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Innovation Leadership: Five Abilities That Truly Innovative Leaders Possess

Listen to my Podcast: Five Abilities That Truly Innovative Leaders Possess

It’s Cheaper to Keep Her

It’s cheaper to keep her…your customer that is.

Customer retention, is the rate at which a company successfully keeps the customers around that they have worked so hard to obtain. Churn rate, is the rate at which customers stop utilizing  a service or a company.

You’ve seen it time and time again I am sure. Large companies pumping large amounts of money into fancy advertising and customer acquisition campaigns, but when you call customer service you get a rude customer service agent, sit on hold for 73 minutes, and then you hang up knowing less than you did when you called and your problem is left unresolved. It’s certainly happened to me more times that I would like to admit. Although…I more times than not would like to admit, and I typically do, as most dissatisfied and mistreated customers would. I tell my husband, my best friends, my coworkers, my parents, and my neighbor’s dogs. Then, I swear to the heavens that I will utilize the company or service either never again, or much less if I do not have much of another option.

If a company loses my patronage and the patronage of many others like me then eventually they will feel the hurt in their bottom line. There’s an easy fix to losing  a few measly customers though, right? Lose a couple of customers, replace them with new customers. Wrong. Inefficient. Costly. According to William Cusick, author of “All Customers Are Irrational”, the cost of obtaining new customers is much more costlier than the cost of just keeping the customers that you already have. The proof is in the pudding, or rather the numbers. Cusick says that just 2% of resources dedicated to customer retention can decrease customer acquisition expenses by 10%. That’s a pretty noticeable return on investment. And, that makes more sense, if you take care of customers and treat them like you want them to stick around, then chances are that you won’t have to replace those customers anytime soon, or at least not as often as you would if you treat customers like you could not care less. Sounds easy enough, but the numbers are even more convincing as they tell a very detailed story about customer behavior and customer retention. Here are some more of those statistics from Get Feedback:

67% of customers list a bad customer experience as their reason for leaving a company

95% of customers share their bad experiences with others

50% of customers say that they would use a company more often after a positive customer experience

58% of customers say they will never use a company ever again after a bad experience

78% of customers have ended a buying experience because of bad customer service

59% of customers would try a different or new brand after having a bad customer service experience

58% say that they would spend more just to receive better customer service

67% of customer churn or loss of customers could be avoided if customer’s issues were resolved during their first interaction with a company

11% of customer churn or loss of customers could be avoided if companies simply reached out to the customer first

It is estimated that by the year 2020, the customer experience will outrank price and product and the key brand differentiator, in other words people will choose a better experience over a better product or even a more competitive price!

What really pays off? Customers that you are able to turn into loyal customers are 5x as likely to purchase from your company again, 5x as likely to forgive a mistake or mishap, 4x as likely to tell others about your company, and 7x more likely to try a new offer with your company.

You can relax just a little, churn is also sort of natural. Half of customers leave every five years.

Have no fear though, Get Feedback also has some great advice on how to reduce customer churn outside of the natural come and go that occurs.

Ask for feedback, set and measure customer expectations, add value with products and services, and cultivate customer relationships. All in all, the main takeaway here is to build those customer relationships and create positive experiences. Customers have choices in the companies that they use. They want an experience, and a good one, they want the company that they choose to show them that they made the right choice, that they are respected and appreciated as a customer, and that their patronage is wanted.

Get Feedback is a blog that featured an article with a list of customer churn/customer satisfaction statistics gathered from experts and analysts.

Boeckelman, C. (2017, April 21). 40 Customer Retention Statistics You Need to Know | GetFeedback Blog. Retrieved February 02, 2018, from https://www.getfeedback.com/blog/40-stats-churn-customer-satisfaction/

Cusick, W. J. (2009). All customers are irrational: understanding what they think, what they feel, and what keeps them coming back. New York: AMACOM.

 

Kickstart Your Entrepreneurial Journey with Direct Sales or Network Marketing

Entering into an entrepreneurial venture can be both challenging and overwhelming. However, with proper planning and experience, one can execute their ideas and reach their goals by being equipped with the tools to get the job done, but with fewer obstacles. Direct selling and network marketing are part of a steadily growing industry and a great way to gain the valuable skills necessary to start your own business. There are direct sales and network marketing companies out there for nearly any product you can think of, and startup costs are typically low. If your entrepreneurial dream is to sell products to people, then you are in luck and can get the practice you need by joining a direct sales or network marketing company.

Oftentimes these companies will provide representatives with marketing materials, sales training, business advice, and inventory, leaving them time to focus on selling, branding, networking, and building their business.

Since May of last year, my business partner and I have run our own primarily online clothing business, as representatives through a direct sales company. We have steadily gained valuable business skills along the way. We purchase inventory, advertise and market the business, and handle our finances and taxes. We even went through the steps of registering our business as a limited liability company (LLC) as well as registering with the IRS. Our plan is to someday open a boutique independent from a direct sales or network marketing company. In the meantime, the experience that we have gained and will gain is exponentially helpful in guiding us toward this goal. There are many things that this opportunity has afforded us:

Understanding the Financial Ins and Outs of Owning a Business

My business partner handles our numbers and finances. She went to school for accounting and works for a corporate company as a staff accountant. Though she came into this with some experience, this venture has helped her to see what finances and accounting look like when you are doing it for your own business. She is learning how to file our taxes, not to mention we had to do tons of research on state sales taxes and how to file, report, and pay those! If we ever make it to our dream of owning a boutique we get to go into it with very useful financial knowledge.

Working through the pains of budgeting and ordering inventory has been a huge trial and error process for us. Though we try to make very calculated decisions, sometimes you just end up buying stuff that you just cannot sell. We get to make those mistakes now and learn about buying trends. Luckily, because the company allows us to sell the unpurchased product to other representatives at the price that we paid for it, so we rarely must take a loss. Some companies require you to have product on hand, others will ship directly from their warehouses to your customers as you make sales.

We also have had the honor of learning about financing, balancing a bank account, invoicing, and even overhead costs.

Marketing and Advertising Skills

Though the company and other representatives provide some help here, I handle most of our graphic design, marketing, and advertising. Even though we work with a direct sales company with its own brand, we still must build our individual branding for our online store. We have worked hard to build our brand and it is still a work in progress. Along the way, we have done plenty of research to determine what works for us.

Building Customer Loyalty

We are selling a product, and we want to sell more. You need that mentality whether you work with a direct sales company or own a standalone business. The customer service and loyalty skills you learn through direct selling or network marketing are crucial and can be easily carried over into your small business. You may even be able to take your customer base with you when you decide to finally make the move.

Most companies will offer advice and training to assist you in this area. You also have the benefit of a brand that is typically already well established, sometimes the companies have been around for decades and are considered household names with an established following.

Gaining Social and Financial capital

Money earned during your days of direct selling can be utilized to help you start a business of your own. If you can make additional money for capital while gaining useful entrepreneurial skills, then why not? Social capital, the valuable people you meet along the way, can be pertinent in your future venture as well. You will meet many people along the way while you operate under a direct sales company and likely build a rolodex of businesses and services that can help you with everything from printing marketing materials to buying shipping supplies. This, amongst the other skills you will again, will prove essential when you venture out and start your own standalone small business.

 

Build Bridges, Never Burn Them

 

We build too many walls and not enough bridges. -Isaac Newton

In the business world and especially in the entrepreneurial business world, burning bridges is a no-no. As an entrepreneur, you need as many people on your side as possible. You never know if a bridge that you are burning is the link to a connection that you need. Talk travels fast and you never want to miss out on an opportunity because your ego is in the way. Plus, you do not want to be known as the person who walks over people and burns bridges all the way to the top.

I try to keep this in mind. I’m not perfect though, my ego sometimes gets in the way. However, as I get more experience in life I get better at not burning bridges. Half a decade ago I would have not thought twice about it. Not so much in my professional career, I was raised to never burn a bridge when it comes to work or a job or your career. However, when it came to networking or relationships, in the past, I was not one to really try to avoid burning bridges. It’s certainly something that we as entrepreneurs or future entrepreneurs or even just professional adults, should focus on avoiding. It shows maturity and tact. Even something as simple as an emailed explanation or a simple apology could be enough to save a relationship. We certainly should not ghost on any contacts or be a horrible person towards others on our journey. It only makes things harder on us, it makes the proverbial travel a ton more difficult when we need to cross a bridge and find that it is our own fault that we can no longer cross it or are forced to take the long way around to get to who we need, what we need, or where we need to be.

Ty Morse, who is the CEO of Songwhale, an interactive technology company focused on domestic and international enterprise SMS solutions and direct response campaigns, says that the advice “don’t burn bridges, build them” was the best advice that he has ever had. In his article with Inc., he presses the idea that you never know who will be meaningful to you on your path to the future, that nothing is worth completely cutting someone off. He is a true believer in focusing on building bridges in networking and building relationships with those that we come across on our journey. Just as Schussler in “It’s A Jungle in There”, Morse also encourages us to take the high road and to not let our ego get in the way. He says that the business world is about doing business not being defensive or petty. I could not agree more.

Sometimes you must take a step back and ask, “is this really worth it?” This is something that I am having to learn on my professional development voyage. I’ve always been taught to “pick my battles” and as I grow, I try to not let my ego get in the way. I try to look at the big picture and ask myself about what truly matters. Will it be of concern down the road a bit? Does being right for the sake of being right do anything for me? Is an apology the right option? Morse says to have tact and to avoid being defensive and petty. Most things that we get so twisted up about do not matter in the big picture and our pride is just all in the way. It is okay to be wrong (or right without making a big deal about it) and it is certainly acceptable to apologize. It is most definitely fine to not burn bridges.

Once we learn how to find that balance and to not burn bridges but to instead build them, we will see that things get so much easier.

Schusssler, S. (2010). It’s a Jungle in There. New York, NY: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.

What Goes Around Comes Around: Lift Others Up

We rise by lifting others. -Robert G. Ingersoll

I’ve always been an avid believer in karma, in helping others, and in giving back. I have worked in the casino industry for nearly five years now and if there is one thing that I have learned working in the corporate world and especially in such a tight-knit, albeit, strict environment, is that you cannot walk over people to get to where you want to be. The people who are successful and who nearly anyone would bend over backwards to assist, or hand an award, or promote time after time, are the team players. They are the ones who people know, not just because they are kind, but because they are willing to help others. They are the mentors and the role models…the team players. They are willing to reach out their hand to help others up even if it does nothing for them. They are not out looking for recognition. They lead by example. They are the type that people trust and look to for advice. The type that if they asked you to work on a project with them, you would agree without a second thought.

My mentor for the last few years has been a former manager of mine. She is an amazing leader, yes, she has plenty of achievements of her own, but even she would tell you that some of her most amazing accomplishments are the people that she encourages and mentors to do amazing things in their own professional and personal lives. She’s the reason that I wanted to and could go back to school and get not one, but two, undergraduate degrees. She is part of the reason that I am on my way to getting my master’s degree. She is the motivation that led me to advance in my career, she has always pushed me to focus on professional development. She has encouraged me to achieve things in my personal life as well, such as buying a house. She did not have to, and I certainly could never repay her, she did it because she wanted to. She has certainly won awards and accolades but that was never her motivation for helping others.

I recently interviewed a local entrepreneur by the name of Emily Breedlove, what impressed me the most about Emily was that everything that she does helps others. She spends much of her time helping entrepreneurs and has a passion for working to help women trying to become entrepreneurs. I mean, the fact that she took the time to let me interview her was proof that she does not mind to humbly help others and not ask for anything in return.

I am so thankful for people like Emily who contribute to their community and to other people. I am also so thankful for those in my current organization who are so willing to help others become successful. It costs nothing to create positive karma in your professional life. To be kind to those that you may meet who are interested in taking the journey that you have taken. It costs nothing to give back and be a mentor for others, but it could mean the world to the person you help to lift up.

Schusssler, S. (2010). It’s a Jungle in There. New York, NY: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.

Don’t Give Yourself the No!

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. -Wayne Gretzky

Don’t take no for an answer. Sure, that is certainly sound advice. However, the hard part starts before we even ask. Many of us shoot ourselves down with doubts and our fear of rejection before we even give anyone a chance to tell us yes or no. Ask, and the worst that happens, is you get a no, right? Sounds easy enough. Still, some of us give ourselves the “no” without even trying first. How many opportunities have you missed out on because you just dropped your head and shoulders and walked away at just the thought of hearing no? Maybe none, maybe a ton. I am sure that I have missed out on plenty but I cannot be sure, that is the problem. You see, you miss every single shot that you don’t take. I am completely guilty of being so afraid of the word, that at times I would rather not even ask than possibly hear the answer “no”. The fear of people not even considering my suggestions or ideas, has led me to kept my mouth shut more times than not.

As an entrepreneur, you must have conviction, you must have confidence. You cannot be afraid to share your ideas, to move forward in your plans, to ask for help or guidance, or to ask for someone to invest in your ideas or your business. You must be brave against a possible no, and learn how to move forward when you do hear the eventual and inevitable no.  You must have confidence to try to convince to someone to say yes. The confidence to learn from every no and still go out and take shots. How though? How do you build that confidence and resilience even when you are afraid of the no?

In her article at Entrepeneur.com, Jacqueline Whitmore, lists 9 solid tips to help you push forward and exude that entrepreneurial confidence needed to present ideas, talk to investors, or take that “no” and get the “yes”.

She says that first you must package yourself for success. Look the part, dress the best, and dress for the occasion. This one is a given for most professionals and entrepreneurs, but it is extremely important nonetheless.

Secondly, correct your posture. People can tell when you do not really want the yes. If you are slouching and just overall showing poor posture, you are obviously asking for the “no”. Sit or stand up straight. My mentor once prepared me for a presentation by telling me to imagine that I was Superman wearing a cape, standing up strong and confident, it worked!

Thirdly, do your best and worry less. I am terrible for worrying, I find that telling yourself that no is not the end of the world and a couple of controlled breathing exercises work wonders for this kind of anxiety.

Fourth on Whitmore’s list, focus on the future. By focusing on your goals and purpose, you can keep your eye on the prize and give yourself that little push to move forward.

Number five, embrace positivity. Being negative will not breed that yes. People can sense a negative person from a mile away. Be positive.

Sixth she lists, let go of small mistakes. Sometimes you will make mistakes. Sometimes you will fail. Sometimes you will get a no because you did not have all your ducks in a row. Pick your head up and move forward. If you can fix the mistake, do it. If not, well, then you cannot. Either way, let go and move forward.

Seventh, continue to grow and improve. Always seek to learn more. Knowledge can be a total confidence boost, besides, what better way to move towards getting that yes than knowing what you are talking about. Find ways to grow and improve yourself personally and professionally. Be an expert in your field.

Number eight, schedule time to play. In other words, take a break. Relax. Whitmore says that if you invest time in your hobbies, friends, and family, you’ll feel rejuvenated and ready to conquer your next challenge.

Finally, number nine. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Sometimes you need additional tools, encouragement, or advice. Have the confidence to ask for it. This could be exactly what you need to overcome challenges or hang-ups.

Whitmore presents some very helpful tips to building confidence in her article, and it is so important to be comfortable and confident if you want that yes. The best advice that I can give is for you to take that confidence and use it to give yourself a chance. Realize that no is a very good possibility, but do not let that stop you from even trying, and when you get “no”, remember that it is okay to step back regroup and come back recharged with a plan to try to get the “yes”!

Most people immediately stop when they hit a wall and turn around. Most successful entrepreneurs try pushing on the wall a few different ways and then try to find a way around the wall. -Joshua Baer

Schusssler, S. (2010). It’s a Jungle in There. New York, NY: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.

Whitmore, J. (2014, September 30). 9 Ways to Show More Confidence in Business. Retrieved December 01, 2017, from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/237634

Persistance is a Virtue.

Ambition is the path to success. Persistence is the vehicle you arrive in. -Bill Bradley

You hear plenty about persistence in the business world. The phrases such as “keep trying”, “never give up”, or “resistance is futile” may come to mind. Okay, maybe not that last one, but you get the point. From youth, we all hear some variation of the following mantra at some point in time, or even many times, “when life knocks you down, get up, dust your pants off and keep going. Persistence is one of those qualities that is admirable and can prove quite rewarding if pointed in the right direction. If you want something, go after it, if it does not work out in your favor, try and try again, stick with it until you get it.

When I entered the casino industry nearly half a decade ago, I entered bright and ready to go. I was determined to set goals, and reach them. After spending a year in finance, I knew I needed to make a move to get where I needed to be. I had watched for nearly a year, these guys in fancy suits buzz around the casino floor, wining and dining the high rollers, handing them bundles of cash, and treating them like royalty. After befriending one of them, a guy who went by the name Rico, I got the insight on the position and the department. These guys (and gals) were marketing executives and hosts. Their job was to treat the biggest spenders on the floor better than most people treat their own mother. Call them up, offer them complimentary rooms, money bonuses, and lavish trips and excursions. I wanted to do that! I shadowed the department, I talked to every person I figured could tell me more. I even signed up for a company course on my days off to gain more knowledge, I went so far as to walking into the office of one of the managers and saying, “Tell me how I get this position, I want this job.” Long story short, I applied for that position. Five times to be exact, before I even got an interview. My persistence and my determination got me an interview. Would an interview be enough though? I sat in the room with three other candidates answering questions, shaking in my boots, literally. The manager later told me from her point of view what she saw, “I looked up and saw that you were extremely nervous, your hands were obviously trembling, you saw me look and gently placed your hands under the table and continued to tell me exactly why you were the right person for the job, never missing a beat.” Needless to say, I got the job and I stayed in that position for three years, proving my worth, displaying my determination, persistently.

If I had given up at my first, “We regret to inform you that you were not chosen for the interview process” letter, I can guarantee that I would not be where I am today, working as a Senior Executive in that same department. Who is to say I would have gone on to receive two perfect performance evaluations two years in a row? Would I have been inspired to go back to finish college? Would I have two undergraduate degrees and now amidst my masters? I cannot say for certain, but I am sure that things would have turned out a lot differently and I am certainly quite fond of where I am.

The takeaway? Be persistent, keep trying, and give it your all. To this day, I still tell aspiring hosts, executives, and the occasional student that I have spoken with. “Don’t give up”. You may have to apply five times, but if it is right, it will happen. The hardest thing is to stay persistent, determined, and patience, but so many times it is worth it.

Take your marketing with you! Yes, you are going to need to market…

Marketing is a contest for people’s attention -Seth Godin

Nothing sells itself. I do not care how many times you have heard that saying about a product, it is just absolutely not true. Selling takes marketing in some sort of shape or form. Perhaps you have read in one of my previous blog posts that I sell clothes, women’s clothes to be more specific. You may also have caught on that I have a bit of a passion for marketing, although I sometimes do not have the time to invest as much as I would like into experimenting and implementing different ideas that I have. Marketing is important and it is a huge part of getting sales for my business partner and I. We make online sales, marketing and selling mostly through social media. However, the biggest chunk of our sales are made via network marketing. We meet new people, mostly through people we know or while going about our everyday life, and we introduce them to the brand and the clothing. One of the things we are still working on though is really effectively marketing and getting our boutique and our clothes out there in front of more potential customer’s eyes, and on bodies (at least in a dressing room).

In his book ‘It’s a Jungle in There’, author Steven Schussler talks about customers not buying what they don’t know exists. He discusses getting your product out there and into the eyes of potential customers. He tells a story about keeping a restaurant replica in his trunk at all times, so that whenever a potential investor made a comment on wanting to check out the concept, he could take them right out to his car and show them that very day! This anecdote really put the “yup” in my head and really reinforced the advice, “you have to wear what you sell”. It is something my business partner repeatedly tells me and I think it’s really something that all entrepreneurs should keep in mind and in practice somehow or another. If you sell a product or service, you should at all times, have that product or service at least visually available in some tangible form, a picture, a sample, something, anything! I cannot tell you how many times I have not even had my business card readily available or I was too shy to continue the conversation or hand my card over to someone who was admiring one of our dresses that I was wearing.

More than that though, that is, getting yourself out there and promoting or marketing your brand, product, or business, I think it is important to think outside of the box about your marketing. You have to stand out, you have to be different, and for obvious reasons. We all experience marketing being thrown at us from the time we wake up to the time we lay down and go back to bed (and perhaps in our dreams too). So as the entrepreneurs trying to make sales, we have to do something that makes potential customers stop for a moment and say, “hey, maybe” or we will never have the chance to get them to say, “yes”. In his article ‘6 Ways to Think Outside the Box When Marketing Your Small Business’, Dan Scalco (2017) gives a couple of ideas for entrepreneurs to think outside of the box in their marketing. Like allowing customers to get personalized products, promoting customer engagement, showing appreciation to customers in special ways, developing a loyalty program, utilizing the untapped market over at social sites like LinkedIn, or even surveying your existing customers and offering rewards.

These tips may sound like pretty obvious opportunities, but there are plenty of businesses who are not doing these things, which just goes to show that it does not take much to be a little out of the ordinary! Taking your marketing with you and thinking outside of the box a bit could be just what you need to give your business a boost. I know it is something that I will be trying to keep more front of mind moving forward.

Scalco, D. (2017, February 24). 6 Ways to Think Outside the Box When Marketing Your Small Business. Retrieved November 11, 2017, from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/284269

Schusssler, S. (2010). It’s a Jungle in There. New York, NY: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.

Practice Makes Excellence.

When I think of excellence, I think of the well-known motivational quote, “practice makes perfect.” I think of fine tuning and I think of attention to detail. I envision training hard and practicing even harder. My mind goes off to visualize people who work hard with focus and determination to create the best that they can putting in their blood, sweat, and tears. I see people who never give up and who may fall but always get back up. People who do not settle for mediocrity, or average, or just enough. Excellence is setting goals and chasing dreams, shooting for the moon and refusing to just land among the stars. Excellence is going above and beyond. It’s giving your all and your very best, and then some. So yes, I think of “practice makes perfect, and sure, perfect is great in theory, but I think the concept of perfection does not take into consideration growth and the potential for even better. We should always strive for perfect but for true success, big-thinking success, we must realize it is not just some end point that we must get to but rather an ongoing journey. “Practice makes excellence”, is so much more realistic and encompasses the journey concept. We as aspiring entrepreneurs or present entrepreneurs must practice excellence and practice FOR excellence.

In “It’s a Jungle in There”, Steven Schussler says that he framed two quotes that inspire him and placed them above his desk, one of those quotes declares that, “The noblest search is the search for excellence.” To be a successful entrepreneur one must search deep within themselves for excellence and inspire those that work with and for them to shoot for excellence as well. Your efforts should be deliberately focused on and aimed at excellence. You must breathe and perspire for excellence. Success depends on it. Excellence is something that should be ingrained in all that you do, make, and sell.

I want my entrepreneurial venture to be an industry leader in excellence with a focus in quality and accuracy. I want excellent customer service to be what we are known for. I want to offer excellent products, excellent service, just exude and radiate excellence. The second quote which Schussler framed simply states that, “When you’re out of quality, you’re out of business”. No matter what entrepreneurial venture you are headed toward, be sure to never sacrifice excellence. I have watched what may be my future competition take shortcuts and make other moves that are ethically questionable, honestly this is part of what led my husband and I to want to start our own business. We saw the opportunity to do things right, to be excellent. Quality and the continuous dedication to quality sells. People want to know that you are giving them your best product or service. They want to be able to trust you and depend on what you are selling or providing. They want to know and believe and receive excellence.

We must, as entrepreneurs, practice all that leads to being excellent. Practice makes excellence and success depends on it.

Schusssler, S. (2010). It’s a Jungle in There. New York, NY: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.