Be an Ethical Entrepreneur, Marketer, and Business Builder

Customer loyalty isn’t about your product – It’s about your PEOPLE…

When I work with small businesses nearly coast-to-coast one thing we do is collect and review testimonials from customers. What I’ve learned from this exercise is that your customers will become fiercely loyal and gladly recommend you primarily because of YOUR PEOPLE, not your products…

Here’s a quick sample of actual testimonials:

Our service guy goes above and beyond the call of duty.

The girl in the office makes me feel like she knows me.

Our rep doesn’t try to sell us stuff we don’t need.

Our service man is wonderful – wouldn’t change him ever!

Or how about, “We love their business because they have such great personalities.

I didn’t make that last one up! It’s a real testimonial that we received for a small business.

You mean people are choosing their vendors based on the personalities of that vendor? Yes! Believe it or not, people want to do business with other PEOPLE!  In case you haven’t noticed, these days in the USA we aren’t real fond of doing business with our government or big corporations.

Now keep in mind, if the product or service you promised to deliver is sub-par, then you have a problem. If the customer enjoyed working with your people, chances are very high they’ll give you the opportunity to fix the problem. If not, good luck.

However, if you deliver just what you told them you would, or a little more, then it’s your people who will turn those regular customers into raving fans. Once they have your product or service there’s virtually nothing else to set you apart from everyone else who provides a product or service for them. You said you would deliver X, you delivered X, and the transaction is over.

Let’s look at a dramatic example…

The banking industry has some of the highest retention rates of any industry bordering on 90% retention of customers. You’re much more likely to get divorced than to change banks once you get married.

But, believe it or not, it’s not the free checking, savings account interest rates, or debit card rebates that get people to stick with a bank…

My mother got married when she was 19 and moved 1500 miles across the country to do so. She was in a new area and didn’t know anyone aside from my father and his family. In those first 6 years of marriage she had 5 children and guess who were often some of the first people to meet her new babies?

The tellers at the bank!

Sounds crazy, right? But in the days before direct deposit, every 2 weeks she’d have to go to the bank to deposit a paycheck and every time she’d see the same ladies. They obviously would chit-chat about her current child or the one on the way and what women don’t love to see cute little babies?

The point is, to this day, nearly 30 years later, she couldn’t tell you a darn thing about the programs or services or interest rates of that bank, but she remembers the tellers AND the bank.

If your business has any sort of regular interaction with your customers (and it should if you have recurring revenue) then the same can be true for you.

Here’s how:

  1. Provide great service to YOUR team members – One of the keys to great employee productivity and retention is if they, “feel like someone at work cares about me as a person.” Call it touchy-feely, but I’m an engineer and if the science didn’t back it up, I wouldn’t point it out.
  2. Collect testimonials and reward people for doing so. Not only does that show how important happy customers are to you (actions speak louder than words) it’s actually very uplifting and exciting for the people gathering the testimonials. They’re also a great marketing tool.
  3. Track customer complaints. Review each one of them, immediately resolve the problem, and review with your team what happened and how we can prevent it from happening again. If you care about mistakes being made, they will too.
  4. Develop a great small-business culture. The advantage to your customer in dealing with a small business is that they get to deal with real, local people and not bureaucracy. The same needs to be true for your team. If they have an issue, question, or suggestion they need to feel comfortable talking to the head-honcho. To do so, each of your team leaders needs to have regular reviews with their team members at least twice a year but ideally every 90 days. Separate those reviews from pay. The goal is to build a relationship between the 2 parties, not to bash someone.

To truly develop a team culture that promotes great service, you need to do a bit more homework. You are welcome to contact me and I’ll show you how to transform your small business culture.

Or read the following books and try to implement the changes on your own:

To your success fostering loyal customers, Bryan

Can you boil down your business strategy to one sentence?

A few days ago I was talking to a school teacher friend about my several businesses…

Business Brokerage
Google Adwords Lead Generation
12-Month Business Tune-up

She was amazed at how many hundreds or thousands of dollars people would pay for me to help them with any of those things. The idea that a business would be willing to pay $100 or $200 for a lead that MAY become a new customer was a bit hard for her to swallow.

The thought that someone would pay thousands of dollars for a SYSTEM to consistently generate web leads made more sense.

The fact that savvy business people will regularly spend thousands of dollars for a business coach to provide “advice” seemed like a fantasy to someone working in public education.

“How can you get people to pay that much money!?”

My answer is one simple sentence…

I always deliver several times more value to my clients than they pay me.

She still didn’t quite follow “value” so I broke it down with a bit more detail:

As long as I can increase sales, decrease costs, or increase the business owner’s time (the most valuable item of all) more than they are paying for my help, they’ll gladly pay and tell their friends about it.

Wouldn’t you?

When I was in college I attended a speech by a corporate America CEO who had a different way of expressing his goal for delivering value to his company. He said:

My goal was to always be the most underpaid employee of the company where I worked… And also be the highest paid employee.

I attended dozens and dozens of similar seminars in college and I still remember that concept… If you can do the same for your Business-to-Business clients, you’ll always have a thriving business and ecstatic clients.

To Your Success, Bryan

P.S. If you can’t already, it’s time you boil down your Unique Selling Proposition to a single sentence. Contact me for a list of the 4 questions you need to ask yourself to create that USP.

How to guarantee you’ll NEVER be unemployed

It amazes me that amidst a recession and 8%+ unemployment that small business owners have such difficulty finding quality team members. Because of that, at almost any good business they’re literally always hiring great employees. They can’t afford not to. It’s so hard to find productive, professional, reliable people that, when one comes along, you have to snatch them up before someone else does.

Granted it will be your responsibility as the business owner or Team Leader to convince them to join your team

So even though businesses are generally always looking for great people, there is one position that is particularly difficult to fill… I’ve spoken with business owners all over North America in a handful of different industries including B2B, B2C, service-based, in-home, in-store and about everything else and there is one position that is far and away the hardest to fill…

Every small business owner has trouble finding high-quality, ethical Sales people.

In my personal experience I’ve seen sales positions advertised in markets with 200k+ people with no response whereas a market 1 hour away with a 20k+ population base will receive 2 dozen inquiries for an administrative assistant.

I’ve seen small business owners living in a market with a million people invest in national marketing campaigns and then try to convince someone to move to their area for the job because they can’t find someone locally for a $60k-$90k/year job.

I know of a business that has open sales positions every day of the year. They have opportunities up and down most of the east coast to fill positions where their top producers are making over $100k per year, set their own schedule, work out of their homes, have a base pay, and are home almost every evening to be with their families. Does that not sound like a great opportunity???  So why is it with 8.4% national unemployment they cannot find the right people???

As a matter of fact, if you live between Miami and Washington, D.C., have sales talent and strong character, and that career interests you, contact me and I’ll put you in touch with them.

Because it’s so hard to find quality sales people:

  1. Most small business owners are salesman themselves (out of necessity).
  2. In small businesses, the salesman is the highest paid position.

When I say, salesman, I’m also including sales women as in most organizations and industries, the top producers are female. Studies show that both women and men trust female sales people more than their male counterparts even in industries typically dominated by males such as automobile sales. If you have some sort of bias where you think your industry is “too technical” for female sales representatives, think again.

My formal education is in mechanical engineering so my predisposition is for math, science, and spreadsheets. However, my father made sure that I understood that no matter what I do in life, I need to learn how to sell. Whether that’s to sell my engineering idea, sell myself in a job interview, sell a product I invented, a business I’ve built, or a service I’m offering… No matter what you do in life, you need to learn basic sales and persuasive communication skills.

If you’re a small business owner, what do you do? Quite frankly, I’m not entirely sure but I have tried and have witnessed a few solutions.

  1. Steal quality sales people from other businesses. You always have to keep your eyes open. When you see someone who’s good say, “You’ve done a really great job and have been very professional. My business is always looking for people with skills like yours. Do you have any friends who are as good as you who might be interested?” They’ll usually indicate they might be interested so give them your card and ask them to call or email you.
  2. Create your own sales people. I’m aware that the stereotypes are that people under 40 have no work ethic. Unfortunately, a lot of times that is true. However, not always. There are still plenty of younger individuals not making a lot of money who could easily be taught and groomed to be great salespeople even if they’ve never considered it before.
  3. Always be recruiting. Take advantage of free advertising on Facebook, LinkedIn, Craigslist to let people know you’re always recruiting.
  4. Promote from within. If you have someone in another position in your company who would be great at sales then stop having them do something else. No sales = no business so give it the priority, perks, and pay it deserves.
  5. Don’t call it “sales”. In reality, no one wants to be sold something so there are a lot of people who think negatively of sales people. Somehow they miss the fact that they wouldn’t have a job without sales people but that’s another discussion… If you don’t call the position a “sales” position you’ll have more interest. Call them an Expert, Specialist, Technician or something else. In many businesses, owners will tell me that a selling service technician is also their best sales person because people instantly trust them. Kind of like plumbers used to be before they started selling you a bunch of stuff you didn’t want and we all caught on.
  6. Set yourself apart. Every business owner hates paying sales people a base salary while every sales person hates being 100% commission. Setup a pay structure where your sales people have a base dependent upon a relatively easy quota. Unless they can be fully trained to close deals in less than a week, you’ll need to pay them some sort of base for training. The “old school” sales managers will tell you to only bring in people hungry enough to work for free for a while and fight their way through it… Sure, that can work. But that can also be a way to only get sales people who are desperate and, as I’ve pointed out in this blog, great sales people are never desperate.

In reality, I’ve seen these ideas both work well and fail. There is no “perfect” solution to finding great salespeople. You have to do as many as possible and on a consistent basis.

If you’re a great sales person looking for a job nearly anywhere in the lower 48 states, let me know. Chances are I’ll be able to put you in touch with someone in your area looking to hire even if they’re not advertising the opening.

To your sales and sales recruiting success, Bryan

Small Business Marketing System – Vision, Mission, and Culture

In my last blog I introduced the outline and game plan for your system for marketing in your small business – your Marketing Manual. Now we’re going to look at each of the 5 levels of your plan in more detail starting with your Vision, Mission, and Culture.

Your company vision, mission, and culture define not only WHAT, but WHO you are as a business. Every business decision you make should stem from these values. Your marketing is no different. One of the primary findings in, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, that contradicted the teachings of almost every MBA program on the planet, is that the businesses that survived and excelled over time were often the ones that were centered around a core business concept, not a great product. That’s what your Vision and Mission are all about… That one core business concept that makes your business unique. Something behind which you can rally the troops and lead them.

In the early 1900’s Ford’s vision was to, “Democratize the automobile.” That’s very crisp, tangible, and conclusive. The engineers now had an overlying goal when designing new models; new designs must obviously have mass appeal, be easy to manufacture, and easy to service. It helps the marketing department define their target customer as the average family with approximately the median income looking for reliable, safe transportation. They know they’re not marketing to the ultra-rich or the homeless. It helped every independent dealer and salesman throughout the country understand what their company stood for in 3 simple words. Unfortunately, their vision today is, “To become the world’s leading Consumer Company for automotive products and services.” I say unfortunately because it just isn’t all that exciting and doesn’t really say anything… And who talks like that? For instance, how would you define “world’s leading”? Does that mean most profitable? Highest in sales? Least deaths per mile driven?

The trick, of course, is to have a vision that’s specific enough to have teeth, but broad enough to not limit you…  That being said, I’d rather be specific, achieve our Vision and then rewrite it instead of starting with such a broad vision that it’s meaningless.

Boeing did a similar thing with their vision in the 50’s by making it very concrete: “Become the dominant player in commercial aircraft and bring the world into the jet age.” They achieved their vision and created a new one: “People working together as one global enterprise for aerospace leadership.”  If you were an employee at Boeing, which one would me more helpful when making tough business decisions?

Your Vision is that underlying principle that dictates why you exist. Writing a company vision is one of the most difficult tasks for a business. After all, if multi-billion dollar organizations rarely do it well, how can you be expected to do any better? It has to be specific to your products and services and yet exciting enough to inspire people…  One company that I’ve always admired that I thought would have a tough time with a vision since they do so many different things is 3M. Even though their corporate Vision, Objectives, and Strategies page lists all kinds of different ideas, I think they’re Brand Identity sums it all up very well, “Practical and ingenious solutions that help customers succeed.” Now if I’m an engineer sitting in a lab working on some new inventions, that can certainly help guide my creativity.

One last example of a Vision is the one I created for my Small Business Engineering. It is, “Teaching Entrepreneurs how to Engineer a Business that Works Without Them.” In a single statement my goal is set myself apart but also concretely define how my business is different. I hope that statement does just that. What do you think?

Your Mission statement is an extension of your Vision. It’s generally a bit longer, maybe a few paragraphs, that talks directly about the values of your company.

The final piece is your culture. Your Culture Statements (as Brad Sugar’s calls them) or Operating Principles (as Sam Carpenter) refers to them, define the culture of your organization. It helps define how your team acts, interacts, dresses, eats, hangs out… Your culture can be like that of the blue suits and company songs at IBM or the shower sandals and bean bags at Facebook. Tony Hsheih, co-founder of, had a different approach to culture. In his book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose, he describes how his culture developed naturally and, like most businesses, was molded roughly after his own personality. After they had grown to a few thousand employees he decided to more actively define and cultivate his culture. So he put out a company survey to ask his team what they felt Zappos culture was all about and came up with the Zappos Family Core Values.

Now this is starting to seem like an awful circuitous way of getting better at generating leads, isn’t it? After all, what does this have to do with my radio ad? Everything! You see, without a defined vision and goal in mind, you can’t accurately determine if any decision in your business is heading you in the right direction. That includes your marketing. Yes, of course, you can shoot from the hip with a vague, fluffy vision that’s floating around in your head… But if you want to create a business that runs without you, it needs to be in writing so that as you recruit the help of Ad Agencies, marketing experts, web designers, radio personalities, and sales people, they all know the big picture on Day 1. Do you think you might get better results from your Ad Agency when they have a more clearly defined picture of your entire business Vision? If so, just imagine how that can help your own team members and even you make better, more-targeted decisions.

To your visionary success, Bryan


Employee Performance reviews should be like a GOOD wedding anniversary

If you’ve ever been responsible for giving a performance review, my title doesn’t sound anything like what you picture or what you’ve ever done, right? After all, performance reviews are how we determine pay raises and you can’t exactly throw a celebration if their performance just isn’t up to par… Correct. However a performance review isn’t just about how well they’re doing… It’s about how well you, the manager or leader, is doing…

This is one of my longest, yet most powerful blogs so read all of it and offer your comments whether you agree or not. 🙂

Let’s start at the beginning. What are the goals of a performance review in most instances:

  1. Assess Performance
  2. Implement Raises according to number 1.
  3. Set goals for next year.

If those are your only goals, you may be missing the most important part… The primary goal of a performance review should be to determine if you’re getting the absolute best out of your team member and if not, what can be done to do so. That doesn’t mean you should ignore a performance assessment…

Before we get to the performance assessment, it’ crucial you, the leader, understand that according to First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham, the number one factor that affects employee satisfaction and performance is their relationship with their immediate supervisor. That’s significant enough that it needs to be repeated. The only way you will ever get the best from a team member is if they have a strong relationship with you, their boss. That’s number one. Keep that in mind when we review everything else in this blog. Your ability to foster a strong relationship is the key to this puzzle… Is your performance review designed with that in mind??? We’ll get back to that in a bit…

Let’s start with the performance assessment by considering how we measure success in school. Like it or not, all of your employees went to school at some point and were graded according to his or her performance with either letter grades or percentage grades. That’s how we teach our children to know if they are doing well or not… In sports we learn that points, wins, and stats for your position are the proof of doing well. And then we move into the “real world” and people like Michael Masterson suggest your top 7 people in a Stage 1 organization should have a job description of “taking care of customers”. Or something equally vague but in theory “empowering”. Even if you do have a job description, it’s loaded with vague descriptions like, “dress professionally”, “interact positively with coworkers”, “present our products in a positive manner”. So we teach our children (and every one of your employees were once grade school children) to grade and measure performance down to fraction of percentage results on tests and in youth sports and then we put them in the work force and tell them to do a good job. So you have 2 options… First, you can attempt to reform the schooling system to implement more fuzzy methods of measuring performance… OR, Secondly, you can develop more concrete ways of assessing performance with actual numbers and grades. Why do you need to do this? Because according to Buckingham, under-performing and unhappy employees are partially that way because, “they don’t know what’s expected of them at work.” In other words, when they leave work for the day, they have only a vague idea of whether they did a “good job” or not. “Well, I didn’t wreck my truck and the boss didn’t yell at me so I must be doing a good job.” In some form or another, that’s how the majority of the workers in America assess their days.

This blog doesn’t have the time to address how to develop these performance benchmarks and report cards since its focus is performance reviews, however I’ve discussed it a bit before in a previous blog.

So now that you have the Key Performance Indicators, this portion of the performance review becomes almost moot. Why? Well do you remember in school when you got your report card at the end of the quarter or semester? Were the results a surprise to you? Sure you might wonder if you were going to get an A or B since you were on the border, but you knew you weren’t getting an F. Well the same becomes true at work. When you go down the list during your annual review the results are mostly expected and so aren’t a negative even if they are negative. Moreover, if they’re failing in every important category then shame on you because you should have done them a favor and gotten rid of them a long time ago. If they’re failing in some areas but doing very well in others that gives you a great opportunity to be positive about their strengths and then positively ask (don’t tell) how they can do better in the other areas.  Or you can always readjust their job description so they’re only doing the things they are really good at and drop out the things they are struggling with. Review my blog on hiring based on the job description you write after the interview for more details.

Now it’s time to determine raises. Well do you think it’s going to be easier to create an incentive-based pay system AND accurately determine fair and reasonable raises if everything is outlined on a report card? Yes. So implementing raises also becomes a non-issue. This is almost too easy isn’t it?

The most important part, however, is getting the best out of your team member. I also mentioned that very long, detailed, and exhaustive studies show that the number one contributor to that is the team member’s relationship with their direct supervisor…  Which means, to get the most out of your performance review you need to know how your relationship stands AND you need to strengthen it! Are you starting to see how making it like a good wedding anniversary, in other words, an exciting celebration of a great relationship, is crucial. How do you improve this relationship?

  1. Focus on positive and not negative. Look, if this is an annual review and you’re bringing up a screw-up from 8 months ago, you just aren’t getting the point. When someone screws up, you address it IMMEDIATELY along with a way to prevent it from happening again and you forget it (of course you can keep it in their company file in case the relationship ends up in divorce later). Think of it this way, is your anniversary dinner going to be a lot of fun when you sit down and your spouse brings up all of your screw-ups from the last year? Of course not! So why would you do that in a review where you’re main goal is to build a relationship???
  2. Have quarterly performance reviews. Do you honestly think you can build a relationship with an annual assessment? That’s just silly so stop it.
  3. Use the 12 questions from First, Break All The Rules. You may be afraid once you read them because they have nothing to do with the employees performance… They have to do with how well YOU are doing at providing them with an environment in which they can excel. Hopefully by now you understand that that is exactly what we want.
  4. Call it a Quarterly Chat so people don’t fear it and actual look forward to receiving 20-30 minutes of undivided attention from their boss.

Think of this from a different angle… Think for a second about your favorite 3 teachers from grade school. Do you have a good mental image? Are you smiling just thinking about them? Great! Now tell me, what grade did they give you in the second quarter when you had them? Uh…. You don’t remember? Well they were your favorite teacher why wouldn’t you recall how well they taught you? Because that wasn’t how they built the relationship with you! Teachers build relationships with students in many ways, but grading is not one of them. We understood as children that the grading was a necessary evil however it wasn’t what made us love or hate a teacher (usually). Right now I can think of teachers I liked who didn’t necessarily give me the best grades and ones I hated and had no respect for who gave me straight A’s. Why? Because I EARNED my grades based on my own effort however my relationship with my teacher was something she EARNED with me separately. Granted, if she was a terrible teacher and never actually taught me anything useful, that might taint the relationship. Think that might be true of your direct-reports as well?

That’s the context in which you need to consider your performance reviews. Assessments and raises should be tied to such clear definitions of performance that it’s obvious before you ever have your review what the results will be and those results will have no affect on your relationship. That’s not entirely true… Your team member will respect and appreciate you more for your direct, simple honesty.

Let’s say you’re on the other side of the coin and you’re the employee who is stressed because your review is coming up and you have no idea what to expect or if they’re going to bring up screw-ups from your past year one-by-one. Before you start looking for another job here are a few things you can do:

  1. Buy your boss a copy of First, Break All the Rules and tell them you read the book and thought they’d really enjoy it. If you think your boss is going take it as a personal insult as if you were saying, “You don’t know how to do your job so you need this”, it may be time to look for a new boss. Simply say you read it, were super impressed, and know they’re always looking for great new ideas so thought they might enjoy it.
  2. They will have some sort of checklist or score sheet or something to review you “objectively” with. Ask for a copy. Look, if you don’t know how you’re being graded, how can you do your best to get good grades? And that’s exactly what you should say to your boss if they ask why you want a copy.
  3. Review your job description and make sure you can highlight how you’re doing really well on each point (with specific stories to illustrate if time permits) and point out that you did make a few mistakes, but you aren’t making the same mistakes twice. You’re making new mistakes and the company mission, culture, or you job description (hopefully) indicates that you’re supposed to be innovative and even take a few risks and try new ideas. In other words, turn your negatives into positives.
  4. Ask to have reviews quarterly so you know where you’re standing throughout the year and can work to get better without having to wait till the end of the year when your raise is on the line.

The bottom line is this, you want to do a great job and you may need some help from your boss to determine exactly how to do that. That should be the focus of your review particularly if you feel you’re being unfairly reviewed and held back from raises. If none of those suggestions make any difference, it may be time to look for a new job because you obviously don’t have a strong relationship with your boss.

So whether you are the reviewer or reviewee (yep, just made that word up), you need to focus on ways to improve your relationship and the system your company uses for evaluations.

To your performance-reviewing success, Bryan

P.S. I’m aware this is a rather unique idea… If you don’t like it (or absolutely love it) leave me a comment to tell me why.

Entrepreneur’s Commencement Address – 10 years after graduation

July 17th 2010 is my 10 year high school reunion. Ten years ago I was asked to give a speech at my high school graduation. Recently I’ve read a few blogs by entrepeneurs providing advice to recent graduates…  That got me thinking about what I’ve learned a decade after high school and what I’d say if giventhe opportunity today… And this time I don’t have to deal with the principal censoring me… 🙂

Ten years ago, my speech focused on the powers of the mind and positive thinking. Topics I’ve reviewed in my blog in several instances and, though those lessons are still paramount, my new speech offers a bit more “practicality”. After writing out my suggestions, I noticed I’ve written blogs to explain most points in more detail so follow the links for more clarification.

Keep in mind that a blog is much different than a speech. A blog can be read, reread, reviewed, and linked to additional information. A speech is heard only once. If given a speech I’d simply focus on 9, 11, and 13 and tell a memorable story to illustrate each…

  1. Develop good habits – We are all creatures of habit. Our eating habits, work-out habits, reading habits, education habits, relationship habits, drinking habits etc. etc. etc. ultimately form who we are. Your habits will control you. If you develop bad habits you will be fighting them for years to come.
  2. Never stop learning – Read. Attend seminars. Ask questions of your grandparents and parents and those better than you. Write and expose your thoughts to criticism. You are what you know. The difference between you and your millionaire neighbor is that he knows something you don’t and he’s taken action to do something you haven’t. Learn what he knows and then do what he does. This lesson is applicable for all professions.
  3. Always spend less than you make – This sounds simple. And it is. So do it. You don’t need ANYTHING that you can’t afford. To that I’ll add, never take out debt to pay for a toy (i.e. motorcycle, atv, jet-ski), vacation, or non-essential. In other words, ONLY take out debt for real estate, your college education, and, if you have to, your primary mode of transportation. Pay cash for everything else.
  4. Save, save, save – Now I’m bordering on preaching but Americans seem to have a serious issues with financial discipline. Get into the regular habit of saving at least 10% of your paycheck. Setup an automatic transfer to savings. When you get a raise, increase the percent you save and keep the same standard of living until you can live for 6 months entirely on your savings. Then invest.
  5. Attend every wedding you’re invited to – In the last few years I’ve attended weddings in Texas, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Michigan, Indiana, New York, and Wisconsin. I’ve spent literally thousands of dollars travelling to these weddings and the only weddings I regret are the ones I missed in Florida and Nevada. If a friend thinks you’re important enough to invite to their wedding, you need to attend.
  6. If you’re not happy, do something else – At 10 years after High School and 5 years after college it amazes me how many of my friends wake up to jobs they hate. Promise yourself, at whatever cost, that will not be you. And if it becomes you, which is almost inevitable at some point, you’ll do everything you can to change it.
  7. Network! – Your #1 goal with attending college should be to network with as many people as possible. That includes classmates, professors, alumni and just about anyone else you bump into. Actively search out and befriend influential people. It will help you get a job, find investors, find great investments, and it’s a lot of fun. “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know“, is as true now as it ever has been.
  8. Never lose touch with your friends – In the world of email, IM, texting and Facebook, there’s simply no excuse. Keep in touch with your friends. It makes the journey a lot more fun.
  9. Live today – tomorrow is never guaranteed – At every high school commencement you can stand there and say, in 10 years some of you will no longer be with us. In 10 years, some of your parents, or grandparents, or friends, or family will no longer be with us. You’re not guaranteed a 10 year reunion and your not guaranteed to have the same friends and family to celebrate with. In the words of James Dean – “Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today.”
  10. Serve God and others – TODAY! – The World Bank defines poverty as having less than $1.25 per day to spend on living expenses and they estimate more than 1.4 billion people fall below that bar. No matter where you are or what you’re doing there are people less fortunate than you in this world. While you’re at college, while you’re working through your first job and paying down debt, you’re still blessed. Don’t wait to volunteer when you have enough time. Don’t wait to donate to charity when you have more money. Give to others today and you’ll always be the better person for it.
  11. Set goals – And put them in Do x Be = Have context. According to a Yale study from 1953, the 3% of graduates who had written goals had amassed more wealth than the other 97% of classmates years after graduation.
  12. Believe in yourself – Because chances are, at times, you’ll be the only one doing so. Be confident and fearless.
  13. Take a risk – I used to travel a lot for work. Maybe 40,000 to 50,000 air miles per year and another 20,000 miles on the ground. On a flight one night, on my way home from California, it hit me. My whole life and the “success” that people had seen in it was perfectly planned. In 25 years of life, as far as I could tell, I had never taken a single risk. It was a hollow and scary feeling to think that I was limiting myself to only taking on the challenges I knew that I could accomplish. Never give yourself the opportunity to look back and say that to yourself. Learn to fail. As the book, How We Decide, by Jonah Leher points out, our minds are designed to learn more from many failures than from a few successes.
  14. Skip class when you have more educational things to do – In the words of Mark Twain, “Never let school get in the way of your education.” When you’re negotiating for a job, never forget to get as much paid vacation as possible. I always attended class unless I had something going on where I’d learn more. Sometimes that lesson was that it’s more important to go motorcycle riding with my friends than listen to a professor talk about things I could read in the book. 😉 For some reason, that’s a lesson I’ve never forgot.

If I could sum these 14 points up in a single sentence it would be simply, figure out a way to do what you love with the people you love and everything else will take care of itself.

Lucky for you, my speech is much shorter than it was 10 years ago. These are a few of the important lessons I’ve learned. God-willing, in another 10 years, I’ll be able to review my thoughts again.

To your life-success, Bryan

Why a Business Consultant or Business Coach won’t work!

To make my point, I’m gonna start with a lesson I’ve learned as a Mechanical Engineer studying, designing, building, and racing cars in college.

This past week I was brushing up on vehicle dynamics by thumbing through an engineering text I received at the OptimumG training put on by Claude Rouelle. The first story the book told went like this. The top 9 drivers in qualifying at a recent Nascar event (Virginia 500 2002) were separated by .1 second (.5%). The top 15 drivers in qualifying at a recent F1 race (Austria 2002) were separated by .8 seconds (less than .8%). Business works the same way, you don’t have to be 2 or 3 times better than your competition to get more business. You literally only have to do a few small things better and people will choose you. This is what’s meant by the “law of the slight edge.”

Me autocrossing my 2006 G35 at BeaveRun in 2007.

So how do you obtain that “slight edge” in racing? An engineer has 2 ways to address a problem. A driver goes out for a 6 lap test drive and says a car has a lot of understeer. The engineer adds 2 degrees to the front spoiler and sends the driver out for another 6 laps. Now it understeers less but still understeers. He adds 2 more degrees to the front and the driver heads out for another 6 test laps. Now it oversteers so the engineer subtracts 1 degree from the front spoiler and again out for another 6 laps. Finally the engineer adds another half degree and after 6 more laps the driver confirms that the handling is neutral. That took a LOT of time, money, rented track time, and energy. A total of 30 laps to accurately setup and test the car to come up with 3.5 degrees added to the front spoiler. This is how most business owners tackle problems.

A better way to improve the car is for the engineer to listen to the driver indicate understeer, evaluate the data (because he knows the correct data to review AND how to interpret it) to determine the cars Aero balance is at 36.9%. Then he compares that data to when the car was setup perfectly on a similar track and determines that an aero balance of 38.3% is needed. He makes a single adjustment to the front to add 3.6 degrees and the car is perfectly neutral the first time. A total of 12 laps and he knows the car is setup well. This is how business owners should tackle problems.

Now before you start saying, in the real world of business and dealing with people things are never that perfect. In reality, in racing it’s never that perfect either. Drivers are good, but they aren’t that good. They also aren’t generally very consistent and, in reality, they aren’t “sensitive” enough to feel slight variations. Moreover, weather, cross-winds, other drivers on the track, and a thousand other items can make choosing a “perfect” setup challenging. Which is why we’re never looking for perfect. We don’t need to be perfect. We just need to have a slight advantage over the competition.

That’s why the Team Leader for our race team used to point out to us when we were getting TOO wrapped up in the perfect simulations or calculations that “We’re engineers not scientists.” In other words, we live and work in the real world where your gut instinct and experience will ALWAYS be a factor in making decisions because you’ll never be able to test every single variable. On the other hand, scientists setup controlled environments so that they can test and control each variable.

As a business owner, your job is like that of the engineers relying on science, data, driver-input AND experience to make the best decisions. And that is why business consultants and coaches don’t work! Let me explain.

For that engineer to make the best decision for his racecar, a few things have to be present:

  1. Experience
  2. Data on his car
  3. Comparable Data for that car running on other tracks
  4. Ongoing support and testing because each track is different and even the same tracks can vary

The same is true of someone who wants to help you improve your business.

  1. They need experience in running, owning, AND analyzing a business. Business coaches and consultants can both reasonably have this prerequisite.
  2. They need data about the business. In other words, when a car is setup with hundreds of sensors to acquire data, they need to not only have access to that data, but they also need to know how to look at the relevant data and discard the irrelevant information. If the consultant or coach could reasonably have this skill however, there are plenty out there who are looking at the “wrong” numbers or skipping over some of the most important data. Quite often, they over-complicate it. For instance, in the example above, the engineer could have considered tires, anti-roll bars, springs, aerodynamics and even driver error in getting the car setup correctly. Experience told him exactly which data to review, however.
  3. For comparable data, your coach or consultant needs experience AND data working with similar businesses. Think about it for a second. What conversion rate is reasonable for your business? If you have an accounting office is your conversion rate going to be the same as a woman’s clothing store? Probably not. When you have comparable data, you can now better determine which areas present the greatest area of improvement so that your time is always being invested on the projects that will give you the best ROI. This is where the rubber of the 80/20 rule meets the road. Just because you know there are 20% of things you can do to give you 80% of the results, doesn’t mean you know WHICH 20%. Industry specific consultants and coaches may have this data and experience, however most consultants and coaches are trying to be everything to everyone so look out for this.
  4. Finally, the variables on the racetrack and in your business are ALWAYS changing. It’s not enough to be given a plan of action by your consultant and then be asked to implement it as he walks out the door (as is normally the case). It’s also not enough for your coach to call you every week or month and tweak your plan for real-world circumstances. To be truly effective, that coach needs to be constantly comparing your business to other similar businesses and providing you with input. Along the way both of you will develop the experience needed to make better gut choices when everything can’t be calculated and moreover, you’ll better understand how other similar businesses are tackling the same problems you are. No business owner, coach, or consultant will have all the answers so continually reviewing problems and solutions from a group of similar businesses can help everyone involved more quickly achieve excellent results (i.e. more profits with less time input).

As you know by now, I don’t write about problems in business without offering a solution. The solution is the Small Business Engineer leading a team of small business owners in the same industry. Just like the engineer at the racetrack, the Small Business Engineer will continually work with the driver (i.e. owner) to gather real-world feedback. He’ll help you determine exactly which data (i.e. reports) to be watching and help interpret the changes. He’ll provide data from similar racetracks (i.e. other businesses in your industry) to help you get up to speed more quickly and determine which 20% you should always be focusing on.

Whether for a business or a racecar, the engineer’s job is to help improve the problem as quickly, effectively and cheaply as possible. Once that’s done, your business can now have the slight edge it needs to blow away your competition.

If you’re interested in learning more about working with the Small Business Engineer, comment or email ( me.

To your business-engineering success, Bryan

P.S. For more information on what numbers to watch in your business, check out my 5 part series on how to fix your business fast.

How do I change the culture in my office or business?

A friend of mine just emailed me today to let me know he’s just been promoted, is now taking on a much larger leadership role where he works, and sales are doing well BUT he’s having ‘people’ issues.

Well who isn’t, right? 🙂 All businesses have issues with unproductive, combative, and poor-communicating employees. But before you can address how to fix those problems, you need to know why people are that way. It’s my firm belief that the vast majority of people don’t want to suck at their job. If that’s the case, why do so many businesses have so many personnel issues?

Here’s a quick litmus test to see if your business is creating personnel issues or you just happen to have a few bad eggs.

Personally I’m not a big fan of the term “managers” as “managers manage resources and leaders lead people”. A hundred little things, like your titles, added together form a culture for your team and team members (not employees) that can affect everything about your culture, including financial results. I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, so I’ll get more into what’s required of a leader in number 4.

  1. The first step is defining the culture you want… Mine is literally called our “14 Points of Culture” that set the ground work for our team expectations. While you’re laying the ground work for your team and culture, you may already have a Vision and Mission statement, but if not, that’s foundational so create that as well.
  2. From there you need to develop a Team Organizational Structure chart with the hierarchy of the leaders in your business. Keep in mind that the 3 points on a successful business triangle are made up of Sales/Marketing, Finance/Administration, and Service/Operations so your Team Structure should make sure someone is excellent at each of those things and has the supporting team to get better. At it’s most basic level, your Organizational Chart would include a Team Leader (CEO) above the Sales/Marketing Leader, Finance/Administration Leader, and Service/Operations Leader who all report to the Team Leader. Underneath each of those leaders will be their supporting teams. Keep in mind that the Team Leader should always dedicate half of his time to sales/marketing and the other half of his time to everything else!
  3. Create job descriptions for every position in your Team Organizational Structure. The descriptions should include expectations, benefits, Key Performance Indicators and benchmarks tied to incentives. No one on your team should ever be able to say “I don’t know what’s expected of me or how to do my job well.” More importantly, you must fit each team member’s skill-sets and passions into the position that will best allow her to express those passions.
  4. Now you start changing the culture by actively leading your team. You provide opportunities for open communication like regular team meetings (even going to the point of picking fights between people and departments). You provide regular and consistent feedback with quarterly performance reviews based on the 12 Questions Marcus Buckingham outlined in First, Break All the Rules. You rearrange your offices according to the rules of proximity. Make sure each of your leaders knows how to use NLP and then train your people. When you come up with new products, ideas, promotions, etc. you work hard to provide systems, procedures, scripts and all the pieces your people need to be successful at implementing new programs. You develop a culture of innovation by requiring people to come up with new ideas without fear of reprisal for “bad” ideas that don’t materialize… And rewards for the ideas that do yield results. You ensure that your leaders all develop relationships with their team members because the most important factor in employee satisfaction is an employee’s relationship with his direct superior.
  5. The fifth piece is probably the hardest, yet most important. You fire, let go, or force out the people who don’t fit into your culture, vision, structure, or job descriptions. You get rid of the people who aren’t contributing to the team and culture immediately. The lost time and energy in trying to “fix” them can almost never be recouped. However, if you haven’t provided for them an environment to succeed (with all of the 5 pieces), you’ll really have no idea if they’re good or not because you haven’t defined the rules of the game, yet. If you’re the leader or manager, this is your responsibility. If your leader or manager isn’t providing this type of atmosphere, maybe you should read my last blog on moving on.

Obviously I just presented a whole lot of ideas and pieces that make up a complex problem in a rather succinct manner. The myriad links throughout this blog will provide additional details on certain topics, however don’t try to make this TOO complex. Problems that are TOO complex get pushed to the back-burner, avoided, and ultimately never solved. Take these 5 pieces at relative face value, work on each of them, and enjoy the results.

For further resources, I recommend the following 3 books to help you change your culture:

  1. First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham
  2. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni
  3. Instant Team Building by Brad Sugars

To your culture-creating success, Bryan

P.S. Though it should go without saying, before you do anything else you should foster a highly ethical business environment. Without an ethical foundation, everything else will be overshadowed.

How your business should handle Customer Complaints to turn them into Raving Fans

Oh… You don’t have any customer complaints? Right. I don’t either. This is just for other business owners…  Now that we have that out of the way… Let’s go through our 4 step process for converting complaining customers to raving fans.

This may be the quickest and simple business “fix” I’ve ever discussed and yet may have the greatest impact, so be sure to implement this immediately!

  1. Convince your team to get “on-board” – This step is easy. At your weekly Team Meeting present your team with the number of new customers in the last year who had some sort of previous service experience with your business before purchasing. These would be referrals, current customers making another purchase, leads generated by your service department, or if you have a franchise like me, possibly people who have dealt with your franchise somewhere else. In my business, about 60% of our new sales in 2009 came from people who had heard something about our service. What!? You don’t track your lead sources??? For now you’ll have to guesstimate at this number. Then simply ask your team, “Why are customer complaints bad for us and how many people do you think are affected by each customer complaint?” My team’s answers ranged from 3-30 people. Since I like numbers, they expected me to have an exact number for them. I did not. I just pointed out that even if only 3 people hear about each instance of poor customer service, how many potential new customers are we losing each year? They got the point.
  2. Track Customer Complaints – I don’t care if people are upset you gave them a bad haircut, cheated them out of money with outrageous lawyer fees, think your plumber smelled repulsive, or just doesn’t understand your bills. If the customer is complaining, it’s a complaint. Now that we’ve defined what constitutes a complaint, we need to actually track them. In my office, the same software we use for lead-tracking, scheduling, conversations, and billing has an option to track Customer Complaints along with the contact, time, details, and follow-up person. We can then run reports on all of the complaints by department and/or a time frame.
  3. Address and Fix the problem – All customer complaints should immediately be assigned to someone who can fix the problem. Of course, that person should then fix the problem and update the details of the complaint in your software program. The customer should be notified by telephone about your resolution. Moreover, we address every customer complaint at the weekly Team Meeting in order to keep everyone abreast of poor customer service issues and to come up with ways to prevent issues in the future.
  4. Send a “Thank You” letter – Have you ever been upset at a business? After voicing your dissatisfaction, did you have a few of those companies address and fix your problem? Now, of all of the instances where you actually had your complaint corrected to your satisfaction, have you EVER received a letter afterward thanking you for continuing to be a valued customer??? Me neither. My customers, however, have. It’s a weekly responsibility for one of my office administrators to run a report of the customer complaints, print it out for me to review, and then create “Thank You” letter addressed to each customer. Obviously each letter includes coupons to encourage them to patronize us in the future and almost universally those coupons get used. Can you afford to NOT send those letters and risk losing a long-term paying customer at the cost of $.50 per letter??? As Team Leader, I sign each letter.

Now what about those instances where the complaint isn’t justified, wasn’t our fault, or the customer is quite frankly someone we’d rather not have as a customer any longer? Well whoever takes care of Step 3 should have the foresight to determine that and “resolve” the issue accordingly. I’m a firm believer that not all customers are profitable and certainly don’t want to encourage the customers who suck the life out of my team and I to come back. Moreover, when I review the Customer Complaint report in Step 4, if any are “unjustified” I cross them off the list and so don’t send a letter.

I’ll point this out once again, people who are upset enough about something to complain will tell their friends and family about their dissatisfaction. If you don’t address, resolve, and then follow-up with a “Thank You” letter, your business is undoubtedly losing potential new customers and long-term existing customers.

To your “customer-loyalty” success, Bryan

Take back your schedule, business, and life.

In that order.

For the first time in 2 years, I spent a few days in the last week onsite at other businesses doing some consulting and training. Since I’ve been working on my own business, I just hadn’t the time to put a lot of effort into helping others. After a few days of interfacing with some very successful small business owners, it intrigued me how interested they were in my own personal daily schedule…

A few months back I noticed sales were slipping and my stress level was rising rapidly. In those moments, when you finally realize that in the last 5 working days you got absolutely nothing of value accomplished, you really need to step back. Sit in your office with the door closed or take an extra long shower since you’ll have no interruptions and evaluate a few things:

  1. What is your role as the business owner/leader? Literally, what is your job description and are you following it? No job description? Make one!
  2. What can you do that would most benefit the company in 3 months, 6 months, 12 months, and 5 years? Forget about what’s needed to get through today for a few minutes and focus on longer term. Unlike public companies, you don’t have next quarter’s earnings report to cloud your long-term judgement.
  3. Are you spending half of your time on marketing/sales (getting new customers) and half of your time on customer service/operations (taking care of existing customers)? Granted, your sales and marketing efforts should certainly include marketing to your existing customer base, but do not make the mistake of convincing yourself that that ONLY means dealing with current customer issues. Your sales/marketing efforts to existing customers mean up-selling, cross-selling, educating them on all the products and services you offer along with gathering referrals and testimonials.
  4. Does your schedule allow you to achieve 1-3? Obviously, this is where most business-owners, myself included, often get side-tracked.

So what can you do about it? The answer is simple, create a daily or weekly schedule.

Initially my daily schedule looked like the following:

8-9:30review schedules, answer any questions for service and address any service issues
9:30-10Review and Respond to emails
10:00-11:00Customer Complaints, Personnel issues, Inventory checks, Office Questions
11:00-12:00Service quotes, Business Accounting, Financial Reports, Daily reports,Taxes, Insurance etc.
1:00-2:00Improve Processes, Procedures, Checklists, Scripts, and Handbooks
3:00-4:00Sales and Customer Follow-ups, Office Questions
4:00-5:00Payables, Billing Questions, Payroll, Emails, Etc.

However, after realizing that the “creative” processes of Sales and Marketing weren’t really as effective in only an hour time-slot I converted to a weekly schedule with 2-hour blocks for Sales and Marketing in the afternoon and my standard morning schedule. Personally, I define Marketing as everything my business does to get a prospect to contact us to solve a problem. Once the prospect has contacted us, they are now in my sales process/system. Everything from that point of contact, till we sit down with the new customer after our work is finished to make sure they’re happy and to gather referrals, is Sales.

Monday through Thursday I alternate between Sales and Marketing and Friday is a “flip” day where I choose which one will benefit the business more (or whether I need to just go for a motorcycle ride).

So now that you know what needs to be done, do you have any doubts that in 3, 6, or 12 months, let alone 5 years, your business and therefore you will ultimately benefit from such dedication to your job description as the business leader???

Businesses generally mimic their owners according to the 3 Leaders every business needs. If you’re sales oriented you’ll love that time spent working on sales and marketing. If you’re a more technical, hands-on guy, you’ll feel much more in your element taking care of the customer issues and making them happy. If you’re a numbers person, that time from 11-12 and 4-5 where you work on payables, reports, and other accounting needs will be right up your alley. That being the case, you have 2 options:

  1. Commit to taking care of all of these items yourself.
  2. Hire someone else to help you in the areas you aren’t good at or passionate about.

If you choose the first, my Recommended Reading section is a great place to learn about books that will help educate you on all of these areas.

If you choose the second, I’d read some of the books anyway so you know if the team member or consultant you’re working with really knows her stuff. There are plenty who do not. The first item I would outsource would be the accounting stuff.

My blog title obviously infers that just by setting your schedule you’ll now have a sense of control over your business and more importantly your life… The only proof I can offer for that is to try it. Force yourself to make it a priority to follow your schedule and you will be utterly amazed at how productive you can be.

To your scheduling success, Bryan

P.S. At our weekly Team Meeting I apologized to my team for not doing my job and let them know about my new schedule. I recommend you do the same so everyone knows things-are-a-changin.