How To Live Up to Your Greatest Potential

If you want to make more of your talents – live up to your full potential
– you have to learn to use them. You have the power to change your habits
– to acquire new skills and fully use the skills you now have. You can
improve your performance, your productivity, and the quality of your whole
life.

What makes a high achiever? Is it luck, intelligence, talent, dedication?
All of these things figure in – they all make a difference. But we all
know intelligent, talented, hard-working people who do not consider
themselves very successful or even happy. And we know people who are not
exceptionally bright but seem happy and successful.

So there must be something else, some secret to success. Actually there
are several secrets to achieving your peak performance – living up to your
full potential.

Your success at business, friendship, love, sports – just about anything
you try – is largely determined by your own self-image. Your unhappiness
is something you choose. So, you’re thinking no one chooses to be unhappy.
Well, maybe not – but you have to consciously choose to be happy,
self-confident, and successful.

Happiness is elusive when we go after it directly. So is self-confidence.
Both seem to be more “side-products” than something you can achieve in and
for itself. So how, then, can consciously choosing to be these things be
of any value? Well, the secret is to focus on other things.

First, focus on your potential. Begin by making a complete and accurate
assessment of your potential. To do this you must take an inventory of
yourself – you will make a few lists. Sit down and make a list of all the
things you can do well. Be honest with yourself. When that list is done,
make a list of all the things you like to do, even if you think you can’t
do them well. Then, make a list of all the things you would like to do, if
you could. Now list your hobbies.

Then, go back to the list of things you can do well. You are probably
being much too hard on yourself. Most of us are. We have this little
voice in our heads telling us things like: “You’re so dumb,” or “You can’t
learn to do that,” or “You never do anything right,” or similar nasty
things. And even worse, we listen to that voice as if it’s telling us the
gospel truth. So now, shut off that voice – you can do it – and add a few
more things to the list of things you can do well. Pretend you are your
best friend – it’s amazing how much more forgiving and charitable we are
with our friends than we are with ourselves. Now that you are your best
friend, you should be able to add a few more items to your “do well” list.
But do be honest – don’t list things you feel you really can’t do well.

Next, go to your list of things you like to do but you feel you don’t do
well. Speaking as your own best friend, do you think there are some things
on this list that could be moved to your “do well” list? There probably
are. If you like to do it, chances are you do pretty well at it. Treat
your hobby list in the same manner.

Next, go to your list of things you would like to do if you could. Ask
yourself, “Why can’t I do this, if I’d like to?” Put your reasons on
another list. OK. So you have a lot of lists going – what good is that
going to do? Well, you have just made an assessment of yourself. If you
have been truly honest in making these lists, it may even be a fairly
accurate assessment. Probably it isn’t, but that’s OK. This assessment
isn’t carved in stone. It’s subject to change. But for now we will work
with what’s on the lists. At least you have a place to start.

Look over your lists again. You are focusing on all the things you feel
you can’t do and the reasons why you can’t do them, right? Well, don’t.
FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN DO – FOCUS ON YOUR POTENTIAL. Make it a habit to
focus on your strengths. Don’t forget to include your undeveloped
potential, as well. Train yourself to focus on your potential instead of
your limitations.

Now that’s not to say that you should ignore your list of reasons for not
doing some of the things you would like to do. Not at all! But look at
them from the viewpoint of your strengths. For instance, you’d like to
play basketball but you think you are too short, so you don’t even try. In
this case, you are looking at it from the viewpoint of your limitations.
Now, when you look at it from the viewpoint of your strengths, you would
say, “Well, I may be pretty short to play, BUT I am fast. I can handle the
ball well. I have a lot of stamina. I can’t change being short, but I can
refuse to let my limitations overcome my strengths.”

You see the difference? Focusing on your limitations lets those
limitations make your decisions for you. Focusing on your strengths lets
YOU make the decision. To go back to our example: when you’ve decided to
overcome your height limitations to play basketball – something you really
want to do – you will be more determined to develop your strengths to
compensate. You will do well, because you will be doing what you really
want to do and you will be determined to develop the full potential of your
strengths. Very few people concentrate on fully developing any of their
strengths. That’s where you will have the edge. You know your true
disadvantages but your determination, your singleness of purpose, will
inspire you to fully develop the talents and skills you do have.

OK. You probably have no interest in playing basketball. Then go to your
assessment of yourself. What do you have a major interest in? What do you
have a natural aptitude for? Go for it. Devote yourself to something you
really like to do. Don’t choose something just because you think you could
make more money at it than you could by doing something else that you would
really rather work at. You won’t work to develop your full potential. You
may start out with enthusiasm, but you will soon flag. It will be a chore
to go to work. You’ll probably find yourself hating to go. It’ll be
difficult to work on improving your skills because you don’t like what you
are doing. You probably won’t be working up to your potential. Your
success will probably be limited by your growing lack of interest and your
happiness will surely be affected.

If, however, you devote yourself to something you really like to do, you’ll
enjoy your work, you’ll be enthusiastic, and you’ll probably find yourself
working on improving your skills just for the sheer joy of it. You will be
working to reach your full potential. You’ll probably soon find you are
making more money at this truly interesting occupation than you ever
dreamed possible. And because you like what you are doing, you will be
happier.

When you know you are working to your full potential and you enjoy your
work and begin to feel successful, you will find that self-confidence and
happiness soon follow.

But, you must be realistic and honest with yourself. If you set goals that
you can’t possibly reach, you are setting yourself up for failure. You
will make yourself frustrated and unhappy. The key here is a realistic and
honest assessment of your potential.

Although most people will be unnecessarily harsh in their assessments, it
is easy to become too hopeful when you start breaking down barriers. If,
for instance, you’re extremely interested in and fond of music and would
love to be a singer, it would be unreasonable to set a singing career as
your goal if you can’t sing a note (some talents are inborn). But if you
are knowledgeable about the music business and would be happy being
involved in some other capacity, then it would be reasonable to pursue a
career in the business.

Be wary of making otherwise perfectly reasonable goals unattainable because
of stringent time frames. When you set a goal, you will most likely set
times for achieving certain steps along your way to achieving your final
goal. Even if you don’t set the time frames formally, you will probably
have a pretty good idea of how long you are giving yourself. It’s wise to
sit down and formally set these goals. Think about it and give yourself
reasonable time to achieve them. Make a deal with yourself to view these
time limits as flexible.

Don’t get discouraged if things don’t work out as planned. Sometimes
finding our place takes both time and error. All of us experience failures
of one magnitude or another. The key is to view the failures as a learning
experience – if nothing else, failures teach us what not to do. Remain
flexible. As long as you keep focusing on your strengths and potential,
the right thing will come along – and probably sooner rather than later.
But don’t quit at the first sign of boredom. Even if you have truly found
your niche, you will not feel enthusiastic 100 percent of the time.

Don’t worry about others – don’t compare your progress with that of others.
No matter how successful you are, there will be someone else who, to you,
looks like she’s got it made – who looks like she’s getting where you want
to go faster and easier than you are. Maybe she is. Maybe she isn’t. Who
cares? Focus on your own achievements. Work to develop your skills and
talents to their full potential. Compete with yourself – your short term
goals should be based on today’s accomplishments. If you have reached
Point A today, make Point B your next objective – improve yourself and
don’t worry about the other guy.

OK. You have decided what your ultimate goal is. Make sure it is a
definitely defined goal. “Someday I want to be famous” just won’t cut it.
Define exactly what you want to do. Define a reasonable time frame. Know
what you have to do to get there. You don’t need to know every little
detail, but you do have to have the big picture and many of the details.
If you have a goal in mind but don’t know what it takes to reach it, then
you need to find out. Do some reading, talk to people who know, ask
questions and LISTEN to the answers. Think that sounds like a lot of work?
Well, remember what you are preparing for – your success and happiness.
Surely you want to put a little effort into that! Anyway, a little
reseach into what it will take for you to reach your goals isn’t too
difficult.

Train yourself into making this “research” the next focus of your life.
You will be focusing on your strengths, on your purpose, and on learning
and doing. If you have chosen a goal that is right for you, focusing on
these things and devoting the necessary time should not be too difficult.
It may take a bit of self-discipline at first, but your determination and
interest will carry you through until the focusing process becomes a habit.
When you have a real desire to accomplish something, initiatative should
only require an occasional shove – but you may need to give it a nudge now
and again.

Get into the habit of visualizing your success. Now sitting around and
daydreaming in generalizations about it is not what we mean. You need to
visualize specifics. To return to the basketball example, daydreaming
about being carried off the court on your teammates’ shoulders is just
daydreaming. Picturing in your mind how you will work a play if your
opponent makes a particular move, picturing your exact response to it, is
visualizing specifics. If you run through specific moves in your mind, you
will be prepared when the need for those moves arises.

Don’t be afraid to use your imagination to visualize new and better ways to
accomplish things, as well. Here in your mind, you can try doing things in
ways that are different from the usual. This is a creative process – you
may have heard of creative thinking. Training yourself to think creatively
is largely learning to let your imagination work on methods that are
different from the “way things have always been done.” It’s breaking away
from the idea that a thing can be done effectively in only one way. It’s
looking at a problem from all angles. Just play a game of “what if.” Ask
yourself, “What if I did this thing this way?” It’s OK to get a little
crazy sometimes. But, you must also spend some of your thinking time at
specific visualizations of the moves you need to make to accomplish your
goals.

Visualizations are important but actual physical practice of your skills is
important, too. Practice the boring little skills that are necessary as
well as the skills that you enjoy. Don’t let yourself rely on just the
things that come naturally and easy to you. Develop your limited
potentials as well as those that you feel are your assets.

Work on developing the more general attributes that are important to almost
any goal:

Success comes more easily to those who have a pleasing personality. This
is not to say that you should bend to eveyone’s wishes or scrape and bow.
Rather, develop an attitude that is respectful of other’s opinions but true
to your own beliefs. Be flexible – don’t be so rigid that you can’t accept
another’s opinion when it is superior to your own. Be willing, even eager,
to learn from others. Changing your opinion in light of more facts is a
sign of strength of character, not weakness. Be willing to extend a
helpful hand, be a team player. Develop a sense of humor. Be polite and
caring – but be your own person.

Learn to guard against emotional responses. You are susceptible to errors
of judgement when you let your emotions get in the way. Of course,
everything we do is done based somewhat on our emotions, but strong
emotions have little place in decision making. Hold your emotions in
check. Try to delay decisions if you are in an emotional state. Learn to
ignore your emotions and use reasoning to arrive at your decisions.

Develop the habit of enthusiasm. Enthusiasm works like a magnet – it draws
people and success. It’s a pleasing personality trait that people like to
be a part of. It seems to be contagious – the people around you become
enthusiastic, too, and become more cooperative. Enthusiasm sparks
initiative and singleness of purpose.

We’ve talked of working to develop habits – the habit of focusing on your
goals, the habit of focusing on your strengths, the habit of learning and
“researching,” the habit of visualizing, the habit of enthusiasm. Now we
will talk of habits in a little different light – breaking them. First,
assess your habits looking for the ones that may be displeasing to others.
Offensive habits can hold you back from success – they are often a part of
an unpleasing personality. Look for things like grumbling or grunting at
people instead of answering, gazing at anything but the speaker when
conversing, smirking or sneering when you don’t agree – anything that is an
automatic, displeasing mannerism. It will be very difficult to assess your
habits accurately. After all, a habit is something that we do without
thinking much about it. You will have to spend some time at this and be
very conscious of yourself. Ask someone you trust to help you with this
assessment. It may take a lot of work to break yourself of displeasing
habits. Try substituting a different, more pleasing behavior for the habit
you wish to break.

OK. You have set definite goals, you have a definiteness of purpose, you
have researched and know the specific steps to take to achieve the goals,
you have resolved to be flexible and to develop a more pleasing
personality. Now what?

Well, just because you have a clear purpose, know what you want, are
willing to work on developing your potential, and willing to be a nice
person, success will not drop into your lap overnight.

You will probably find that one of your first steps in achieving your goals
will be to take a job somewhat below where you hope eventually to be. But
you’ve already analyzed the steps to your goal, so you presumably have
planned for this. However, you do want to advance and, of course, as
quickly as possible.

As you advance toward your goals, you will undoubtedly run up against some
difficult people (maybe even difficult bosses), and there will be times
you’ll need to deal effectively with them. Since you are working on
becoming a nice, enthusiastic person and a team player, you already have
half the battle won. Your attitude is as important as the other guy’s
attitude when you are dealing with difficult people.

Always keep in mind that your job is a training field for you. You are
getting paid as you learn the things you need to know to achieve your
goals. Pretty good deal, right? If you view your job as a paid
opportunity to advance toward your goals, you will be an asset to your
boss. You will also be a happier, more productive person. Viewing your
job in this manner will allow you to view the difficult people you will
inevitably need to deal with as an opportunity to grow. From them and the
situations they create, you will learn to negotiate with, side-step around,
and draw out the best in others without letting yourself become upset.
Each time you successfully deal with one of these people you will gain
confidence and probably friends to add to your support network. The skill
of negotiating with difficult people and the confidence you have gained
from these encounters comes in handy when you are ready to ask for a
promotion or raise – even if your boss happens to be a nice person.

Successful negotiation is not a contest of wills – it is working together
to solve a problem or come to an agreement. It is an opportunity to learn
how others feel about the issue.

Always be prepared. Know who you are talking with. Always know as much as
possible about the person. Know about the person’s marital status, family,
hobbies, education, difficulties, attitudes, and whatever else you can
learn. The information may give you an understanding of the person. If
you know the circumstances, you will more easily find the most effective
way to get your point across. At the very least, the information will make
the person seem more familiar which will give you more self-confidence.

Know the issue – not just your opinions about it. Be able to back up your
opinions with reasons and research. If you are asking for a promotion,
know the demands of the job in question. Know and be honest about how much
of the job you are already qualified to do and how much additional training
you will need. If you may not be as qualified as someone else applying, be
prepared to negotiate for a smaller-than-offered salary until you are fully
trained – remember the training is worth a lot to you. Be enthusiastic and
focus on your strengths – don’t boast but give an a simple and accurate
listing of the strengths you feel make you a good candidate for this job.
The strengths you cite can and should include specific job related skills,
your present accomplishments on the job, your interest in the field (not
just this job), your enthusiasm, your ability to work as a team member, and
other personal traits that will be an asset on the job.

Always enter into negotiations with a calm and reasonable manner. Don’t
let emotion and emotional outbursts have a place at the negotiating table.
You must be in control of yourself if you want to get your point across.
People are more likely to listen to your views if you present them in a
calm and reasonable manner. Present your ideas with conviction but don’t
try to intimidate others or be demanding. State your views simply,
completely, and orderly. When you are expressing an opinion rather than a
fact, use a qualifying “I think” or “In my opinion.” When others are
expressing their views, listen carefully and ask questions if something
isn’t clear. Don’t disagree until you are sure you understand their
position. When you do disagree, do so in a pleasant non-threatening way.
“I see what you mean, but . . .” or “I can understand why you think that,
but . . .” are a couple of good ways to begin a statement of disagreement.
Be courteous and leave them a chance to save face.

Be prepared to face people who are not calm and reasonable. Don’t let them
get to you. Remain calm and reasonable and even be a little sympathetic.
Let’s say you have entered into negotiations with your boss for a raise and
he blows up with, “I can’t afford to give you a raise. This business isn’t
exactly a gold mine. Don’t you realize how tough times are?” Remain calm.
Put yourself in his shoes. Try to find something you can agree and
sympathize with. For instance, look sympathetic and agree, “I know you
have a lot of expenses and you work hard to keep this business going. It
must be really difficult for you sometimes.” This will probably not be the
response he expects. It will probably take the wind out of his sails.
Most likely he will calm down, and since you are sympathetic to his
problems, he’ll be more willing to listen to you. If you remain calm,
reasonable, and sympathetic, he will calm down. When he is calmer, discuss
with him the reasons you are a valuable asset to him. Don’t threaten but
calmly and reasonably discuss the bargain a small raise is. With that
small raise, he’ll be keeping a happy and fully trained employee who knows
the company. When you consider the expense of finding and training another
individual, giving you a raise is a bargain for your boss.

Play “Let’s Make A Deal.” Be prepared to deal. Don’t expect to get
everything you want. If you are willing to gracefully make some
concessions, you will be more likely to arrive at a satisfactory deal.
After all, a negotiation has at least two opposing sides. This means
someone else has something they want, too – even if that something is
simply to leave things as they are. Arrive at a compromise that everyone
can live with. Remember, you are working at long-range goals, and you may
be negotiating with them again.

Developing your potential more fully is a key to happiness and fulfillment.
Although we have primarily discussed this in terms of a job, these same
concepts can be used in many other areas of your life.

In developing your potential to it’s fullest, you will want to become a
more efficient person – get more done in less time – so you can take full
advantage of the opportunities that you make for yourself. You will note
that most effective, successful people seem to accomplish a great deal.
It’s true that this is partly due to enthusiasm, but there’s more to it.

The first barrier to efficiency is procrastination – putting off getting
started. Sometimes you know you are procrastinating. You may not want to
do the task at hand so you keep putting it off until tomorrow. The thing
to do is to look at it from a different angle. If it’ll have to be done
sometime, tell yourself, “why not do it now, and get it off your back.”
And that’s just where it is! On your back dragging you down. Putting
things off makes everything harder to do. If you keep putting things off,
you’ll soon have several things piling up, and then the sheer number of
tasks you have backed up will make it seem impossible to ever get caught
up. This affects everything you do try to do.

Sometimes you don’t even realize you are putting things off. You may keep
yourself extremely busy doing things of little importance to unconsciously
give yourself excuses for doing the things you really should be doing. You
say to yourself, “Look how busy I am. I just can’t get everything done.”
But the result is the same as when you know you are procrastinating. It
soon bogs you down. All you are doing is “running in place.”

So how do you beat procrastination?

The first step in beating procrastination is to admit to yourself how often
you do it and assessing your methods of doing it. Not very difficult,
really, when you become aware of the tactics some of us use to hide from
ourselves what we are doing.

The key in overcoming procrastination and becoming more efficient is
organization. Plan ahead. Know what you want to accomplish today, this
week, and in the long haul.

Make lists. The lists for today will probably be more detailed than the
longer-term lists. That’s OK. Now look over the lists and rank the tasks
in order of importance. Make three or four groupings based on importance.
Within each group, star the things you least like to do.

Each day you will have a “today” list to work on. Tackle the tasks that
are most important first. If you have several “most important” tasks on
your list, take on the least liked things in that grouping before you do
the better liked ones. When you have accomplished a task, check it off.
You’ll be surprised what a good feeling you have when you check things off.
What a sense of accomplishment! It’s an incentive to do the next task on
the list. When you have completed the tasks in the first grouping, begin
on the list of next importance. Again do the starred items in that group
first. Keep on checking things off as you get them done.

Do you see what is happening? You get the most pressing, least liked tasks
out of the way early in the day when you are fresh and rested. As the day
goes on you will feel less and less pressure. You have reserved the less
important tasks for the end of the day when you will be more tired.

With this system you will have not only increased your efficiency but also
reduced some of the stress in your day. Stress can get in the way of
efficiency. Your new efficiency will help you develop your potential. It
is, in fact, a part of living up to your potential.

Another important part of efficiency is in delegating work. If you are in
a position where you have assistants or designated people under your
supervision, you need to learn to delegate. If you are not in such a
position yet, you still need to know – since you’re working on developing
your potential you very likely will be some day.

Delegating work is difficult for many people. Some find it hard to ask
others to do things for them – others find it hard not to demand that
others do tasks. Delegating is an art.

First, you need to realize that the people under your supervision are
PEOPLE. Seldom, if ever, should you demand – that takes away self respect.
In order to achieve a happy and co-operative crew, you need to help them
build self-respect and self-confidence. A happy and co-operative crew is
an asset to you. Demands do not promote self-respect and co-operation.
Oh, it’s probably effective to demand in the short run – but in the long
run you will be better off to gain co-operation without demanding.

People who are asked to do a task, are given explanations and clear
instructions, and are praised for a job well done will grow in
self-respect. They will also respect you as a good supervisor. If you
hesitate to ask for their assistance, your crew will feel that you do not
trust them or have faith in their abilities. This affects their
self-respect and, as a reaction, will affect their respect for you, as
well.

When you delegate work, don’t delegate just the “junk” tasks. Your crew
needs to be given some important tasks to do as well as unimportant ones.
The important task gives them a sense of the respect you have for them and
the faith you have in their abilities. It’s a good idea to save some
“junk” tasks for yourself. Perhaps the most respected and effective boss
is the one about whom the crew says, “She never gives us anything to do
that she wouldn’t do herself.” Why? Because, by her actions the boss is
saying that, though her position is above theirs, she is still just “plain
people.”

Delegation of tasks is important because you can gain in effectiveness and
get more done if you properly supervise a crew. Don’t feel embarrassed or
hesitant about delegating work. If it helps you to shine, it helps your
crew shine, too. A well-run, effective department is a credit to the whole
team. With proper delegating, you can help your crew achieve their
potential as well as achieving your own.

All of us have untapped potential – perhaps even areas of genius – that we
have neglected to develop. Whether your concept of success has to do with
business, love, friendship, sports, a combination of these or something
else, more fully developing your potential will help you achieve your
goals. If you can learn to assess your potential, set realistic goals,
and go after those goals with determination, organization, and purpose, you
will use your potential more fully, gain confidence, and be a happier and
more successful person.

Dispelling 8 Misconceptions of Organization

Some people were born organized and then there are those of us who struggle with organizing every year at this time. It seems that it’s always at the end of the year when that little annoying bug begins nudging you to clear things up and start the new year organized.

Well, I’ve read just about everybody’s directions, books, and helpful hints about getting organized (in fact, I’m thinking of writing one myself), and I’ve got to tell you there are some misconceptions being fostered by every organizational guru. It will be my pleasure to give you the “skinny” on that in today’s column.

Here are the 8 misconceptions that we can throw out:

1. Handle paper once. This is not only impossible, but in most cases it’s unrealistic. Instead of handling paper once, get in the habit of doing something with each piece of paper to move it forward. If you get some information about an upcoming seminar/trade show, for example, decide if you’ll attend or not. If you’re to attend then note the date on your calendar and sign up. If not, then toss the information immediately. If you want to wait to sign up, then make a note in your planner to respond well before the deadline and file the paper in your “to-do” file.
2. Always keep papers stored out of sight: Some of us work better when their desk is clear, whereas others feel stifled if they aren’t surrounded by stacks of paper. If you’re an “out of sight – out of mind” type, keep papers you use often nearby in files or stacking bins. They’ll be accessible, yet not clutter your desk. When working on a project, spread out the papers related to it, and when you’re done put them away together in one place.
3. Everyone should be organized to the same degree. Different people work differently. Don’t feel that you have to work the same as someone else. Find a comfortable level of being organized, and make the necessary changes to maintain that level. I usually draw that line when I’m looking for something and can’t find it; that’s when I know things need to get reorganized.
4. Soon we’ll be a “paperless” society. Don’t you believe it. Experts have been saying that for years, and we won’t be paperless for a long time. It’s not technology that’s the problem, it is human nature that’s the culprit. We’re creatures of habit and used to seeing things in print rather than on a computer screen. The younger generation is now being trained on computers at an early age, so when they join the workforce, the “paperless” society will have a better chance of becoming a reality.
5. One planning system should fit everyone. When used correctly, daily planners are an ideal way to stay organized. Keep in mind, however, they are designed by a few for many users. When buying a planner, whether paper-based or electronic, determine what you want it to do and choose a system accordingly. If you can’t find one to suit your system, design your own based on your individual needs.
6. You have to be born organized to be organized. We learn both good and bad habits at an early age. It’s possible to change any bad habit, including disorganization. Youngsters raised in an organized environment sometimes rebel as adults by being disorganized. The opposite is also true, but neither is carved in stone and behavior can be modified.
7. You MUST use a “to-do” list. Planning day-to-day is not realistic for everyone. Someone may do the same task every week, but others find their plans changing daily. Consider your particular need, then plan by the day or the week.
8. Being organized means being a perfectionist. A perfectionist may spend time on insignificant details while disregarding the big picture. When others complete a project quickly and on time, the perfectionist continues to work until the project is perfect. A perfectionist becomes more effective when he/she lowers his/her standards slightly and concentrates on ways to increase productivity.

Misinformation, when taken seriously, can hinder you from doing what you want. The next time you hear one of those “Organizational Gurus” espousing one of the above misconceptions, consider its value and work to develop your own style of organizing.

When Did Customer Service Breakup?

We’ve all had friends in our circle who were known as “Mary & John”, and when “John” split “Mary” was alone. Mary was the “odd” number at the dinner party and we were all concerned about her. Well, today it seems that the union of Customer & Service have had a breakup. Service has split and Customer is on his/her own.

Today, let me tell you a story that many of you will find humorous but is all too common. I can tell you this without fear of our local editor getting sued because it’s about me, but business owners take note that you don’t fit the profile of company “X”.

Four weeks ago I decided that I needed another green recycling can from my trash pickup company. We’ll call them Brown Keg Trash Pickup, an anonymous company in the interest of avoiding litigation. I called their Customer Service number, and as an environmentally conscious citizen requested my extra recycle can. The cheerful voice on the other end of the line chirped, “Of course, we’ll have one delivered in 48 hours.” After giving her all the pertinent location information, I hung up the phone with the satisfied feeling of a good citizen.

I arrived home about 5 p.m. the next day and I was happy to see another green can at the mouth of my driveway. When I looked again, I noticed that I had another green can – but it was without a lid. I quickly dialed my cheerful telephone voice at Brown Keg Company thanking her graciously for the rapid service and then told her about the missing lid. Just as cheerfully as the first time, she told me to leave it at the end of my driveway after my usual trash pickup and they would replace the entire unit since they didn’t have extra lids. I agreed, and after hanging up the phone I pondered their plight of having lidless cans but no extra lids. I conjured up all sorts of scenarios that explained where all the lids to the lidless cans went, and sympathized with their predicament.

Well, 3 days went by and there sat my poor, green, lidless can at my driveway’s mouth and a replacement never arrived. Feeling empathy for this green plastic waif, I returned it to the side of it’s brother that had a lid. I called my cheerful Customer Service voice again, and reiterated the plight of my poor lidless can and after a chuckle she assured me a complete unit would be forthcoming. I found it necessary to make use of my lidless friend, and put it out the next pickup day filled to the brim. Fortunately, it wasn’t windy and all the contents remained inside it. That was 2 weeks ago, and life being what it is other more important tasks have occupied me until this morning when facing another pickup day I thought of my lidless friend.

Once more I picked up the phone and called my trash pickup company, and this time I listened to a litany of choices of buttons I could punch and chose my cheerful Customer Service button again. I was transferred, listened to a brief melody when there was a “click” and I expected my cheerful voice to chirp “hello”. The next thing I heard was another click, silence, and then the dreaded dial tone that means you’ve been disconnected. Not being one of the “fainthearted”, I simply redialed my number. Again there was the litany of button choices, my choice and the music, and just when I began to feel that all was right with the world I heard – “click”, “dial tone” and nothing.

This was not the morning for the phone to be playing games with me, so I made one more determined effort and REDIALED! “NASA, we have lift-off !” I once more heard the litany of button choices, but this time I outfoxed that monotonous voice and punched “0”. I asked for the Manager of Customer Service, I was given her name and was transferred. What greeted my eager ear was, “You’ve reached the voicemail of ……., please leave your name and number and she’ll return your call.”

So here we sit – my lidless, green can and I facing another pick-up day. This eager-to-serve plastic green waif must bravely face another dutiful day half-clothed.

You must admit that is an amusing story, and one that far too many of us have lived through, but what a sad commentary it is about our business community. Doesn’t it make you wonder if our language has changed so drastically that what we interpret “Customer Service” to mean – is not what today’s business owners mean. It makes me wonder when the marriage of Customer and Service broke-up, leaving us all the lonely ones.

Entrepreneurs and business owners take note! If you’re going to have a number for your customers to access your Customer Service, please follow these rules.
 Have the phone manned by an employee that can hear thunder and see lightening.
 Give that employee training in helping the caller and not shuffling the problem to another desk.
 Have an overseer, who can also hear thunder and see lightening, check that all incoming complaints were handled appropriately.

After learning how to find your customers and what they want; after getting them committed to doing business with YOU; and after wooing them to keep them as your customers – WHY WOULD YOU LET “SERVICE” DIVORCE “CUSTOMER?”

If your customers aren’t getting the service they require from you – your competitor will be only too happy to help them!

Prepare Crisis Control

A personal crisis doesn’t have to spell disaster for your business if you’re prepared. Every business occasionally endures a crisis, but what happens when your dilemma isn’t falling profits but personal.

Because we have no idea what type of personal crisis may await us – an ugly divorce, debilitating disease, or ailing parent/child/spouse, we must be prepared. Just as you plan for advertising and promotions, you must plan for life’s surprises.

Paul Krasinski, founder of Lion Strategy Advisors, New York, suggests finding somebody NOW who can take over your responsibility and carry on for at least 20 days. He/she needs to be someone who can communicate well with staff and command respect, and may or may not be the person you feel closest to in the company.

Once a personal crisis hits, Krasinski recommends “full disclosure” to your employees. This avoids the feeling of being hit by a bomb, and that business will go on as usual. In case you think this doesn’t work, let me give you a case history.

Dana Weidaw, 28 and president of her own PR firm had only been in business 1 year when she tested “full disclosure” with her employees. She was diagnosed with an aneurysm which required a surgeon to drill through her skull. She had just landed her first major client and was publicizing a major hockey arena. If all didn’t go well with the project, this client could turn out to be her last.

Before missing 7 days of work, Weidaw prepped her full-time employee, another agency she was working with, and her client by sharing the nitty-gritty details of her crisis. She assured them everything would run according to plans and smoothly in her absence, and found that everybody was willing to work around her crisis. Weidaw found that, by nature, people are very sympathetic.

A word of caution though, you need to know when to talk. During and after a crisis – full disclosure is great. If you’re “contingency” planning though, it might be prudent not to advertise that if your personal life goes in the tanker good old Gary or Suzy will be in charge. Your employees may needlessly dwell on why they weren’t picked to run the show instead of them. Above all, you don’t want to cause widespread distress or distract your staff from day-to-day operation.

Just as surely as you plan for financial allocations for your business, always have a crisis plan in place. This may need adjustments from year to year as staff leaves and are replaced, so when planning for each year’s business needs include your crisis plan.

Markets & The Dynamics of Competition

Today marketing is not the same as it was in the ‘60s or ‘70s, because there are enough products to satisfy customer’s needs. In fact customers are “hyper-satisfied”! Companies have segmented the market until it has become almost too small to service profitably.

Distribution is now largely in the hands of giant corporations such as Wal-Mart and Costco. There are more brands and fewer producers, products “life” have been shortened, and it’s cheaper to replace than to repair – all complicating the process further.
Marketing has always started with identifying the needs of your customer, but many companies are now focusing on the product. They focus on what category it falls into, and then what sub-category (for instance pudding and then what flavors). By focusing on the product, companies then focus on who’ll use the product, and those considered “not using” are excluded from the picture. In doing this, you’ve just given your competitor a target market.

You may have captured 75% of your “user market” because you have a USP (unique selling position) i.e.; more flavors, more convenient packaging, longer shelf life, etc. But why can’t YOU also take care of the other 25% instead of your competitor?

To do that, requires a new way of thinking known as “Lateral Marketing”. Stop thinking about how you can keep the 75% in love with your product (Vertical Marketing), think about drawing in the 25% of the market that wasn’t your customer. This is done by innovative thinking. This may be seen as further “segmenting” the market-place, but at the same time it’s making it bigger.

Let’s say you sell soap. You’ve captured 75% of your market because of some formulary development that makes more suds with less product. The 25% that your competition is trying to capture would rather spend less for soap, than use less. Your method of also capturing that 25% is to start thinking “innovation” and not different product.

Lateral Marketing works within the original category of product and complements it, not competes with it. You could come up with a soap with more bleach, with less foam, fragrance free, with more foam. You can innovate by size – selling in large economy packs, selling in individual packs, and do this without ever changing the formula of the product. This type of marketing works best for mature markets with no growth (after all, what new uses can you come up with for soap). It also can create markets from scratch, requires greater resources, and may redefine your company’s mission and business focus.

This innovative method of marketing doesn’t create “new” categories or markets, it always occurs “within” the category where the idea originated. If you’ve done everything right, you’ve garnered the 25% of customers that might have got away and it didn’t require a lot of overhead – you’re still producing soap!

Good Companies Grow No Matter What

Every business demands growth, and double-digit growth is the dream of every dedicated business owner, even when lackluster results show up at quarter’s end.

Most entrepreneurial business owners need a guide to navigate their way toward substantial, sustainable growth. It can be done even in a slow economy as demonstrated by such companies as Harley Davidson, Starbucks, and WalMart. Even smaller companies such as Paychex and Oshkosh Truck have been able to make gains in revenue, gross profits and net profits.

Here are 5 disciplines of sustained growth:

1. Retain Your Customer Base: Keep the growth that you have already earned by coaxing customers into complex relationships that make it a hassle for them to switch to your competitor. Tailor your products/services using data gleaned from your customers giving you an advantage. Proactively managing customer defections will help you anticipate and pre-empt them. Bonding with customers wherever emotion is tied to an interaction is another great way to retain them.

2. Gain Market Share at the Expense of Your Rivals: Give customers a reason to abandon a competitor’s product/service for yours. Do what it takes to lower the switching costs. Pulling customers away from a competitor can be difficult, so you must devote many resources to raiding their customer base. Offering higher value and quality are crucial to this end. Buying a competitor is another way to do this.

3. Exploit Market Position: Show up where growth is going to happen by spotting it early. This can be done by watching the industry for shifts in buying criteria, product or service innovations, and population trends. You must be able to spot positioning opportunities to make the most of them by continually using a systematic approach to the process.

4. Invade Adjacent Markets: Before moving into a nearby market, decide whether it offers significant long-term growth and profitability. Determine whether you have an advantage over a competitor, and ensure you can match its standards of quality and value.

5. Invest In New Lines of Business: If you take this approach, never overpay for a new line. You must find simple strategies instead of complex ones, and partner with the new business by assessing its leadership team and balance sheet.

Although a successful growth portfolio might not include all five of these disciplines, it must contain more than one. Only a balanced growth portfolio can keep an organization growing when the market shifts dramatically.

In closing I wish a happy and safe Memorial Day to all my entrepreneurial buddies and readers. Drive carefully!

What About Commonality?

Diversity, diversity, diversity! Some people, political types in particular, are trying to make “diversity” our defining characteristic. Has anyone thought of approaching the topic from the point of “commonality”, a bonding point of view, rather than “diversity”, a dividing point of view? Using the term “diversity” appears to me to mask a hidden and potentially sinister agenda to divide and control us. The parties pursuing this line seem more interested in playing the “blame game” and law suits by using “diversity” to categorize color group rather than individual capability.

We are all unique because DNA has billions of variations which make us so, but our opportunities are not. Humans share only a few dozen needs and desires, at best, but we have a history describing how others have solved similar problems. However, today’s use of the term “diversity” tends to make some feel like victims who only use history as an excuse.

Positive self-worth is an important attribute to every person, but it comes from assuming responsibility for tasks and seeing them completed successfully. Without responsibility, we drift in a sea of self-doubt, but many are using “diversity” as a way to avert this responsibility.

“Sensitivity training” is a negative method assuming certain color groups must have special treatments for special needs. Bull! We are all special and should be treated accordingly. Special treat of sensitive groups simply allows them excuses and the escape from responsibility. The basics of Management 101 states – “don’t give responsibility without authority, or authority without responsibility.” That’s the training needed in place of “sensitivity”.

The United States thrives on individuality which has been the sparkplug of our society. When we meld this individuality with teamwork, as in companies and corporations, we have a powerful engine. Combining individual initiative and other talents with organizational management has led us to become a world leader.

Why not stress “Commonality?” Let’s find ways to cooperate and multiply our individual talents to accomplish meaningful tasks. Let’s look at what each can provide to gain the mutual goal? Let’s join together to:
• Define mutual needs/wants, desires.
• Gather resources available.
• Develop, build, execute, and monitor a plan to this end.

Your Business Checkup

Whether you’re thinking it’s Spring Cleaning Time or time for an annual checkup, your business needs to undergo a checkup each year. No matter how large or small your business is, you cannot gauge the effectiveness of any changes you’ve made without analyzing the benefits and bottom line.

Here are 10 questions to get you started:

• How do your year-to-date sales compare to the last couple of years? Don’t be satisfied if you managed to match them because if sales stayed the same then you’ve achieved zero growth. With inflation, this flat growth line is a warning sign for more trouble down the road.

• What percentage of your business is from repeat customers? This is important to know because if it’s too low, then it needs to be improved. The estimated cost of getting a new customer versus retaining an existing one can be as much as five to one in terms of dollars spent. Keeping customers is more cost-effective than constantly seeking new ones.

• How long has it been since you offered a new product or service? Loyal customers like to see you changing and progressing with the times. If you’re stuck for an idea, ask your customers what they need.

• Do you consider marketing and advertising expenses or investments? How you look at the money spent in these areas affects your willingness to spend money at all. Would you look at prescriptions as a waste of money? Marketing is really investing in you, your vision, and your company. The old adage that you must spend money to make money is true, but you must spend it wisely. Spend it on ads that are pulling responses and orders, and if they’re not maybe you need to change publications.

• Do you know what PR is and how to use it to positively position your business in the media? I’ll bet that at least one of your competitors does. Nearly every mention of a company or business in the newspapers and magazines is a direct result of publicity efforts. Being quoted or featured in an article speaks volumes to your clients and readers who are your potential prospects. A good PR consultant can do that for you and show you ways to extend the shelf life of that article beyond its publication.

• Are you listed in the yellow pages? If you only have a line listing, consider including a small ad in the yellow pages. If you can afford it, it will pay dividends throughout the year.

• Do you teat your regular customers better than your drop-ins? You should. If your customers don’t feel special when coming to you for products of services, why should they remain loyal to you? Have a customer appreciation day or a special invitation only sale for your regulars. Create a mailing list of your regulars. Send occasional post cards or greeting cards for special events or just to keep in touch. Learn to recognize them on sight and greet them by name when they visit you.

• How long has it been since you really talked to one of your customers? Just as you appreciate when your Doctor takes time to talk to you, your customers will appreciate you if you take an interest in their needs. If you have a service business, have lunch or coffee periodically with some regulars – even if they only contact you once or twice a year. The personal touch in an impersonal world will be remembered.

• How is your business doing compared to your competition? Every company, no matter what the size, has competition – even home-based businesses. Is their business growing or downsizing? Is their pricing or service better than yours? If so, what can you tell potential customers about the price difference? Think about how you can improve your service to meet or exceed your customer’s expectations.

• Are your employees happy? Don’t ask them directly, but observe them throughout the day. Watch, listen and learn. Employees who like their jobs don’t watch the clock for quitting time, aren’t habitually late, don’t have poor body language, don’t spend time on personal phone calls, and don’t look like they never smiled. Observe how they interact with customers. Not everyone is a match for direct contact with the public, so make sure you don’t have an employee who is driving business away.

I can remember when I was working at my very first job out of school. It was a service business with just the owner and me at work. There was direct contact with the clients, and there was never a problem with smiling when talking face to face with them. I was given the best business tip of my life by that employer, when he pointed out to me that when talking to clients on the telephone I should smile too. For some unexplainable reason, when you smile as you talk on the phone, the exchange with the client becomes more pleasant and more productive. It’s as if that smile went right through the phone wires to the person to whom you’re talking.

Biggest Challeneges for Entrepreneurs

When I saw the January issue of Entrepreneur Magazine I was thrilled. Cover copy had a teaser on it to the effect that entrepreneurs had been surveyed and inside were their answers. I was certain that, finally, someone was paying attention to entrepreneurs who were striving for a successful business. It was time to hear from us little guys!

I can’t tell you how surprised I was as I began to read the article. Their idea of an “entrepreneur” and mine were as different as night and day. I always classified an entrepreneur as someone like the “Mom and Pop” coffee shop around the corner, the family run produce market in town, or the 18 to 24 year old who had come up with a fantastic “gizmo” and was scooped up into a corporation as their newest genius. Let me give you a quote from the article that will clue you into its idea of an “entrepreneur”.

To explain the method used for the survey they state, “Entrepreneur magazine and PricewaterhouseCoopers “Entrepreneurial Challenges Survey” is an annual telephone survey of more than 300 CEOs of privately held, U.S.-based businesses recognized for their sustained, rapid growth. They average $31.5 million in annual revenue with an average of 185 employees, and have an ongoing annual growth rate of more than 23 percent……”

That definitely was not my picture of an entrepreneur. I don’t know too many entrepreneurs who average $31.5 million annually, or employ 185 people. To me, that’s a pretty successful company on its way to being a corporation. We should all be such entrepreneurs!

At any rate, I continued reading and I must say the information was worth the read, and the business of doing business can apply to those of us who aren’t quite making that $31.5 million per year yet. Here’s what the survey discovered.

What were considered their biggest challenges for 2006?
• 73% – Retention of key workers
• 38% – Developing new products/services
• 36% – Expansion to domestic markets
• 35% – Increased productivity
• 28% – Upgrading technology
• 23% – Creating business alliances
• 21% – Better management of cash flow
• 14% – Expansion outside the U.S.
• 13% – Improving risk management
• 11% – Finding new financing
• 11% – Buying another company or launching a spinoff
• 7% – Preparing company for sale
• 2% – Going public

Now when you stop and think about it, that’s pretty much what most entrepreneurs think about each year. Maybe not to the extent of expanding to foreign markets or launching a spinoff, but to keep your business perking along the road of improvement – all the rest are considered.

The next part of the survey was interesting because entrepreneurs were given a list of several “wild-card” factors that could affect business in 2006. When asked which three would be most harmful to their business, here’s what they said:
• 47% – Unstable U.S. economy
• 43% – Rising health-care costs
• 41% – Shortage of qualified workers
• 40% – Weak market demand
• 24% – Rising oil/energy costs
• 24% – Rising interest rates
• 22% – New government regulations
• 18% – Weaker capital spending
• 14% – Weakening world economy
• 12% – Increased global competition
• 11% – Decreased access to capital
• 10% – Sudden drop in U.S. real estate market
• 10% – Tax increases
• 9% – Inflation

So maybe my entrepreneurs and those surveyed are not really that much different in thinking. The outlook of most entrepreneurs is probably optimistic, or will be unless more unforeseen disasters strike.

Even after the huge devastation of 9/11, within two quarters we were back to the same level of optimism as we had before. People get used to dealing with tough circumstances and factor them in, but are not swayed by them. When you really think about it; isn’t that what most entrepreneurs are like?

If they’re not, then they aren’t entrepreneurs by my way of thinking.

Become Your Own Personal CFO

Budgets and personal finances are not most people’s favorite topics, and certainly not one of mine. Even bank executives have problems in this area, but if you’re an entrepreneur so do you. You’re concentrating so much time on your business, your personal checkbook takes a back seat. Then one day you are met with the startling fact that you’re not saving enough for lean times and you panic.

Well, just apply your professional talents to the situation and become your own personal CFO. By using your CFO eyes on the situation, it somehow tempers the pain of dealing with your own money. To get started, here are 5 rules for treating your personal finances like a business:

1. Be Your Own Board of Directors. To make good decisions, you must know what you’re trying to achieve. In business, Board of Directors write mission statements to keep the company on track with goals. At home, it’s up to you to define your mission and make sure you’re fulfilling it by writing down your goals. Not just your financial goals either, but your “life” goals.

2. Know Your Operating Costs. Do you know what you spend every month on average? Businesses do because they base their budgets on historic spending patterns. Most people, however, don’t know what it costs to keep their lives running. You can make out detailed budgets, but find out at the end of the month that you haven’t stuck to it. So instead of doing a budget that dictates how much to spend, do a “cash flow statement” that records how much you actually spend each month broken into several categories.

3. Know Your Net Worth. Companies measure progress toward goals through balance sheets which list their assets and liabilities. Your net worth is your balance sheet where you list everything that you own. That means your checking and savings accounts, investments, car, house, etc. minus everything you owe. Track your net worth quarterly to make sure you’re moving toward your personal goals. Without this step, you might not see the impact of your money decisions until it’s too late.

4. Forecast Money Decisions Results. When a business makes important decisions, they use a process called “scenario planning”. They look at the possible outcomes of one choice compare to another. You can use the same process to make smart money decisions. For any choice, pick two options, and then look at what each answer would do to your cash flow and net worth. Remember, there are no “good” or “bad” choices – only choices that put you closer or farther from your goals.

5. Track Progress by Annual Reports. Just as companies assess their progress in their annual reports, you need to review your list of priorities every year. Have you accomplished any goals? Have your spending patterns changed? Did you spend less than you earned? Did you save as much as you planned?

You need to treat your money like you treat your business. Give it the time it deserves, because in the end the time you spend is really an investment in yourself and your dreams.