Sunday, May 31, 2009

Reinventing Ourselves

How often I have remarked that I really did learn everything I needed to know at home and in kindergarten:
1. Love your brother and neighbor
2. Treat others as you want to be treated
3. Cut and paste is as relevant to business as it is to arts and crafts

As we think about reinventing ourselves I’m going to focus on seven aspects of our lives, seven H’s: Head, Heart, Hands, Health, Humor, History and Home.

Head – What else do you need to know in order to do what you want to do? What stimulates you intellectually? When I wanted a new intellectual challenge I tackled law school. Though I’ve never practiced, I’ve learned invaluably from this educational pursuit. How are you challenging yourself? Understand how you see yourself and how others see you. You can use an instrument as formal as 360 feedback document. You can use a method as simple as asking valued friends.

Learn to accept the things about you that you can’t change. I have finally accepted the fact that I will never be tall. Learn to accept the things around you that you can’t change. Accept that you can only change yourself and the way you respond to others. You can’t change anyone else.

Learn from everyone you meet. Cab drivers and CEOs both have fascinating stories and lessons to share.

Think of three things you know how to do well.

Heart – What are your passions? How are you pursuing them? What did you enjoy doing as a child? Family, friends, faith and my community have my heart. There will never be enough time or money to successfully address the many needs in our community. Prioritizing those areas that touch your heart will allow you to have the biggest impact. Think of three things you love.

Hands – What are you going to do to make a difference in the lives of others? How are you reaching out to others? Who can help you? Who can you help? You cannot do it all! I’ve realized that children’s issues, education and Houston are causes that I relate best to so I’ve committed time, money and energy for them. Think of three people in whose lives you’ve made a difference.

Health – An ounce of prevention truly is worth a pound of cure. Mental, physical and spiritual health is important to well-being. Make time for yourself every day. I, too, am and working wife, mother and community volunteer.. Light a candle. Pray or meditate on your way to work. Read a book on the exercise bike (multi-tasking at its best!) I like to make each moment count at least twice.

Set realistic objectives rather than impossible dreams. I will never be an opera singer, but it is realistic that I could join a chorus of Happy Birthday with others. Simple goals – I set mine to read 12 books the first year and was able to read 25.

Think of three things you’d like to change or do better.

Humor – Can you laugh at yourself? Do you laugh often? I have gotten laryngitis several times and my laugh is what my co-workers ay they miss most. Laugh at least three times per day!

History – What have you done? How do you wish to be remembered? I want most to be remembered as a loving person of impeccable character who gave it her best and made a difference. Think of three things you are proud of.

Home – Is your home your haven? Are you enjoying your possessions? I always have my cocktails in a Baccarat glass with a pressed linen napkin, whether or not we have guests. Think of three things you love most about your home.

What would you like to change? In 3 weeks, you can form a new habit.

I’ll leave you with these final three thoughts:
Appreciate the little things – the many colors of green in the foliage on the way to work

Adopt an Attitude of gratitude – appreciation for a job well done or simple acts of kindness.

Expect good things – and they will happen

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Lessons Learned from Hurricane Ike

Hurricane Ike caused enormous loss and disruption to the Texas Gulf Coast and our residents. A natural disaster of this magnitude reminds us of the many things we take for granted under normal circumstances. And as is the case with many adversities, there are lessons learned:

I cannot control everything
• I can lead, plan and execute - Leadership, compassion and ethics are crucial
• Some things are beyond my control – weather patterns, customer priorities, customer whims
• I must control the things I can- work ethic, not putting all my eggs in one basket, viewing things through a customer lens to achieve win-win solutions, looking for alternate solutions

No matter how ferocious, the storm will end
• In the midst of the hurricane or business crisis, this is not always evident.
• As soon as the storm is over, express gratitude.
• Begin recovery as soon as practical.

We are all in this together
• Teamwork is a part of most company’s stated or implied values and is essential even in a sole proprietorship.
• The necessity of teamwork is clearly evident as Houston recovers from the ravages of Ike – family, friends, neighbors, local, state and federal governments, critical businesses – grocery stores, electric providers, gas stations, banks, debris removers.
• No one can ever have too many friends/contacts.

Plan ahead
• Having a continuity plan can make the difference between quick recovery and lack of survival.
• The plan needs to be thorough and implementable. A week’s worth of provisions seems excessive until most of the area is without power.
• Work the plan. Now is not the time to write a new plan on the fly.
• It is critical however, to make necessary modifications. No plan can proceed without modifications regardless of how good it is.

Priorities change
• Maslow’s hierarchy of needs became crystal clear when water, ice, food and fuel were the most important items
• As your business grows and your clients’ needs change you will need to change -Flexibility is essential

Everyone needs something
• Sometimes the needs are basic and sometimes complex
• Needs and wants must be addressed differently
• Ask open-ended relevant questions
• Know what needs you can meet – offer additional resources for those you can’t

Attitude of gratitude
• Family, Faith and Health are enough
• Focus on what we have
• Life must go on – survivor/thriver attitude

Time is relative and distance matters
• Instantaneous responses that we’ve adopted are not always possible or positive

Everyone has a story – let your customers and friends tell theirs
• Listening is an act of compassion
• Concern, interest and understanding strengthen the relationship

Intensity drives impact
• Storm intensity drove damage
• Productive, focused business intensity drives results
• Power of 1+

Thursday, May 28, 2009

More Tips on How to Recession-Proof Your Business

I was privileged to moderate a panel at the second quarter Sterling Bank Women’s Business Initiative Luncheon in Houston. We had the unique opportunity to hear from three remarkable experts in marketing, public relations, law and finance as they shared tips on “How to Recession-Proof Your Business”.

Our talented panel included:
Carolyn Mayo – Shareholder and President, VOLLMER Public Relations
Wayne Kitchens – Board-Certified Attorney, HughesWattersAskanase
Travis Jaggers – Chief Lending Officer, Sterling Bank

Communication was the unifying theme. The panelists emphasized the importance of communicating frequently and effectively with employees, customers, suppliers, creditors and service providers.

Carolyn Mayo’s terrific advice included:

●Keep Marketing – Tattoo this Message on Your Head
●Network – Stay Visible – Be a Zebra, Not an Ostrich – Sell Your Business and Expertise
●Cultivate Raving Fans – They are Great Referral Sources
●Prioritize Marketing Activities to Your Most Profitable Areas
●Don’t Let Rumors Become Toxic – Communicate!
●Invest Time in Social Media – Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook
●Seek Alliances for Programs, Advertising and Promotions
●Communication Resources Include a Combination of Agencies, Freelancers and In-House Staff
●Take Time to Differentiate Your Business
●Re-evaluate Your Ultimate Goals

Wayne Kitchens shared these excellent tips:

●Don’t Omit Tax Payments – You Can’t Borrow from Uncle Sam or Uncle Rick
●Eliminate Non-Productive Employees
●Act Quickly to Address Problems
●Treat Professional Help as Insurance to Address Accounting, Marketing and Legal Issues
●Ensure Corporate and Legal Documents are Up-to-Date – Flat Fee Option is Available
●Address Cash Flow Problems with Your Banker Immediately – Don’t Create Surprises
●If Accounts Receivables Function is Unsuccessful in Collecting – Step in Executive to Executive
●When You Owe Money – Clearly Communicate What You are Able to Do ●Openly Communicate with Your Attorney – Discussions Receive Attorney Client Privilege
●Negotiate an Engagement Letter with Your Attorney - Billing Increments Vary

Travis Jaggers illuminated that prudent financial steps equate to prudent business practices and offered these helpful suggestions:

●Protect Cash Flow – Cash is King
●Keep Your Best Employees
●Work Effectively with Existing Good Customers
●Good Customers are Those Who Pay Market Rate, In Full, On-Time, All the Time
●Find Ways to Win Your Competitor’s Customers
●Balance Your Focus on Core Business and Diversification
●Provide Outstanding Customer Service
●Cash in a Business Takes Many Forms including People and Inventory – Trace Your Cash
●Analyze Financial Statements MonthlyEvaluate Pricing and Consider Product or Service Bundles to Move Inventory

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dealing with Uncontrollables

What actions tend to rile you?

Child care gone awry
No-show guests
Appointment who arrives or stays late
Cat barf
Never-ending emails and voice mails
Bad attitudes
Uncommunicated expectations

I know you were expecting 10 items, so I stopped at nine – not to rile you, but to jar your expectations.

Much of what irritates us is unmet expectations. We all secretly want to live a fairy tale life, where people do the things we expect them to do. Reality check – Life Happens! While we are expecting our ideal outcome, a different outcome unfolds.

I am the eternal optimist! Life experience has taught me to be very flexible. You, too, need to actively engage in contingency planning. Flexibility is my #1 tip for dealing with uncontrollables.

When your primary child care is unavailable, no doubt, you have a contingency plan. That’s why I listed it first.

I deal weekly with no-show guests. As much as I’d like to believe that all who accept my gracious invitations will actually appear, life experience has taught me that regardless of my attempts to ensure those who say they will attend, a small % will not appear or ever give a reason for their absence. Since I’m a glass half-full person, I know that regardless of my frustration, I will be able to accommodate those whose plans changed at the last minute. The control freak in me would still love to be able to count on those who accept to actually arrive.

The best defense for a tardy or over-zealous guest is a great assistant. If you are not fortunate enough to have an assistant, plan ahead, and ask a coworker to notify you of your next appointment.

If anyone has a remedy for cat barf, I am all ears. My dear cats tend to have dyspepsia most often when I am most pressed to attend an early morning meeting. I need to practice my own advice – allot 10 extra minutes into your morning routine to account for cat barf, spilled milk, missing buttons and school permission slips.

Emails and voice mails are as prolific as blog authors. Allocate a defined amount of time to respond to each communication. Even unsolicited personal communications, except for unknown email addresses including only an attachment or obvious spam, generally deserve some response. We never know who will be friends, clients or referral sources.

I learned long ago that the only attitude that I can control is my own. I’m a glass (more) than half-full girl. This helps me deal with bad attitudes, line-breakers and bad traffic. We never know what issues another person is dealing with. A Methodist minister who delivered the baccalaureate address for my daughter’s high school graduation provided an anecdote that sticks with me. He described driving super slowly from his church to home in order not to spill overfull pans of lasagna. As a result of his story, when people do irritating things I try to imagine that their motives are admirable, rather than designed to make me crazy. After, all, people generally are focused on their own motivations. It is self-centered for us to think that other people are acting with us in mind.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate! None of us are true mind-readers. Many of our disappointments occur when we have not voiced our expectations to others.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Contacts to Contracts

Who wouldn’t want to develop a relationship with someone who consistently demonstrates these characteristics?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Creating and Cultivating Connections

Think for a moment about the individuals you can’t wait to spend time with. It makes you smile doesn’t it? You’ve probably quickly made a mental list of family members, friends, clients, and neighbors who energize you.

From that list, focus on one client or business colleague. What makes that person stand out? Intellect? Wit? Stories? Experience? Advice?

What do they do to make you feel special? Each of them does something. What do you do to make others feel special? The key to creating and cultivating connections is making the other person feel special. Be passionate, creative, responsive, and likeable.

Develop a succinct, savvy and sterling introduction that makes you memorable to those you meet and shows what you can offer in a relationship. I’ve used, “I invite you to join my circle of successful business owners in gaining the financial tools and sterling advice to keep them growing.”

One key is to embrace the 2:1 Ratio (use your 2 Ears twice as often as your 1 Mouth). Ask questions and listen intently to the responses.

Business development is about connecting people with opportunities – creating and cultivating connections. Who do you know? Who do you want to know? Who knows the person you’d like to meet? You must give before you can expect to receive. Relationships require continual nurturing to remain healthy, productive and mutually beneficial. Leveraging your network effectively can yield a lifetime of win-win connections.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

How to Recession-Proof Your Business

I recently had the opportunity to moderate a Sterling Bank Women’s Business Initiative luncheon in San Antonio, How to Recession-Proof Your Business, featuring a remarkable panel:

●Beth Smith, Attorney, Law Offices of Elizabeth Smith

●Cat Wilson, CEO, President and Executive Creative Director, RegnierValdez

●Travis Jaggers, Chief Lending Officer, Sterling Bank

They began and ended with the advice to market your business. Here are highlights of their most valuable tips.

Cat Wilson motivated attendees to:
●Continue Marketing
●Ensure Consistency and Professionalism in Daily Communications
●Differentiate Your Messaging from Your Competitors
●Treat Your Staff Well and Train Them as Enthusiastic Ambassadors
●Dig Deeper with Existing Clients and Ask Them for Referrals
●Invest in Social Media
●Get Involved in Your Community

Beth Smith reminded us to:
●Always Put Agreements in Writing
●Research the Value of Assets to Avoid Fraudulent Transfers
●Avoid Conflicts of Interest with Clients
●Be Savvy about Collections to Avoid Preferential Transfers
●Exercise the Golden Rule in Both Sides of Account Receivables
●Be Aware that Personal Guarantees Make You Responsible for Debts
●Communicate with Respect and Flexibility with Creditors

Travis Jaggers shared that prudent financial steps are guided by effective business execution including:
●Protecting Cash Flow
●Retaining and Rewarding Your Best Employees
●Keeping Existing Customers and Finding New Ones
●Not Allowing Diversification to Erode Core Competency
●Providing Outstanding Customer Service
●Marketing Your Business