Monthly Archives: July 2013

Is It An Interruption?

When I teach one of my Time Block Management classes, I ask participants what they view as the biggest time wasters in their lives.  Phone calls invariably tops the list of things they see as wasting their time at work.  They are in a productive frame of mind, working on an assignment, and their phone rings.  They have to stop what they’re doing and respond to the phone call without any knowledge of who’s calling and why or how long the interruption is going to keep them from their task.  The call is a source of irritation.

Until we take the time to determine who is calling and why.  When I ask participants about the calls and we dig deeper, more often than ever it is a customer calling to discuss some aspect of the company’s products or services that they’re concerned about.  Think about this in terms of your own business, however large it might be and however many employees you might have.  Who’s calling?  Usually, it’s a customer who believes in you and your company and wants to re-order, expand services, or get questions answered.

So, is it an interruption?  Or is it what most business owners consider customer service to take care of your customer’s needs?

When participants realize the true nature of the “interruption,” the call is less of a distraction than a function of their responsibilities in business.

Far too often, we have seen this problem crop up in customer service situations across the board … beyond the annoying phone call.  Your business is about your customers, and customers should be the primary focus of what everyone (including you if you’re the owner) in the company does.  What do you have without customers?

Wait staff should be focused on the customer and avoid any time spent chatting with friends (via text, phone call, or face-to-face) when customers are expecting to be served.  Customers are more patient with servers if they realize they’re taking care of other customers than standing around waiting for orders.  Customer service representatives should be calling clients if there’s a lull and they are waiting for clients to call them.  Sales representatives should be taking care of customers, offering suggestions on how to improve their business and get a greater return on their investment instead of bitching about the economy or poor business conditions.  How many sales people have you seen griping about a customer’s phone call when they’re trying to generate their weekly sales report?  Interruption?

Can you count how many times you’ve been at a retail cashier’s station waiting to pay for your purchase while they’re talking to someone on the phone?  Management needs to help those cashiers understand that cash in the register is more important than trying to offer directions to an impatient caller … or consoling a friend who’s had a bad date.  And how often have you gotten the evil eye or a disgruntled look from the cashier who believes your request to be taken care of is interrupting their life?  How could you be so rude?

Etiquette is still important in business!

What about when you’re meeting with a prospective client, or existing customer, and you receive a text message or a phone call?  Do you glance at the text to decide if you need to respond?  Do you take the phone call and interrupt your meeting, at the possible expense of losing the client or prospect you’re meeting with for being rude?  Those are choices you have to make with the understanding of the potential impact on the relationship.

An easy solution is to leave your smart phone in your vehicle or office when you’re in a meeting, even if you use it to schedule appointments.  Your memory should be good enough to enter the information after the meeting.  Think, too, about the perception people have of you when you take a phone call or text during a meeting or conference.  You may believe it’s an important call, but it’s an interruption to those around you and they will think you must feel important because you took the call when, in reality, they wonder why you even came to the meeting or conference if the phone call or text was that important to you.

What interruptions also do is tell the third party observer tons about your business and the brand you exhibit.  Ignoring your phone and concentrating on your customer or your prospect’s needs instead of interrupting the moment speaks volumes about your concern for your customers.  Having someone who can answer phones in person instead of shifting a caller into an automated system where they may become even more disgruntled or, even worse, look elsewhere for products and/or services makes a lot of sense.  Think about how you and your employees manage your time and take care of your customers.

If you’re interested in a brief introduction to Time Block Management or how Brand Irons can help resolve these potential problems, contact us for an initial consultation.




Does Your Message Get Through?

The ability to communicate your message clearly and to have it understood by those who receive it comprise the foundation of your marketing efforts.  What value is there in your message if it fails to get through to the people you want to “get it”?

Companies that advertise on TV or radio or any other medium and that claim it doesn’t work have, invariably, failed to communicate their message properly.  What do we mean?

First, it is critical to know what your message is, or should be.  If you’re in the insurance business, for instance, you may believe you’re selling policies to protect people and their assets.  In reality, you’re offering those clients peace of mind or the ability to sleep well at night, knowing their assets are protected and their family is safe.

Quick, what’s the name of the insurance company that insists “You’re in good hands”?  The tag line communicates the message that the company is going to take good care of its customers.

What we see, far too often, is a commercial touting the company and how long it’s been in business rather than the value it offers to the consumers who work with its products and/or services.  What message are you sending?

Let’s step back a minute.  If your message is unclear, go back to your business or strategic plan and revisit what it is you are selling.  Clearly define your products or services, and then try to see them from the viewpoint of the consumer.  What is the potential purchaser of your product or service looking for?  What is their motivation for buying what you offer?  Change your perspective and you will be astonished how the appearance of even the simplest item can be changed.

On a recent drive following a passing thunderstorm, the sunset to the west was a beautiful golden globe offset by white clouds against an azure sky with sunbeams radiating through the breaking cloud cover.  It was a gorgeous, captivating scene.  When you looked to the east, the perspective was markedly different, yet strikingly beautiful with a full-bodied, bright rainbow bursting through the darkened storm clouds over the lake.

Let’s take a minute or two for a brief exercise in the power of clear communication.  After you read the following description, close your eyes and imagine the scene if you haven’t created it as you read.  Then visit the real description at the end of this blog.

Imagine a kitchen table with a vase of flowers on it.  A cat jumps up on the table and knocks over the vase of flowers.

Read about the real description later on.

When you have a clear picture of what you offer to the consumer, think of it in terms of how you can convey the message of your offering in the most favorable way.  What is your call to action?  What do you want the consumer to do?  Usually, it’s that you want them to call and schedule an appointment, stop by your place of business, or go online to order.

How you communicate the message is critical to driving business.  This, however, is where we also need to take the time to determine who it is we most want to receive our message.  Your target audience.  Diapers are for babies, but it’s their parents who make the purchase.  Who are the best prospects for consuming your product or purchasing your services?

Mostly men or primarily female?  Under age 18 or older than 65?  Do they fit any of the in-between adult age demographics – 19-24, 25-34, 35-44, 45-54, or 55 and older?  Are they physically active?  Do they drive a car?  Where do they live?  What level of education do they have?  Do they read newspapers?  Watch TV?  Text?  Feel free to add categories to your demographic profile, because the more distinctly you can define your audience, the more targeted your message can be communicated to that specific group of people.

Now you’ve done all this and put your message out there.  Does it get through?  Monitor your results.  Ask people how they found out about you.  Ask what intrigued them about your message.  Talk to your customers and get their feedback.  Those are steps that will help you verify your message did, indeed, get through to the right people.

Remember, too, that there are independent, third party professionals such as those of us here at Brand Irons who can assist you in evaluating if your message is getting through.  We can also help you derive strategies for making sure it does.

Back to the cat on the table scenario.  What shape was the table?  What kind of flowers were in the vase?  Was there a table cloth on the table?  What color was the cat?

Virtually every one of you reading the original sketch came up with different answers for each of these questions.  While it seemed the scene was clear, the communication left room for you to enhance it with your personal experience.

Snow WhiteTry this version for clarity:  Imagine a rectangular kitchen table with a butcher block top and  white legs.  There are four white ladder back chairs positioned on each side of the table with seats that match the table top but have blue-and-white checked cushions tied on.  There’s a clear glass vase on the table with three red roses that are just starting to open up on it.  A white, domestic short-hair cat named Snow White jumps up on the table.  She goes over to the vase and, instead of knocking it over, reaches into the vase with her right front paw, dips it in the water, pulls it out and licks the water off her paw and jumps down.

While this may seem extreme, communication is important to make sure your customers get your message the way you want them to receive it.


Making Choices & Getting Business Advice

New to owning a business?

You may find the following information valuable, and certainly of interest, even if you’ve already been in business for a number of years.

Every business owner needs advice on occasion.  The key is knowing when to ask for it.

It is said you are never alone if you have a deck of cards.  Start playing solitaire and someone is bound to tell you what to play where.

It is said you are never alone if you have a deck of cards. Start playing solitaire and someone is bound to tell you what to play where.

If you believe you can make your own decisions without counsel, go right ahead.  Even if you do receive a professional’s expert opinion, you can always choose to ignore it and make your own choices.  You own the business, so every decision you have to make is ultimately your responsibility.  You reap the rewards or bear the blame.

One of our clients was looking to raise more capital.  The company was solvent and generating close to $1 million in annual sales.  More funds were needed to complete some upgrades, so the owner was curious about options.  We discussed the ins and outs of venture capital, issuing stock, private equity investors, and traditional financing options for the investment the company was seeking.  We had experience as licensed investment representatives, so we had a grasp of the basics.  We continued the discussions as time moved forward and, eventually, the client was able to get some of his better clients to invest in the company and accomplish their shared objectives.

Was it our professional counsel that turned the tide?  All the client needed was information to make an intelligent decision, and the right choice for the company’s survival.  The client got advice from other sources as well, and used the accumulation of information to choose wisely.

In many cases, the advice is free because of the relationships business owners have with the resources available to them, whether vendors, friends, or business associates.  In other cases, the counsel is part of the overall service the business owner is contracted to receive.  Is one better than the other?  Only the person receiving it and using it to make their business decision can determine that.  There are occasions where the more expensive advice is better than that offered without cost, and the reverse can be true, too.

Back to the issue of knowing when to ask for advice.  Your accountant should be consulted before you ask your banker to extend you a line of credit, so you know what your cash flow looks like for repaying the loan and other reasons.  Your legal counsel should be asked to review legal documents before you sign them, just to protect your assets, if nothing else.  There are other professionals and business associates out there that you can ask for opinions about a variety of topics, from buying company vehicles to advertising campaign strategies and from charitable contributions to lobbying legislators.

If you take the time to get the information you need, you are far more likely to make a better, wiser, and more profitable decision for your business.  The secret:  Knowing where to get the information and being able to interpret that knowledge to gain wisdom.

The Mantra of 7 T’s

How often have you made a decision and later realized you made a mistake?  It happens more often than you think, especially in this era of Instant Gratification (IG).  While the term is used less often, the desire for speedy results remains a staple in the lifestyle of younger generations, many of whom are successful business owners.

Decisions are made with incomplete information.  Choices are made without thought of consequences.  Stress is elevated with the likelihood of errors being made.  Speed is the driver, and the end result is … often … a waste of time.

Enter the mantra of the 7 T’s:  Take The Time To Think Things Through!

There was a familiar saying when I was doing production work that is appropriate:  “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”  Quality is often the casualty when speed is preferred.  Bob Guest, a good friend and co-worker at the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce, ran the organization’s printing operations.  He was often quoted as telling staff members you could have your choice of three options:  Quality, Speed, or Cost … but not all three.

To explain further, if you wanted something printed quickly, you either paid more to have a high quality piece produced fast or got a piece of inferior quality because the price was your main consideration for getting it done quickly.  If quality was most important, you paid more to have it produced quickly or had to be patient if the cost needed to be controlled.  And if the cost was your primary concern, you sacrificed quality to get your piece done quickly or got superior quality with a longer lead time from start to finish of your printing project.

Now, you could have all three if you took the time to think things through and planned to get the highest quality within your budget provided you gave the printer enough time to get it done in time to meet your deadline.

Weigh the variables.  How essential is it that you make a decision now?  Can you take an extra five minutes, or an hour or two to get more input or gather more information and make a better decision?  Have you taken the time to think that choice all the way through?  Is there a better alternative?

Something else to think about:  How much time (and money) will it cost you to overcome the wrong decision?

If you’ve narrowed your choices for a new vice president of finance to three candidates but you believe there may be a better person to fill the slot, do you choose one of the three or put off the decision and look for other options?

Keep in mind that at some point you need to make the decision.  Taking time without deciding can, on occasion, result in a decision being made on its own, and that’s okay. Procrastination is a choice.  You need to realize, however, that if the ultimate choice falls in your lap, you must decide at some point.  The time you allocate to making the choice depends on the importance of the decision.

Deciding where to go for lunch can be made in seconds, depending on the factors of speed, quality, and price as well as what your taste buds are craving.  Choosing a new member for the corporate board of directors requires time to interview, check backgrounds and references, and other vetting procedures such as potential contributions to the corporate culture before the selection is weighed.

The mantra of the 7 T’s also involves seeking outside professional counsel or market research when appropriate.  The Brand Irons team is a good resource to help you and your business think things through because we can play devil’s advocate and we always look at your scenario from the perspective of the consumer.

Take some time and think about it.


Work On Your Business

A friend recently reminded me of a four-quadrant diagram that, I believe, traces back to Steven Covey and emphasizes where most business owners spend their time … versus where they should spend it.  It ties in to the concept that you – as a business owner – need to spend more time working on your business than in your business.

Easier said than done.

Urgent Important ChartThe words in one of the quadrants (non-colored) identify tasks that are Not Urgent and Not Important.  These are busy work tasks; work you do to make yourself look busy or that are simple and easy to accomplish.  They can give you a false sense that you’ve accomplished something that day, but when you look back you realize it was wasted time.

Another quadrant (bottom left in grey) identifies tasks that are Urgent and Not Important.  These, in general, involve the priorities of others.  They have come up against a deadline, for instance, and are scrambling to find solutions.  It’s important to them, and urgent because they want your input to handle the urgency of the situation.  When you delegate authority, you must also delegate responsibility for making decisions, meeting deadlines, and accepting the consequences of actions.

The third quadrant lists tasks that are Urgent and Important (top left in brown in my diagram).  In my book, these tasks are symptoms of crises.  It’s a publishing deadline or a situation requiring an executive decision or things will begin to fall apart, such as a public relations crisis.  This is probably the most stressful aspect or area of operating your business, and it’s the area where proper prior planning can reduce the stress and the impact of crisis situations.  It can be minimized with a plan you should develop in the Important but Not Urgent quadrant (top right in green).

The beautiful “Work On Your Business” quadrant outlines tasks that are Important and Not Urgent.  This is where you need to spend the majority of your time, working on tasks that are important to growing your business and moving in the right direction toward long-term profitability … including your eventual retirement or sale of the business.  The sense of these items not being urgent enables you to relax and focus on the important nature of your work without that sense of urgency.  You can slide into other quadrants as needed, but the most value to your company comes from working in the Important but Not Urgent area.

Try to spend as much time in that quadrant as you can.