What an angel with one wing taught me about running a business

I recently moved house and inherited a nice garden with a little angel figure hanging from the decking, right in front of my dining-room window. I laughed when I first saw this ornament because the angel figure only had one wing. Probably broken, I thought. Will have to move it because it doesn’t fit with my idea of perfection, I thought.

But recently I got to thinking that I rather like the angel with one wing. She reminds me that however high we might soar, it’s good to keep at least one foot on the ground.
Humility is something which serves us well. Arrogance, particularly in dealings with other business people or clients does not. It’s good to have a reality-check from time to time and look at what is working in our business and what isn’t.

When we’re flying high, it really is crucial to remember how we got there in the first place and who we need to thank or appreciate.

So whatever you’re up to, remember that perfection isn’t necessary and sometimes one wing is better than two….
Love Louise

Three lessons we can learn from ebay…

You are all probably familiar with ebay and have done some selling on there at one time or another. However, I am pretty much an ebay novice and it was only when we moved offices recently and had to sell a lot of stuff that I ventured into the world of online selling.
This whole experience has taught me a thing or two to apply to my own business:

Lesson 1: Cultural awareness and sensitivity is key to a successful sale – on both sides Find out about your target market and adjust your sales strategy appropriately.
Hamburg is a culturally diverse city with a good mix of immigrants (myself included!) and in the last few weeks I have dealt with visitors from many different nationalities all coming to the home office and looking at what was on offer. I found that all the Eastern European and Asian people who came drove a hard bargain – they really enjoyed negotiating and took their time – whilst the German people paid the asking price, stayed only a short length of time and were highly organized and reliable regarding time and date of visit.
In our institute we teach cultural awareness and we sometimes hear students say “Isn’t this clichéd? Aren’t you over-generalizing?” Well, the answer is “not really”. If you are selling a product or a service, whether that be a coffee machine on ebay or a highly specialized software system on your company’s website, it is essential to be aware of and, where possible, adjust to the mentality of your target customers.

Lesson 2: Know the difference between price and value
I generally aim for win-win. However, in one case I had to let the interested party go because he insisted on paying way too small an amount for something. Although I felt a bit bad about this, it reminded me:
Whatever you are selling in business, don’t be afraid to name your price, know your bottom line and stick to it. This is especially true for freelancers selling their qualified services: If you sell yourself under-value, you will start to resent things sooner or later. Also, never apologize for your prices. Explain how you add value and why you are worth your price. Better not to get the sale than to compromise too much and feel resentment.

Lesson 3: Respect your own needs
In your daily business as an entrepreneur your own needs are paramount. If you feel stressed or under pressure, the negative energy you feel will work against you. It is important to voice your own needs and wishes and prioritize them.
This is something I thought I was aware of. However, when I first started selling online I literally bent over backwards for all the potential customers – letting them always choose time and date to visit and adjusting my own schedule accordingly. Surely enough, this started to backfire and people sometimes just didn’t turn up, didn’t bother to cancel and stopped answering their phones even though they’d asked for a call-back. I was most put out until I realized that I was the one responsible for creating this situation. Now I stipulate time and date to suit me first and since then I haven’t had anyone go awol on me.

Until the next time – stay profitable!
Louise

My top two game-changing questions

I was recently asked the following question and it really knocked me for six. First of all, I struggled to come up with an answer and it really made me face reality whilst at the same time encouraging me to express my dreams and vision:

What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?

This question, originally created and posed by business empowerment guru Robin Sharma, is a game-changer.
Why?
Well, as a business owner I have had my fair share of scary moments (recession anyone?) and I believe that fear of failure is something that every serious entrepreneur has grappled with at some time or other. This question helps you to take a step back for a moment, forget the fear, and re-assess if you’re really doing what you want to be doing. I suggest you apply it to every new business strategy you devise, every new product idea you have, and to the bigger picture itself. Asking myself this question gave me the opportunity to re-evaluate my current course and look at my dreams and what I really want from my business (and from life). It was one of those aha moments. After all: knowing what you really want is the first step to getting it.

The second question is for your customers and clients and was penned by the late, great Stephen Covey:

What would it take to make it a ten?

How to use this question:
When collecting feedback after providing a service or a product, ask your clients how they would rate the experience or product out of ten. Then ask the above question and you should get some precise, important feedback as to what might still be missing and what you can improve. Look for patterns and act on them.
However a closing word of caution if using this question across cultures: I mostly work with German people and I have often had the pleasure of hearing “I’ll give you a nine, because I never give out tens on principle”. Kind of ruins it. Nevertheless I think it’s a great question and I will continue to ask it.
Hope the questions work for you,
Til the next time!
Louise

Soul to Sole – by Guest Blogger, Phil Loxton

How buying shoes taught me to listen to my inner voice.

I recently went to buy a new pair of shoes. It was something I’d been meaning to do for ages and I’d seen some very nice ones in a shop round the corner from my office. They were stylish and not overly expensive and by the time I actually entered the store I’d lost count of the amount of times I’d passed by the window and gazed on the range of footwear available.

The salesman was a youngish man and from the moment we started discussing my intended purchase, everything was wrong. He disdainfully dismissed my current choice of shoe, told me I had brought the wrong size (far too big) and that very soon what was now on my feet “would look like rubbish”. He broke off in the middle of our ‘discussion’ to speak to another woman in the shop and completely ignored my question. When I told him the shoes he proffered were too tight on my heel, he dismissed my concerns as being unimportant. “There needs to be pressure”, he asserted. Nevertheless, I thought they look good on my feet and I promptly bought them.

Two days later I left home wearing my new shoes for the first time. I went to my office and then on to a doctor’s appointment. By the time I hobbled into the surgery I was in agony, I had an enormous blister on my left heel, and was developing one on the right. The nurse on duty took pity on me and cleaned and bandaged my wounds, after which I hobbled off to the shop to complain. The same man in the shop at first tried to assure me that “some rubbing was normal”. When I told him I had blisters after less than 15 minutes of light walking, he merely said it was the first time he had heard of such a case. He then offered to show me on Google how normal it was for shoes to rub! On and on, one unforgivable sales mistake after another. In fact if you analysed everything he did, you could have put it into a book and said this is how not to sell. I mean, really the guy made every cardinal sin there is to make. I, however, committed the biggest sin of all – I bought the shoes!

You see, I had already told myself I would buy them. I’d passed the shop hundreds of times before, often stopping to look in the window, I’d told myself how right the shoes in this shop were for me, how they looked good and were very English, (something I love). I had created in my mind a situation where, no matter what, I would have bought them.

The really annoying thing about the whole process was that all the time I was in the shop my inner voice was telling me “walk away, walk away”, but I didn’t. I stuck to my original thought, I refused to listen to my instincts and the result is: I now have a pair of nice looking, reasonably expensive shoes that I can never wear.

That’s the thing about your inner voice, your gut feeling or whatever you want to call it – it’s always right. It’s part of you and it beats with your heart, it knows what is really best for you, certainly more than your conscious mind does.

But I discovered that I am not alone in ignoring my inner voice. A client recently related the story of a failed house move. She was all set to sub-let an apartment but had asked for written confirmation from the main tenant’s landlord in order to be sure everything was all above board. Although the main tenant was going to write to the landlord to advise them of this change anyway, and she had a perfectly legal right to sub-let, she refused to ask for this written confirmation. When my client pointed out, on the phone, that it would be extremely difficult for her to take on the apartment without such assurances, the tenant exploded and let out a tirade of abuse before slamming down the phone. She then refused to agree to anything my client said– including offers of payment and attempts to return the keys. Later my client reflected that it was a lucky escape and recounted how her best friend had actually warned her against this move purely on the basis of her gut feeling.
Another friend was getting a lot of pain from a tooth and had been advised by her dentist that she should have a crown fitted (not a cheap procedure). She was unsure about this and spoke to her alternative practitioner and healer. Both said the tooth was causing a lot of damage throughout the body that would only spread (the tooth was already dead). She listened to her inner voice and had the tooth removed. Immediately, she started to get better.

If we only spent more time listening to what’s inside, we would be able to make much better informed decisions that were really in line with our best interests. Being aware of our inner voice and trusting it will ultimately make us more confident about the steps we are taking in life. After my shoe adventure, I said to myself: I will never make that mistake again and, to ensure that I do so, I created a list of affirmations to bring to mind before going shopping or making any purchasing decisions.
• I only experienced good service
• I only buy the right products for me
• I listen to my inner voice, it always give me the right guidance
• It is ok to say no

Phil Loxton is a trainer, consultant and writer and also blogs at http://loxtonenglish.wordpress.com/

Looking after the rocks first … or mindful priority-setting

The following story is one that’s been circulating for a while. It holds a very important message regarding setting priorities in our lives – whether we are business owners or not:
A professor of philosophy stood before his class with some items in front of him. When the class began, he picked up a large glass jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks about two inches in diameter. He then asked the students if the jar was full.

They agreed that it was full.

So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly and watched as the pebbles rolled into the open areas between the rocks. The professor then asked the students again if the jar was full.

They laughed and agreed that it was indeed full this time.

The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. The sand filled the remaining open areas of the jar. “Now,” said the professor, “I want you to recognize that this jar signifies your life. The rocks are the truly important things, such as family, health and relationships. If all else was lost and only the rocks remained, your life would still be meaningful. The pebbles are the other things that matter in your life, such as work or school. The sand signifies the remaining “small stuff” and material possessions.
If you put sand into the jar first, there is no room for the rocks or the pebbles. The same can be applied to your lives. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are truly important.

Take care of the rocks first – things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just pebbles and sand.

Even if this story is not new to you, let it trigger a reminder that the rocks really do matter. You can label the glass jar “My working day”, “My business” or “My life in general” and decide on the priorities (rocks) for each one. Just like Diane Keaton had a jar of white pebbles on her desk in the film “Something’s gotta give” (appropriately named film in this case!) you can even use a real jar and real stones as an ornamental and subtle reminder to make time for what really matters in life.

Source used for re-telling the pebble story with grateful thanks:
http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/motivation_articles.asp?id=264&page=2

Same, same but different – so what? by Guest Blogger Phil Loxton

Today’s blog post is written by guest blogger Phil Loxton, trainer and consultant.

It’s funny how our perceptions of people are altered by how much or how little we feel we have in common with them.

A large man singing loudly, with a can a beer in one hand and football scarf in the other, is a hooligan – unless that scarf happens to be one of our teams’, in which case we are likely to join in the singing. But what does this mean for us in business?

 Well, let’s start for a moment with a company’s employees:

In my company there are two employees, A and B. Employee A was highly regarded by my business partner, who also happens to be my wife. She referred to having a good feeling about this employee and was happy to give her a lot of work, she felt “a kind of link there” she informed me. I have a lot of things in common with my wife and so I felt happy to be carried along in this and I readily agreed to employee A getting more work, even though certain events occurred that left me wondering if employee A was really one to trust.

Then a funny thing happened: my wife stepped back from the business and suddenly I was left to manage employee A on my own. I didn’t have the same feelings as my wife, I didn’t see the same connections, and so ultimately I had less desire to work with her and to offer her more work. I became more wary about using her, due to previous events. The relationship has thus deteriorated and neither side is as committed to working together as in the past.

On the other hand we have employee B. I like employee B. I discovered him and we have many things in common, not least a desire to live our lives and a more loving and spiritual way. In short, I can see many more similarities with employee B than with employee A. As such, even when employee B has made mistakes or let me down, I am willing to forgive and forget and move on.

Why should this all matter? Well, leaving aside the thorny issue that we are in fact ‘all one.’ there’s a very good reason why we should look at how our search for similarities and our willingness to accommodate those with more and reject those with less can have a fundamental impact on our employee and customer relationships.

We need to be willing to extend the same level of love and trust to those who we see as being very different, as we happily ascribe to those who we see as being the same. It is this which is at the root of successful relationships in business and successful relationships lead to better performance and better results.

The same is true of the customer relationship – we are drawn to those who we see as being similar and draw back from those who are not. This leads to some very good and profitable cooperation, but can also mean that others are not so successful and you could be missing out on valuable opportunities to grow.

You can have the best product/service and the highest salaries but without love and trust no one will want to work for you or do business with you.

In the end, learning to love and trust is the only way we can provide the stable foundation in our companies on which everything else is built.
Phil Loxton also blogs at http://www.loxton-english.de

My New Year mindset

First of all a very Happy New Year to you, loyal blog reader, and all the very best for the coming 12 months!

A lot is being written on the subject of resolutions and goals at the moment, as the beginning of a new year is always the perfect time to harness the dynamic of change. Now that the Christmas decorations have been put away, the last of the party food consumed and normal work begins again in earnest, we are all filled with good intentions to make 2014 our best year yet.

For a positive momentum this January, I would like to share some tips with you from one of my favourite gurus, Robin Sharma. For a successful start to 2014, Robin recommends the following points which I have summarized here:

1) Protect your mindset
Everything begins with belief. Believe you can make this your best year yet. Clean out all toxic influences that diminish your happiness such as unhealthy TV (e.g. watching depressing new stories last thing at night) and remove yourself from toxic people who don’t make you feel good about yourself, whilst surrounding yourself with excellent ones. Spend time on doing things that matter and elevate you.

2) Prepare to win the night before
Develop a nightly ritual of 30 minutes in which you plan your next day. Then, in your journal, write the top 3 lessons your day has taught you and then list 3 positive things that happened to you that day. End your day with gratitude.

3) Focus on your single biggest opportunity for the first 90 days.
Decide to focus on being great at one thing rather than just good at many for the first 3 months of this year.
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So, just as Louise Hay says “How you start your day is how you live your day”, I firmly believe that how you start your year also determines how things will go for you in the time to come, i.e. whether you are choosing to live by design or default.
I hope some of the above tips resonate with you. Have a wonderful 2014 and see you again soon.