Is Your Business Thriving, or Struggling, During COVID-19?

Hope you all had a great Labor Day weekend. I imagine there were fewer and smaller barbecue parties than in other years. I hope you were able to enjoy the holiday with your families.

As regular readers know, I’m a huge fan and proponent of coaching in all forms. Anyone who tries to learn a skill without help is making it harder than it has to be. Kevin Ryan of Inc. magazine, tells us here about a company offering on-line sports coaching from Olympian athletes.

Omer Atesman built and sold a fast-growing solar company, then used the proceeds to start The Skills. He enlisted the help of his well-connected former colleague to engage top Olympic athletes. A great example of the value of good connections in business. Working through your network can make good things happen fast. Several big name players and many less-known athletes have signed on. Two, Maria Sharapova (tennis) and Larry Fitzgerald (NFL football), have taken equity stakes in the company. Both are also coaches and advisors.

Tennis great Maria Sharapova is a contributor, advisor, and equity owner in The Skills. As many coaches and observers have pointed out, sports is a microcosm of life and business. Maria discusses the value of the coaching to other pursuits in life.

The companies who do well in the COVID-19 era are those whose leaders think “out of the box”. Those who pivot to offering new and adjusted services and products. Often this means attractively offering something on-line that’s traditionally been delivered over-the-counter or in-person. The Skills is a good example.

We’re seeing here several aspects of the concept of working with your network to get things done. In some cases you pay for that help. In others, it’s a win-win transaction among friends and associates. So find the people who have the skills and/or connections to help you.

And enlist their help!

Your Employees are Your “Front Line”!

John Stevens

Simon Sinek opens this TED talk with a story about meeting Noah, a coffee bar tender at his hotel. We’ll call this hotel A. He enjoyed a lively conversation with this guy so much he left a 100% tip. Noah told Simon how much he loved his job and looked forward to coming to work.

Why does Noah love his job?

He says that all day long managers ask him, “How are you doing? Can I help you in any way?” Not only Noah’s manager – any manager! Noah feels cared for. He feels that his employer “has his back”.

Noah Preparing Coffee

Noah also reported that he did similar work at hotel B. There, the managers were often critical – catching people making mistakes. I’ll let you guess how much Noah liked that job! Also importantly, do you think Sinek would have enjoyed a conversation with Noah at the other hotel? He said that there, he kept his head down – tried to stay “under the radar”. His only interest in working there was to collect his paycheck.

The managers at hotel A are leaders. The managers at hotel B are just managers, not leaders. Leaders are responsible for the well-being of those in their charge. Employees who feel like Noah does at hotel A will do the best job they know how to do. If they want help to understand how to do it better, they’re comfortable asking. And the help is there.

This is how business is done right! Take good care of your employees, and they’ll take good care of your customers. Any company emulating hotel B is missing a huge opportunity.

Sinek believes many obsolete business attitudes were born in the booming 1980s and 90s. That may be. I would suggest that true leadership has been pretty scarce throughout the history of employment. It matters not whether times are good, bad, or indifferent.

Managers like those at hotel B believe they’re “in charge”. Sinek suggests they should be responsible for those “in their charge” This clear distinction needs to be conveyed throughout any organization. It must be understood from top to bottom. The difference in attitudes between the two hotels surely reflects senior management style. If the senior managers at hotel A were harsh and critical, the floor managers would act like those at hotel B.

What’s needed here is empathy, which builds trust. Sinek contends, and I agree with him, that it’s in short supply all through society.

The concept we’re discussing here goes a bit deeper into leadership concepts than I did here, a few weeks ago.

Instinct? Facts? What’s the Best Business Guide?

Many years ago (more than I care to admit) I started out as a young entrepreneur.

My business offered aviation charter and training services. After a couple of years I’d reached the point of hiring a salesman. Jack (not his real name) was quite effective in promoting our business.

Up to the time of this episode, we’d mostly been carrying freight. We were dabbling in the passenger side of the business and wanted to do more. We needed a more attractive airplane than we had at that time. Since we couldn’t afford new, we researched what was available for what price in used airplanes.

We settled on a particular type of airplane we wanted. Jack started promoting that airplane to prospects. After a few weeks, we found an example of the type we wanted at a good price.

Investigation revealed some flaws with the airplane. I decided its good price would leave us room to correct the problems we found, and we bought it.

Wrong!

That decision turned out to be the most expensive mistake I’d make. It was likely the biggest factor in the ultimate failure of our business. I won’t bore you with all the details. Suffice it to say my intuition, as well as some hard facts, told us to leave it alone. Jack’s success in promoting the aircraft pressured me to override all that. We bought an airplane we never should have owned.

Joe Scarlett was CEO of Tractor Supply Company for many years. He relates that he made some decisions that facts fully supported. Despite his intuition saying “Don’t do it.”, he did. He wished later he’d paid more attention to “that small voice”. Joe recommends we always listen to our “gut”.

We gather experience throughout our lives. In considering a particular decision we gather facts for a few days, weeks, or months. Sometimes our experience tells us the facts are leading us to the wrong decision. Likely the subconscious memories in our experience are guiding us well.

At the very least, we should carefully review the facts before we go where they lead us. This is a great example of where consultation with others can be invaluable. Others’ experience, view of the facts, and sense of urgency in moving ahead, will differ from yours. Listen and consider!

Here’s an article I wrote last year quoting Jessica Stillman. She’s OK with intuition…sometimes!

About to make a decision with a significant impact on your success? Best to consider the ideas these articles offer. I hope you find them valuable.

You Become What You Think About!

Your Potential is in Your Hands…and in Your Mind!

So often I encounter someone’s opinion that they are the way they are permanently. That’s a pretty prevalent idea among people.

  • I’m not good at math
  • I can’t work with technologyhold you back
  • I’m not good at selling
  • Networking with other people scares me.

These are all examples of “mindsets” that people think are fixed.

Changing these ingrained ideas is simple. However it’s not easy.

For me the toughest one to change has been, “I’m not a good salesman”. Gradually, with training and education, I’m learning to be a better salesman. Not expert by any means yet, but improving. Having held this self-image all my life, changing it is one of the hardest things I’ve undertaken.

Much of the training I’m doing is with Eric Lofholm, regarded by many as one of the top sales trainers in the world.. Eric also started his career as a poor salesman, Early in his career he met Dr. Donald Moine, whom he regards as the best sales trainer in the world. Dr. Moine considers Eric his all-time best student. Quite a symbiotic relationship!

With that introduction, I offer you a replay of a webinar that these two guys did together in May. Of course it talks about effective ideas in selling. More important though is the ideas they discuss about changing mindset. Mindset is the greatest factor in the success you achieve in sales, in math, in customer service etc.

This webinar is a little over an hour long. That’s much longer than most of the material I link to in these messages. I’ll repeat that I’m convinced that mindset is the most important factor in your success. With that mindset, this is arguably one of the most valuable time investments you can make in yourself..

One of the things I appreciate most about Eric is his prolific offering of material at no cost. Unlike many people who offer free content, there’s real meat in Eric’s free programs. His daily 15-minute motivational call is a prime example. From that page you can access many of his other programs. I urge you to check it out. The mindset webinar I mentioned before was attached to one of the replays of these daily calls. Replays of the daily calls are available here.

Some key takeaways from the mindset webinar:

  • You must be aware of what your mindset is in an area where you want to improve.
  • To change a mindset, change some routine around it. We develop patterns, which become habits, which direct us to act in certain ways on autopilot. When you change one thing in your routine, it makes you think in new ways. We resist change, even when it’s beneficial.
  • Your mindset determines the quality of the work you do and how much money you’ll make. Also the quality and quantity of your relationships.
  • Your mindset can spur you on to greater success, or it can hold you back. Which is it doing for you?
  • You can re-create a success by remembering it in exquisite vivid detail – what you were wearing, what you ate, people’s reactions to you. This is a great technique for learning to repeat that success.
  • Changing one single, simple mindset can change your whole world. Don’t try to change everything. Pick something you consider a high priority and work on that single change. Eric offers many suggestions for areas of sales you may want to decide to change.

Once more, just to be sure you get the full import of all this:

Change Your Mindset – Change Your Life!

Disclosure: If your click on any of these links leads to your partnering with Eric on something you pay him for, I’ll receive an affiliate commission. He offers great value in his many free resources. Of course, he’d love to work with you as a coach as well.


If you find Eric’s work helpful you may want to join his affiliate program.

Think, and Grow Rich!

Eric Lofholm
According to Napoleon Hill, he met Andrew Carnegie in 1908. Hill relates that he went to work for Carnegie, who gave him an unusual assignment.


He was to research and report on the work of the most prominent business men of the time. The idea, of course, was to create a guide for doing business successfully. While he claimed to have interviewed many of them, many historians find no evidence of such meetings.
Napoleon Hill Quote

There’s a great deal of controversy around Hill’s claims of accomplishments and interviews. This Wikipedia account outlines many of his achievements…and some of his clouded history.

Despite all the controversy, it seems undisputed that Napoleon Hill wrote the books he’s widely credited with. His two most famous works are The Law of Success (1928) and Think and Grow Rich (1937). These books outline useful principles for success in business. As we’ve discussed before, many business ideas are good guides in personal life as well.

The premise of virtually all Hill’s work is that, with the proper mental focus, success is pretty much guaranteed.

Here’s an invitation. For well over a year I’ve been listening to a daily 15-minute motivational call by sales coach Eric Lofholm. Throughout July Eric is talking each day about one of Napoleon Hill’s principles. All this great advice is available at no charge here.

Eric has been doing this call for several years, and has committed to continuing it throughout his career. His stated intention is to continue his career until his 76th birthday in 2046. Here are instructions on how to join the call. If you miss any of the calls, including the Napoleon Hill discussion, this link will get you the recordings.

Disclosure: If your click on any of these links leads to your doing a paid program with Eric, I’ll receive an affiliate commission. He offers great value in his many free resources. Of course, he’d love to work with you as a coach as well.
Napoleon Hill’s advice provides great guidance to your business success. I hope you’ll give Eric a listen as he describes Hill’s work.

Think Business is Cut-Throat?

Do it the Decent Way

Do you believe in angels? How would you like to employ “better angels” in your business?

Over the weekend, I read Win with Decency, a short book by Douglass and Lisa-Marie Hatcher.

Their premise is that you do business best by positive treatment of every individual and organization the business comes in contact with. This would include:

  • Employees.
  • Customers and clients.
  • Suppliers.
  • Contractors.
  • Service providers.
  • Your community.
  • Shareholders.
  • The “man on the street” – everyone else you encounter, however casually.

You may wonder at my listing employees above customers and clients. Aren’t customers and clients a vital concern of every business? Yes, absolutely! However, your employees will treat your customers and clients only as well as you treat them.

The Hatchers identify five human qualities which best accomplish this:

  • Humility
  • Empathy
  • Vulnerability
  • Gratitude
  • Generosity

In the first five chapters, each discussing one of these qualities, they

  1. Define the quality.
  2. Tie the quality to business storytelling. (The Hatchers use business story-telling extensively in their coaching business.)
  3. Make the business case.
  4. Show you at least one way you can transform the quality into an applicable skill.
  5. Give you examples of who’s using the skill for better business. An example company they cite in Chapter 5 (generosity) is Chobani Yogurt. We discussed Chobani here about a year ago..

In Chapter 6, they wrap these concepts together to Win with Decency in a very human way. In this chapter they refer to Carol Dweck’s great work on fixed and growth mindsets, which we discussed here a few weeks ago.

Consider using these ideas to do better business. Of course, you’ll also foster better personal relationships with everyone involved.

Anti-CEO Playbook Challenges 3 Business “Rules”

Based on an article originally published July 24, 2019

We’ve all heard stories of impoverished immigrants who came to the U. S. and prospered through hard work and perseverance.  

Sometimes unique business ideas have been part of the recipe as well. Here’s an example of that. 

Jessica Stillman relates a great story of a Turkish sheep farmer who came to the U.S. about 20 years ago.  

Hamdi Ulukaya came from a family of yogurt makers. He saw an ad for a yogurt factory for sale cheap. He borrowed money and bought it just as the aging owner had ordered it to be closed. 

Ulukaya had some ideas that he terms the “Anti-CEO Playbook”. He brings his concepts to life in a 17-minute TED talk which is linked in Stillman’s article. I think the entire saga is well worth listening to.  

Strapped for time and want to invest less of it in this story?  You can start the video at the 6:30 time and hear the most inspiring part of the story. For those who opt for that, I’ll summarize the “preamble” a little further along.  

He debunks a few ideas that have become accepted business advice:

  • Maximize stockholder value? How about the employees?
  • CEO responsible to the Board? How about the customers?
  • Incentives from the community? He sees it the other way around.

He’s all about cutting out middlemen and getting incentives and gratitude in the right place. 

The following sets the stage for the balance of Ulukaya’s talk in case you choose to start in the middle. 

The yogurt plant was on a dead-end road and was in terrible run-down condition. The 55 employees were still there, working only to shut the place down. Ulukaya detected a spirit among the employees that energized him. He describes the culture of the company as a “time machine”. 

He kept four of the key people and said to them, “First thing we’re going to do is go the local Ace Hardware store and buy some paint. We’ll paint the outside walls white.”  

Of course the employees wondered at this priority, but complied. 

That’s where the story of Chobani Yogurt gets interesting. Listen, as Paul Harvey used to say, to “the rest of the story”. Start at the 6:30 interval in the TED talk video at the end of the article

Why do Companies Complicate their Customers’ Lives?

Based on an article originally published March 3, 2018

When you call a company’s customer service number or, worse, their sales line, how do you like it if you have to go through multiple automated menus and then wait on hold for ten minutes or longer? Does it encourage you to do more business with them? How do you feel about recommending such a company to a friend?

Ever since automatic answering systems became the norm, it’s been a mystery to me why companies who should know better put their customers through this.

Strangely, some of the worst offenders are “communication” companies, such as Verizon. Long automated phone menus and long waits on hold are hardly parts of good communication. This is a large part of the reason I departed Verizon’s service last summer. It’s all part of the subject of customer friction, which is our topic this week.

How to Give Your Customers the Best Experience

Constant Contact, who publishes my newsletter, where this article originally appeared, is certainly one of the better known email managers. They came recommended to me when I needed such a service.

As a notably un-savvy guy technically, I often run into technical issues that are “above my pay grade”.

When I call Constant Contact, there’s a brief menu of a few items to choose the subject of my call. Fortunately for me (and most likely by design, since it’s probably the reason for most calls), the first choice is “email marketing”. Then it’s rarely more than 15 seconds before I have a person on the line who can help me, and they almost always do so expeditiously.

This week Josh Linkner, serial entrepreneur and professor, addresses customer friction. Friction happens every time a customer has to click something, sign something (especially multiple times!) meet with somebody, or endure any other impediment to smooth flow. Certainly it’s true that many purchases necessarily require choices to be made (model, color, size, special features, etc.). Some parts of this process may actually be enjoyable (and can be made more so, if handled properly). Others are necessary and not so pleasant. Here’s where it’s worthwhile studying, experimenting, and tweaking the process to streamline it every bit as much as possible.

You can bet your competitors are streamlining their processes. Your improvements in customer-friendliness can make the difference between a prospect choosing you or one of your competitors!

One of the efforts to mitigate the long phone waits has recently become, “Leave your number and we’ll call you back between 38 and 54 minutes from now”. In my view, if waits have routinely become so long that this is necessary, you should make more people available! The companies who use such systems seem to employ them most of the time, so more people would not be idle much, and think how much happier their customers would be!

Friction is what’s missing at Constant Contact. You may be sure that, impatient sort that I am, If I had to go through 2 or 3 levels of complex menus when I called, and then wait several minutes on hold before I talked with someone, I’d long ago have looked for an alternate service. No doubt other companies do a good job, perhaps some as good as Constant Contact. Since they’ve provided such a satisfactory experience for me, I’ve found no occasion to sample the others.

This is how good business is done.

Opinions are Like an Obscure Spot in Your Anatomy

Everybody has one. Few are interested in yours.

I hope you’re finding constructive ways of accommodating the changes forced on us in these crazy times. Remember that every cloud has a silver lining. When you;re handed a lemon, make lemonade. Here’s a more complete reminder of that mindset from a few issues ago.

Last week, I had pretty well decided that today’s The Unity Community would be about opinions.

With perfect timing, Minda Zetlin sent me this on Thursday. I’m often amazed by the timely and unexpected appearance of something that exactly fits current needs.

We all have opinions about many things in life. Other people’s behaviors, lifestyles and traits often generate opinions. Or religion or politics may be your favorite. Many people offer their opinions In ways that are unwelcome to others. To improve the chances your opinion will be received positively, try these tips.

  • State clearly that “this is my opinion”, not “fact”. This makes it clear that others’ opinions have validity for you. That you’re open to hearing them. If you give the impression you’re not interested in others’ opinions, they won’t be interested in yours.
  • Be sure you state your opinion only where it fits into the conversation. (E.g., a comment about politics rarely has a place in a conversation about dietary concerns.)
  • Never demand that others agree with your opinion. Dale Carnegie famously reminded us, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still”. You’re unlikely to convince anyone of your opinion. In addition, you make yourself unpopular at the same time.
  • If someone makes it clear they’re not interested in your opinion, keep it to yourself. In that case, stating your opinion is sure to make you a pariah. Also your opinion has “0” chance of being seriously considered.

As Minda points out, your opinion of others’ habits, traits or lifestyles can label you. You may be OK with that. If you aren’t, you should probably keep still.

Throwing opinions around carelessly is a habit of some people. As with any habit, changing it requires practice. If this is you, know that you will slip up sometimes. Remind yourself regularly to adjust your delivery of opinions if you want them received positively.

Hope this helps you or someone you know find better ways of offering your opinions. Or, maybe not offering them, depending on circumstances.

How do You Feel, Facing a New Challenge?

Do you delight in heaping praise on your kids for how smart they are? Or how talented?

If you solve a puzzle, do you look for a tougher challenge, a more difficult puzzle?

Do you believe your, or someone else’s, personality is what you, or they, were born with? This was our topic a couple of weeks ago.

Have you noticed athletes whose mistakes crush them? Who can’t get “back in the game” quickly?

Recently I was introduced to the book, Mindset – The New Psychology of Success, by Carol S. Dweck.

Dweck’s premise is that some people have “fixed” mindsets. Others have “growth” mindsets. Which are you? In reality, most people have a mix, but lean mostly one way or the other. We’re likely to have one mindset sometimes, and the other one other times.

As a primary school teacher, and a tireless researcher, Dweck has studied these differences most of her life.

When you hear statements like:

  • I’m no good with technology
  • I can’t learn French, or Spanish
  • I can’t drive a car with a manual transmission

You’re hearing the result of a fixed mindset, one that believes they have, or don’t have, a certain talent.

When you hear:

  • With some research, and maybe a class, I’ll figure out technology to the extent that I need it.
  • I’m anxious to dig into a language that will be useful, or interesting, to me.
  • Can you help me learn to drive a car with a clutch?

You’re hearing someone with a growth mindset.

The good news is, you’re not “stuck” with one or the other. Dweck reports that her own mindset has evolved from fixed in her childhood to growth as she matured. And of course as she studied mindsets.

In grasping these ideas it’s important to first understand the basics. You’ll need a solid understanding of some terms she uses, and her fundamental concept. After you’ve accomplished that, a couple of chapters stand out for me. These chapters highlight situations where the concepts are easy to see in action.

  • In chapter 3 she discusses the importance of a growth mindset in parents and teachers of young children. Kids, with their young absorptive minds, take signals from what adults say to them. If they’re scolded when they make a mistake, they learn quickly not to make mistakes. Of course this means, “don’t take on anything too difficult”. What if they’re praised for their talents – how easily they did something? They learn that quick performance is better than working hard to learn something difficult.
  • In chapter 7, we learn the results of the two mindsets in coaches of sports teams. She describes three well-known college basketball coaches, All had moments of success.
    • Bobby Knight of the Indiana Hoosiers won a lot of championships. His success was sporadic.
    • John Wooden led the UCLA Bruins from a 3rd-rate status to 10 championships in 12 years. He was arguably the “winningest” NCAA coach ever.
    • Pat Summitt coached the Tennessee Lady Vols. She started with a Bobby Knight (explosive, inconsistent) style. She evolved into recognizing losses as learning opportunities.
  • I’m sure you can see, even without reading more detail, where the fixed and growth mindsets were.
  • In chapter 7 she also discusses “false” growth mindsets. She covers a couple of misunderstandings about what is a growth mindset.

I leave you with that much introduction and summary of Carol Dweck’s great work. For me it’s a unique examination of the ingredients of real success. I hope you find it equally compelling.