Archives for 2010

Do Your Customers Love You?

Relationships take time and effort, regardless of what kind they are. But did you know that there are tools that exist that can maximize the effect of your marketing efforts?

In the past, marketing was left to the venues of radio, TV and printed forms of media (newspapers, magazines, and junk mail). Then clever people created VCRs (followed by DVRs and TIVO) that allow us to tape our favorite programs and skip all the advertising. AM/FM broadcasting was abandoned for Syrius satellite, podcasts and BlogTalkRadio. Magazine and newspaper circulations continue to dwindle in favor of online news outlets.

We adapted and developed personal methods and techniques that allowed us to reduce the traditional advertising that bombarded us at every turn and, instead, sought to be engaged with our favorite brands in collaborative relationships. The brands that were open to partnering with their customers saw immediate, positive results. And the brands that resisted it suffered as a result.

Now, the internet enables us to broadcast our existence and highlight what sets us apart from our competition. Social media sites allow us to extend our network beyond what we ever could in the past. Unlimited text, mobile phones and VOIP make it easier to “reach out touch someone” than ever before!

So, I ask you this. How do you ensure that your customers know you care and that you value their business? Engagement is crucial. But it can’t be done on a mass-marketing level. For the engagement to be meaningful, it has to timely and personal. You have to prove to them that they can know, like and trust you one person at a time.

In my opinion, there are four items you should have in your everyday toolset.

  1. Any system that helps you to keep track of your clients, make notes of conversations, has filtering capabilities, and can generate reminders based on key pieces of data.
  2. An active, healthy, engaging social media profile (or multiple profiles).
  3. A great telephone provider.
  4. Easy access to your customer’s mail boxes (not inboxes).

Set up a routine that ensures that you connect by phone and postal service with a specific number of customers each week. The purpose of the contact should never be to sell them anything. Instead, it should be to let them know you appreciate their patronage, wish them a happy birthday or holiday, ask after their family, and to see what’s new in their lives. Use this time to find out their needs and do what you can to help them.

Be real. Get to know your clients. While this may not seem feasible for larger companies, it is for service managers, sales people, and others within the organization. So, don’t let the size of your business keep you from making this a priority.

As you employ this technique, you offer your Self to your customers and give them ample opportunity to get to know you, which ultimately leads to them deciding whether they like you or not. If they don’t like you, they’ll leave. But don’t worry! That person was never going to be a referral source for you anyway, so don’t mourn the loss. If they do like you, this open connection and relationship building will lead them to trust you, and ultimately refer you to others they know. And that person is priceless to you and your business!

So, is it worth your while to go through your customer list and start calling one or two of them each week, or sending four or five of them greeting cards each week? The calls would cost you 10-15 minutes of your time per week. And there are tools that enable you to send out those cards in mere minutes. (If you’re not familiar with it, check out SendOutCards. It’s my absolute favorite tool for making real, significant connections with clients. And the holidays are a great time of year to try it!)

So, ask yourself… Can you spare 20-30 minutes a week to create “forever clients?” More importantly, can you afford not to?

9 Easy and Inexpensive Ways for Businesses to “Get Found”

Image from Photobucket.com

I was recently asked the question,

What are some easy and inexpensive ways for companies to get their name out to the public?

This all depends first on what you have to start with. Do you have a website? Do you have an existing client list? Does it include e-mail or mailing address details? Are you starting totally from scratch? What industry are you in?

Off the top of my head, here’s what I’d do…

  1. Add your business listing to Google Places.
  2. If you have an established business, search for your business/product/brand and find all business directory listings in which you appear. Claim each one, and ensure that your listing is appropriately categorized and that the keywords are optimized.
  3. If you have a website already, review the keywords to ensure that they’re accurate and optimal. Use Google’s Keyword Analyzer to identify the best keywords for your site.
  4. If you don’t have a website already, create a free one using either WordPress.com or moonfruit.com. If you plan to include eCommerce on your site, you may have to go ahead and pay a little something. To see the differences between WordPress.com (the free site) and WordPress.org (paid version), go to WordPress’ Support page.
  5. Create social media profiles, as appropriate. Use Facebook to build a community around what you do, Twitter to share news and information, LinkedIn to network with potential collaborators, partners and referral sources, and industry-specific networks, as appropriate.
  6. If you have an existing mailing list, I use a fantastic online greeting card and gifting company to connect with my best clients. If you’re interested in doing the same, take a look at SendOutCards.
  7. If you have an existing e-mail list, consider sending out a newsletter or using the list to invite people to join you on your various social network profiles. Be sure to also add links to your online profiles in your e-mail signature and newsletter. (I use WiseStamp for this.)
  8. Ensure that you post links to your website and social media profiles everywhere that you can. Think of your online presence like a spider web. Each strand (site) should point people from one to the other, providing similar content with unique information at each place. (Some overlap is expected. But give people a reason to follow you in more than one place.) As these pathways from one place to another are created, a web builds around your online presence, making you easier to find.
  9. If you enjoy writing or sharing information, consider blogging or video-blogging. If having one of your own is too time-consuming for you, find people who would welcome a guest post from you.

Obviously, this is a quick and dirty list. There are many more things you can do, but this will get you started. Up to this point, everything I’ve suggested (except a WordPress.org site) is free. The only expense is your time and talent.

The only issue with this is, you probably didn’t go into business to do all of these things. You started your business to do whatever it is that you are passionate about. So, is your time and energy best spent doing these things on your own, or hiring someone to do it for you?

Whenever I take on a business-related task that is not part of my work, I consider this before I start. Where are the cost efficiencies? To make it simple, say you charge $50/hr for what you do, and the task you’re considering doing will take you 90 minutes. Are you willing to pay yourself $75 to do it, or is there someone else you can pay to do it so you can find a client willing to pay you for that time instead?

To give a concrete example, when I first started my business, I wanted to form an LLC. I spent some time on it, and found the whole thing very frustrating. I didn’t understand much of what I found. After wasting more than an hour on it, I found a website called Legalzoom.com. For $150, they would file the papers for me. Given how little progress I’d made, it was easily evident that it would cost me less to hire them (even though funds were limited) than it would to pay myself for my time based on my own rates. Plus, hiring someone else gave me the chance to focus my attention on what I love doing instead.

So, do yourself a favor. Balance “easy and inexpensive” against “experienced and cost-effective.” And if you decide that you want help, give us a call! Helping you get found is what Aleweb loves doing!

The Essence of Self-Leadership: Start with the End in Mind

Tim with his Daisy Air Rifle

My 10-year-old son, Tim, has been passionate about the military and weapons of war for years. He’s grown up knowing that his aunt was serving in the Armed Forces, and taking every opportunity he could to learn things from her. He loves watching historical, military documentaries and sharing interesting details with me.

As he’s gotten older, he has become increasingly adamant about wanting a BB gun, specifically, a Crosman Stinger S32P Airsoft Tactical Carbine. However, I’m missing that chromosomal gene that thinks this all sounds neat. So, it’s been a bit of a battle in our household for years. Sounds a bit like “A Christmas Story,” doesn’t it? “You’ll shoot your eye out!”

About a year ago, his friend, Luke, got a BB gun and Tim got to shoot one for the first time. That fueled his fire further, and became part of his argumentation whenever I said “no.” “But Luke got one!”

In speaking to Luke’s mother, Laura, I learned that she too had been totally against the whole idea, but he had saved up the money himself and so she had allowed him to get it.

The next time Tim asked me about getting one and used the “Luke excuse,” I felt prepared. I told him about how Luke had bought it himself and then we researched prices for BB guns, pellets and safety glasses. I made it clear that there was no gun without the glasses, and we determined that the whole thing would cost around $50.

He was frustrated initially because he had no idea how he could earn that much money himself. I shared that other boys his age sometimes mow neighbors’ yards, or offer to rake in the fall, or trim hedges. To my way of thinking, everything was going according to plan. It’s summer vacation. He’s enjoyed a lazy summer. He’d actually have to work for it!

When he looked thoughtful and walked off, I thought “End of story!” But about an hour later, he came back in the room announcing that a neighbor had hired him to mow their lawn. Keep in mind, he had never mowed a lawn in his life, and didn’t know how to use our tractor or anything!

But he had his goal in mind, and he believed he was capable. He assessed what it was that he personally could do to reach his goal, mapped out a plan, began enacting the plan and identifying issues, consulted others, and adjusted the plan as necessary. While he needed my support and help in some of the things he was doing, I purposefully handled the situation with the viewpoint that it was his mowing business. I provided technical expertise (and parental supervision), but he did the work.

In the end, he didn’t end up with a Crosman Stinger S32P Airsoft Tactical Carbine. Not yet, at least. After 3 weeks’ time, he’s earned his $50, been given a working push mower by someone who wanted to get rid of it, and been given a beautiful old BB rifle by someone who was inspired by his dedication. That friend told him to “put is money in the bank” instead.

I’m inspired by my son’s self-leadership. He knew what he wanted to achieve and didn’t let seemingly insurmountable obstacles keep him from pursuing his goal. How often do we, as adults, give up before we even get going because something’s going to be “too much work,” or hold on to one outcome without being willing to adjust the goal? Mastery of self-leadership is a lifelong occupation, but I am so grateful to know that my son is off to a fantastic start!

Dancing As Long As I Can

Tango Pictures, Images and PhotosI recently came across an essay in NPR’s “This I Believe” series that was written by Robert Fulghum, author of “All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” The piece was entitled “Dancing All the Dances As Long As I Can.” In it, Fulghum speaks of a passion of his, dancing, and what it means to him. He relays a recent enthusiasm for tango, and his initial intimidation to try it. However, he thought back to an earlier time when he’d chosen to “stay on the sidelines” when the dancing began after a village wedding on the Greek island of Crete.

The fancy footwork confused me. “Don’t make a fool of yourself,” I thought. “Just watch.”

Reading my mind, an older woman dropped out of the dance, sat down beside me, and said, “If you join the dancing, you will feel foolish. If you do not, you will also feel foolish. So, why not dance?”

And, she said she had a secret for me. She whispered, “If you do not dance, we will know you are a fool. But if you dance, we will think well of you for trying.”

This statement got me thinking… How many times are we thought to be fools because we let our fears of appearing foolish keep us from trying something new? Not only that, how often do we miss out on finding something we actually love doing because we’re too afraid to even try it?

In February of this year, I met the owner of a local business development center at a networking event. He was setting up a social media seminar series, and asked me if I would be willing to speak about the relevance of social media to business owners. While I had given presentations at work in the past, it was always to people I knew. The idea of speaking in front of a bunch of people I didn’t know scared the heck out of me! But I’ve been prayerfully building my business by stepping through the doors that open for me, so I said “yes” even though I had reservations about it.

That was one of the best decisions I’d made since starting my business. Since then, I’ve spoken an average of 3 times per month at various locations to different groups; all of which is free publicity for my business. Each engagement has led to new clients and prospects and, if nothing else, it’s ensured that people know what I do and recognize me the next time we run into one another somewhere. As you know, the sales process requires multiple “touches” before a prospect is ready to buy from you, and this has definitely been a means of shortening that process.

So, what have you been sitting on the sidelines avoiding? What’s outside of your comfort zone that you probably should be doing? What are you afraid to try that might actually be a blessing to you or your business? If you feel inclined, leave a comment below and share what it is. Then, screw up your courage, realize that you’re going to feel foolish whether you face your challenge or not, and determine to make people think well of you for trying! And while you’re getting started, consider this quote from VaroTango. “There are no wrong moves in tango, only new ones.”

Those Left Behind

Iwo 9-11As many of you may already know, my sister was deployed to Kuwait last year. She had originally signed up for military service after 9/11.  Living in a bedroom community of NYC, my family and I still clearly remember that day in 2001 and how helpless we all felt watching the same horrific images over and over again on the TV.

Not long after, my sister found her way of addressing that sense of helplessness and became the official property of the U.S. government.  With three years of active service behind her, she was ready to get back to her own life.  A couple of years later, the government had second thoughts.  They informed her days just before Christmas in 2008 that her services were required once more.  So, back into action she went; putting her life, career and future plans on hold so that you and I could appreciate the freedoms we each have and often risk taking for granted.

Just days after 9/11, we saw communities band together, strangers helping one another without fear or expectation of reward.  A Romanian reporter, Mr. Cornel Nistorescu, said it best in his “Ode to America:”

What on earth can unite the Americans in such a way? Their land? Their galloping history? Their economic Power? Money? I tried for hours to find an answer, humming songs and murmuring phrases with the risk of sounding commonplace.

I thought things over, but I reached only one conclusion…

Only freedom can work such miracles.

True leadership means stepping up and doing what needs to be done when no one else is willing or able to do so.  It means focusing on the greater good, and sometimes taking on onerous tasks we would much rather avoid.  It means sacrificing our time, our talents and, sometimes, our lives.  When people are running out of burning building, true leaders run inside of it to bring out the last man.  If you are content with the “status quo,” don’t aspire to be a leader.  Leaders bring change and they make a difference.  There’s no room for the “status quo” there.

Leaders come in all shapes, sizes and ages.  Having seen an unmet need, the Bangor Troop Greeters, Bill Knight, Joan Gaudet, and Jerry Mundy transform their lives and the lives of others by greeting U.S. troops at a tiny airport in Maine.  On call 24/7 for the past 6 years, this group of senior citizens is showing true leadership by ensuring that every troop passing through the Bangor airport en route overseas or returning home receives a personal greeting, no matter what time of the day or night they are passing through.  To date, they have spoken with nearly one million soldiers, helping them along their way.  Just this past week, my sister had the pleasure of being greeted by Jerry as she returned home from overseas.  As with so many others, he gave her a friendly welcome, offered her a cell phone to call loved ones, and let her know how much her service was valued.  (For more information about the Bangor Troop Greeters, I highly recommend watching a documentary called “The Way We Get By.”)

A full year after she left to report for duty, my sister is home again.  We are delighted to have her back in our midst, and thankful for her time of service.  As Memorial Day approaches, take some time to think of the freedoms you enjoy here as an American citizen.  Whether you agree with the War on Terror or not, think of the sacrifices being made on your behalf so that you can have your own opinion and voice it freely.  Those sacrifices are being made by soldiers, their families, their friends, and their employers.  And those same sacrifices have been made time and time again throughout American history to ensure that we retain the freedoms we now have.  Rather than standing around the water cooler, complaining about the way things are in this country, these leaders have generously paid the way for us.  So, be sure to take a few minutes out to thank them.  Our soldiers and veterans deserve it!

Can Leadership Skills Be Taught?

Have you ever wondered what it takes to be a leader?  Are leaders born, bred or brewed?  Does it take a certain personality style, environment, or natural talent to lead?  What’s led to the crisis of leadership that we see today?  I woke up early this morning pondering these questions.

I’d recently finished reading an eBook called “The LeadChange Revolution,” which documents the insights and commitments of a small group of people who attended a leadership unconference earlier this year, the Leader Palooza.  I found it inspiring, encouraging, and engaging.  But I was left with a big question burning in my mind…  Why are there so few character-based leaders out there?  In my decades spent in and around corporate America, the majority of the leaders I’ve encountered are driven by the bottom line; profits matter more than people, no matter what they say.

The Lead Change Group is dedicated to applying character-based leadership to make a difference.  They are committed to supporting one another and holding one another accountable.  They seek to inspire others to be better; to raise the bar a notch higher than they’d held it before.  When I read this section of the eBook, I have to admit, I thought immediately of a passage in Exodus 17, when the Amalekites attacked Israel at Rephidim.  While Joshua fought the battle, Moses watched over it with the staff of God in his hands.

11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.

Moses had led his people with character and strength, despite the fact that he was not a confident or charismatic man.  He was not born a leader.  He was thrust into that position.  He had to be taught (in this case, by God himself) how to lead.  Yet, he inspired the people around him and engaged them in his efforts.  Joshua fought for him, while Aaron and Hur supported him, literally!

Now, some individuals are born with the natural talents and abilities that make it easy for them to become leaders.  People naturally gravitate to them due to their out-going personalities, dynamic people skills, etc.  But does that mean the rest of us can’t be leaders?  Not at all!

As a martial artist, I watch children who are being taught character-based leadership skills, and I love being a part of it.  I purposefully participate in the “junior classes” for two reasons.  I can serve as a role model to show what’s expected of the kids in class; but more importantly, I get to help shape the way they view the world and interact with other people.  We teach them the skills they need to be the future generation of character-based leaders.

They learn respect for others and humility for themselves.  Senior belts (individuals with a higher rank) are shown respect by bowing to them and thanking them for their instruction.  They are addressed as “sir” or “ma’am” as appropriate, and the senior belts bow and respond in kind to show their own humility.  They know that they are no better than anyone else in the room.

They learn self-discipline by pushing their minds and bodies beyond the point where they are inclined to give up.  The kids are taught to value truth and honesty by not short-changing themselves or others.  100 jumping jacks are 100 jumping jacks; not 90 or 95.  Once you learn to obey authority, then you earn the right to exert it yourself; not before.

The perseverance this requires eventually instills a confidence that wasn’t there before.  They learn that they are capable of more than they imagined, just as we all are.  But they also learn that they’re not going to get everything right all the time, and that it’s alright to make mistakes.  Failure is an important part of the learning process, and they learn to embrace it rather than being ashamed of it.

They learn proper goal-setting, as they understand what’s required of them in order to advance to the next rank.  They learn to take large goals (earning a black belt) and break them down into smaller, more manageable milestones (advance to the next belt level) with distinct and specific actions (master the next technique).

They learn to recognize and deal with bullies so that they are prepared to face conflict in their lives.  One of our teacher’s favorite saying is that “bullies are people with problems,” and you’ll encounter them at every age and in every environment.  Even grown-ups face bullies sometimes in the form of unreasonable bosses, demanding clients, and irritable colleagues.  The kids learn techniques for disarming the situation, so that they are not brought down by the hostile actions of others.

Best of all, the kids sense that they are part of a close-knit community.  It doesn’t matter where they go, whenever they meet another martial artist there is an immediate and undeniable bond that exists.  The world no longer revolves around them.  They see and learn that they are part of a much larger whole that is happy to have them there.

In “The LeadChange Revolution,” Susan Mazza communicated the desire to be a “real” leader, and that she’d gained a new appreciation of what that meant.  Real leadership is Respectful, Ethical, Accountable and Loving, and it takes someone with strength of character to be a “real” leader.  But anyone is capable of becoming a character-based leader.  They’re not a special breed, set apart.  They are brewed in the coffee grounds of life, making choices and decisions that are infused with integrity, a desire to be more than they already are, and a passion to inspire others.  Are you ready to raise the bar?

Musical Chairs and Slippery Slopes

Musical Chairs Pictures, Images and PhotosIn the fall of last year, I found out that I would be losing my job working for a family-owned company that I loved. My job loss was due to no fault of my own. The company was restructuring, and in the game of musical chairs that took place as a result, I lost.

I had a counterpart in another country that I had worked with very closely throughout the six years I’d been there and I was grateful that, if one of us had to go, it was me.  While we lament the 10% national employment rate we’ve been experiencing in our country of late, his country had dealt with 16% in recent years.  He’d also been with the company much longer than I had, so his experience working in other companies and adapting to distinct corporate cultures was much more limited than mine.  To me, it seemed that I’d have an easier time redefining my career yet again.  Why is that?  Well…  I’d had to do it before, many times.

Prior to this last job, I’d owned my own small consulting firm for 16 years. That had been my first “real” job, started at the age of 19. As a result, I’d been in and out of a variety of companies in totally different industries. So, my exposure to corporate cultures and small businesses alike was vast compared to many other people. I counted more than 30 companies as my clients, ranging from your large, international corporation to the small local utilities company to the even smaller local garden club.

Imagine my surprise when I couldn’t figure out how to get started this time. I was out of the loop in terms of where to find jobs now. On top of that, I was finding that to apply to job postings, I had to pick and choose from my skill sets. The totality of the experience I’d gained over the years needed to be compartmentalized and parceled out depending on the job I wanted to apply for. It seemed the same to me as letting people know that I had two feet, but not the legs to move them; or two hands, but not the arms that they require to be useful. I have both a heart and a head, and they work in combination. Why would anyone want to employ one part, and ignore that the others exist?

At that point, I had the good fortune of learning that social media had changed the way the people find work now. While the job boards still exist and there are still recruiters to call, social media enabled job seekers and business owners alike to show what they are made of. The availability of social networking sites and the visibility of the internet allow us to share who we are to the wider world. We can establish our expertise in our chosen profession, make connections with people, and give a sense of what we value without ever having to leave the comfort of our own homes.

Now that sounded great to me. But I quickly realized that without answering certain questions for myself, I could never give a clear impression of who I was to anyone else. Things like the age-old question of “who did I want to be when I grew up?” as well as “what did I want to be doing with the next 5 years of my life?” and “what was I willing to do to support my family?” Some of these questions were easily answered, but others were not.

For instance, I knew that I did not want to discount any of my business skill sets, but it seemed that if I didn’t focus on just one of them, my chances of finding employment would be much slimmer. So, that led to the next question. “What happens if I refuse to be less than who I am?” Amazingly enough, the answer came very quickly (much like sliding down a slippery slope)… I’d have to figure out how to make them a marketable package, which most likely meant offering them as consulting services. Oops…  Had I just talked myself into starting a new company? It seems I had… For it was only in that way that I could be true to the sum of my work experience and life passions.

While I had originally seen social media as a means of marketing myself as a prospective employee in someone else’s company, I soon saw its value to starting my own. So my initial use of social networking was purely to let people get to know me, to see my servant leadership, and to appreciate my expertise and knowledge. All of these things would be beneficial for my growing company as well as for potential employers to see.

Then I began using my network as a means of communicating what my business was doing, and as a means of sharing useful, relevant information with my audience. However, my main focus is still on building relationships, because that’s what “social networking” is all about. And whether this leads to a burgeoning company or an offer of employment somewhere, the exercise will never have been wasted; for I am richer for coming to know all of you…

Leadership Thoughts from “How to Train Your Dragon”

I had the pleasure today of going to the movies; one of my favorite luxuries.  Thankfully, I have children.  That means that I get to see any movie I want, without being embarrassed by being an adult alone in a “kid’s movie.”  This works well for me because I’ve found that most PG-13 movies are too much for me.  I much prefer the creativity and inventiveness found in many G and PG movies.  In the past 5 years, I’ve seen one R-rated film (on a flight home from a business trip), and I was frankly appalled, not only at its content, but the lack of creativity that inspired it.

So, what did I see today?  A PG-rated film called “How to Train Your Dragon.”  Would I recommend it?  You bet!!  Let me tell you why…

The story centers around a boy named “Hiccup,” who is drastically different from everyone around him, including his own family.  They are Vikings, who eat, sleep and breathe dragon-slaying.  Everyone in the village is big and brawny.  But Hiccup?  Not so much…  He wants to be like everyone else, but just doesn’t seem to have it in him.

During the course of the movie (without revealing too much detail), Hiccup befriends someone totally foreign to him. Much like the Good Samaritan of the New Testament, he chooses to help someone he’s been taught all of his life to fear and hate.  Not only does he go against the tradition of his people, but he does it at great cost to himself.  He comes to realize that the things he’s been taught all of his life have been based on misinformation.  People fought and died believing one thing, only for Hiccup (and us) to find out that they were wrong; they had misunderstood the motivation of their enemy for years.  With understanding, came trust, and with trust, came peace.

To bring his people to that place of understanding, Hiccup not only had to accept that he was different and stop trying to be like everyone else, but he had to embrace the things that made him different.  In accepting the strengths and weaknesses that were uniquely his, he was able to bridge gaps that enabled him to establish peace where there had been none before.

Change was just one of many things that scared Hiccup.  But, as with all great leaders, he recognized a need that he was clearly suited to fill.  So, he set aside his fear and did the things that needed doing.  This ultimately cost him his family, his village and his closest friend.  Yet, despite the personal sacrifice required, he stayed with it to the end.

As with Hiccup, leaders have no idea how things will turn out in the end.  They only know that the way is uncharted, and sometimes it’s scary.  (As one character in the movie comments, “pack extra undies.”)  We also must be willing and able to look at others, and value their diversity and commonality as well.  Hiccup tells a friend at one point in the movie “I looked at him, and saw myself.”

We are each uniquely suited to do specific things because of our individual differences.  So, what’s your difference?  Do you embrace it, or hide it?  To be a leader, you must recognize and embrace your difference; only then can people truly know who you are and what you’re capable of.   And you must value the unique traits in those who follow you; for only then can you accomplish great things, together…