Bite-Size Chunks of Wisdom

January 2017

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Last Thursday, I hit a wall. It was late morning with lots of projects with my name on them. With little oomph to execute my well thought-out, time-sensitive plans, I became worried.

Fuzzy thinking. Lack of focus. Inability to become centered. Flitting from one task to another without traction or forward movement. Sound familiar? This medley of symptoms is much more common than we, small business owners, are willing to reveal.

I couldn’t quite figure out (i.e., name) my experience. Without an identity, how would I find a fix? Stumped, I had no idea how to rise above it and get back to the necessary business of the day.

The Coach Whisperer

I invested four years in education to become a coach. For several years, I taught coaching competencies to other coaches. And, I’ve been coaching small business owners for 20 years.

bigstock-Problem-Solution-Concept-Asse-optimized.jpgWhen you’re well-versed on the 200 + coaching competencies, coaching is second-nature. When such an occurrence arises, I do what any self-respecting business coach does. I engage in a round of self-coaching. After all, how bad can it be? (Sounds a bit frightening, doesn’t it? Like a surgeon performing an appendectomy on themselves.)

Confidentiality is key in a good coaching relationship. Minus my responses, this is the coaching conversation between me, myself, and I.

  • What is it I’m feeling?
  • When did it first start?
  • What symptoms do I have?
  • What occurred earlier that may have triggered this?
  • What else occurs as you consider the pattern?
  • Is this a pattern of performance you want to continue?
  • What is your plan moving forward?
  • How will you measure the effectiveness of your plan?
  • And, today? What is your plan for today?

The Big Takeaway

When stuck, most people ask “why” questions. Why do I feel this way? Why is this happening to me? Why? Why? Why?

Questions starting with “why” are like a dog chasing his tail chasing the dog. You’re taken around a maypole without any hope of escaping the garland-festooned activities.

Rather than chase your tail ’round and ’round, coach yourself to better outcomes. Ask questions that begin with “what” or “how.”

“What” or “how” questions stop the round about and unwinds the confusion. It creates forward movement which you experience immediately. But don’t take my word for it….

What is your focus for the day?

How will you avoid distractions?

What will you do to celebrate yourself?

Get my drift?

Charles Darwin once said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one most adaptable to change.”

If there was ever a time to be adaptable to change it is NOW. Driven by digital transformation, no one can rest on his or her laurels.

A major component to adaptability is a commitment to lifelong learning. Incorporating it into an already busy schedule is a primary challenge for many small business owners.

Learning On-The-Job Falls Short

Did you know that some of the most successful business owners do not have a formal education? They are who author, Michael Gerber, talked about in The E-myth: masters of their crafts.

We are business coaches, accountants, therapists, designers, and attorneys who have parlayed out skills and expertise into a small business.  Minus an MBA, our learning for budgeting, marketing, and operations (for starters) has been on-the-job.

On-the-job training served us well for a period of time. Nonetheless, with the ever-increasing pace of change, new times call for new methods. We can no longer wait for “learning opportunities” to pop up during our day-to-day operations.

What is needed to keep pace with change is a system for learning.

Learning at the Speed of Information

One of the biggest barriers to learning is access to the right information, especially when you consider the amount of information created daily. In a recent documentary entitled, “A Closer Look at the Human Face of Big Data,” PBS quantified the avalanche of information we face daily.

  • During the first day of a baby’s life, the amount of data generated by humanity is equivalent to 70 times the information contained in the Library of Congress.
  • Every two days the human race is now generating as much data as was generated from the dawn of humanity through 2003.
  • We are exposed to as much information in a day as our 15th century ancestors were exposed to in a lifetime.

Given this report, it’s easy to see why many small business owners struggle with keeping up with all that is changing. Staying relevant, in order to keep your business growing, has its many benefits — and is no longer optional.

Those committed to life-long learning note it’s many advantages, including

  • feeling more capable and well rounded
  • opening up new perspectives
  • making new friends by expanding their network
  • feeling more connected

How to Develop a Lifelong Learning System

Randall Stephenson, the AT&T CEO and Chair, recently told the New York Times, “There is a need to retool yourself, and you should not expect to stop…People who do not spend five to 10 hours a week in online learning will obsolete themselves with the technology.”

Long before Mr. Stephenson touted the importance of 5–10 hours of weekly learning, Ben Franklin, one of the most prolific inventors of our time, demonstrated the rewards of such a practice.

History tells us that Ben Franklin arose an hour earlier each day to read and write. He blocked out this time for reflection, improvement, growth, and learning. He tracked his personal and professional goals and turned his ideas into experiments and inventions. His learning was deliberate, intentional, and systematic.

Here are four steps to guide the development of an intentional life-long learning system akin to Ben Franklin’s:

    1. Know your learning style.
      Each of us has a different way in which we learn best. Some people prefer to interact with information by reading and writing. Auditory learners learn best by hearing information. Visual learners retain information best when it’s presented in a visual manner through graphs or pictures. Finally, experiential learners learn best through hands-on experience.Understanding your ideal learning style helps you choose the medium, style, or platform that works best for you.
    2. Understand the time available to dedicate to learning.
      Ben Franklin dedicated himself to five hours of learning each week. Others, like Bill Gates, have successfully followed his lead.It can be daunting to set aside five hours per week for personal and professional learning – until you realize that the average person spends 50 minutes each day on Facebook and five hours every day watching TV.
    3. Understand your drive to learn.
      Be clear on your intended outcome. (Having a goal is how adults learn best.) Avoid cerebral snacking by answering the question “why” beyond “read this book” to make your time count.Someone once asked me, “Do you have one year experience repeated 10X or do you have 10 years of experience?”

      Learning with purpose ensures your experiences — and success — grow each year.

    4. Collaborate and cooperate to expedite learning.
      Given the massive amount of information being produced every day, it is not possible to have all of the best information on a particular subject readily available to you.One of the quickest learning practices is to get involved in a mastermind group. Surrounded by like-minded business owners, you can absorb the experiences of others and accelerate your learning objective.

Open Your Mind and Say Ahhhhh…

If committing time to lifelong learning feels like it’s “one more thing to do,” you can also follow Josh Waitzkin’s lead. Instead of squeezing his days to maximize productivity, he creates slack in each day. His daily “empty space” is done purposefully. The extra slack in his schedule allows him to learn, create, and perform at a higher level.

Whether you’re more inclined to use the Franklin or Waitzkin’s method, doesn’t matter. The important thing is to be intentional in developing your system to become a life-long learner.

Who hasn’t banged their phone on their desk while being rerouted through a tortuous telephone tree currently known as “customer service.” Press 3. Enter your pin. Follow with the # sign. Ugh!

Today’s consumer needs are evolving. They have greater power and are no longer at the mercy of business. In fact, they are most interested in experience — not things.

They want clarity and transparency — nothing vague. Plus, they want the same experience across every touch point (i.e., website, social media, print, customer support, etc.) And, if it’s instantaneously, that’s even better!

Is this your small business customer service experience?

describe_customer_service_experienceConsumers Willing to Pay More for Good Experience

Have you noticed your loyalty shift based on your experience as a customer? Whether you’re shopping for groceries, eating dinner out, having your automobile serviced, or mailing packages, you’ve likely noticed a change in the businesses you’re willing to support.

Here is one simple example from my own experience.

My behavior — and loyalty — swayed from the bureaucracy of the United States Postal System (USPS) to a local, small Mail ‘N Ship store this past year. Why?

The staff at the local mom-and-pop store always has a smile on their face! They keep the line moving, are cordial, make eye-contact when speaking with you and, best of all, they know my name and use it the minute I walk in the door.

Some of the USPS front-line employees are cordial, friendly, and do the best they can. Sadly, the USPS culture is notoriously plagued with inefficiencies, long-lines and, if an employee is having a bad day, they can be merciless.

Could USPS create the same experience? Absolutely!

Shipping costs at the mom-and-pop store are more expensive but that’s not reflective of the experience they provide. Costs are higher because of overhead. It doesn’t cost extra to create a positive experience that keeps customers coming back.

Customer experience goes beyond customer service.

small_business_customer_experienceDescribe Your Customer Experience

How do you want your customers describing their service experience? Understanding what today’s consumer wants is an ideal place to begin:

  1. Personalization. This can be a bit of a challenge but “one size fits all” is no longer going to cut it. Marketing software developments and automation make it much easier to achieve the level of personalization your consumer desires.
  2. Options to reach you. Your consumer wants to select the method that best meets their needs — not yours — to contact you.

Watch for website chat to grow this year as 43% of consumers prefer an immediate answer to their question while browsing your website. Only 18% of consumers are interested in self-service. Cover all your bases with online and offline options available.

  1. Continual contact. As more consumers unsubscribe from email newsletters, unfollow your social media platform, and block your mobile marketing texts, this seems a bit counterintuitive. However, consumers define what they want to hear, where, and how often. Be sure to give them options.
  2. Listen/respond. Ask your consumer to rate you on your service and what do you get? Crickets! Nothing is more annoying and time consuming for your customers than taking senseless surveys.

To get their attention — and valuable input — speak directly with your client. Then, reward them by implementing their ideas and a $50 Amazon gift card for giving of their priceless time and insight.

Undoubtedly, it’s challenging to look from the inside out to see how your business stacks up. Plus, it can be tough to hear unflattering feedback. Yet, the loyalty provided by someone who describes your customer experience as stellar places your business at a greater advantage.

Are you ready to uncover the moments of truth for your business?

Core Business Assessment


Brooke Billingsley

Vice President
Perception Strategies

Synnovatia is a strategic coaching firm that is detailed and knowledgeable about business. i have a small business that grew from $150K to $750K because of the goal setting and resources that Synnovatia provided. It saves me years of learning on my own.

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