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Business | Mary Biever | One Writing Mother
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Think Like a Business Owner

After being half of a mom and pop family business for the past 13 years, I’ve realized that my owning a business impacts my perspective in  my teaching, volunteer efforts, speaking, and writing.  The mindset required to keep a small business viable, to meet new challenges each year, means that I recognize going with the status quo is no longer a recipe for survival.

How do you think like a business owner prepared to meet new challenges?

  • Listen and watch the world around you. As times change, you must understand what is happening. Then you’ll better predict future trends.
  • Adjust for changes. Last year’s solution may not solve this year’s problems. Be willing to approach challenges from new angles for success.
  • Raise the bar. Don’t accept mediocre service or results. With each project, always be on watch to continuously improve the process and your product. When we decide we no longer have room for improvement, we might as well put the seal of failure on our business ventures.
  • Build your dream team. Surround yourself with people focused on successful outcomes. Avoid those who live for drama or advocate mediocrity.
  • Have fun. Attitude is everything. The more you enjoy what you do, the better job you will do.
  • Refuse to settle. Don’t settle for lower standards and a “good enough” mentality. You can always do better.
  • Remember profit and cash flow. Businesses will not survive if they lose money. When a business is having problems with profit and cash flow, it’s time to change the business model and/or marketing mix.
  • Give back but don’t give everything. Give back to the community and to the causes you care about. Of course you’ll give to your clients as well. At the same time, remember that profit is not a 4-letter word. Sometimes making sure your business generates a profit means you will have more flexibility to help other people.

I wouldn’t trade the adventure of entrepreneurship for anything. But I never realized, when we started on this path, how it would change my whole life.



Knowing Good People at Good Companies

“I know people,” is one of my standard lines, especially when I explain to my children how I sometimes get things done quickly.

What I should say is, “I know good people,” or “I know good people at great companies.”

Sometimes, with some companies, you have to know the right person to get something done. If I know the right person, at the right company, the waves seem to part on the company’s Dead Sea of Inefficiency, and things still happen.

Sometimes, with a few companies, it’s different. Everyone is on the same page, and the whole team understands what customer service is.

I just had one of those good experiences with Mills Body Shop in Evansville. While my car was parked in a parking lot two weeks ago, it was hit by a distracted driver. Working through the other guy’s insurance company was a less than positive experience. I had to call repeatedly for three days before finally talking to someone besides voicemail. It took two days to get repairs approved once I spoke to him. And then, when I arranged for a rental car, he barked at me that I booked the repairs starting on a Wednesday instead of a Monday.

Those are not stresses that any customer, but particularly one who is recovering from a heart attack, should have to handle. The good news is that after a week, the other company approved the repairs. Originally, the out-of-state insurance claim representative tried to send me to a body shop I had never heard of. I refused and told him that my car had to be serviced at Mills.

But there was a brighter light in this bad experience – Mills Body Shop. Yes, I know the owner. But I don’t have to name drop. As I worked with two different offices, each of his employees treated me with courtesy, compassion, and competence. They kept their word, got things done on time, and cheerfully went out of their way to treat me with kindness and respect.

You know a business owner has succeeded when you know him, but you know you won’t have to name drop because he has built his company to follow a high standard of customer service. That’s a sign of a company you can trust.

Thanks, Don.

Ode to My Binders

My friends say that if they want to give me a gift I will truly love, they will gift wrap a new binder. They know that I nearly swoon in ecstasy at the smell of opening a new box of sheet covers to use with that binder. Add to that the rush of discovering a new type of section divider. Yes, I love my organizational tools.

OneNote, the Office version of a binder, also gives me thrills because I can attach my files, create subsections, and color code while having plenty of room to brainstorm. I don’t have the sensory thrill of hearing and smelling a binder in creation, but I can attach my spreadsheets, which offer an entirely different thrill; filters and sorts in Excel offer their own excitement.

The key to effectively organizing a binder isn’t to simply put it together in an easy to retrieve manner. It’s to use what’s in the binder in the most effective manner possible.

Once upon a bad time in our business and family lives, I filled our home with those binders. Our home and business burned, and it was my job to organize the claim. My file bucket, binders, and database were my best friends for the three years I worked through not only our rebuilding but our replacement of what we owned and submission of our insurance claim.

As the mother of teens in college search and scholarship mode, I filled binders full of my children’s information. Those binders include their best school work, their 4-H achievement records, and more. It’s easier to apply for scholarships with good documentation of past activities and achievements.

Those binders helped my daughter and me last year as she applied to several colleges and completed at least 73 scholarship applications. We were fortunate, and her hard work paid off – with a little help from organized binders.

So I guess you could say I worked to fit my daughter into binders. And I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Next year, I will again begin the scholarship and college quest with my son.

I’m perfectly fine with the fact that binders are the current scapegoat for jokes.  Keep it up. If the day comes that you get tired of joking about fitting people into binders, I have a suggestion:

Go after checklists. Surely there are jokes to make about them too.

While some laugh at my tools, I’ll keep building my binders and savoring the rustle of sheet covers when a binder is compiled, completed, and put to good use.

Delegation and Inspiration

Once, Maggie Thatcher was asked how she accomplished so much. She answered that she hadn’t worried much about the bath towels or how they were folded.

If you are going to succeed as a leader – or a manager – the first key to success is finding a good team. The second key is to delegate tasks well, to fit the best person to each task at hand. Finally, the third key is to inspire those you work with to put forth the best effort possible.

I have managed and led teams where those I work with know more about what’s to be done than I do. I prefer working with experts in their field. So long as I know the basics, I can rely upon their expert judgment and trust that they will exceed any expectations.

It’s not leadership with a carrot or with the stick. Instead it’s leadership taught by working together. Where I back off, don’t micromanage, and trust the pros to be the best pros possible.

It means my job isn’t to order them. My job is to provide them with the tools, the information, and the opportunities to succeed.

Sometimes, they will do things differently than I would. They focus on their details, and I’ll focus on mine – the organizational and background paperwork that keeps all of us going.

If I hammer down their initiative, disparage their risk taking, or discourage them from trying new solutions, then I have destroyed over half the potential of my team. Instead, the critical element is to recognize their worth, thank their initiative, and show them how much they are needed.

Our success lies in tapping into their genius and passion to make great things happen.

When I find the right people, give them the best tools, and back off so they can do what they do best, they always impress me.

You Can Give a Carpenter Tools, But You Can’t Make Him Build…

Management 101 – the first key to successfully motivating other people. Having the right tools is vital to successfully completing any task.

Sometimes, we forget the most important tool – before the ones we actually touch – is preparation of the heart. If I hire a carpenter to do a job, I can organize and plan all the correct materials and tools and still have a job that fails. The first step is to tell the carpenter some simple statements some call cream and sugar fluff:

  • I believe in you.
  • You have what it takes to succeed.
  • If you put your whole heart and mind into this job, you will not only succeed but surpass expectations.

Once we remind someone that having the faith of a mustard seed can sometimes move mountains, we need to prepare ourselves to see mountains moved.

Once the faith is there, then our job in empowering others is to give them whatever tools and information they need to complete the task at hand.

If we forget the first step, we will soon learn that you can give a carpenter tools, but you can’t make him build.

Customer Service Gone Good

Today I enjoyed one of those too-good-to-be-true customer service moments, receiving help from Meredith, a young cashier in the Evansville, Indiana, J.C. Penney store.

It started out as a potential sour note on a shopping marathon with my daughter.  She had found a dress there the day before, and we had returned to buy it. When we went to where the dress had hung the evening before, it was gone, as were all the others. We asked a clerk where they were, and she said they had been taken upstairs to be shipped out because no one had bought them.

To put a setting on this, I had been shopping on a hot holiday weekend, and this was store #5 that we had ventured into. I was ready to eat and go home. So I snapped, “Well can’t we get one of them before they are shipped out?” The clerk told us to go find a manager as it wasn’t her job.

To put another setting on this: my daughter and I agreed the dress would work well. When mothers and teen daughters can agree on a purchase, it’s a milestone, and I hated to miss this opportunity. I went to a cashier’s station and explained my predicament. Meredith, the clerk, immediately paged a manager and began to help us.  We showed her a picture of the dress and its size. She went to find it in the upstairs stock room.

As she searched for the dress, I listened to a lecture from my daughter that the first clerk was just doing her job and I should be more patient. When Meredith returned, she told us the dresses weren’t there.

But she didn’t stop there. She apologized and asked us to follow her while she checked two additional stock areas. The dress wasn’t in the first stock area. It was in the last one, in her size, ready to buy.

Meredith was gracious and pleasant and turned this tired, hungry, and irritated mother into one very impressed customer. It took about 10-15 minutes of her time, and she may never know just how much I appreciate her help.

We live in an era when customer service is sometimes just “good enough.” Meredith instead shot for a standard of excellence.

Penney’s – if anyone in your store reads this – you need to commend Meredith, tell her thanks, and keep an eye on her. She’s a keeper.

Facebook and Fish – If It Smells Bad, Don’t Eat It

Imagine a new kind of fish is being offered on a menu with a grand opening. But as you get closer to the fish, it has an “ick” factor to its smell. “Do I really want to eat that?”

“Chance of a lifetime – everyone says this will be great,” those around you tell you.

But it stinks.

“It will be in short supply – those who buy early will be sure to get some. Everyone else will pay more for it later.”

When I get a whiff of it, the hairs on the back of my neck curl.

So do you go with your gut instinct or follow the crowd? That’s what I was thinking last week before the Facebook IPO.

I had no inside knowledge of over-valuation. But as a professional who helps multiple businesses with their Facebook presence, I had a gut feeling Facebook was desperately trying to boost its profitability. The ads got creepier and more obtrusive. Something didn’t feel right.

Yet, at a lunch meeting, an “expert” was raving about the opportunities of the IPO. I told him, “I’m not buying. It doesn’t smell right.”

Those sitting with him stared at me as if I were an Amish Luddite who couldn’t tell a good thing when she saw it.

I will not say I told you so. But I will say I won’t invest in companies when the CEO shows up for business meetings in a bathrobe. If he can’t be bothered, why should I buy?

I still believe in the public relations/reputation management/community building possibilities of Facebook. It can play a great role in top of mind marketing for businesses and can be a means by which they offer additional value to their customer base.

However, I hope Zuckerberg doesn’t throw the Face out with the Stockbook in his quest to generate profits. If he does, he will wipe the Face off the Book.

It all goes back to lessons learned looking at the meat counter:

  • If it smells bad, don’t buy it. And don’t eat it.
  • If it’s sprinkled with lots of spices, the higher price and fancy gourmet name might just be fancy window dressing to hide the fact that the slice of meat is a little grey around the edges and can’t be sold otherwise on its own merits.

Trust your gut.

Avoid the His Fault Her Fault Hot Potato Business Trap

Though we play the game hot potato as children, we must beware not to participate in the adult business version: His Fault Her Fault.

What is His Fault Her Fault Hot Potato? It’s when a mistake is made in business, and we all toss the blame to other members of our team, calling out “His fault,” “Her fault,” until finally someone catches it and is forced to say “My fault.” At best, the game is detrimental to team morale. At worst, the game is played in front of clients, with each player throwing everyone else under the bus until a business is destroyed.

A smarter approach is to just say “my fault” for our own mistakes and not contributing to the blame game death spiral. Then we focus on learning what we can from the mistake, fixing the process, and improving what we deliver to our clients.

The challenge is His Fault Her Fault Hot Potato is deadly hypnotizing, and those who play it sometimes become so fixated on assigning blame that they forget to do their real jobs.

And while they are tossing the red hot blame, their competitor’s team chose not to throw each other under the bus but instead to climb aboard, develop a plan for their journey, and drive off to new opportunities.

Are you on the bus driving to the future? Or are you left behind, playing a no-win game of His Fault Her Fault Hot Potato?

Dressing Room Dangers – a Warning for Women

This is for all women: be on your guard the next time you try on clothes in a store’s dressing room. You need to be prepared to protect your privacy. Last week, I had a terrible shopping experience; not only did the store fail to have procedures in place to protect women from predators but the first step of the legal system failed as well.

Last week, I was shopping with a friend when she went into a dressing room to try on clothes. As soon as she went into her dressing room, a couple walked out of the dressing room beside her: a female and her boyfriend, who was about 6 foot 6 inches tall. He was so tall that he could see over all the women’s dressing room doors and was looking for a show. Because he was so big, I immediately went to find help and told the first cashier I found.

“There’s a tall peeping Tom going through the women’s dressing room.”

The cashier and I returned and could not find him. Then he walked out of the dressing room with his girlfriend again, again getting a peep show as he left (my friend could see him walk by). I called to the cashier and pointed him out. She approached him and walked away with him.

I then stood guard at the dressing rooms, waiting for my friend to exit.  She found clothes to buy. As she checked out, I asked the cashier (different from the first one) to call the store manager. I wanted to know what had happened to the peeping pervert. The manager knew nothing of it. My new cashier, as I described the peeper, commented he had just left the store with his friend. I got angry and asked about the store’s procedures to protect women’s privacy, and I asked about security tapes. The cashier I originally approached came up and said she had just told the guy he couldn’t be in the dressing rooms.  The store cashier deliberately let the peeping Tom get away.

The store’s manager was patronizing. I gave my phone number and asked for a follow up report. A week later, I have heard nothing. I emailed the national website and have heard nothing. I called their complaint number (buried on the website and they nearly didn’t want to talk to me) and have heard nothing. When I wrote on the national chain’s Facebook wall, they responded in 2 hours and apologized.

The story gets worse. We then went to shop at another nearby store and saw the peeping pervert with his girlfriend going in. I took down his car and plates, and we called 911. I spoke with a police officer. He pulled the guy’s record and said he had no priors. We were given a choice of having him arrested so he might be charged with a misdemeanor. The police officer said if we did not he would talk to the guy when he left the store.  We opted for the talking to and assumed the police report would be a beginning record of incidents if this guy repeated them later. We erred on the side of mercy.

When I called police records the next day, I learned that the officer did not file a police report. All there is is a run report. Our legal options are limited.

Then I learned that other dress stores in our area have an increased problem with couples going into dressing rooms to play show and tell. Had I known then what I do now, we would have gone for the arrest.

A generation ago, sexual harassment was typical in the workplace and beyond. I thought that my daughter would not face the same gropes and disrespect that were typical when I was her age. I was wrong. 

Lesson learned – if stores can’t or won’t protect women in dressing rooms, and law enforcement fails to take this seriously, it’s up to us to take care of ourselves. Suggestions:

  1. Share this blog with your family and friends so they are aware of the problem.
  2. Go in pairs to women’s dressing rooms. One should watch guard while the other tries on clothes. Scope out a dressing room and make sure no one is in it.
  3. The one watching guard should have a cell phone with a camera or video cam ready to snap photos. Then you have evidence.
  4. Before going into a dressing room, see where the nearest clerks are should you need assistance.
  5. Have a phone ready to call 911 from the dressing room to ask for help. If an incident like what we saw happens, insist the perpetrator be arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the current laws.
  6. If an incident happens, contact your local news media and tell them what happened. Show your photos and videos to them.

Long term ways to take care of ourselves:

  1. Insist stores have dressing room doors that are taller.
  2. Spend more money in stores with a dressing room attendant.
  3. Ask lawmakers if they have laws to protect the privacy of women in dressing rooms. If your state doesn’t, ask that laws be written.
  4. Hold law enforcement accountable to defend the rights of women and their privacy.

Bottom line for stores that sell women’s clothes: 

  • If you want us to spend money to buy your clothes, take care of us.
  • Protect our privacy in dressing rooms.
  • If you fail to do so, we’ll spend our money elsewhere. Why bother shopping in your store when I can go elsewhere, buy online, or enjoy a home fashion party of CAbi or Vault jeans with my friends?
  • And  then we’ll tell a few thousand of our closest friends – in blogs, on Facebook, Google Plus, Youtube, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Twitter.

Clothes stores that fail to honor the privacy rights of women in their dressing rooms seal the coffin of their own demise.

Facebook Gone Bad; What Block, Restrict, and Hide Do and Mean

It’s hard to do, but a key survival rule in the Facebook jungle is to not get tangled in the swamplands. Don’t take things personally. There are times we need to know some ways to protect ourselves and to understand when others have restricted their access as well. Here are 3 ways:

Block – If you block someone, that person cannot find your profile in search, cannot see your wall, cannot see you tagged in a photo, and cannot see our comments. It is as if you do not exist. If you have a mutual friend, you may see that person in a photograph, but the person’s name will not be tagged. If you block someone and later rethink that decision, consider carefully before unblocking. Facebook will not allow you to reblock that person for 48 hours. There are people I block, and I am sure others have blocked me. That’s their choice – I’m fine with that.  The key is to not take it personally. To block someone, click on the drop down arrow in the upper right corner, Privacy Settings, and then Blocked People and Apps. This is where you type in the person’s name or email to block.

Restrict – In your smart list on the left of your Home page, there is a list called Restricted. If you have a friend you need to keep as a friend for business reasons, but you don’t want that friend to have access to all your information, then click on that restricted list. In the upper right hand corner, click on Manage List, Add Members. Add that friend to the list. After you do so, that person will still be your friend. However, the only parts of your wall’s information that will be visible are posts you make global, or public. (I don’t recommend public posts on Facebook because once you do a public post it’s easy to not reset it so all future posts are public instead of restricted to friends.) There are people on my restricted list for varied and personal reasons. There are also “friends” who have opted to restrict my access to their walls. That’s their right. It gets awkward when it was one way and they later restrict it and I realize it. The key is to not take it personally.

Hide – Some of my friends are hot heads who enjoy more drama in their lives than I do in my middle-aged years. I go to Facebook to connect and build communities. If someone continually starts fights or is angry, I will most likely hide (or unsubscribe) from that friend’s updates. We can still be friends. My friend will never know the news feed is hidden. But I can enjoy my morning coffee without a heaping spoonful of angry ranting stirred into it.

You can choose who to invite into your own home. Same for who you invite into your social media world.

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