what we do we are unable to make that business connection. We place phone calls and receive voice mail. We send faxes and emails and get no responses. We visit the offices of clients and potential clients and they are not available. The flow of income has dwindled to a trickle or perhaps even come to a full stop.

Then there are days just like today when we have a combination of both effects. One minute we are high on success and the next minute we are low on rejection. The challenge is to somehow get through that with our sanity intact.

One possible way of handling those days, and yes we will all have them, is to pick something we know will be successful. Perhaps it is updating our files. Perhaps it is cleaning up the top of our desk. Perhaps it is as simple balancing our bank statement. Whatever it is we can take comfort in having completed one thing successfully. If we manage to do that first thing in the day the effect is that the rest of the day goes well regardless of the weather.

So, pick that thing you need done that you know is a sure fire success. Do it first thing tomorrow morning and see how the rest of your day goes. If you feel like sharing the results, that would be fantastic. If not, savour them yourself.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Well folks this item is coming to you from the kitchen table. Right, the kitchen table. Set up my laptop and am now preparing these comments.

"Why the kitchen and why the laptop?" you might well ask. Well it is because of the cookies.

Ok, before your mind wanders off and starts to envision me in an apron and flour over my face and hands, we are not talking about that kind of cookie. In fact, I truly wish that was all there was to worry about. Those I can handle. Sure, the odd batch gets a little darker than it should but that just adds a flavour challenge to the cookie eater.

The cookies referred to are those which appear to allow access to various sites on the internet. Up until two days ago, they were in fine shape and access to this blog via my desktop computer was no problem. Now it seems they may be like those ones left in the oven too long. They are still cookies but do not have the same effect on the cookie user.

That is to say, each time I try to log in the message tells me that my cookies and java are blocked. With this message is a request to change settings according to some nice screen shots that Blogger provides. Unfortuntely when one clicks on Tools in the toolbar and onto the Security tab and then Custom, the screen does not look like the one Blogger is using.

Many attempts have been made to; reload java (although I am off coffee right now, pardon the pun); to change settings in security to even below medium. All to no avail. Thus we are here now sitting in a kitchen typing out the note on a laptop. For some reason the laptop does not seem to have a problem with cookies. Maybe it's the kitchen. Nah, that would be crazy right?

Several notes have been sent to "Support" over the past few days just begging for support. However, they must be having their cookies and milk break because nobody has responded yet.

All in all, quite a learning experience and something we all might do well to keep in mind. Regardless of what we do, the computer will experience its own agenda from time to time. Then it will, like an animal be unable to tell you in a language humans understand, where the problem is.

Until later, take care and I think I will just have a cup of tea and perhaps a cookie or two.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Customer Service

Had an opportunity yesterday, while visiting my mother, to witness two separate examples of service provided by personal service providers. Let me say first that my mother, a very independent woman still lives in her own home. However, she does require assistance to maintain the property as she would like it to be.

The first service provider was none other than the gentleman who has contracted to cut her lawns. These lawns have been a source of pride for my parents since they first purchased their home in the mid 60's. They were cut and trimmed with great care. Each time the lawn was cut it was cut in a different direction going with and against the grain to even out the stress on the growth. As a result the lawns have been the envy of many a neighbour over the past 40 plus years.

As it was yesterday in her area, and I believe in many other places, the morning found the lawns with a heavy coat of due making them quite damp. However, the lawn cutters were there at 9:30 in the morning to cut the lawn. It is also important to note that the cuttings are not bagged as there is no yard waste disposal available where my mother lives.

Watching the gentleman at work it appeared that he was running a race. In very short order the front, back and side lawns were cut and they were off to another house down the street. What was left behind was a curious pattern of lawn cuttings which will no doubt dry out in a day or so leaving clear evidence of what the cutting pattern was.

Later that same day a crew arrived to trim the wonderful but large red maple in the back yard. This of course had been pre-arranged by calling several firms and obtaining quotes. The firm selected had taken the time to consider all aspects of the task and recommended a support bar be inserted to prevent a V section from splitting off in high winds. We are talking here of a tree that is over 40 feet high and looks fantastic.

The four men, the owner and his three sons, took great care to ensure that the tree was not damaged in any way during the trimming and elevating process. The result was a tree that looked even better than when they started. To their credit they took the time to rake clean the entire area and then to sweep clean the end of the driveway where their chipper has been placed.

Considering these two services it was clear to see that the first individual, the lawn cutter, was in it to make money and move on. The second the tree trimmer was in it to preserve a piece of nature and to build a relationship with the home owner.

Clearly the second gentleman will have a business to turn over to his boys when he retires. I am not sure that can be send of the gentleman who is cutting lawns.

My point? In our business dealings each of us needs to consider the difference between these two experiences and ask if our clients feel like we are the tree trimmer or the lawn cutter.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Address Labels

Perhaps like me, you receive many requests for donations from a variety of charitable causes. Each is a worthy cause and well deserving of receiving a donation. Unfortunately the requests often outnumber the amount of disposable dollars available for donating. So, one has to simply decide where to place those few dollars.

Then comes the difficult part. Often the agency, cause, organization, sends along a little something as a thank you for donating. No doubt this is to encourage that truly Canadian guilt trip and cause you to send a donation. Sometimes it is a small prayer card, a hand printed Christmas card, a personalized note pad.

What I have noticed of late is the increase in the number of mailing labels received with the donation requests. They may be from just about any organization. Often they have either a nice graphic or the logo of the organization in the top left corner. Truly useful items if you need them.

The questionbecomes what to do with all those labels. First, just how many mailing labels does one need? Most communication today seems to be via electronic means. Few write letters regularly. Then there is the ethics question. As Canadians we seem to believe that if we use the labels we must send a donation. Back to that guilt thing again.

In our case, the solution is twofold:
a contact with the agency asking for the donation requesting we be removed from their solicitation list (this rarely works);
shredding of the labels because we are concerned that simply putting them in the garbage allows another point of information for those unprincipled folks who are looking to steal an identify.

Think of it, someone pulls a batch of labels from your garbage and starts sending notes identifying themselves as you. With all the requests received to sign up for this and that credit card what could be easier. They need only put a label on the application and the envelope and mail it back. Then quickly send a change of address to the company saying sorry, we moved. The card goes to the "moved" address and your credit goes down the tube.

Have you ever tried shredding those labels? Sure they can get chopped up in strips or small pieces depending upon the model of shredder you have. Unfortunately, the adhesive part also manages to stick to the cutter blades. Now you have the task of pulling, where possible, the adhesive items off the blades. This is not a fun task, believe me I speak from experience here.

The solution? Well, I propose that the agencies sending labels not send them but rather send a note that say with your donation you will receive customized mailing labels. This is a win-win solution for all concerned:
  • The agency does not incur the cost of printing labels that end up being destroyed one way or another with out a donation.
  • The donor can get just the number of labels they require and from the organization they wish to show support for.

Of course, there is another option, send the entire package back to the agency postage due with a large note in permanent marker on the front "STOP SENDING ME LABELS". Oh year, add "Please" because after all we are polite Canadians.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Telephone Etiquette

A recent discussion with a business associate reminded me of what could be considered one of my pet peeves. That is how people deal with voice mail.

It is recognized that many of us are busy and often not right next to the telephone in our office. For that reason we put on a voice mail. The message usually goes something like this:

"You have reached Viv Smith at Somecompany on Thursday, September 3rd. I am not able to take your call right now but leave your name; number; and a brief message and I will return your call by the end of the business day."

When the caller gets your message they feel good, first you have confirmed you are in today and second you have promised to return their call by the end of the business day.

The issue is not with putting the message on the phone and often not even with the wording of the message. The issue arises when you fail to follow up on that commitment made in your voice mail. For whatever reason you either:
a) do not check your voice mail regularly
b) decide that other matters are more urgent than returning the call
c) decide that you really do not want to talk to that person

The message you are then sending, probably without meaning to, is more like this:

"Thanks for calling Viv Smith at Somecompany on Thursday, September 3rd. I am not able to take your call right now but leave your name; number; and a brief message and I will return your call by the end of the business day if I consider it important or if I truly feel like it. Otherwise, you should keep calling to see if I answer it live at some point."

OK, this may be a bit of a sarcastic way of looking at the message you say. However, when you sit back and think about it, this is really the message your are sending. In fact, it may even be interpreted by the caller that you screen them out because of some bias. This they will tell their associates and soon nobody will expect a call from you. So, if they do not expect a call back, why bother to leave a message.

How many clients are you losing by not following the basic etiquette and returning calls when you say you will?