Monday, August 22, 2016

Keep it to Your Shelf: Opinions and Business

“Don't have any opinions. They're bad for business.”
                                     -Jerome Lawrence,
Inherit the Wind

Opinions and Business

There’s a saying that says, “opinions are like armpits: everyone’s got ‘em, and they all stink.” In a way, this is very accurate.

I had a friend who had a subscription to Angie’s List, which is a website that allows users to find specialists in all sorts of fields, from babysitters to plumbers to handymen, etc. He was a loyal customer for several years, until Angie’s List decided to take a stance on some political issues, including threatening to move their corporate offices out of state. My friend immediately canceled his account, citing that a company like Angie’s List had no business getting involved in politics.

Now, many companies issue statements and endorsements for political issues and candidates, so why was Angie’s List’s stance (which was covered by media outlets extensively) such an issue?

Well, it boils down to a failure by Angie’s List to properly communicate their company values. If Chick Fil-A had taken a political stance, it would not come as a surprise, as they are a Christian value-based company, and they align themselves with the Conservative movement. Hobby Lobby and Home Depot are others that have made public statements that have only alienated the few people who were not familiar with their company values.

There are instances when you, as the business owner, may make statements on behalf of your company, and those statements may be controversial, because the opinion is either not aligned with your company values or it is not addressed in that list of values. For example, your opinion may be that people who drink coffee are just as bad as people who smoke crack cocaine. This is a pretty controversial stance, and it can certainly alienate much of the world’s population. Even if you clarify that this is your opinion and not the company’s, the damage may have already been done.

So how can you avoid your opinions being meshed with those of the company? It all boils down to context. Barring concerns of mixing up your personal opinions and those of the company, your personal life should be completely separate from your company. What this means is that your personal email address should be different from your company’s; so should your social media accounts; If you are at work, in uniform, or speaking to clients, suppliers, etc., then you should act just like any other employee of the company. And this is true if you and your employees are in uniform even OUTSIDE of work.

Remember that if your goal is to simply have your company be your job, like many landscapers or doctors, lawyers, writers, etc., then it’s ok to have your accounts and statements be intertwined with those of your company. But if your goal is to be a true entrepreneur, and you hope to grow your business into a large corporation, you need to act like it from the go. Think of your company as a politician running for office; you will have a stance on issues that align with your values, but anything that can cost you the election should be off limits in conversation or other communications.

If you have any comments, questions, or want to lay all your controversial opinions on me as a way to vent (I promise not to share them with anyone else), please leave a comment or email me at

Monday, August 8, 2016

Value Meals and Company Values

“Values are like fingerprints. Nobody’s are the same, but you leave them all over everything you do.”
-Elvis Presley

Define Your Company values

Recently I was driving around with my family on a Sunday, on our way to the park, when we thought, “Hey, we’ve never eaten at Chick Fil-A; why don’t we grab food there to take to the park?”
Unfortunately for us, Chick Fil-A doesn’t open on Sundays – they never have, and probably never will. This is part of their company values, much like southern supermarket chain Publix closes every major holiday (like Thanksgiving) to give their employees time to spend with their families – all at the expense of their own bottom line.  

Now, if you’ve been reading my blog, you know I’m a huge proponent of fattening the bottom line as a sign of success in business; however, I am also a big proponent of ensuring your company is not a robotic profit machine. In the end, it is humans who keep the company alive, and humans who can end its run. So, a company must have clearly defined values that will aid it in times of controversy, times of financial famine, and times of crisis. These values can serve as a company’s competitive advantage (which we’ll discuss in more detail in a future post).

I recently tried to rent a car at an airport and ran into a very common occurrence – the rep who was checking me into the car tried to scare me into buying the supplemental insurance. I’ve worked in the rental car industry before, so I know how this works, and as a test I told the girl “just give me the basic insurance.”

What many people don’t know about the rental car industry is that there are usually three insurance products offered, but most people will really only benefit from one – the damage waiver, or collision damage waiver. The other two are usually liability protection (which most people already have with $0 deductible through their own insurance), and personal injury protection. However, when a customer says “I’d like the basic insurance”, many of the reps, being hungry sales people, have turned semantics into a cash cow. You see, “basic insurance” to one person may mean “Damage Waiver and Injury Protection”, while to another it may mean “just Damage Waiver”.

This girl tried to slam me with both Damage Waiver and Personal Injury Protection. I called their corporate office later to report the behavior, and they assured me they would address the issue. However, I know their reply to me was simply a formality, as it is part of their company culture to try to maximize profitability from every rental, at any cost.

So why should this matter to you or your company? As in the case of the rental car company, many businesses turn a blind eye to behaviors from their employees – at every level, from front-line to upper management employees – and the behavior becomes one of the values of the company, albeit an unofficial one. If this happens within your company, customers and the public will judge you and your conglomerate by this behavior. This is not a good thing, because a customer who feels they have no choice but to “grin and bear” the circumstances they see as unscrupulous will jump ship and swim to the competition as soon as the competition’s engine is within earshot.

Now - what if your employees can name McDonald’s Value Meals quicker than they can name your company values? What can you do to define your values and ensure your employees abide by them? 

  • First, your company needs to create a list of values. This list must be easy to read and understand, and it must be prominently displayed so all employees can see it at all times.

  • Your values must be enforced. Punishment is never as effective as positive or negative reinforcement, so instead, try to reward employees who live by these values. Whether it is monthly with honorable mentions via mass email or in a newsletter, or even daily with a program like Kudos Points (, these rewards serve to reinforce what your company feels is appropriate behavior.

  • Do not waver. Like Chick Fil-A, sticking to your values, even if it means fewer profits, will eventually translate into more success. Chick Fil-A has received a lot of publicity as a result of their Sunday policy, as well as their religious agenda, and it has actually helped the company grow. This is not to mean that you should inject your religious beliefs into your company, but rather create an environment and value system, and even a company culture that customers become familiar with, so that even if you sell your company or go public, the new leadership will not want to change these values, because they would be synonymous with your brand.

  • Make sure your employees know your company values. The easiest way to determine this? Ask your employees If they know them. If not, it’s time to make it a point to instill these values or reiterate them more frequently.

  • Make sure management understands and enforces your company values. If the preacher doesn’t follow his own gospel, then why should the parishioners?

With these five simple steps, your company should have a very solid base of values by which it operates. Companies that do not have a strong set of values usually pay the price in the end, whether it be because of lawsuits for unscrupulous behavior by employees or management, or simply by a loss of business from customers or clients. Values are the soul of a company, and just like a human can’t function in society without a soul, neither can a company.

If you have any comments, questions, or want some guidance with your values because you’re unscrupulicious, please leave a comment or email me at

Monday, July 25, 2016

6 Tips - Sell Anybody Anything!

“[Stories] are very engaging… people go into… story mode, we get out of judgment.”
                                                                                                                                -Eben Pagan

How to Sell Anybody Anything

So there was this little girl who was born with a very unusual condition.  She was a type of albino that was practically allergic to the sun. This was a horrible condition for her, because she could never see the light of day, watch a sunset, or leave the house because it was a risk to her very existence. Can you imagine? Being locked up in a room all day, every day, without even being able to look outside your window. 

The curious thing about this particular condition, though, is that the poor girl didn’t just have a danger of meeting her demise if she stepped out into the sun; there were concerns about her going through puberty, because the female body requires so many nutrients, especially calcium, to properly develop. The problem with calcium, is that it needs vitamin D so that the body can absorb it. For most people, the body synthesizes vitamin D naturally with regular exposure to the sun, so most people don’t need additional supplementation. This girl, however, did.

But, there was another problem. Vitamin D is fat soluble. This meant that this little girl had to consume very fattening foods just to be able to get the vitamin D and, eventually, the calcium her body needed. She was at an age where, even if you’re not able to leave the house, body image is everything. And, being stuck in the house meant she watched a lot of TV and had very few human interactions, so her idea of what her body should look like was completely fabricated by mass media marketing. She did not want to get fat, and she couldn’t really exercise properly to burn off all the fat she needed to consume.

What a conundrum!

Luckily, most of us don’t have this issue. Scientists say that it’s worse for a person to never get any sun at all than to get too much sun. Of course, you don’t want to get too much because of the increased chances of skin cancer if you burn.  So the trick is to build and maintain a decent tan, just like you would maintain a proper weight by exercising regularly and eating right without overdoing it. The fact is, you can’t build a tan in one day (unless you spray tan), just like you can’t get in shape by going to the gym once.

This story is the secret to how I sold indoor tanning in the Sunshine State – and I never lied to anybody. I was also a responsible tanning salon owner in that I never allowed anyone to over-tan. I researched skin types and what proper exposure times would be. Sometimes that meant the person could only tan for 1-2 minutes, which is not what people are used to, but it really helped build credibility and trust with clients. I even had celebrities tan at my place.
So how can you sell bags of sand at a beach? Here are the top 6 things to ALWAYS keep in mind when trying to sell:
11.      Don’t ever try to sell anything. The Japanese have a thing called uwe, which means “trying not to try”. The single-worst thing you can try to do when trying to sell something, is to try and sell it to the person. Think of when you enter a department store and the sales associate approaches you. Most people’s reflex response is, “I’m just browsing.”

22.       Tell it as a story. The quote from Eben Pagan at the top of this post says it exactly like it is; if you start with a story, it’s easy to move in for the kill. Like my story of the little girl with the extreme form of photosensitivity, stories help people get their guard down so you can insert your pitch without the buyer ever noticing. Did you spot it in my story above?

There was a lady at a department store one time who overheard my conversation with my brother as we tried to decide whether to buy an LCD or LED TV. Although she but into our conversation, we didn’t mind it because she opened with this: “Oh, my God. My husband had friends over for the Big Game last year and they were having the usual: chips, pizza, beer. One of his friends jumped up to do a dance when the other team scored, and tripped, knocking our LCD TV off the wall. The screen looked like there’d been an oil spill inside half of it, and it couldn’t be fixed. Definitely get LED.”

Turns out this lady was the sales rep at the store. We had no idea until we thanked her for the vital info and she introduced herself. Had she walked up and asked if we needed help, we probably would have told her we were just browsing. Instead, she got two very grateful, loyal customers who returned a month later to buy a laptop from her.

33.      Simplicity is your friend. Don’t overwhelm your client with too much unnecessary information. In the tanning story above, I gave plenty of scientific fact without overwhelming the person. Notice that I didn’t describe the different machines and which was better than the other, etc. That information can be given if the customer asks, but you would be the expert based on your conversation and assessment of the client’s wants and needs.

44.     Don’t give the customer too many options.  Have a conversation. Ask about the kids. Ask about their likes and dislikes. Then ask what their goals are for that bachelorette party. You can decide which two or three options you’ll give the client and say something like, “Based on what you’ve told me, I would recommend either the life-size Spider Man statue or the Batman costume.”

55.     Know thy audience. Although you may be an expert botanist, if an old man walks into your flower shop looking for a beautiful bouquet for his wife on their 60th anniversary, find the two options and explain why you presented them. This bouquet is nice and bright, to celebrate such a joyous occasion; this bouquet has five shades of blue because you said that’s Ethel’s favorite color (you said even her hair is blue!). Do not tell this guy the names of all the flowers in bouquet and the difference between a Sunflower and a Black-eyed Susan.

Now, if the guy says he worked on gardens all his life, or has a green thumb, maybe mentioning these details would help build rapport with him. You may even be able to tell him about your “flower of the month” club, and get an upsell in this way. But remember people are all different, so because it interests you, it may not necessarily interest them.

66.     Assume the sale. There’s  a comedy prank show where one of the hosts was challenged to rub sun block on an unsuspecting beach-goer. The host simply went in behind the man and his first words were, “you know, they say the moon landing was fake,” and he was able to rub sunblock on the guy’s forehead, and even order daiquiris.  Hilarity aside, the confidence of the approach made the whole thing possible.

Remember, though, assuming the sale (and the old “ABC – Always Be Closing”) doesn’t contradict point #1 above. What it means is that you would’ve built such good rapport during your interaction and through you Shakespearean-style storytelling that it wouldn’t be a question whether the bachelorettes are going to buy something at your novelty store or not – it’s a question of Batman versus Spider Man, or maybe you’ve told them the story so well that it’s without question going to be a team-up!

If you have any comments, questions, or would like me to send you a list of resources that can help you sell a dog to the cat lady across the street, please leave a comment or email me at

Monday, July 11, 2016

Put Your Hands on my Baby!

“You don’t have success unless you take someone with you.”
-Napoleon Hill                          

Learn to Trust the Experts

Although the quote above may have you think this post will contradict my previous post, it really won’t. I’ll start as usual: with a story. 

Many years ago, I had a friend who opened a women’s gym in a relatively small town. He had moderate success, even though he would never become wealthy running just one gym. He later admitted that he’d opened the gym to try and meet beautiful women (which is just as stupid a reason as you can imagine for going into business). Anyway, he wanted to cut costs as much as possible, and taught all the classes, and he handled all of the departments in the gym, like Accounting, Inventory, Legal, etc.

I’m sure you probably already know where I’m going with this, and you may think that you would not commit these mistakes yourself, but sometimes the reality of running a small business is that you have to wear all the hats if you can’t afford to have someone else wear them.  In a bout of desperation, you may choose to go the cheap way and do everything yourself. Avoid the temptation!

The first thing to ask yourself if faced with this issue of having to do everything yourself is, did I plan for this in my business plan? If your answer is no, then you need to go back and spend several hours or days researching and planning for this event. This is not easy, as your mind and ego (we all have them!) will try and convince you that you can do it, no sweat. Take the time to research the position you’re planning to take on – what responsibilities and skills will be needed.

A good method of getting quick answers for this is to look on job boards. So, for example, if you’re planning on handling your own accounting, look on accounting job boards and find out what you need to know for the position. Learn about SAP, AP, AR, Payroll, Taxes, etc. After you’ve researched these things, honestly ask yourself if you’d feel comfortable going on an interview for one of those positions you saw online. If your answer is no, or you have a doubt as to whether you could answer any questions the employer would ask you, then you’re not ready to handle that skill.

The second thing you’ll need to do is ask yourself if you have enough time to handle all the tasks. My women’s gym friend was teaching aerobics, cardio kickboxing, basic yoga, and doing personal training, and he also had to handle inventory, accounting, cleaning, legal, marketing, management, reports and general clerical (contracts!), as well as IT and maintenance for the equipment. 

Realistically, he couldn’t handle all of that by himself in a 24-hour day without doing a crappy job.
Finally, you need accept the reality of your situation and suck it up. Some of the skilled jobs need to be handled by someone else. The easy stuff, like cleaning, you’ll need to do yourself. That’s easy. But if you’re not a natural manager, or an accountant, or you don’t know all the laws in your municipality (city, county, state, etc.), hire someone to do it. And it’s extremely important to remember to let go and trust your people, always. Don’t hire someone if you’re going to micromanage them, because that would completely defeat the purpose, and it will take up more of your time than if you had done the work yourself.

If you have any comments, questions, or would like me to send you a list of resources that can help you decide on who and how to hire someone to perform a specific function of your business, please leave a comment or email me at