What We Can Learn From United Airline’s PR Crisis

Airplane & u.s cloud

Ah, the power of public relations.

The United incident earlier this year could be most certainly, considered, a public relations nightmare. In its wake of destruction, one such incident caused a downward trend in sales and has shined a  glaring spotlight on their most minute and inconsequential  of errors.

The thing with PR, is once you have lit the fire, everything you do or say becomes fuel…

For the rare one of you who has not aware, in a nutshell, an overbooked flight on United resulted in the forcible removal of a passenger, who went asked to give up his seat for a United crew member trying to reach a destination, refused.

A video went viral, showing the brutal and egregiously over-aggressive physical removal of the passenger.

The media had a full-fledged field day, and with the handy capabilities of the web, escalated this emergent crisis into an almost up-to-the minute display of the power of the people.

United’s slogan “Fly the Friendly Skies” took the hardest hit, with social media platforms sharing a slew of new and more “appropriate” slogans.

Flash forward to a United brand, currently suffering from an image problem.

As we are not their well-paid PR team, we will not attempt to offer suggestion at the fixing of the problem, but we can look at what we may learn, as small business owners, from this branding bombshell.

Possibly the biggest lesson here, is that the way we treat our customers is no longer a private exchange. Our infinite means of communication these days allow bad (and good!) messages to spread like wildfire, conquering continents with a speed we have not seen before.

Another of what was viewed as their major gaffes was the way their CEO redirected the blame on to the victim, attempting to stand by his brand. Later, he did indeed issue the apology, but the damage had been done.

As a business owner, when crisis unfolds, always remember that while you may not agree the customer is always right, you should dang sure be ready to apologize, no matter what.  Even if you do not intend to refund the cost of a blender that was clearly misused, the conversation should still begin with “I am sorry…”.

Increase Sales with Inbound Marketing

Inbound Marketing Magnet

Are your leads drying up? Feeling like referrals have all been circled back? It may be time to introduce inbound marketing to perk those sales back up.

In earlier times, the sales process was longer, more drawn out, it allowed the seller to act as expert, informing the client on what they need, when they need it and what it is worth.

Enter- the World Wide Web.

Essentially, access to the internet has created a more intelligent customer, a buyer who knows what they want, where to find it and what it is worth. They no longer need to be walked through the process, which puts the seller at a disadvantage, and puts the power back in the customer’s hands.

So what is inbound marketing and how can it help your business?  One of the best descriptions out there is that inbound marketing is more about attraction, as opposed to interruption.  This strategy forces the seller to meet the consumer on their level, on their terms.

With inbound marketing the seller creates an attractive space online, a hub that is designed to bring customers in, like bees to honey. It has to be intricately designed to attract exactly what you want in a customer.

Search engine optimization, social media and pay per click advertising are simple examples of tried and true inbound marketing tactics. They are characterized as engaging and multi-faceted, rather than simple and definitive (like a print ad).

Once the client is attracted, the seller must now convert or close the deal. But the process does not end there. With this type of lead generation (and this type of savvy customer) the most important part may come after the initial buy. You are now challenged to keep that customer coming back.

Keep them happy, keep them loyal- after all, they will not stop at “good enough”, when they are aware the “best of” is out there.

 

Signs you are Ready to Expand your Business

Light Bulb & Money

Are you finally pushing profit margins into the green? Great! But don’t jump on the expansion wagon just yet…Take a breather, reassess and make sure that your business ticks the boxes (or at least most of them) that signal you are ready for growth.

Start with the most important asset you have- your team. Is your team the best it can be? Are you nurturing a team of dedicated, long-term team members who are invested in seeing the business flourish?

If you can answer yes, you are on the right track. Think of this as the base of the pyramid of growth- your team must be solid before you stack on another layer!

A great indicator that you are ready for expansion is when you feel the tide of customers turn from “seeking” to “sought”, meaning that you no longer seek their business but your business is sought after.

Essentially once you start to build up a loyal customer base and referrals start flowing in, you can pump the brakes slightly on your hard-nosed marketing efforts and allow for additional resources and time to be invested into growth.

As important as the above- do you have a plan? If you want to build on your base of a great team, and the support of a loyal client base, show them respect by creating a fluid, detailed plan for growth.

Much like when you launched, a growth plan is the framework you will use to measure success along the way and will act as a system of checks and balances, encouraging accountability.

Speaking of plans, take a look at your original business plan. Are you on track? Checking off accomplishments and achieving goals is a good indicator that you are ready for growth.

Check the piggy bank- is there a steady flow of cash in hand? Bills paid off, credit leveled off and no big investments coming up? Then you can check this box off as a go!

Lastly, look to your industry. Is there room in your market to grow, or a niche that needs to be filled? Make sure you time your growth to trends so that you aren’t behind the rest of your competition.

 

Tips for Managing Millennials

Millennials

As the workforce continues to become more diverse, employees and managers alike may have to brush up on interpersonal skills and be prepared to make small adjustments.

Teams are now made up of young and old, traditional and new age, out of the box and classical ideologies.  One of the strongest ‘new’ personalities we are seeing more of in the work place is the millennial.

Defined as born between 1982 and 2004, this group is typically characterized as open minded, free thinking, somewhat egocentric and prone to coloring outside the lines, so to speak.

One of the more sensitive characteristics applied to this group is their having been coddled, resulting in an “everyone is a winner” attitude, which can translate to not wanting to work as hard, to achieve the same results.

In a traditional work place scenario, this is a very difficult trait to integrate into a more traditional frame of mind. Here are a few tips on how to accomplish this:

  1.  Coddled or not, millennials are more accepting of feedback and constructive criticism. They welcome it and will absorb and attempt to implement it without a fight. Don’t talk down or infantilize them- they are wicked smart. Talk to them as they talk to their peers, but with authority, they respect smart, creative leaders.
  2. Create a good balance between independence and structure. They may want to work remotely, replace meetings with online chats and watch webinars over sit through training sessions. But they also need the structure to keep them focused. Provide deadlines, numbers, goals- things that will work to keep the fluidity of the workplace a productive one.
  3. Millennials are very engaged in group work. Take advantage of this and provide ample opportunity for think tanks, group brainstorming sessions, etc.
  4. Foster their need to grow and learn by offering training and advancement support. Much more than traditional work forces, this group will move on if they are not feeling challenged. Avoid the job jump by paying attention to their desire for constant improvement.

These are just a few ideas- take a look through articles and blogs for additional tips and tricks- millennials are a valuable asset, treat them accordingly.

Lessons businesses can learn from the Women’s March

Women's Rights

 

On January 21st, 2017, people across the globe marched in unison, to advocate for legislation on human rights, immigration reform, healthcare reform, LGBTQ rights, racial and gender equality, work place rights and more.  It was a bold and transformative display of solidarity.

Interestingly enough, one of the things small businesses share in common with such a movement is a call to action.  The call is an appeal to the human psyche, to try and influence a choice or behavior.

What the Women’s March did so effectively was responded to the two appeals people have when it comes to call to action:

  1. How motivated am I to do this? Do I WANT to do this?
  2. How easy is it for me to do? CAN I do this?

When you are appealing to potential clientele, they would be considering these same questions, or variant versions of them. Your message must be catered to create the WANT and your sales process must be created to facilitate the ABILITY.

Another lesson we can learn is one of branding. While the message of the movement was political, at best, it was also about human rights, and balancing the two directives can be challenging when it comes to large scale protests.

What they did so seamlessly was provide such a safe, free space, with educational and inspirational content, and encouragement that the movement was really in place to speak out against any inequality or any legislation that felt wrong.

It did not limit the participants; it allowed them to create their own niche within the movement. With sales and customer service, we are presented with this same conundrum.

Our goals are financially driven, we want to cast a wide net, pull in the biggest crop. But we must focus in on the message and how we will communicate it. It’s about branding.

The best example is the Women’s March use of the hashtag (#) as a communicator across web platforms. One of the most uniting elements of human life, the internet, provided the most comprehensive and seamless platform, that caters to millions of markets and niches.

Cultivating a clear, transformative, interpretative message (or hashtag) puts forth a call to action that is both all-inclusive, and allows for segmented niche marketing, on the customers’ terms.

 

What makes an effective team?

Team in a box

 

It’s possible that at one point in time, your business was a one-person show. Though growth and expansion inevitably leads to the building a team, the team that becomes the lifeblood of your humbly built operation.

An effective team is like an orchestra- many different instruments, many different players, one piece of music. The success of the song depends on every single variable, and every person playing in perfect unison.

So what exactly makes an effective team (or a great orchestra)?

  1. First, foremost, and above all else, an effective team knows how to communicate. Does this mean there is never conflict? No. Does this mean everything is smooth sailing all the time? Of course not. Its about how you make it through the tough parts of the song- hard work, and practice.
  2. At the forefront, stands the leader, or the conductor. The responsibility here is to keep everyone on track, at the same pace, with eyes and ears canvassing a cacophony of action at all times.  An effective team must have a dedicated, patient leader.
  3. Just like an orchestra all has the same sheet music, your team must all have the same goals. You must provide the framework, give them a path to follow and be there for when changes are necessary. But every time something shifts, make sure you let the whole team know.
  4. In an orchestra, when one player is out of tune, it can throw off the entire production. If one person slacks, others must make up for them by doubling their efforts, which is exhausting and demoralizing. Your team must have commitment, dedication and a camaraderie that keeps them playing in unison and support each other.
  5. Lastly, we mention one of the most importantly shared characteristics between a small business team and an orchestra: passion. In business, the passion starts with the leader, building in a crescendo as things take off and teams grow.

Each person on your team must be equipped with the passion for success, and driven to accomplish the same goals. Passion is what drives musicians to play until their fingers bleed, to practice until perfect, to push further every time they pick up their instrument. Your team should reflect this same passionate attitude.

The Importance of Marketing Automation

Marketing Automation

 

Automating your strategies (as much as possible) and letting the computer take the lead is one of the best ways to clear your day of busy work, when it comes to marketing.

Sure, plenty of aspects of your campaign will not fit into this grouping, but you will find that the benefits here work in tandem with the more personal side of our marketing campaign to best benefit your business.

Not only does it streamline your process, but it provides tracking and reporting capabilities that allow you to closely monitor your ROI.

As one expert notes, “automation is about optimization” (source, VentureHarbour.com). So just like your search engine optimization cultivates copy and content that speaks to your audience, so aims marketing automation.

One of the most important benefits of employing marketing automation is that it seamlessly creates accountability for the efforts of your sales personnel, as well as a self-check on your marketing ploys.

Being able to identify holes, hiccups and areas in need of improvement allows a more focused, targeted and ergo effective effort, saving you time and money.

Marketing automation is like an onion- there are many layers- peel at your will! The deeper you wish to go into targeting specific niches, just keep adding parameters. Without revamping your whole strategy, you simply update your automation and the work is done for you.

As a business, your main objective here is to convert potential business into realized business. Automation is one of the best ways to create conversions, as well as track them.

Any business owner will agree that as technology weaves its way more intricately into business plans, the importance of streamlining and staying modern is reaching new heights. Marketing automation is a great way for small businesses to grasp those seamless strategies and employ them.

How to tell your boss they are wrong

Boss is wrong

 

GASP. What? How could this situation ever become reality, the boss is always right…right?

Ah, while they may work hard to portray omnipotence, even the best of the bosses can be wrong. So how do you approach them with this delicate news?

First and foremost, get your ducks in a row, so to speak. You need irrevocable proof that the information being conveyed is not correct. Talk to your peers, gather opinions and double, triple check your information.

The worst-case scenario is going up against the head honcho only to be unprepared and incorrect!

Next, ask yourself, is this worth it? Just like in any relationship, sometimes you need to let the small stuff slide off your back, so that the bigger issues carry more weight. It’s a scare situation, confronting your boss, make sure it’s crucial to correct the misinformation.

Now you are ready to schedule a private meeting with your superior. NEVER call them out in front of the team- embarrassment will overshadow the value of your opinion and can feel like an affront or act of insubordination.

Kick things off on a positive note and make sure you are creating the casual yet professional atmosphere that you would hope to encounter in a meeting. You called the meeting, establish the mood and work hard to distress the situation.

This meeting should be project and company focused and should aim to create the best-case scenario for the business. Remember this and try to steer toward suggestions, rather than criticisms.

Enter into the meeting armed with a solution. Merely bringing up the mistake leaves an air of frustration and can be stressful to a boss who likely has their hands full already.

Your solution should be detailed, thorough and bolstered by all the proof you gathered, prior to your meeting. Offer to be part of the solution however you can, even if it takes you slightly out of your job description. Remember to remain team-oriented.

Lastly, be ready to accept that your boss will not change their mind. Be respectful, don’t be discouraged and keep personal deflation to a minimum. If anything, your boss will recognize you as a leader who speaks their mind, has creative solutions and is dedicated to the organization.

Organizational Alignment

organizational-alignment

 

“Think of alignment as a playbook for the entire company, just like in sports. For a coach to make sure every player is on the same page and goals are made, that playbook needs to be shared and discussed in real time.”

–Andre Lavoie, CEO of Clear Company

This is one of the most clear-cut descriptions of what we mean by organizational alignment- as a playbook for your small business.

So, as the ‘coach’ build this playbook and then actively hold the players accountable and aligned?

According to Lavoie, there are four levels of organization alignment:

  1. Employee-role alignment. This step ensures each employee is well aligned with their own role, how it relates to and affects the overall goals of the business and what is expected of them. The best place to focus on here is in HR- make sure job descriptions are accurate and that new hires of the best fit for the job by engaging in skills testing, not simply the typical interview Q&A.
  2. Employee-goal alignment. As manager/owner/CEO it is your responsibility to establish goals for each and every employee. You after all, crafted the original mission statement and goals for the business, so you would best know how to align individual goals with that of the overall company. Discuss the goals, create timelines and hold employees accountable with performance checks.
  3. Employee-team alignment. Simply put, the next step is taking everyone and their individual goals, and making sure they understand how they all relate to each other, and the company as a whole. Schedule frequent staff meetings and consider incorporating team goals on top of individual ones.
  4. Employee-organization alignment. Once again, this is the sole responsibility of owners and managers. Make sure that employees see how their goals and intentions directly affect (and align with) those of the company’s mission statement. Think big picture, company-wide goals here.

While this is just one example of how alignment can be attributed, the general idea remains the same. Much like a sports team, there are different relationships and goals that can be achieved, while the overall mission of the organization can still be maintained. Most steps of organization alignment can be accomplished through regular meetings and discussions and the clear directive of goals on the individual, team and company-wide level.

Tips to Being A Better Business Writer

business-writer

 

Writing is writing, no matter the scope. It is of vital importance that your written word (any and all of it) be carefully crafted, professionally presented and grammatically correct.

Let’s start small, yet ubiquitous- the email. Emails go out to clients, employees, investors, vendors, and potentials in all of these categories. For many of these situations, your email may be the initial point of contact, therefore playing the role of first impression.

We don’t need to reiterate the importance of a good first impression, so it makes sense that your emails should ALWAYS be spell-checked, grammatically reviewed and at their core, portray your business’s values, style and look.

Consider having a second pair of eyes on an email of great significance, it can’t hurt to be edited by a peer.

Emails should remain short and to the point- if further discussion is warranted, a phone call or in-person meeting may be necessary. Remember while writing that yours is potentially one of thousands ending up in an inbox. Craft your subject line with care.

With any and all forms of business writing, you could consider working up a brief outline before writing. Get the general ideas on paper, highlight their importance, structure them in an order that makes for fluid reading and then tackle the actual writing.

Cut, then cut down again. Often your first version will be juiced up with extra (likely unnecessary) words. Edit and then edit again, take a break between reads to return with a fresh outlook. Once again, turn to peers if possible.

Often business owners utilize buzzy words, industry jargon or farcified language to attempt to sound more knowledge. Just as often, these attempts do the opposite and highlight your lack of writing skills.

Sticks to what you know- keep in mind that you may eventually meet with the reader of your written works and would rather appear impressive, rather than a

disappointment.

Practice makes perfect, drafts are vital and reading your work out loud are always pretty commonly used tactics for writing improvement.

Another common mistake is the misuse of fact vs. opinion. Consider your audience and cater your message directly, concisely and with careful consideration of the difference between fact and opinion. This is most important when curating newsletter content, blogs and anything that will reach a wider and more diverse audience.

BLURB:

Crisis Management in three simple tips.

It’s inevitable- there will come a day where a small (or big!) crisis affects your business. Whether it be internal or external there are three things as the leader that you should remember: maintain a level head, draw up a step-by-step plan of action, and consider asking for help whenever possible- this is one of those times that delegation is vital.