Monday, April 30, 2012

Best leadership advice came from a parenting class!

No rules at first, lots of rules later!

It is a Sunday night.  I am sitting in a parenting class at church.  Suddenly, I understand what I had been doing wrong leading my people!
The instructor in the class was talking about raising well adjusted kids.  He said most parents take their baby home from the hospital.  They love this child.  They want all positive interactions with their kids.  They don't want to use that ugly word "No"!

So the parents "kid-proof" the house by locking down all the cabinets, taking anything nice off the tables, and letting the house be the playpen.  They let the kid sleep when they want, eat when they want.  Basically they try to avoid rules, allowing lots of freedom and creativity to nurture the child.

Inevitably, rules will be put in place.  School.  So the funnel begins to tighten.  Then someday this child enters the workforce and more rules.  And at some point, the boss actually says NO!

In this class, they were recommending something quite contrary!  They wanted the funnel closed from the beginning.  The parent feeds the kid when the parent wants.  The parent has the kid sleep when the parent wants the kid to sleep.

The kid receives a lot of "no's" while it starts to explore the house.  You cannot touch that.  You cannot play in there.  
There are lots of rules at home.
Lots of rules at first, fewer later!
Then when the kid goes to school, the rules actually relax (because a teacher cannot keep the same rules that you have for 25 students in class).  And over time, rules relax more and more because the kid knows following the rules is best!
I would let employees join the company.  I would give them general guidelines on performance.  But generally I would let them get used to the environment, use their own creativity.  Then at some point, I would initiate rules.
It was a failure.

At that class I realized that new employees had to be treated like new kids.  They had to be given lots of structure.  They had to follow tight rules.  Anything outside the rules was punished.  Please NEVER show up late to work, that will be your LAST day!
Then after the employee has begun to see the reason for the structure, they would have gained a lot of knowledge about the company and the industry.  At some point, they would have enough experience to begin using their own judgement.
The rules will start to disappear for the better people.  Funny though, they will follow the rules anyway because for the most part, the rules in place actually helped them be more successful.
But I would give these people a lot more freedom.  The funnel loosens over time! 
It is so obvious!  But I am a little slow!
Then you read Steve Jobs book and you hear about him ruling the roost at home.  I would still follow this advice!  

Monday, April 23, 2012

Worst line at High School Reunion...

Have you ever been to your high school reunion?  It is so tough to go to those if you are living far away from your school.  For the majority of the people at the reunion, I had not seen them since my graduation... in 1981!

So you see these people and reconnect with them.  Then the fateful parting when you both say "Let's stay in touch."  So we went through the past 31 years without seeing one another and now we are going to stay in touch?!

But that is exactly what you need to do with your existing customers and potential new clients! 

Do you know who your existing clients are?  Do you know those that haven't purchased in 4-6 months?  For me, that is a part of the cycle.  If they haven't repurchased from me by now, you have probably moved onto some other products.  Therefore, we consider that a minus, a lost customer.  Obviously, a new customer is a plus.  Every month, we track our plus/minus to see how our sales people are doing with their clients.

At Mirabella, we try to help that by staying in touch.  We send out an email every couple of months to keep our salons up-to-date with all of our news.  We track this through constant contact, therefore we can track if they opened the email, read it, forwarded it, clicked through to our website, etc.  We realized less than 40% of the emails were getting read, so we put out a physical mailing as well. 

And that is how we stay in touch with existing clients.  But how about new clients?  It is said in the guerrilla marketing book by Jay Conrad Levinson that you need to touch people 17 times before they will buy!  Talk about staying in touch! 

We have make up artists touching customers at trade shows!
Oftentimes you might send out a mailer to a new client.  Or perhaps you will call a new client.  But they need to have 17 impressions about and from your company to buy.  You have to be VERY patient and have a thick skin to keep calling on a client that many times to get your first order. 

And obviously it will have more of an impact if you touch them 17 different ways with 17 unique and interesting approaches. 

We try to brand ourselves big at trade shows.
Again, for Mirabella we are selling through distributors.  We advertise in their magazine monthly.  We have sales people calling on the salons talking about us.  We have a prominent social presence with YouTube and Facebook.  We make a huge impression at each distributor show.  Hopefully, over time, all those impressions will pay off!

I think it is working.  For the first quarter we opened 200 new salons.  Last year we opened 300 all year!

Be creative, be patient, and keep making impressions!  Your business will thank you for "staying in touch".

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Listen and learn!

Are you like my wife?  The phone rings and she waits to use the caller ID to see if she wants to answer.  If its friends or family, she picks up.  If not, hello voicemail.

I think in business we are often this same way.  We talk to the people we know in the industry; our vendors, our clients, our employees.  The closest we get to learning outside our network is trade shows and industry publications.

I understand why we get stuck in this rut.  We are all so busy, it takes a lot to just stay on top of what we got in front of us.

But the breakout ideas are going to likely come from people outside the industry.  Think of Moroccan Oil, they are the hottest company in the professional beauty industry.  They were the first company to hit $100 MM within its first 4 years.  Amazing success story in a slow growing industry in a horrible economy. 

They were not from the beauty industry! 

I always made a point of saying yes to meetings.  It clogged my schedule sometimes, but truly I got exposed to things that really helped me. 

You kiss a lot of frogs that way, but occasionally, you get that prince of an idea that makes all those frogs worthwhile.

In January, I was walking a trade show and met a new person.  We went to lunch shortly after.  At that meeting, we discussed a bunch of different ideas.  Frankly, I hadn't even thought of some of them.  Since then, I have followed up with those ideas.  New people ask different questions, provide different insight, and have different resources!

So the next time that phone rings... it could be opportunities to learn!

Monday, April 9, 2012

In business? Must read...

When I got out of business school, the magazine I loved was Inc.  It told amazing stories about young up and coming companies.  I stole so many great ideas from those articles.  One of my favorites was PSS, Physician Service and Supply.  The company was fast growing.  The President knew the only way he could be successful was if he had leaders under him who "got" his vision.  So he developed a 3 day new leader retreat that he would conduct on his own boat in Florida. 

So as I was growing Maly's I did the same thing.  Not on a boat, but somewhere that I could be with my people, get to know them, and get to share my vision.  Looking back, this was the most powerful things I did at our company.

Fast forward to today, the magazine that I love now is Fast Company.  It has been on my desk for years.  In fact, I remember I got the first edition that came out!  Anyhow, I am still stealing good ideas.

The most recent article that I loved was about the most innovative companies from February.  If you read the news or listen to the politicians, you would think we were about to experience the fall of the United States.  After reading this article, you will be hopeful that we have a great future!

One of my last posts was about using all your connections.  I got thinking about this from an article about LinkedIn.  Click on this to read it, it's great!

Where are you getting your great ideas?   Where are you getting inspired?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Focus on the positive, dah!

Have you ever done a SWOT analysis?  Basically, you and your team write down your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. 

When looking at your strengths you get to think of why people work for you, why clients do business with you, why do vendors pick your company to do business.

Weaknesses are hard to consider sometimes as a business owner.  We feel like King Kong!  No one is better than us, especially after considering your strengths!  When you go through your weaknesses, this oftentimes helps focus your company.  At Maly's we did this years ago.  We were doing printing for our salons, we were trying to be a marketing company.  What we realized was that our strength was launching new product lines.  We were great a making new lines big in our marketplace.  Doing these other activities were actually taking away from our strengths. 

Have you read Steve Jobs yet?  What a great book!  When he comes back to Apple in the mid 90's, he realizes that Apple has confused the client.  It was confused itself.  It had several different computers that were basically doing the same thing.  They were trying to promote them all with different spins.  He said, let's have 3 computers; laptop, desktop, and professional desktop.  Simple, yeah?  Revolutionary to the company! 

After weaknesses, you determine what are the opportunities out there.  This part of the exercise can get very theoretical.  You have to continue to come back to, what can WE do, what opportunities can WE capture.  You might be a small business is a limited geographic region.  Yes China is growing and an opportunity.  That doesn't mean its an opportunity for YOU!

And finally, you have to get paranoid!  What are the possible threats that could befall your business?  What can your competitors do to put you out of business?  What could a company from China do if it came into your market?  What happens if Walmart or Amazon decide to get into your line of business?

We don't like to think of threats, but they are real.  This exercise is great to make sure that you have put a hedge around your business that would be hard for a competitor to jump over easily.  Salons are easy and relatively cheap to open.  That is why it is so competitive.  So you see salons that open schools, perhaps with a vendor like Paul Mitchell.  That is a making a larger hedge to jump over.

This is your competitor!

This exercise can be theoretical.  Something that you put on the shelf and never think about.  Or you can use it to make significant direction changes to your business.  The great thing about small business is that you can make a turn tomorrow!  You are not a huge corporation that turns more like an aircraft carrier.  Be a speed boat!!!
This is you!