Is the Customer King?

This morning as I was mulling over one of my client’s situation, I imaged telling him, “Don’t worry about what the client wants.”  WHAT?!?

balancing actI stopped in my virtual tracks and asked myself, “What are you talking about?   You always tell your clients that it is about their customers and what they want.”

Why had I even thought to tell a client not to be concerned about what the prospect wanted?

It is important that we know what we can deliver and what is beyond our scope.  If we try to please everyone, just so that we can have more business, things will turn bad quickly.

What can happen if we seek to delve into an area where we are uncertain?

No one is happy – you will be doing something that you do not enjoy doing.  The work is not up to your usual standards.  You know it and the customer knows it.

Confidence erodes – Not only is the job not done as well as it could be, but our confidence takes a nosedive.  We are not working in our power and the customer sees us as uncertain.  With this image in mind, will they hire us again?  It doesn’t matter that they may need us in an area where we are an expert, we have already set the stage in their mind about how we deliver.

The wrong image is on display – We miss an opportunity to let prospects (and the world) know what we are really good at.  When we work within our area of expertise and do what we do best, not only is the client happy, but they are willing to tell others.

Yes, we need to know what the client is expecting.  We also need to make sure that we are comfortable delivering it.  Do what you do best.  Know what your boundaries are.  Know how to set the expectations for your prospects so that everyone is pleased with the outcome.



The Joy of the Cesspool in Winter

It's not my problem that it snowed.

It has been one of those winters, when the snow and ice are just relentless.  Just as we get dug out from one storm, there is another on the horizon.  The joy of the holidays is long behind us and it takes conscious attention to find the bright side of any situation.

Then I saw a huge spark of delight and joy in the face of my brother-in-law.  He was so excited he could barely contain himself.  He was going to get a new cesspool this week.  Yes, a cesspool had brightened his dreary winter.

But, was it really the cesspool?  Actually, no.  It was the fact that after a month of calling a company that he had done business with for years and years still did not call him back, he got action from another.  Fed up with the company he had trusted for so long, he tried another company.  He was thrilled that they were able to come out and do an estimate the same day, to be knowledgeable enough to describe 3 options to him, and to recommend a starting date for this week.

Lesson learned?  No matter what your business is, how hard is it to return people’s phone calls?  If the original business did not want to do the work, could they have not returned the call and let him know?  Is it worth damaging your reputation by being unresponsive?

Run your business with responsiveness and honesty.  You just may bring delight to an otherwise dreary winter.


Managing Volunteers – Part 3 – The Volunteer Board of Directors

Organizations that are governed by a volunteer based Board of Directors have their own brand of ‘volunteer issues’.   In previous postings we talked about organizations with Volunteer Labor.  Here we will discuss volunteer Board Members, what makes them tick, and how to create an environment that attracts and keeps your most valuable players.

Why do people volunteer to be on a Board of Directors?

There are various reasons why people will volunteer to be on a board of directors for an organization.   Boards are a long time commitment.  It is not like volunteering to collect tickets for 2 hours at the school play.  Most people can do that without a really strong commitment to the organization.  Board members believe in the purpose of the organization and what it is there to accomplish.  They are therefore willing to make the time commitment required.

Given that they believe in the purpose of an organization, what else drives them to commit their time and energy to a particular board of directors?  There are various reasons.  Some are good and some of them are not.  Here are some to look for when choosing new board members:

1.  They feel that they have a talent to contribute to the board.  A strong Board is made up of individuals who have various talents which complement each other.  Once the member is on the Board, ensure that they are given the opportunity to use their strengths.  It makes the member feel needed and that they are using their time in a way that is useful.

2.  They want to see the organization move forward based on their own concept of how things should work.  This can be a double edged sword.  Bringing change to an organization can help the organization to move forward and grow.  It can also bring disruption and chaos.  If someone is presenting ideas of change and upheaval before they are nominated, consider carefully if this is just the change you have been looking for, if you are ready for it, or if there might be a better candidate for your board at this time.

3.  It looks great on their resume.  Watch out for this one.  All Board members need to contribute.  Just being on the Board does not help.  All Board members need to contribute something in the form of ideas and action.

4.  It gives them high profile exposure to more people.  This only works in favor of the member if they are able to showcase their talent.  If all they do is sit on the board and do not contribute, their exposure will highlight their weaknesses instead of their strengths.

A bit of advice to those who are looking to join a Board of Directors:  Make sure you are dedicated to the cause, and be prepared to put in time, energy, and talent over the course of your tenure on the Board.  If this doesn’t sound like something you can commit to, then do the organization a favor and let someone else fill the seat.

How do you attract and retain quality board members?

1.  It is essential that the purpose of the organization is clear.  Don’t assume that everyone knows what the organization or the board is there to accomplish and its reason for existence.  People get their own ideas about what they think an organization should be doing.  Make sure that the board members are crystal clear about the purpose of the organization.  If they have other ideas, goals, or ambitions, then they need to find a different organization that will fulfill those ideals for them.

A clear purpose helps to set boundaries within which to work.  Setting boundaries for an organization does not mean inhibiting creativity or new ideas.  These are certainly welcome and essential to moving things forward.   The boundaries ensure that the purpose of the organization is being fulfilled.  They help the board to decide if new ideas are helping them to further their purpose or if they are getting outside of what they are chartered to accomplish.

2.  Accomplishments are well defined and easy to describe.  When volunteering time, people want to know that they are helping to make a difference.  Don’t assume that everyone can see what has been accomplished over the past month, quarter, or year.  Knowing the goals for the future allows people to see how they are going to contribute.  It keeps them interested and involved in the organization.

3.   Respect the time of all board members.  Most board members are busy people.  They typically have a ‘day job’, whether it be business related or raising a family.  They have taken their time away from their family to dedicate time for a cause.  It is important to respect their time.  How do you do this?

    • Have an agenda for every meeting.
    • Start the board meetings on time.
    • Stay on track.
    • If there is no apparent reason for the meeting, then don’t meet OR, make the meeting about figuring out what else the board can be doing to improve the organization.
    • Have tele-meetings when appropriate.  Only have one or two issues to discuss or vote on?  Consider meeting via the phone lines.

4.  Ensure that the Bylaws are clear and Understood by all members.  The bylaws are there to give the organization direction and boundaries within which to function.  It is important that all members of the board have read the bylaws and understand how they guide the organization.  Disagreeing with the bylaws and going off and doing things outside of them is not an option.  Board members that disagree with the bylaws are probably not good candidates for the board.  A good member who sees where a change could benefit the organization needs to go through the process of getting an official change made to the bylaws (this process should be stated in the bylaws).

Volunteers on a Board of directors will continue to serve when everyone is working together.  Following the bylaws means that everyone knows the boundaries within which to work.  Good members will leave a board if things start to run in a loose and undirected fashion.

How do you create a board where everyone is sharing responsibility? 

Have you ever been on a board where a couple of people end up doing most of the work and others seem to not be contributing?  I have seen this far too often.  Why does this happen?  Here are some things to look at:

1.  One or two people are more extraverted and ready to jump in to volunteer before the others get a chance to even think about it.  If this seems to be the case, those that are doing all of the work need to take a step back and consider how their behavior may be impacting the ability of others to contribute.  Remember, we all have different ways of viewing the world and responding to it.  Others may need more time to understand a situation or to know whether a task is suitable to their talents.  They may even need to be asked to take on a particular task or if they can do it with the help of another.

2.  Know the talents and gifts of your board members.  People like to contribute from their strengths.  Don’t expect everyone to be happy about doing every task that comes along.  Figure out their strengths and what they enjoy doing.  Make sure they are aware of a task that comes along that they would enjoy taking on.

3.  Choose and recruit your board members wisely.  Look at the talents that are missing on the up-coming board and seek out someone who can bring that to your board.  Having a whole board of people good with numbers will not move your group forward.  Neither will one filled with visionaries or sales people.   You need a balance of many talents to form a really strong board.

If you find yourself saying, “But, but, but… I had to do it.  No one else was stepping up to the plate.” Consider this:

Why would people volunteer to be on a board and then not want to contribute?  If they truly just want to show up to be seen, then you have the wrong person on your board.  It is a privilege to be on a board.  If you are in a situation where you are begging people to be on your board instead of choosing those that would benefit the organization, then there is a more serious core problem. Go back to some basics, as outlined in the section about “Why do people volunteer”.  See if any of these points sparks something in you that could be of help.

Consider a special board ‘retreat’ to focus on the board and how it functions.  This is about the board, not about the organization.  It is a time to be honest with the other board members and to express what is working and what is not working.  It is a good time to see how to strengthen the board as an organization.  I highly recommend that you bring in an outside person to facilitate the discussion and to help you to set up an agenda and expectations ahead of time.

Summary – Part Two

Volunteer Boards can be very rewarding.  Realizing that volunteers usually contribute with different standards than paid members is important to setting up a successful board.  Having the structure of a clearly defined purpose and a good set of by-laws is your first step to success.  Utilizing the talents of your members not only makes the volunteer happy, but it also benefits the organization.  Finding the balance between structure and allowing each member to contribute their gifts is the key to turning your board from good to great.

If you have been a volunteer yourself you can probably relate to the concepts brought out in this series of blog posts.  Whether looking to recruit volunteers to help you, or looking to improve your board of directors, there are a few things that seem to be common to volunteers:

They want to make a difference

They want their time and talents to be respected

They want to be appreciated

Establishing an environment to satisfy these three things is the key to running a successful volunteer organization.

Managing Volunteers – Why People Volunteer

Volunteers!  Take an employee and put them in a volunteer situation and you have a whole different persona to deal with.  This article is designed to look at what makes volunteers tick, what motivates them, and how you can create an environment that allows your volunteers and your organization to shine.

In this posting we will address the organization with “Volunteer Labor”.   In other words, the leaders of the organization are looking for the help of volunteers.  Without this volunteer labor, the organization will not function.

Part One – Volunteer Help – Ongoing Labor that makes an Organization Function

Helping HandThere are many organizations or events that count on the contribution of time and talent of volunteers in order to function.  They are unpaid labor.  They put in their time at the thrift store, the church, the 5-K Run, the charity fundraising dinner.  These are typically non-profit organizations who count on a community of volunteers to keep them running and serving their cause.

Our volunteers are so important, yet I remember talking to the Volunteer Coordinator at my church.   She told me that every time people saw her approaching them, they looked down at the ground and scooted away in the opposite direction.  They assumed that she was going to ask them to do something. To volunteer!

People are not opposed to volunteering and helping out.  Some are even seeking out volunteer opportunities.  Wouldn’t it be nice if, as the volunteer coordinator, people sought you out to ask what could be done, instead of avoiding you?  How do you get to be the ‘go to’ person, instead of a pariah?  Here are a few things to look at and consider for your organization.

Why People Volunteer

What’s in it for volunteers?  Why do they want to give freely of their time?  If we know this, then we can look at our organization and structure it so that we provide the environment, structure and rewards that volunteers are looking for (whether they know it or not).

  1. Volunteers want to see that through their actions, they have contributed to the purpose, mission, or goals of the organization.  It can be as simple as directing people on where to park at an event or as complex as running the sound system for a charity dinner.   If at the end of their shift they can realize that without them, things would have been confusing, chaotic, not brought in as much money or that they helped even one person, then they feel good about their contribution and are willing to do it again another day.
  2. Volunteers want to have their time well utilized.  Creating a framework and structure for your event or on-going work allows volunteers to know where they fit in, where they are supposed to be and when, and what they are being asked to do.  They hate getting up at 5:00 on a Saturday morning, to arrive on time at 7:00 only to find out that no one knows where they will be working, what they will be doing, or when they will get started.  Most don’t appreciate hanging out with coffee and donuts until someone “in the know” gets a moment to handle the volunteers.
  3. Volunteers want to feel that their contribution is necessary.  Showing up at an event and seeing that there are more than enough volunteers to accomplish the job does not make them happy.  If they had known that they weren’t really ‘needed’, they could have slept in or gone golfing.  Trying to get them to volunteer for something else at another time will be very difficult.
  4. Volunteers like to be thanked.  Yes, it is pretty simple.  Say Thank You.  Not just once, but multiple times while they are working.  For one time events, make sure to send out a Thank You card or letter afterwards.  The more personal, the better.  Knowing that someone appreciates their time and contribution goes a long way to having them volunteer again.  If it is an on-going schedule of volunteer opportunities, make sure to send periodic, personalized Thank You notes.  This ensures them that you do not take them for granted and realize that without them the organization could not function.  The group ‘form letter’ thanking the volunteers seems like a good idea, but I have found it to mean very little to the recipient.  They are just bunched in with everyone else and the true appreciation is not felt.  Annual appreciation luncheons or dinners are also great if you make sure that each volunteer is addressed personally at some point during the event.  Make sure that the person thanking them knows a little about how they contribute and can at least say one thing about how that helps the organization.

The first step in running a successful volunteer organization is to know why people volunteer.  Can you look at some of your volunteer experiences and see why you either felt fulfilled or like you would never volunteer there again?

In the next blog posting, we will discuss the role of the Volunteer Coordinator and how they can establish an enviroment that has the volunteers wanting to come back over and over again.


It’s Christmas Time

It’s Friday before Christmas and small businesses are in various states of activity.  Some, like mine, are winding down, getting ready for the next year.  Many are in a state of hyper activity, providing products and services that help others to celebrate the season.

Your perception of the holiday season and how your business contributes to it can make the difference between joy and exhaustion.  If you and your employees are super busy providing gift baskets, specialty foods, decorations or the like, how is your attitude?  Are you complaining that you are just too busy?  Sounds like a silly question (because who would complain about having a lot of business?), but take a moment to notice the words that you are using.  Do you say things like “I will be glad when the holidays are over”, or “It is just too crazy”?  Are your employees bemoaning how hard they are working?

Instilling an atmosphere of joy can make all of the difference in the world.  How do you do that?  Remember and remind your employees of the purpose of your business, especially at this time of year.  When we know that we are contributing to the joy of others, making their lives easier, and touching their lives in a big or even small way, we look forward to going to work and being a part of the excitement.  We naturally extend enthusiasm and gratitude when we are in a state of contributing to others.  It makes their experience with our business more pleasurable, which translates into future business and more income.  Not to mention that everyone around us is happier!

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.  It is a wonderful time to remember the joy in our hearts and how easy it is to share that joy with all of those around us.

With great Joy,



Things Do Happen

People seem to get uncomfortable when I talk to them about preparing for an unexpected distraction from their business.  They never say, “It isn’t going to happen to me”, because they know that is a silly statement.  But, of course, we do hope that some unpleasantness is not going to come into our lives.

Instead of making you think about the possibility of something happening in your life, I will share with you what happened in mine this week and how it distracted me.

I was riding on a huge high from having just experienced the management of my first big time business expo.  Everything was great and the tone of the evening was incredible.  I could barely sleep afterwards and just couldn’t wait to tell everyone and anyone about it.

My brother Dave

Then came “the phone call”.  A call from my brother, from the hospital.  Suddenly and inexplicably he was in the hospital, serious blood problems, and would know more the next day.  Right away, my mind shifted from joy to concern.  Suddenly I could not find the energy for the business side of my life.  I had an important meeting the next day and didn’t know how I was going to focus.

Well, I did pull it together for the meeting, until I got another phone call with a dire diagnosis.  Talk about distracting!  I could barely focus on the end of my meeting and then driving to the hospital.

For 5 days I was going through the motions of my business, just to have a distraction from my family situation.  I felt like a truck had run through my heart and nothing else was really important.  Our families are really important and we do not want to have to ignore them because our business cannot function without us.

This distraction with my brother, fortunately, was not so severe that I had to enact my contingency plan.  At least I was not the one incapacitated (although sometimes I wondered about my ability to think), I was conscious and could make decisions, and I was able to keep a fairly normal routine.

I am so grateful to be able to say that after 5 days of total shock and grief, my brother received a different diagnosis.  He still has health challenges, but the outlook is not so dire.  (He also was able to escape from the hospital.)

One of the lessons I learned during this time was how deeply we can be affected by these unexpected events in our lives.  They can distract us and even devastate us.

 At least I knew that my business was in order and that I did not have to worry about it.  Would now be a good time for you to ensure that your business is ready for the unexpected?  If you would like help simplifying that process, give me a call.