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Being Prepared

Yesterday’s chairlift derailment at Sugarloaf Ski Area in Maine was a ski area operator’s nightmare, but it could have been a lot worse. As a life-long skier and a veteran of long, high chairlifts, it sent fear

through me. Thanks to the ski area’s chairlift evacuation drills as well as the local hospital’s recent disaster drill, skiers were evacuated and treated within hours of the incident.

When trouble strikes, that is not the time to be asking, “Now what do we do?” or “How do we work this thing?”

Business owners need to be similarly prepared. Sure, we occasionally talk about major disasters with our insurance agents (if you don’t, consider finding a new agent). You may ask what happens if we lose all our business records or if a key member can no longer work, but do you do anything more than talk about it? You may not need to have a mock disaster to be prepared, but knowing what you would do is a minimum requirement. Consider these scenarios:

  1. Inventory is unavailable and revenues stall. Is your business reliant on one or two products? Create multiple income streams – some product based, some service based – to provide steady revenue.
  2. A key employee is unavailable, or leaves the company. Building depth in your organization is critical. How would income be generated if you were unable to work? Insurance policies can help, but the best insurance is talent throughout the organization.
  3. The press is buzzing about your organization, and it’s not good (think the recent Aretha Franklin PR issue). Plan ahead; who will speak for the organization? Do you speak out? How and where do you speak? Those decisions are best made when you are calm and relaxed, not stressed and under the gun.

The best solution for disaster, in whatever form, is being prepared. The best thing to do after a challenge (are you listening Sugarloaf?) is to reflect and learn  – write those lessons down and don’t forget them. – Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Work That Feels Like Play

It’s snowing. It probably won’t amount to more than an inch or two, but still…. If my dad were alive, I know I would have gotten a call from him today; “It’s snowing here. Is it snowing there? How much are you going to get?” I always wished I had asked him, “Which came first, your love of snow or your career in the ski industry?” 

He taught me early on to love what you do. At the end of the day, we would drive up to “the Ridge” so he could watch the clouds, see which way the wind was blowing. When we got home he’d look at his barometric pressure and temperature charts. I think he loved the chemistry of snow; I think he loved the idea of out-maneuvering Mother Nature. Snow was one of his businesses; it’s where his mind wandered to, it’s what made him giddy. And when your work is so much fun that it makes you giggle (like he did when he called me in every snowstorm), work feels like play and becomes very easy.

If you want your work to become easier, consider these questions:

1. Which customers make you smile when you see them come through your door, or you see a message from them in your in-box? What common traits exist among them? A client recently figured out that he loves working with families; it makes him happy when he gets to work with both husband and wife. No surprise, really, as family is central to his being.

2. What elements of the “doing” part of your business do you most enjoy? When a client sees their situation from a new perspective I often have so much energy coursing through me that I jump out of my chair and pace the floor. What gives you energy?

Find what you love about your business; then find a way to do more of it.

Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Bringing Your Values to Your Business

Ikea announced that they were giving each employee a bike for Christmas in “supporting a healthy lifestyle and everyday sustainable transport.” If you’re one of Ikea’s 12,000 employees, Happy Holidays to you! Ikea’s action showed clearly to employees, customers and other stakeholders what their core values are and that they are willing to let those stated values guide their behavior.

It’s one thing to create a mission statement, a list of values, or a vision statement; it’s another thing to use them to guide company actions. And when you’re a small business, you are the company. Before you think “Oh my gosh, do I live under a microscope?” consider how to conduct business within your values easily.

The most important element to acting within your stated values is to make sure that they are YOUR values – not your competition’s, not your mother’s/father’s/brother’s, or what your on-line research tells you they ought to be. Only when you understand your values – what motivates you, what drives you – will acting in line with your values be easy.

My coach donates to charities benefiting children of Africa, and I clearly had values envy. “Why couldn’t that be my cause?”, I thought. I felt like a child having a temper tantrum wanting something that belonged to someone else! After reflecting, I realized that what was most important to me was books for children. A call to my local library set me on the right path to acting upon one of my core values.

Once you are clear about your values, think about how you want them to show up in your business. Let’s look at a common stated value – “honesty”. While we all recognize blatant dishonest acts, what if a vendor mistakenly charges you too little? In the name of progress, is it okay to gain competitive information underhandedly? To me, running a business is a lot like being a parent; we can tell our employees/customers (children) what we value, but our actions speak more loudly. Be careful what your actions are saying and make sure that they reflect who you truly are and how you want to show up in the world.

– Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Being a Good Sport in Business

New York Jets’ strength coach Sal Alosi was suspended without pay for the rest of the season and fined by the team for tripping a Miami Dolphins player Sunday. Although he apologized, and seemed sincere, I still have to wonder, “What was he thinking?”

Business can get pretty competitive, and you may have felt like “tripping” your competitor, too. Let me suggest some alternatives:

  1. Focus on doing what you do very well and you will “win”. While it’s usually interesting to watch your competition, and it can certainly boost your adrenaline, paying too much attention only pulls your focus away from your business. If you find yourself distracted by your competition, remind yourself of what your core strengths are and look for avenues to further leverage them.
  2. If you have staff, define how you want them to behave and set the example.The coach’s behavior showed his team that he lacked confidence in them and resorted to cheating. In business, poor sportsmanlike behavior is seen and heard loud and clear by the toughest referees – your current and potential customers and clients. Don’t fool yourself in thinking that no one will notice: they will.
  3. How do you prepare for excellence? Sports practice and conditioning prepares a sports team for stellar performance. A phrase from my daughter’s gymnastics world is “practice doesn’t make it perfect; perfect practice makes it perfect.”

When you execute well and stay focused, you can stay in the game for the long term. Who knows, you may even make it to the play-offs.

– Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Lessons from Apple and the iPad 2

The virtual rumor mill is busy with speculation about Apple’s IPad 2, the next-generation tablet expected to begin shipping as early as February, 2011. Apple has yet to make any official announcements but that hasn’t stopped their loyal customer base from buzzing with excitement and anticipation. Apple is known for its innovative products and its marketing messages; what can you, the small business owner, learn from them?

1.) If you own a strong market share for your product or services, congratulations. Take a page out of Apple’s handbook, though, and don’t get too comfortable there. Apple is continuously improving and innovating the next generation of products. What improvements or changes would your customers most like to see? Even if you think they would be “impossible” to implement, brainstorm anyway; you never know what might turn up.

2.) With the iPad 2’s roll-out, Apple will accomplish two things:

a. Their existing market base, those consumers dubbed “early adopters” or those in the “early maturity” stage, will buy more.

b. Early adopters may not be the only consumers to shell out money for the latest version; new customers will be attracted as the product becomes more mainstream.  While I have no other Apple products in my home (gasp!) I will be watching the iPad 2’s development.

Offer different levels of products or services for different audiences with unique buying motivation.

3.) The power of marketing done well (AdAge named Apple “Marketer of the Decade in October, 2010) can catapult your products and/or services. Remember some of Apple’s more powerful marketing messages (the iPhone viral marketing and my favorite – the PC vs. the Mac) and consider their use of multiple senses and the emotion evoked by them. I don’t know about you, but I feel younger and more hip just by walking by an Apple store.

Go ahead – offer your very best product or service ever. Then find a way to make it better. That’s good business.

– Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Helen Dutton, A Vision of Your Own, has provided business and personal coaching for small business owners since 2000, providing online and face to face coaching for entrepreneurs, small business owners, start-up businesses as well as established businesses across the country. Clients come from New Hampshire, her home state, but she has also acted as a mentor to business owners in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, the Denver area, and closer to home in the Boston area. Helen helps her clients develop their small business ideas, create marketing plans, improve operation efficiency, build customer service systems, build management and leadership skills, and develop confidence as a business owner. Helen provides business tips and resources through her blog and her newsletter, where you can also find business templates to help your business prosper.