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The Seasons of Business

Like farming, and there are lots of parallels here, the business climate exhibits a series of seasons that repeat about every 10 years or so.

During summer the “crop” is blooming and things are booming. In business, we are usually adding Team members and dealing with the abundance of work to do. The mistake here is that some think this will never end (such was the case in the last real estate boom) and they get reckless. A smart business leader is building cash during this time. (Right now U.S. corporations are sitting on a mound of cash AND they are not confident enough to let go of it.)

During fall the harvest comes in. In business we begin storing cash for the economic winter ahead. We gather as much in as possible. We review results, acknowledge the learning, and prepare.

During winter, only the “strong” survive. It is really obvious who did a good job during summer and fall. Many competitors will go by the wayside. This is also the time to unload (free up their future) underperforming Team that you brought on during last summer. This is a great time to buy (usually at great bargains) equipment or resources for the next upswing. It might also be the time to buy a struggling competitor at a great deal and assimilate their book of business (if it’s the right fit) into yours.

During spring, we sow the seeds (plant) for the next harvest cycle. We implement new marketing (remember to test and measure) and train the Team. We are full of confidence and anticipation because the “curve has turned”. We are optimistic.

Between business, real estate, and stocks, the movement and trends in each are signals of change ahead. For example, when your brother-in-law gets a real estate license (with no previous experience), we’re past the peak and when you see 100% mortgages, you can be sure the end of the real estate boom is near.

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The process of human change begins inside us and our outlook drives it. All of us possess tremendous…
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Studies have shown it’s the #1 fear of most human beings. What about you? Overcome it and you have one of the most effective and cost-effective marketing strategies for promoting your business. Here are some points to consider:

1. Prepare. Do your homework, assemble your thoughts, talking points ahead of time. NEVER get in front of your audience and admit that “this isn’t my best topic” or “I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for this…” When you are organized, you are smoother, more confident, and more credible. Also, make note of what went well last time (so you can repeat it), and what you want to change. Always be on the lookout for opportunities to improve.
2. Practice. Rehearse in front of the mirror. Try out your routine on the dog—if the dog runs away, you’ve got some real work to do! Try recording (video/audio) your presentation and playing it back. How do you look? How do you sound? Ask your spouse or a trusted friend to listen and provide feedback. Try different stories or illustrations to make your key points.
3. Present. You must be present, in the moment. Eliminate distractions and focus on where you are and who you’re with right now. It will be obvious to the audience if your attention is elsewhere. Make sure you have turned off all electronic devices and ask your audience at the outset to do the same.
4. Purpose. Why do you do what you do? What do you love most about it? Why is that important to you? What benefit do you bring to your listeners? What can they take away from your presentation and use to improve? It’s vital that you have clarity on why you’re here, what you want to accomplish, and why that matters.
5. Proactive. Step out, reach forward, engage your audience. Powerful, thought-provoking questions will stimulate their creative juices. At the same time, seize the value in making the experience interactive as well. Ask for feedback, comments, agreement, disagreement, etc. Ask them to raise their hand, call out an answer. If the presentation will last for 30 minutes or more, consider having the audience stand and stretch midway through.
6. Powerful. In the preparation phase, assemble some strong, compelling information. Look for different angles, perspectives. Challenge your audience to think “outside the box”. Present your points with confidence and intensity. Search your own experience for some real-life stories that illustrate your points. Look for things that are humorous and reflect circumstances and situations we can all relate to. Speaking of humor, it’s better to poke fun at yourself or your learning and helps the audience feel a connection with you.
7. Passion. There is a saying: “People may not remember what you say, but they will always remember the way you made them feel.” Speak from the heart, with conviction. This enhances your genuineness and solidifies the positive impression you want to leave with your listeners. Use positive, affirming language in communicating with your listeners.

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This time of year, some folks make resolutions for change and others don’t bother because they won’t make any progress anyway. What is a resolution? The dictionary defines it as a strong will, a determination or a statement of intent, a vow. When you make a resolution is it: a) a foregone conclusion; b) a commitment to take action; c) a weak attempt; d) an empty promise? (please notice the declining level of intensity and be honest!)

Whatever it is you want to change, ask yourself:
Do I really want this?
Why do I want to achieve this?
How will my life be better?
How will my chaos be reduced?
What gain(s) will be realized?
What consequences are avoided?

After completing this thought-provoking exercise, why can’t we accomplish the task?
Is it possible that we: a) Set the goal too high; b) Don’t allow enough time (there are no unrealistic goals, only unrealistic time frames); c) Procrastinate getting started (Hint: tomorrow never comes); d) Don’t see results quick enough to justify the sacrifice/effort involved; e) Don’t persist long enough to change habits or behavior?

Here are 5 tips to assure you of success with whatever resolution(s) you choose:
1. Make it SMART. This stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-oriented, Timeframe. If your resolution doesn’t pass this 5 way test, start over and re-state it so that it does. It is vital that you decide clearly what you want, be able to tell the difference between where you are now and where you want to be, that the objective can be accomplished with the resources at hand, the outcome makes sense to you, and that you have a deadline.
2. Break the task down into “bite-sized” chunks. This removes the overwhelm from the enormity of the job. This also allows you to celebrate your wins along the way.
3. Write the SMART resolution(s) down on paper. This is very powerful as you now give substance to what you want and it no longer a nebulous thought fleeting in and out of your conscious mind.
4. Get started and persist. Remember it takes human beings at least 21 days to break old habits and/or form new ones. Be patient with yourself and stay the course. Remember that change doesn’t have to be monumental, just incremental.
5. Give copies of your written resolution(s) to your 5 best friends. These are the folks with whom you share mutual love and respect. They are also the ones who are willing to hold you accountable for what you want and won’t let you off the hook with lame excuses.

So, there you have it! Quoting Jim Rohn: “The pain of discipline weighs ounces whereas the pain of regret weighs tons.” Get started today!

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Few things in business are less glamorous than reviewing your office policies and procedures. It’s way more fun to sell things and make money.

Have you experienced any of the challenges lately: missing deadlines, customer complaints, recurring annoyances? How often? What is it costing you in time, productivity, and customer retention? All of these challenges, and more, are symptoms of lack of clarity or lack of enforcement regarding your policies and procedures. These guidelines are part of the systems that run your business. Let’s presume, for now, that we have the right people running the systems. (If not, that’s a different subject…)

The first challenge is a lack of clarity on the part of the Team. We know that, in the absence of rules, people make up their own. Some of the most common excuses are: “Nobody told me….” Or “I didn’t know…” If you hear either, or both, of these you must act! Do we have policies and procedures? Are they written down? Does everyone have a copy? When was the last time they were revised? For example, if pagers were popular the last time you updated your company handbook, technology has changed enough to warrant re-visiting the rules of office conduct. One of the jobs of leadership is to remind the Team of that which they already know. Team meetings, of the whole gang or by department, are a great opportunity to address, review, and remind.

The second challenge is lack of enforcement on the part of leadership. In the absence of enforcement there are no rules! And if you think you are “too busy” to hold your Team accountable, the longer you wait, the higher the price. You may think otherwise, but your Team hears everything you say and watches everything you do. Inconsistency sends a message and sets the Leader up for trouble. For those of you who have raised children or grandchildren, the dynamic of Team accountability is very similar. (I realize you can’t spank your employees, but you can put them in a “time out”.) As a parent, if you tell your children: “Wash your hands and come to the dinner table in 5 minutes.” Or “Pick up your toys, brush your teeth, and into bed by 8:00.” You must say what you mean and mean what you say. If there are no consequences for following instructions, then the instructions are meaningless. Even worse, if the Leader selectively enforces the rules sometimes and not others, no one knows when to believe and when to achieve. This could also produce some significant legal liability in the workplace.

So, what to do? First, start by analyzing where you are right now. What do you have in place? Where are the gaps? Second, seek feedback from your Team. Where are their challenges? If you make their jobs easier imagine what that does for yours. Next, make a commitment and get started today. Select an area that needs the most improvement and get after it. Remember: positive thought without positive action leaves you with positively nothing.

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Many of us have played sports and/or have a favorite team to watch. All professional teams and most successful athletes have a Coach. The same principles that guide a sports team can guide your team to achieve massive results.

1. Coaching presumes that we have talent and buy-in as pre-requisites for moving forward. If we are lacking in one or both, immediate corrective action is needed (and is the subject for another discussion). The Coach is involved in drafting (recruiting, selecting, etc.) the “players” and directing strategy formulation and game-day execution. The Coach and the players have common goals (for example: win the next game, make the playoffs, win the championship, etc) that drive them to work together.
2. Coaching helps people get what they want. Remember the “common goals” above. What will they be more motivated to work for: what they want or what someone else tells them they should have? Again, we’re presuming that we have assembled a group of like-minded individuals who want to work together to achieve more as a group than they could on their own. By the way, the exercise of identifying or discerning those goals is a great team-building activity.
3. Coaching increases knowledge and proficiency. As human beings, we learn by making mistakes and being willing to apply the lesson. As legendary Coach Vince Lombardi said: “Failure is not getting knocked down, failure is not getting back up!” The Coach inspires and drives the team to constantly learn and improve. As with all living things in nature, we are either growing or dying. Coaching insists that we continue to grow. Do you remember the toughest teacher you had in grade school? This was the one that gave the most homework, the toughest tests, graded on the strictest scale. Now, reflect on how much you learned.
4. Coaching fosters accountability, both for the team and the individuals. Accountability means there are rules (in the absence of them, people make up their own!) and clearly-defined expectations. We also know that human beings are motivated by the desire to pursue rewards or avoid consequences. The Coach learns which style works for the team members and applies the appropriate encouragement. Accountability means that we do what we say we will do and our commitment to that principle pays dividends on a regular basis.
5. Coaching magnifies and accelerates results. With direction, encouragement, motivation, and persistence, the team accomplishes more (and does so sooner) than just “winging it”. All of us have a certain level of drive, ambition, and determination. Eventually, we might figure it all out. Coaching helps us to bridge the gap between that “base” level and our true potential, and it happens quicker.

On October 20, ActionCOACH Mark Raciappa will expand on this at Education Day. Plan to come and hear “the rest of the story”, specifically as it applies to coaching your team on customer service.

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If you haven’t already seen the movie starring Morgan
Freeman and Jack Nicholson, I recommend putting it on your to-do list.  In a nutshell, this is the list of the 100
things you want to do (places to go, people to meet, things to do) before you
die (“kick the bucket”).  Here’s why I
think it’s a good idea to invest your time on this task:

  1. Thinking
    about your list will remind you of your “why”.  So often, we are consumed by “how” to do
    something (how to have a better life, make more money, spend time with
    family, etc.).  In the process we
    overlook why we want these things,
    In essence, if we don’t know “why”, the “how” makes little
    difference.  The “why” defines our
    purpose and helps to provide some motivation to persist in spite of the
    challenges along the way.
  2. Periodically
    reviewing your list is a great way to re-energize.  How often do we find ourselves so busy
    running on the “hamster-wheel” of life that we lose sight of the bigger picture?  By refreshing our perspective, we
    sharpen our focus and get back on track.
    Consider this: what are you more motivated to work for—what you
    want or what somebody else wants you to have?
  3. Your
    reward list is ready to go.  One of
    the most difficult thongs to do is to reward ourselves when we achieve a
    goal or milestone.  We rationalize:
    “But there is still so much to do!”
    You work hard, don’t you?
    You deserve something special.
    Once you make this list, you have no excuse to deprive yourself.  Now, when you set some great personal or
    business goals, you select the reward that accompanies their achievement.
  4. You
    leverage the law of attraction.
    Read Michael Losier’s Law of Attraction to explore this
    phenomenon.  By creating your list
    and sharing it, you send out a “vibration”.  That makes it possible for others to
    assist you in achieving your dreams.
    If you are very specific about what you want and communicate that
    to others, things fall into place over time.  Of course this requires a positive attitude
    and some discipline on your part.
    Remember that when you construct your list.
  5. Add to
    or build your legacy.  How would you
    like to be remembered?  Years from
    now, when stories are being told by your descendants at family gatherings,
    what distinction(s) would you like to hold?  Consider the example you will set for
    future generations.  What an awesome
    privilege and responsibility it is to share your knowledge, wisdom, and
    experience!  And you had fun doing
    it, too!
  6. By the way, 100 is just a suggestion.  You are only limited by your imagination and
    creativity.  Encourage your spouse and
    friends to participate, then compare your lists.  You may discover something else you want to
    add to yours (we call this “market research”).

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When was the last time you reviewed the process by which you convert prospects to paying customers?  If it’s been a while, here’s why it would be a good idea:

  1. Consistency.  Your prospects expect it and you need it.  Does your sales team follow the same process with every prospect?  Consistency builds confidence for your prospects and assures you of relevant results.  Customers and prospects want to know what to expect.  You need to test and measure your conversion rate.  Consistency helps you manage expectations and lower resistance.  On the other hand, if every sales person does it differently, it’s very difficult to tell what is working, what is not, and what needs to be changed.  Execute your process the same way each time.  Then, if improvements need to be made, this will be based on an informed decision.
  2. Make it easy to buy.  How many times have you attempted to purchase something online and gotten frustrated with the complexity of the process?  If you’re like me, you give up and go somewhere else.  The same thing happens in person as well.  Examine the process (time, paperwork, etc) to consummate the transaction once the purchase decision has been made.  How many “hoops” does our customer have to jump through?  What can be done to smooth the way?  What lessons have we learned (and applied) from previous mistakes?
  3. Spice it up.  I heard sales author/trainer Jeffrey Gitomer say: “If the prospect isn’t interested, it means you’re not interesting!”  What is your conversion rate?  Maybe it’s time to jazz things up a bit.  Examine your presentation: script, charts, marketing materials, etc.  Formulate some new provocative questions that will stimulate interest.  There are bound to be some “hot button” issues relative to your product, service, or industry.  Ideally, you want to hear your prospect say: “That’s a great question.” Or “Hmm.  Nobody’s asked me that before.”
  4. Create attraction.  Are you tired of constantly chasing prospects, shaking the bushes, begging for appointments?  When you create attraction for your product, service, knowledge, expertise, etc. you never have to chase them again!  Remember that perception (for your prospect) is reality.  What value do you bring and how obvious is that prior to the sales presentation?  If you have (or develop) a strong value proposition AND effectively articulate that in advance, you heighten the perception of value.  And real value trumps price every time.
  5. You probably can do better.  Unless you have all the business you can stand right now, either the volume of prospects and/or the conversion rate can be improved.  Do you want more “at bats” or more “home runs”?  Start by measuring your cost per lead and cost per new customer (acquisition cost).  Look back a year or two.  Is it lower, higher, about the same?  Same thing with conversion rate.  What you measure, you can change.  Take action today!

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You’ve heard the expression: “You can’t fit a square peg in a round hole.” Chances are you’ve had days where you felt just like that peg and nothing seemed to fit. I’m reminded of that famous quote from Zig Ziglar: “Motivation doesn’t last. Neither does bathing which is why we recommend it frequently!” So where does motivation come from and how do you recharge when you need more? Let’s go back to that square peg for a minute. Recalling my 9th Grade Geometry class, I know that, mathematically speaking, a square peg WILL fit in a round hole if the diameter of the circle is equal to the distance between opposite points of the square. For purposes of this discussion, think of yourself as the PEG in this “round hole” we call Earth.

The “P” stands for Purpose. What is your purpose, your “why”, your vision? What is the real reason you get up in the morning? Remember the story of the starfish on the beach? A little boy is walking down the beach. There are thousands of starfish washed up in the sand who will die because they can’t get back to the water. The boy is picking them up, one by one, and throwing them back into the water. A man approaches the boy and says:”You know you can’t save all these starfish.” The boy replies as he picks up the next one: “No, but it matters to this one.” So, what is your “starfish on the beach”? What matters to you so much that you would persevere, even if you knew you could never finish the task? Arriving at the answer and reminding yourself, by words or pictures, will help you re-kindle the spark.

The “E” reminds you that Everything is a choice. Everything you think, do, or say constitutes a decision on your part. You control, you choose. Brian Tracy, in his book “Goals”, explains the Law of the Excluded Alternative. This says that whatever you are doing, thinking, saying right now, tomorrow, next week, etc effectively precludes you from doing, thinking, saying anything else during that time (Not counting multi-tasking!). Your mind is like a fertile field and you are the “farmer”. Whatever you plant and “feed” will grow. What will you plant in the fertile field of your mind? What books will you read, what information will you absorb, what people will you “hang out” with? Select uplifting books, listen/watch positive programs, and hang out with folks that have a positive attitude. It will rub off and energize you.

The “G” stands for Gratitude. The old adage to “count your blessings” really applies here. Consider all that you have to be thankful for. Start each day by writing down three things for which you are grateful. End each day the same way. When you’re feeling “down”, go on a rampage of gratitude. Think about the people you love, the places you’ve been, the great experiences or achievements in your life. In truth, we all have so much to be thankful for.

To sum up, remember your purpose, scrutinize your choices, and give thanks. Now you have a recipe for motivation that helps whenever you need a boost.

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Let’s suppose you haven’t made that entrepreneurial leap yet and started your own business. You’re still biding your time, saving your pennies, ever looking for the “right” opportunity. Here’s how to distinguish yourself in the meantime, while you have that job.

(Bring) About
In this case I’m talking about results. Bottom Line: performance matters. Whatever the requirements of your job are, make sure you meet or exceed them. Make sure you know what is expected of you and deliver it. Take pride in your appearance and in your work area. Use supplies and resources efficiently and only for company business. Simple things like being on time, following through, meeting deadlines with no excuses—all these go a long way. Wanna be “bullet-proof”? Be productive, consistent, and reliable.

Activity
It is important, regardless of the size of the team, to network and get involved. The only failure is the failure to participate. If you are new, introduce yourself to everyone on the team. If you are the seasoned veteran in the group, take the initiative to make sure the “newbie” gets to meet everybody. Show interest in the team members, learn about their backgrounds and accomplishments. If you are in a sales environment (aren’t we all?) and there is a receptionist, become this person’s friend. Make sure you let him/her know as you are leaving or arriving to make sure those important calls are handled or put through.

Acquaint
This means find out what really gets under the boss’ skin and DON’T do it! This is an amazingly simple lesson that few employees learn. It’s also a very easy lesson to learn if you just keep your eyes and ears open because someone always finds a way to drive the boss crazy. The challenge is for you to learn from others’ mistakes so you don’t have to make them. I remember a boss many years ago who explained it this way: “When I say jump, you jump. If you want to know how high, ask on the way up!” Autocratic? Perhaps, but you get the point.

Attitude
Probably one of the most important in this list is maintaining a positive attitude. Nobody likes to associate or put up with the chronic complainers or “doom and gloom” types. You will get more accomplished and receive more cooperation if you exhibit a positive outlook, unencumbered by the personal baggage that drags people down. We’ve all seen it too many times. It seems there’s always someone whose personal life plays like a soap opera and we get to experience it every day they work. All of us have challenges. As best we can, let’s leave personal challenges at home and business challenges at work. Put on a smile and stay focused

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