The Basics. Always.

The current economic situation sees a lot of people talking about the power of returning to the basics. (Hooo….rayyy!) Get inspired to do it yourself by reading the posts linked below and then set aside a few hours (or a day) and figure out what YOUR basics actually are.

What is at the core of the promise you make to your clients, customers, staff, boss, wife, children,etc…?

What does the perfect execution of each one look, feel and sound like? 

And the usual 3 questions I always ask:

Define the action(s) – What do you (specifically) need to do to get there?
Create accountability – Who will do it?
Set a deadline – When will it be done?

There will be nothing you can count on to always work more than the basics.

But don’t believe me…

Tom Peters wrote about it here:

The Basics Are the Basics Are the Basics Are the Basics: The Worse the Times the Better They Work… We get in trouble when we forget the basics. We get out of trouble when we remember the basics. We stay out of trouble when we become perpetually “insane” about the basics.

Douglas Rushkoff returns to it here:

I’d love for businesspeople who feel all is lost to recognize that this is such a perfect moment to return to core competency, to remember what it was about their industries that excited them to begin with, and to reconnect with the processes and attitudes that make work fun and meaningful again.

It’s not too late.

On a Macro level Thomas Friedman quoted Dov Seidman in this op-ed piece:

In a connected world,” Seidman said to me, “countries, governments and companies also have character, and their character — how they do what they do, how they keep promises, how they make decisions, how things really happen inside, how they connect and collaborate, how they engender trust, how they relate to their customers, to the environment and to the communities in which they operate — is now their fate.

Beat "Business Bonk"

The constant refrain I hear from almost every business owner I meet is “Get us to the next level.”

Ah.. the illusive “Next Level” and the very real feeling of stuck.

What it means is different for every business but many of the factors that block reaching it are surprisingly the same.

The answer, as usual, is not some “magic bullet.” Instead, the elements that had fueled earlier growth have run out or been forgotten. The business has hit a wall. Your Business has Bonked.

For a runner, “Bonking is when the body runs out of much needed sugar energy and is forced to turn to other, less efficient, sources of energy. Sugar is the only thing the body can use for energy, so when it runs out it has to convert protein (muscle) into sugar. This conversion process has serious side effects and when a marathoner reaches this point they are said to have bonked.”

For a business, that sugar (or fuel) is:

1. Persistent Innovation
2. A structure that is designed/built to support the company you want to be and not the one you are now (critical distinction).
3. Clear, specific and measurable 1,3 and 5 year goals
4. Relentless execution (A plan without action is only a wish)

Combine them and you will have the sustained fuel your business needs to keep moving to ever higher levels and never Bonk. If you do not take the time and space to “refuel” then your business will not have the reserves to power through “stuck.”

Remember, owning (and growing) a business is a marathon not a sprint.

Purpose Powers Scale

While up in Portland Maine not too long ago I had dinner at The Flatbread Company. In addition to truly amazing pizza, I noticed a great sign hanging over the bar:

Flatbread Company is growing. Are more restaurants bad? Not if we follow our purpose.

Groups in nature have a purpose…
100 apples in a tree
100 geese flying in formation
1000 fish in a school
10,000 bees in a colony

Our purpose is who we are. It gives us direction and makes the many of us one.

Click here to read their purpose and values.

10 Perfect Touch Points

Customer touch points. It is a concept that is often mentioned but rarely focused on as an opportunity for persistent innovation and impact.

Trying to consider the big question of “How do I improve our customer service/experience” winds up being too big a problem to solve so it often just gets bandaged or abandoned. Trying to tackle big picture questions triggers fear and anxiety. When that happens, progress comes to a halt leaving you to go back and focus on the ironically comfortable routine of solving customer complaints and fighting off competition.

But how about breaking down the initiative into bite size pieces that allow you to make a consistent series of small steps forward?

I propose that you write down every single customer “touch point” that exists in your business process. From initial phone call to payment of your invoice (Yes, the boring ones that you rarely think about but wind up being the main ways your customer/clients connect with you). If you don’t have 10 then add some more until you do. Send a birthday card, call monthly or quarterly to ask how business is doing. Maybe an extra email confirmation or a newsletter. Just keep putting yourself in your customers seat and consider what would make each piece a memorable experience FOR THEM. Think about great experiences you have had and translate them back into your business. Ask your clients what interaction with your company is the most frustrating.

Now, here is the important part where you make a plan of action and make progress. What additional idea can you add to each touch point that would move it closer to perfect? Just a small step (change the way you answer the phone or a thank you note when an invoice is paid). Implement 1 change/innovation to each touch point every month and you will completely transform your customers experience within a year.

What Is Your Business For?

You may disagree but I don’t think you really get to understand your business till you know EXACTLY WHY you’re doing it. Knowing why is harder than it looks. Learning is expensive.

Making innovation work to grow your cash account comes from this education. Want to know why marketing and advertising creates buzz but doesn’t = cash? Because it’s not connected to what is real about your business. The REAL truth.

Not what gets attention… what keeps attention.

Why do I not look to simply sell boilerplate web sites or marketing ideas to Fortune 500 companies with large budgets? Just be a good salesmen and trial close them again and again until they buy? Yak yak yak. Blah blah blah.

Our work breathes the soul back into a business and its owner. Traditional agencies, PR firms, design firms, marketing firms and “consultants”  don’t do that even if you can afford them…  They just futz around a lot and try to fit your business into what they think works for others.  That does not celebrate what makes your particular business real and great.

What is far more interesting is persistently growing a business that helps you and those that work alongside you buy a home, raise good kids and share a full life with a loved one.  Business owners that “get” this core truth work hard to make that happen for other people (and themselves). They do “cool” and “new” stuff. They take smart risks. They are more powerful than the Larry Ellison’s of this world.

My old logistics service business was good… very good in fact.  But I can’t say moving cargo around was exactly “making a dent in the universe” and it didn’t make me excited for each day.  However, what I did do was provide a service for clients that generated revenue, that revenue paid those that also cared about the company and its clients and allowed them to learn, grow, test themselves, be challenged during the day and realize their personal dreams as they married, traveled, bought their first home and raised kind and inspired children.

That is a dent.

What is your business for?

The Lost Cachet of Air Travel

Do you remember when flying on a big airliner (and with a major airline) was exciting?

Only 10 years ago I was a very loyal United fan.  I told everyone how much I enjoyed flying them, my frequent flier points often bumped me to business class and I generally felt that I was part of a club when flying United vs anyone else. Most importantly, I would not fly with anyone else regardless of price (as long as United was flying there). By treating me as a valued guest they created a raving fan.

Oh how times have changed.  I now avoid flying United at all costs. My latest attempt to try to use up old miles bought me a first class seat to LA that had me enter the gate across a dirty red mat (Calling it a carpet would be insulting to all carpets), sitting in a seat that was falling apart, a choice of food that was not actually available on the plane and a portable DVD player that had me tangled up in wires across both sides of my seat. Not the experience First Class should be.

Growing up I used to always get dressed up when I would fly.  If people stopped to think about what it took to “jump” from New York to Los Angeles perhaps they would realize the remarkable treat it actually is.  What if the airlines did a better job reminding you of that story?

Now more than ever, we long for simpler times.  Don’t get me wrong, the live TV and wi-fi at 38,000 feet is great, but the romance that delivered such a memorable experience has been lost along the way.  An airline that can capture that would set it itself apart.  Simple elegance in flight,etc…  There are no costs involved here.  This is about the culture of an organization.  At its most basic, it is about the love of flight.

The old guard airlines have to find a way to deliver that experience and romance again if they want the loyalty and word of mouth that will sustain them through these tough times.  A big and fun challenge for an Airline ready to think beyond checked bag fees.  The kind of purpose an entire company can rally around.