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Books every business owner should read

Business owners, especially those new to business, can be overwhelmed with information. So here is a list of books that I think every business owner should read:

  1. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Stephen Covey): this has been in print for over 25 years, but contains wisdom and inspiration that is just as relevant today as when it was first released. It reveals how to perform better in both personal and professional arenas, via a ‘paradigm shift’, so that you develop better skills in productivity, time management and more.
  2. The 4-Hour Workweek (Timothy Ferriss): while the premise of this book might not sound like something you are seeking (because you love your work, right?!), what it actually gives you is ideas to have better systems and processes, so that you are far more efficient and effective. And if you end up working less hours in the process, bonus!
  3. Purple Cow (Seth Godin): this is one of my favourites! Godin says that the key to success is to find a way to stand out (be the purple cow!). The concepts are useful but it is also very practical and a useful tool for businesses of any stage.
  4. The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What To Do About It (Michael E Gerber): This is another classic which challenges assumptions and gives you the steps to progress from infancy to maturity in your business.
  5. Make Your Idea Matter: Stand Out With a Better Story (Bernadette Jiwa): This is a fantastic book that will explain the importance of having a ‘story’ for your business and guide you through the process to develop it. She takes what seems like a complex issue and makes it bite-sized and simple.
  6. Flying Solo: How to Go it Alone in Business (Robert Gerrish & Sam Leader): for those of you who are solo or micro business owners, this is essential reading. It includes practical and motivational advice, dispels myths and gives you tools to thrive as a solo business owner. The most updated version also includes advice for navigating the online world.

Happy reading!

Michelle Grice writes a weekly column for business women in The Western Weekender

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Should you mix your business with politics?

The short answer to whether small business owners should mix business with politics is that it is an individual decision. However, in a similar vein to the articles I posted recently on aligning your business with charities, there are some things you need to consider.

The primary risk of aligning yourself with a political party is that it can alienate your customers and hurt your brand. Those who have strong ties to opposing parties, or even those who avoid any political ties, may avoid dealing with your business due to your views. But there are ways to minimise the potential negative effects of involvement with politics if you choose to do so:

  1. Limit your support to issues, rather than political parties. Few of us could say that we agree with every issue and policy touted by a preferred political party. Supporting a particular issue distances your business and minimises damage to your brand when there are political party fallouts (as there inevitably always are!).
  2. Choose localised issues. These may be geographically local or issues that are relevant to your customer base, and that align with your company’s values. For example, a local gym might support an initiative to increase physical activity for children.
  3. Ensure you are informed before you show support publicly. You run a much greater risk of harming your business if you do not do a great deal of research into the political issue, party of person that you are supporting. You don’t want to find out too late that there are aspects of a political cause that you are not comfortable with.
  4. Where possible, choose an issue that unites people rather than polarises them. Even though you may be passionate about an issue, it doesn’t make good business sense to damage your business by aligning with a marginal or controversial issue. This is where it can be wise to separate personal views with professional conduct.

Strong political views and convictions can work alongside your business as long as you do your homework first, and if your intention is to unite rather than divide. Make careful, measured decisions and choose wisely.

Michelle Grice writes a weekly column for business women in The Western Weekender

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Should your business support social causes?

Following on from last week’s article about having a social conscience and the ethical dilemmas associated with misaligned values of our clients, this article takes this idea a step further: should your business actively seek to support social causes? Make sure you consider the following as you seek to answer this question:

Most social causes are intrinsically linked to political, religious or other value-laden foundations. You need to consider that your link to a particular social cause may alienate you from potential clients. This may not be an issue, as you might prefer to only work with clients who share your values (or are sympathetic to them). But it is a question worth considering before choosing a social cause to align your business with.

Consider that some causes create a culture of dependency rather than truly empowering underprivileged communities. While the vast majority of charities and social causes are motivated by a deep-seated desire to help others, some do this better than others. Have you heard the proverb “Giveamanafishandyoufeedhimforaday; teachamantofishandyoufeedhimforalifetime”? Aim to support social causes that empower people rather than make them dependent – it is far more worthwhile and has far-reaching effects.

It is also important to pursue social causes only if you are truly passionate about them. If you are doing it just to ‘look good’ or because all your business friends are doing it, you are likely to cause harm to your business reputation and possibly enter into arrangements that harm the charity as well (e.g. if you end your support, it can affect the long term effectiveness of that charity).

An important note: do not ever use tragedies, disasters or crisis situations to promote your business. You need to be extremely careful about offers that benefit you far more than the charity and that look like you are being opportunistic. By all means, if you are genuinely assisting a social cause, do so. But be very careful about your motivations and consider whether your support is better done quietly so as to be a genuine response.

Michelle Grice writes a weekly column for business women in The Western Weekender

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Should your business have a social conscience?

Today I was watching an episode of Mad Men (a TV show about advertising agencies in the 1960s), where one of the company partners, Don Draper, pens a letter and publishes it as a full page spread in the New York Times. In response to a recently severed relationship with a tobacco company, the letter says “…there was money in it. A lot of money. In fact, our entire business depended on it. We knew it wasn’t good for us, but we couldn’t stop. And then, when Lucky Strike moved their business elsewhere, I realized, here was my chance to be someone who could sleep at night, because I know what I’m selling doesn’t kill my customers.”

Don Draper opens up an ethical can of worms with this pronouncement! In other episodes of Mad Men, the creative department often deal with the underlying dilemma that as an advertising agency, their job is to get their client’s product sold, regardless of what they personally think or feel about it.

But is there a limit to how far this ‘blind eye’ is turned? While also motivated by a perceived opportunity to get other clients on board in a time of crisis for the company, Don Draper did seem to have a true epiphany that in this case, he wasn’t prepared to continue a relationship with a product and company that was misaligned with his values.

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to work with a company on a job that would have led to ongoing, more lucrative work. But I listened to the nagging voice in my head that reminded me of the conflicting values this company had with my own. It was a difficult conversation that ensued, because I knew I would be offending the company by stating my reasons for pulling out of the process. But I had decided that even if it caused offence, it was more important to be authentic and stick to my values.

The definition of ‘social conscience’ will be different for every business and person. As a business owner, you have the power to choose, even if sometimes those choices might be difficult, cause offence or lose you some business.

Michelle Grice writes a weekly column for business women in The Western Weekender

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How to Get Focussed

Whether you work from home or in a more traditional workplace, there are distractions everywhere. Some of those distractions are unrelated to work – chatting with co-workers about your weekend, losing yourself on social media, etc. But other distractions can be work tasks that you know you really shouldn’t be spending your time on.

When most of us started out in business, we wore many hats. But if you were smart, you soon realised that you couldn’t progress your business if you were trying to do everything. It is important to focus on what you’re good at and let others do the rest. Accept your weaknesses so that you can leverage your strengths. That is, let someone else do what you cannot, so that you can focus your time, abilities and resources on what you do best.

Being focussed can also have a lot to do with your physical environment. Some people work well at a desk with no-on else around. Others need the stimulus of other people and an environment where ideas can be bounced off others. And other people need a variety of workspaces to stimulate ideas and their most productive work.

Although this might seem like the antithesis of being focussed, sometimes breaking the routine and letting your mind wander can be what your brain needs. Allow yourself to become an occasional daydreamer, as you may just find that it sparks creative ideas and innovations you would not think of in the course of your usual day. This also gives your brain a break from trying to stay constantly focussed, and you are more likely to be able to re-focus on tasks at hand.

This is a really great quote by Leo Babauta (Zen Habits): “Everything seems important. But when we step back and think about what matters most, what will make the most difference in the world and in our lives, we can see what we need to focus on, to make time for. We can’t step back unless we’re aware that we’re getting caught up in less important tasks.”

Michelle Grice writes a weekly column for business women in The Western Weekender

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The Power of a Good Belly Laugh

If you are on social media, you have probably viewed, or at least heard about, the “Chewbacca mask video” (if not, type that phrase into Google and you’ll find it!). It was a video of a woman in a van, filming herself wearing a Chewbacca mask that roars – which makes her laugh hysterically. It was streamed via FacebookLive to her friends, but quickly broke records and has been viewed over 150 million times.

Described in writing, it sounds completely mundane! And in many ways it was. But when she donned a mask intended for kids, her pure, childlike joy and laughter connected with viewers. People responded because it was innocent of any agenda, just her having fun and videoing something that she thought was hilarious. There were knockers – people who found it completely unfunny, who thought the viral nature of it was ridiculous and who didn’t ‘get it’. Personally I didn’t find the video itself particularly funny – but I did love her complete disregard of social expectations and her utter hilarity at something so simple.

So what can ‘Chewbacca woman’ teach us in business? Maybe she is on to something when she shows us that being authentic and spontaneous, even though it’s ridiculous and mundane, connects with people.

Perhaps we are sometimes too serious about the ‘business of business’? Perhaps we worry too much about being taken ‘seriously’ that we forget to be authentic? I know as a micro business owner, I can be guilty of this. When I look at my long term clients, I know one of the reasons they have stayed loyal to me is because of genuine connection. Yes, they like my work and want me to be professional! But sharing some personal information, making a joke during email correspondence, and talking to them authentically as I would a friend, seems to be a big factor. But it took me quite a few years to realise how important this interaction was.

If you are still unconvinced about the power of laughter and spontaneity, Google this video: “Baby Laughing Hysterically at Ripping Paper” (and make sure you have a big belly laugh when you watch it).

Michelle Grice writes a weekly column for business women in The Western Weekender

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Are you being realistic or idealistic?

With another season of Australian ‘Shark Tank’ on television at present, we all have the opportunity to cringe at the blunt feedback, cheer those who snag a great deal with a Shark and become an armchair expert on all thing entrepreneurial.

What I love about Shark Tank is that the ‘sharks’ are not afraid to tell someone that their idea won’t work or that they haven’t thought through their business model well enough. Obviously a budding entrepreneur should be passionate about their idea and love what they are doing. But the panel of Sharks bring a big dose of reality to many prospective business owners, telling them that what they love and think is beautiful, is actually pretty ugly and needs a lot of work to be viable.

So how do you balance realism and idealism? This is the ultimate, bottom line test: ‘will this idea make you money?’. If not, your idea is just an expensive hobby or a charity. There is nothing wrong with either of those outcomes if that is what you are aiming for. But realism trumps idealism when facts and figures don’t add up to turning a profit.

What do you do if you discover that your amazing idea has no future as a profiting making business? You have a choice, which is incumbent on your reason for running a business in the first place: are you passionate about your idea or are you passionate about running a business? If you cannot bear the thought of letting go of your ‘money pit’ idea and have no desire to find another idea that will work, it’s highly likely you are not an entrepreneur. As anyone who has been in business for a while will tell you, a successful venture takes tremendous hard work and commitment to the process, not the just the passion for the idea.

Your passion might be your motivation, but it has to be coupled with openness to change direction or modify your ideas if required. Without this realism, you may find yourself running a business that is short-lived.

Michelle Grice writes a weekly column for business women in The Western Weekender

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To Sit or to Stand: time for a change

I bought a standing desk for my office, and as I write this article, it is my first day using it. It has been an interesting day, deciding how long to stand or sit, and working out what is best for my productivity. This new desk was purchased primarily for health reasons: sitting for long periods as I do has contributed to my back condition and I decided some drastic measures needed to be put in place.

Aside from the obvious difference of standing to work rather than sitting (and being able to pull out a few dance moves while I wait for a file to load), I have noticed some other differences. In order to accommodate my new desk, I needed to relocate my primary working desk to a new position in my office. After seven years of sitting in the same space, I am now right next to a window and facing a different wall. You’re probably reading that and thinking “Big deal!”. But I am amazed at how different my work day feels just by those small changes. Coupled with a clean and tidy office (it had been a while since my last big clean up!), I am feeling very productive.

Which makes me realise what simple things we can all do to create positive change in our businesses. I think sometimes we can get stuck in a rut, knowing things need to change, but feeling that ‘change’ is just too big a task to tackle.

But what if really small things could make a difference to how you work? It can be useful to choose just one seemingly minor thing to implement and see what impact that can have. If you work from home and need to work on something requiring creative thinking, try working out of your office for a few hours. If you find yourself with dwindling energy at the same time every day, go for a 15 min walk (preferably with some trees and nature nearby).

In general, be cognisant that little things that can make a big difference to your mental and physical energy and therefore productivity. And now I think it’s time to switch to sitting for a while…

Michelle Grice writes a weekly column for business women in The Western Weekender

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Some things change, some stay the same

My television series of choice at the present time is Mad Men (set in 1960’s New York, following the lives of advertisers working on Madison Avenue). It is a fascinating insight to the social and working mores of the time, as well as providing subtle messages and discussion about issues relevant today.

One of the themes of the show that interest me particularly is gender and sexism. Women in the show were primarily confined to the role of housewife or secretary. They rarely got promoted to any higher level positions, and those that were able to climb, got left out of the all-male after hours negotiations that seemed crucial to forging deals. Power was clearly in the hands of the men and any ambitious women had to not only work harder than their male counterparts for the same recognition, there was only so far they could rise on the ‘ladder’.

It is easy to dismiss the portrayals of women in the 1960s as ‘history’ and something that used to happen a long time ago. But social commentators have pointed out that this behaviour is not as far back in our past as we would like to think it is. And that in some workplaces or industries, is still evident, albeit more subtle.

We now have laws that prohibit discrimination based on gender that have given women far more career choices than in the 1960s. But statistics show that women still struggle to ‘rise to the top’. We have strict laws around sexual harassment in the workplace that have abolished the openly accepted ‘sexual banter’ depicted in Mad Men. Yet many women can attest to subtle (or hidden) situations in their workplaces today.  

As a woman running my own business, I sometimes experience unequal treatment based on my gender. While I have far greater opportunities than women in the 1960s, it is too easy to dismiss the overt gender inequality they experienced as irrelevant now. Many women still feel they have to work harder to ‘prove’ themselves and that power is still meted out through powerful men. Television shows like Mad Men are a reminder that history should continue to teach us and help us to reflect on ways we can continue to change.

Michelle Grice writes a weekly column for business women in The Western Weekender

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What Have You Sacrificed?

Most people embark on business ownership having at least a vague notion that it will involve a lot of hard work. Although, often the apparent ‘pros’ overshadow the ‘cons’ (I will get to choose my own hours; I will be more available for more kids; I can take holidays whenever I want).

Anyone with a modicum of success will provide you with another perspective: running a business also requires sacrifice. Perhaps the ‘failure’ rate of small business (i.e. the number who don’t make it past two years) is linked to a failure to underestimate the price business owners pay to reach their goals.

Depending on the nature of your business, you may, initially at least, have to say goodbye to your social life as you knew it. Restaurant and café owners (with their night and weekend working hours) can attest to this, as can bakers (with their early morning starts), as well as anyone with a deadline. Some of your friends won’t stand by you, but hopefully you’ll have some great friends who are still there when you come up for air!

As my business has grown, my TV and movie watching hours have shrunk. This is in part because spare time is often used to catch up on business tasks, or because I am exhausted from a busy week and can’t stay awake! Although perhaps not a great sacrifice, it’s certainly a change.

You will have to sacrifice comfort: meaning that in business, you should be constantly learning and facing new challenges. If you are not, it probable means your business is stagnating. If you are, it is a good thing, but it can be mentally exhausting! In our technology-rich, fast-paced society, so many things change quickly and in order to keep progressing, you cannot be content to stay in your comfort zone. This doesn’t mean purposely setting yourself difficult challenges! But it does mean keeping yourself informed about your industry and business in general, and being on the lookout for opportunities to improve and do what you do even better than before.

Michelle Grice writes a weekly column for business women in The Western Weekender

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Don’t Stop Dreaming

I’m in my apartment in New York, sitting on my bed with a laptop, writing my column for a New York newspaper. Okay, so I’m really in a hotel room, not an apartment, and my column is for The Western Weekender not a New York newspaper. But I am really in New York as I write this, having fun pretending that I’m fictional New York columnist Carrie Bradshaw (from TV show Sex and the City)!

Some readers might think I’m being pretty silly, but I think it’s important not to be ‘serious’ all the time. If you’ve spent any time with children under age ten, you will know that they generally have outlandish and crazy dreams for their future by adult standards. Some of the most successful people are those who haven’t let go of those ‘crazy’ ideas and let themselves continue to dream big (think Richard Branson).

So how about you? Do you let your thoughts go wild about the possibilities for your business? Do you let yourself ponder questions like ‘what would I do with unlimited resources?’.

Start with paper and pen (there is a lot of research which shows that creativity is better supported by using ‘old school’ writing methods, rather than using a screen). Write down as many ‘beyond your wildest dreams’ ideas for your business. When you do this, don’t let practicalities get in the way. Be child-like and jot them down with no other intention. This might just be a two minute exercise or you might like to let your mind wander for longer. You could either pin these ideas on the wall, or put them away and look at them every now and again.

If you have never done this, or haven’t done it in a long time, I encourage you to try it! It doesn’t mean all those wishes will magically occur, or necessarily change the current trajectory of your business. But what it can do is open your mind to the possibility of something bigger and better for your business. Dreams can only come true if you have them in the first place.

Michelle Grice writes a weekly column for business women in The Western Weekender

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There’s Never a Good Time To Start

When I started my business over ten years ago, I thought I was starting it at the perfect time. I was about to go on maternity leave so I would have HEAPS of time on my hands to get my business going (parents everywhere are now rolling around on the floor in fits of laughter at my pre-first child naivety!).

Of course that wasn’t quite how it all panned out! But while there were things that were not ‘perfect’ about my timing, it was also a good a time as any. The advantages were that I didn’t have to quit my job to start the business, and I had planned to cut back on hours (and therefore my pay packet) in that season of life anyway. The disadvantages were that with the quite small amount of time I had on my hands between caring for a new baby meant that my business started slower than I had anticipated or wanted. But if I had waited for a ‘perfect’ time to start, I really don’t think that time would have ever come.

Most aspects of running our own business involve a level of risk: sometimes it’s super risky, other times it’s just a bit of a stretch of yourself or your resources. Just like there’s never a perfect time to start a business, there generally isn’t a perfect time to branch into something new. It is simply a case of you deciding that now is the time to do it, after taking into account the relevant risk factors.

Waiting for the ‘perfect’ time means you will miss opportunities. If you know you have a great idea, waiting until ‘all the planets align’ is a great risk. Yes, there may be some failures along the way, but those failures will teach you a great deal more than sitting on your hands, waiting for the right moment. And quite often, the really great ideas come not from a perfectly executed plan: they are more likely to come about via trial and error, or by making a mistake and being forced to find another way to succeed. So what are you waiting for?

Michelle Grice writes a weekly column for business women in The Western Weekender

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For everyone who procrastinates

Most of us procrastinate in our business. We all have areas and tasks we prefer to work on, and those less-than-pleasant things are often relegated to the bottom of the pile. So how do you motivate yourself and become more productive?

  1. Do tiny things. First write a list of a few things you can do that will make you feel productive. Then look down the list and do something tiny that is related to each of those things. For example, draft some emails, file some documents, do some research for an article (I’m talking to myself here!). This way you will have made a start on each item and the big jobs don’t feel so daunting.
  2. Look after your physical needs. Sometimes procrastination stems from lack of energy. So make sure you are getting enough sleep and taking regular breaks. Many proponents of ‘enough sleep’ suggest going to bed between 9pm and 10pm and rising at 5am in order to be the most productive you can be.
  3. Focus on the task at hand. As business owners, we are often ‘big picture’ people. We have a vision for our company or a big goal for our project. But this can sometimes cause us to be overwhelmed when we try to get working on the process and tasks. Get in the habit of focusing on the smaller tasks in front of you – break down tasks into smaller chunks if you need to – and then outline the steps, set a deadline for finishing the steps, have a coffee and then do it!
  4. Give yourself a break. I’m not talking about having a break from working in this instance, but a break from doing the same tasks. It’s possible that your procrastination is because you are bored. So do something out-of-the-ordinary and have some fun.
  5. Get inspired. Sometimes you just need to stop what you’re doing and get some inspiration, whether that’s from a book, a song, an article, a mentor, a walk in nature or whatever recharges you.

Michelle Grice writes a weekly column for business women in The Western Weekender

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Walking in the footsteps of others

Over the Easter weekend I spent a few days at the beach. On one walk back to our cabin, loaded up with bags and beach chair, I was struggling to walk on the soft sand. Then I remembered that it is much easier to walk in the steps that others have made before me. The sand is a little more stable and it's easier to get a foothold in the indents their steps have made. I still had to make an effort, but the walk was made a bit better.

How true this is for us in business too! It is important not to be a 'lone ranger' in business, but rather to seek out people who have gone before us. Having a mentor who has been through startup, cash flow issues, staffing and recruitment challenges, and other problems common to many businesses, is invaluable.

This doesn't mean you are meant to copy ‘step for step’ what someone else has done. Most of us are striving to create a unique business, or at least a business that reflects our own uniqueness. And that's a good goal! But that doesn't mean we shouldn't learn from the mistakes and triumphs of someone who is further down the business track than we are, and follow some of their steps to help us on our way.

If you don't already have mentors or colleagues around you, get involved in a local business group where you can meet others. Most business people I know are happy to share their experience and the pitfalls to avoid. So don't be afraid to ask questions and learn from those who have gone before you. It might just save you from a great deal of unnecessary effort.

And by doing so, you can prove wrong this quote by Douglas Adams: "Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so."

Michelle Grice writes a weekly column for business women in The Western Weekender

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What to do when you’re under the pump

No matter how well we plan, there will times in our business where we are ‘under the pump’. Deadlines clash, a crisis arises, staff are away unexpectedly, and so on. As I write this article, I am frantically attempting to finish the items on my to-do list before I head overseas for a few weeks! And even though I have planned this trip for many months, because my break is not occurring when I would usually take time off, it has crept up on me somewhat.

So how can you (and I) manage periods like this?

  1. Prioritise as you go: address the most urgent needs first and discern between ‘emergency’ and something that can wait. Putting things into perspective can also help (for example: is it really going to be dire if this is not done on time?)
  2. Pay attention and think carefully: when you are rushed and trying to get through a long list of tasks, it can be easy to forget your usual procedures. Try to stick to the way you normally do things so that mistakes are not made and important items are not missed.
  3. Take time to settle down. Sometimes when a crisis occurs, our first reaction might be to tweet about it or talk it over with multiple people. But sometimes the well-meaning comments from friends and family can ‘muddy the waters’. Take time to think a situation over (even sleep on it if possible) and then decide who to talk to.
  4. Take a break: this might sound like the opposite of what you need to do! And it is definitely the one I struggle with most. But giving yourself time to relax and rejuvenate will give your brain greater capacity to get through a frantic period.
  5. Breathe! Breathing deeply (count from 1 to 10 as you inhale and 1 to 10 as you exhale) brings more oxygen into your bloodstream. It tells your body and brain to reduce the intensity of what you are facing and will calm you down.

Michelle Grice writes a weekly column for business women in The Western Weekender

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Jumping on the Band Wagon

Should your business jump on the latest trends? A great example of a current trend is Pokémon Go, a mobile app released a few weeks ago. In case you haven’t heard about it, here is the basic rundown: the game uses your phone’s GPS for your real-world location and overlays Pokémon (‘pocket monsters’) on your screen (on top of what you see in front of you in the real world). You can join a faction and level up as you find more Pokémon. It is essentially the world’s biggest scavenger hunt – which recently created chaos in New York’s Central Park as hundreds, or possibly thousands, descended to the area (Google “Vaporeon Spawns In Central Park” to see the video footage!).

The positives are that it has forced people who might normally be indoors, to go outside in their community and find Pokémon. People have praised its health benefits and its social benefits – players are in the fresh air and meeting other Pokémon Go players in real life. The negatives are some security and privacy concerns, and you may have seen some news items about the game causing traffic accidents and physical injuries when people have run into objects because they are looking at their mobile!

The game involves going to ‘Pokestops’, based on real-life landmarks where players can stock up on digital game gear. So some savvy businesses have paid for ‘lures’ which increases the chance that a rare Pokémon will turn up nearby, thereby drawing people near their shopfront. A delicatessen in San Francisco advertised their store as a ‘Pokémon charging station’ for drained phones (as the game tends to be hard on batteries).

It is great if your business is flexible and creative enough that it can quickly adapt in order to use a trend to increase traffic and sales. However, it is also important to consider how your business could be affected if the trend goes sour. You need to consider how your reputation might be affected by negative press or worse, if it is found to have serious negative consequences. It is also important to know when a trend is no longer ‘cool’ – you will be perceived as outdated if you jump on, or continue with, a trend far after it has run its course.

 


Michelle Grice writes a weekly column for business women in The Western Weekender

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Do you bad mouth your competitors?

b2ap3_thumbnail_woman_yelling_20160314-050349_1.jpgIf you’ve been in business for more than a few years, it is possible that you’ve encountered someone ‘bad mouthing’ you or your business. This happened to me and it was quite shocking at the time.

Sadly for my ‘bad mouther’ it did her no favours. Even if there had been any truth to her statements, her actions said far more about her ethics and attitude than it did about the (false) statements about my business. It is quite interesting to have observed from afar a number of other business relationships (and even friendships) that have fallen apart due to this person’s dealings.

Interestingly for me, since that incident (the one that I knew of anyway!), I have had many occasions where I could have chosen to speak negatively about her business. I regularly have clients who ask ‘why does XYZ company do that? It seems unethical to me’, in relation to an opposing policy we have. I have to choose my words carefully each time, ensuring that I sound as diplomatic as possible.

So why wouldn’t I take this opportunity to bad mouth my competitor? Especially seeing that it’s my client who has raised the issue, not me? Aside from my personal resolution to speak kindly about others, I believe I can achieve my goals without ‘trash talking’ the competition. I have many happy clients who haven’t come to me because I’ve told them how good I am or how much better I am compared to my competitor. I let my work and my actions with them speak for themselves.

Bad mouthing your competitors can come out of frustration; you believe you genuinely have a better product or service, but it can be hard to convey that without making negative comments about your competitor. But remember: your customers are looking for reasons to engage with you, not reasons why not to engage with someone else! Your comments, even if they are well-meaning or out of concern for your customer’s welfare, can become counter-productive and undermine you.

 


Michelle Grice writes a weekly column for business women in The Western Weekender

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Is imitation really a form of flattery?

b2ap3_thumbnail_mask.jpgIt is a common complaint amongst graphic designers, photographers, and many other creative people who post their work online, that their designs are prone to be copied. Sometimes it is a blatant ‘copy and paste’ of a design, other times it is a slight variation to make it appear like a new design. Other industries may find that competitors adopt the same practices or marketing messages, confusing potential customers.

Aside from these actions breaking copyright and intellectual property laws, I simply do not understand why anyone would directly copy another business! It is highly likely that the ‘copier’ will be found out (so why risk this?). But more importantly, I do not understand why a business would want to pretend to be something they are not.

We should all check what competitors or our industry in general are doing from time to time. But the focus of this research should be on keeping abreast of trends or seeing if there are ways your business can improve.

If your goal for investigating a competitor is to duplicate what they are doing, your business will fail to thrive. This is because your practices won’t be authentic, and you are unlikely to have an understanding of, or a commitment to, the underlying reason behind that process or procedure.

Adopting someone else’s marketing message will only work to a degree. That marketing message is made up of that business’s values, mission, goals and so on. Taking it on as your own will only result in customers finding out very quickly that there is no authenticity and they are dealing with the ‘copy’ not the ‘real thing’.

Think about the businesses you love to deal with. They are likely to have something unique about them that no-one else does, or they do the ‘expected’ things a lot better. If your business is based on copying others, please stop! Find out what makes you unique and develop your own voice. Customers will respond to this much better than if you attempt to duplicate someone else’s image.

 


Michelle Grice writes a weekly column for business women in The Western Weekender

 

 

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Do you have raving fans?

b2ap3_thumbnail_fans.jpgRecently I was catching up with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while and we were swapping stories about what we had been up to. The conversation steered towards the gym that I attend and as I told her about it, I couldn’t help but rave. I gave her lots of detail about what I love about it, all the inclusions, what sorts of classes they have, the fantastic facilities and so on. By the end of the conversation she announced “well you’ve sold me!”.

Does your business have ‘raving fans’ that sound like I did talking to my friend? If not, what can you do about it?

The gym I attend is certainly not the cheapest (in fact it’s probably the most expensive in the local area). But anyone I know who has joined believes they are getting more than their money’s worth. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. They look after their current customers. They do this by continuing to add to and improve what they offer.
  2. They provide a quality service. It is obvious they have paid attention to detail and haven’t ‘cut corners’. This shows in the equipment, the calibre of instructors and the facilities. All those aspects combined assure members they are getting value for money.
  3. They are generous. Every Saturday they provide brunch. They put on regular member’s events. Memberships are all inclusive. And they go out of their way to assist members when there is an issue.
  4. They are friendly and welcoming. Every time I enter the gym, I am greeted by name. Staff are never too busy to help. They have created an environment that is not daunting and attract people of all ages and fitness levels.

Specifics aside, all of us can offer exactly the same benefits in our businesses. Just telling people you are the best won’t keep them coming back. Giving them occasional attention or treating them disrespectfully won’t give them cause to talk positively about you to others. Take a look at what you do and see if there are ways you can turn your ‘just customers’ into people who rave about you.

 

 


Michelle Grice writes a weekly column for business women in The Western Weekender

 

 

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Put on Your Listening Ears

b2ap3_thumbnail_ear.jpgIf you are, or have been, a parent of young children, you’ve probably used the term “put on your listening ears”. It’s good advice for people in business too!

Sometimes we fail to listen to our customers. When was the last time you asked your customers about their experience of your business? You can do this formally (via surveys and feedback forms) of informally (by chatting to them when you see them in person or communicate via email). It can be a daunting task! Most of us don’t really want to hear any negative feedback, but honestly, not knowing those negative experiences will be a lot more damaging that assuming ‘no news is good news’. You may find that customers slowly drift away with no explanation. But if you offer open channels to providing feedback, you might just find that that in itself speaks volumes about your business to your customers.

Sometimes we fail to listen to our bodies. When was the last time you took a decent break from work? How often do you work at night or on the weekends (if this is additional to your ‘usual’ hours)? Are you getting enough sleep – or getting restful sleep? Are you eating well? Whether we listen to them or not, our bodies generally tell us when things are not working at optimum. We make silly mistakes, we find it harder to concentrate, we get frequent headaches. If any of those scenarios describe you, take stock of what your body might be telling you.

And lastly, sometimes we fail to listen to the right people. If you have surrounded yourself with people who don’t believe in what you do, who have only negative things to say, then you are listening to the wrong people. Find like-minded people in business. Be careful who amongst your friends you share business ideas with, as they will view your passion through their own worldview lens. And most definitely listen to the voice inside that encouraged you in the first place to do what you’re doing – and continue to do it well.

 


Michelle Grice writes a weekly column for business women in The Western Weekender

 

 

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Contact Us

Shel Design
PO Box 8142, Glenmore Park NSW 2745
0412 701 147
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Mon-Thurs 9am-4pm
ABN: 88 695 161 542

Contact Us

Shel Design
PO Box 8142
Glenmore Park NSW 2745
0412 701 147
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Mon-Thurs 9am-4pm
ABN: 88 695 161 542