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Why Your Business Needs a “Human Element”

Make your customer feel like you're talking directly to them.

Make your customer feel like you’re talking directly to them.

Renowned businessman and advertising executive, Fairfax M. Cone once said, “Good advertising is written from one person to another. When it is aimed at millions it rarely moves anyone.” I couldn’t agree more. One of the best ways to achieve this intimate level of communication with your audience is by incorporating a “human element” into the way your business interacts with the world.

Before we venture on, I want to briefly address what exactly defines a human element. Businesses are run by people and they serve people, still communication can lose this person-to-person aspect if we don’t actively seek it out. The result is a business that feels sterile and disconnected from its audience. The human element adds a personal touch that makes you feel accessible and relatable. It’s incorporating staff photos on your website, using I/We language on social media, signing newsletters with your name, not just your business’s tagline …and letting people know the story of how and why you started this business to begin with.

There are many ways to create the human element within your business and the “how” greatly depends upon your target audience and industry. This is a whole other blog post altogether (so stay tuned!). As we begin our initial discussion on this topic, I first want to develop the urgency of “why.” Why does your business need a human element? Here are four compelling reasons that aim to satisfy this burning question.

1. To develop a one-on-one relationship with your customers

You should want to incorporate the human element into your business as a means for creating a one-on-one relationship with your customers. Maybe you have hundreds, even thousands of customers; you can still create the feel of a personal relationship with each of them through strategic communications.

When customers feel like they know the owner of the business on a first name basis, even if this is just from your website’s About Page or the auto-signature on each of your monthly newsletters, it makes a difference. Customers will develop a sense of loyalty to your business and feel valued. What this really boils down to is that they’re more likely to continue to do business with you in the long term and recommend their network to do business with you as well.

2. To make yourself relatable

In the eyes of your customers, the human element makes you, well…human. This is a good thing. Being human, even when that comes with flaws or weaknesses, provides common and familiar ground with which your customers can relate.

Take for example, a business owner who shares his personal story about how his company was created. Maybe this was the result of another business failure or maybe he came close to bankruptcy a time or two. Don’t mistake this for weakness; it is actually a powerful way to relate to your customers. It breaks down the misconceptions that the owner is some suit in a window office with his feet propped up on the desk. Instead, your customers will see you as a smart, hardworking businessman who has struggled for success just like everyone else. And most importantly, someone they want to do business with.

3. To make yourself accessible

Making yourself relatable and making yourself accessible are two different things – both can be accomplished by incorporating the human element into your business communication strategy. You want to also be accessible so that your customers feel like they can easily reach out to you with any question or concern and get a quick response from a real person.

Think of two vastly different customer service experiences you have had with two different businesses, one good and one bad. What made the bad one so terrible? If you’re like me, my bad experience was the result of a not receiving a timely response, or no response at all and being fed a prefabricated answer that didn’t really solve my problem. Even worse are businesses that don’t list an email or telephone number and direct you to a stagnant FAQ page that does even less to make you feel like your issue is being personally addressed. The human element makes you and your business feel accessible to your customers which goes a long way in keeping them happy!

4. To create a consistent voice

Lately, I’ve heard the term “human element” used when referring to a business’s social media. This is a powerful tool that can help you to create a consistent voice when communicating with your fans and followers. Being “human” with your audience also helps to create a distinct voice that further defines your brand.

There are endless examples of businesses that struggle to find their voice on their website, marketing materials and social media. They’re all over the place. One voice will be very formal and professional, while the other voice will be conversational. Customers like consistency because it indicates reliability. Get personal with the way you communicate and interact with your social media contacts. Engage them in discussion as a way to talk with them – not just at them. The human element requires to you get real with your audience which is a refreshing change from the old, stuffy way of communicating and will help give your brand further reach.

Why is the human element so important in your business? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

 
 

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Dealing with the Pain Points: The right way to identify your customers’ needs

pain pointsIn my line of work, I’m often brought on board to deal with pain. Let me clarify this a bit further. I help my clients identify the pain points of their business as it pertains to communication. I also help them identify the pain points of their target audience so we know how to better connect with them. And even with years of experience now under my belt, this task has become no easier than the very first time I learned about the abstract concept of pain points – mostly due to the fact that every client is different, and so is their pain.

Uncovering a client or customer’s pain points shouldn’t inflict them with more pain. Which is why we can’t overlook the fact there are right ways – and some very wrong ways – to go about this process. I’m willing to bet many of you have been subjected to the wrong way at least once, even if you didn’t realize it at the time. This is the salesperson who tells YOU what your pain is, before really getting to know you or your needs. This is the business advisor who offers no insight and simply asks you to tell him what your biggest pain points are as he jots them down with a nod and smile.

So what’s the right way to identify your customers’ needs? Here are four snippets of wisdom I’ve compiled after talking with fellow communications professionals and business owners. Across the board, these are the key concepts you need to keep in mind whether you’re identifying your own pain points or the pain points of your target audience.

Make it a discussion

Clients and customers just want to be heard, especially when it comes to understanding their greatest pains. Don’t walk into a meeting with a list of predetermined pain points to sell them. Instead, start a conversation. Get to know more about them, their business and their needs. As the conversation progresses, you’ll gain a better understanding of the pain points they share with fellow businesses in the industry as well as pain points that are completely unique to them.

In an effort to start a discussion, don’t go to the other extreme of making them do all the talking either. Sure, ask questions, but don’t drop a bomb like “What are all your biggest pain points right now?” First, you can’t assume your client even really knows what a pain point is. Second, you’re likely to turn a nice conversation into an interrogation with a loaded question like that. Let them talk and then offer insight. You know, like a dialogue?

Share your experience

Once you’ve started a pleasant discussion and gained a foundation for understanding their needs, it’s time to offer some valuable input. Given things have progressed in the direction you anticipated, you can refer to some information you’ve prepared in advance. For example, this could be a slide or printout of what you have found to be common pain points within their industry – shared by other professionals with whom you’ve worked. Guide them with your experience, but acknowledge and respect the fact that every business is unique and so are their pains.

Peel back the onion

What many perceive to be their pain points is only the first layer. This is where your expertise becomes so valuable! Don’t take what your clients or customers identify as their pain points to be the final answer. Ask more questions to gain a deeper understanding and even challenge some of the points, if you feel necessary. Your goal should be to expand your clients’ understanding of their business’s needs or customers’ pains. You need to be the mirror that allows them to see their blind spots – this is where you add value to the process.

Keep it reasonable

Some strategies aim to amplify pain points and blow them out of proportion. I find that this comes across both dramatic and cheesy – and at the end of the day, makes YOU look less professional. Make your pain points both real and relatable. For example, if you choose to incorporate your pain points on your website, you want them to ask rhetorical questions that almost everyone in your target audience can answer with a resounding “Yes!” They should be general enough to relate to the vast majority of people you’re trying to reach, yet specific enough to still be meaningful. You want your pain points to really strike a chord with your audience, and after they answer these rhetorical questions, make them want to do business with you!

What strategies have you used to identify your own pain points or the pain points of your customers? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2014 in Business & Success

 

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Why No Experience is Ever a Waste of Time

waste of timeThe past several years spent starting my own business and living the out-of-the-box life of a young entrepreneur have provided me with as many new experiences as the 23 years prior. While “new experiences” may sound fun, exciting and even a little sexy, any business owner will tell you that there is a large range in altitude between the valleys and the peaks.

In my reflection upon these life experiences, the negative and positive, the helpful and hurtful, the uncomfortable and encouraging, I realized that I’ve developed an almost nostalgic sentiment around each one. Even the moments that could be viewed as mistakes or wastes of time have all helped to teach me something and bring me to where I am today. And I think we can all relate this back to our own lives.

Consider this thought for a moment. “If we do not find anything pleasant, at least we shall find something new.” This quote, attributed to Voltaire, challenges us to never see anything as a waste of time, but more as an opportunity to experience something new. Is this a reasonable request? I think so.

Here are four reasons why we should reframe what we’ve been dwelling on as past mistakes and wastes of time and view them simply as a new experience.  

Because something motivated you to make this decision

When you feel like something has become a negative experience or a waste of time, stop and recall what led you down this path to begin with. In many instances, passion, inspiration, hope for a better future or enjoyment guide our choices. While you may never know where the journey will lead you, it’s the best intentions with which you began that really matter.

Because you choose your experience

We are the keepers of our own happiness and only we determine how we feel about any particular situation. There are some people who have really been dealt a tough hand, yet they live a life of contentment and gratitude. Then there are people who appear to have everything going for them, yet they couldn’t be more miserable. What sets each of these types of people apart is simply how they choose to experience life. We must choose happiness in order to be happy. And if we choose to never see a situation as a mistake or waste of time, then we will live with a lot less regret.

Because there’s always a bright side

Any experience – even a negative one – contains at least a pebble of happiness, if only we’re willing to look for it. To apply this to a challenging example, let’s say the experience was that your new business failed and you had to close your doors. As Voltaire would reason, this is not something pleasant, so we must then look for the “something new” to turn this into a positive experience. The bright side would be that now you have the opportunity to restructure your business model and try again, venture into a new line of work or simply spend more time with your family. The bright side will not always cast away all of the dark shadows, but it will at least restore some of your hope and happiness.

Because dwelling is not mandatory

By nature, I dwell. I dwell on the big things, the small things and everything in between. Sometimes I’ll continue to walk around with this weight on my shoulders, unable to remember what was bothering me in the first place. This makes it very easy for setbacks or negative life experiences to take a toll on my emotions. But I’ve gotten better. I now remind myself that worrying accomplishes absolutely nothing, so instead I get active. If it’s a problem I can’t solve personally, I go for a run to clear my head or start working on another project simply to feel in control. We determine how much we allow ourselves to dwell and the sooner we take our mind off of a negative experience, the closer we are to our next positive one.

Share your thoughts! Have you found any life experience to truly be a waste of time? How much does your mindset impact how you experience life?

 

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How to Cultivate Social Media Relationships (Outside of Social Media)

cultivate2Social media has forever changed the way we connect and communicate with people all across the globe. I’m always amazed to see the many various states – and countries – in which my followers reside. There’s no question that social media has fostered relationships that simply wouldn’t exist without this technology. Although social media helps to make communication easy and automated, there’s one very important aspect of relationship building that we must never put on autopilot or take for granted.

To cultivate meaningful (as well as beneficial) social media relationships, we must continue to build this connection outside of social media alone. Here are four important practices to help you foster your relationships and make yourself more than just an avatar.

Make it one-on-one

Following or friending a contact is only the first step, yet so many of us stop there and think we’ve built a meaningful relationship with someone. Sure, it’s exciting when your favorite celebrity follows you back on Twitter, but this hardly means you’re anything more than a number. To take it one step further, you have to seek out one-on-one interactions.

Once you get a good interaction going with someone on social media, such as a retweet, a like or a comment, follow-up with a private message (or even better an email) to continue the conversation on a more personal level. This could be a potential client, someone you admire or someone who has a question for you. While it’s not exactly face-to-face, in the virtual world, this one-on-one interaction makes you feel like you know the person on a much deeper level and is an important step in building a meaningful relationship outside of the massive, public social media platforms.

Reciprocate

It’s what every social media guru preaches, yet so often we still disregard this advice. To build a meaningful social media relationship, you must both give and take. If you have a connection that loyally supports you by retweeting, commenting, liking and sharing – look for opportunities to do the same for them!

The reason so many of us fail to do this is because we can’t rely on platforms like Hootsuite or Socialoomph to monitor this for us. Sure, they can tell us who interacted with our posts, but we need to take it one step further and closely follow our feeds, looking for appropriate times to reciprocate such support for news our contacts share. In doing so, we build mutual trust, respect and friendship that lay the groundwork for a meaningful relationship.

Put a face with a name

Any in-person, social function like a networking mixer, awards dinner or happy hour is a prime opportunity to take your social media relationships offline. There’s always that awkward moment when you know you’re already connected with someone on Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook, but when you meet them in person for the first time you still introduce yourself like you’re complete strangers. Stop the madness!

So long as you’ve kept a clean and professional relationship with them on social media (i.e. no stalking or creepy personal messages), there’s no shame in acknowledging you’re already connected with them. Introduce yourself and let them know you’re connected online; they might be thinking the same thing but don’t want to say it. This will put a (real) face with a name and show that you’ve done your homework. It will also make you memorable. Which brings me to my final point…

Be memorable

To make yourself more than just an avatar, you must first make yourself someone worth remembering. Out of all the people who contact me for various reasons, I’ve found the most memorable ones to be those who feel the most genuine. It’s easy to spot a message that was written just for you versus one that’s being sent out to an entire contact list. Private messages on social media are a great tool for cultivating meaningful relationships, but they’re also heavily abused. Be sincere in why you’re contacting this person – this will show through and help you stand out among the spam. It will also increase your chances of getting a response in return.

In a world where virtually everything is accessible online, the need to build personal and meaningful relationships becomes ever more important. It’s possible to accrue thousands of followers without a single one knowing you beyond your twitter handle. As a business owner or entrepreneur, you should strive for quality – not quantity – of connections. For it’s how well you engage your audience that ultimately determines whether they become a future client or customer.

Do you actively cultivate your social media relationships? Share how you do it!

 
 

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The Virtual Work Environment: When it simply doesn’t work

virtual work environmentAs a consultant, I strive to run a lean business. I work from home and meet clients on location to eliminate the overhead of an outside office. I delegate work to additional contractors rather than taking on full time employees. And because I require merely an internet connection and laptop, I can and have worked from almost every location I’ve ever been in. The virtual work environment has suited me very well. My clients have also experienced the benefits through my pricing and availability. But as fun and flexible as working from home can be, I acknowledge that it simply doesn’t fit every situation.

Different personality types are better suited for the “home working” experience and depending upon the job description, a business may need an in-office employee to meet various needs. I’m a full subscriber to the virtual work environment, as it lends itself to my particular services very well. But before you start setting up your own home office, take into consideration these following work situations that shouldn’t go virtual.

When you need immediate responses.

I make the commitment to my clients that they will receive a response or acknowledgement of their message within one business day – often much sooner. In comparison to most email communications, this is quite a quick response time; however, it’s still not as quick as if I were sitting at a desk next to you. In-office employees allow for almost instant communication because you have the benefit of popping your head over a cubicle or hunting them down in the break room. If the job description requires immediate responses, a virtual position could substantially decrease efficiency.

When you thrive on social interaction.

This is when working from home may have nothing to do with the job, but everything to do with the person. I thrive on a quiet, uninterrupted work environment. I used to HATE having people drop-in just to chat or getting pulled into an impromptu meeting. I worked much less efficiently because of these distractions. But I’m an introvert. For others, these are not “distractions” but are part of the company culture that makes them feel like a team. They thrive on social interaction and pull their energy and inspiration from those around them. If you took this away, work would suffer.

When you don’t trust your teammates.

Trust influences how well tasks are accomplished when employees aren’t working face-to-face. When working virtually, you don’t have the benefit of building relationships as quickly as you do in a traditional office. It takes a lot longer to build up the feelings of trust and accountability toward someone you don’t see day to day. Distrust can also come from not knowing if someone is doing the work they need to be doing. It’s easy to assume your co-worker is snoozing on the couch at home while you’re slaving away on a project if you don’t trust them or have the ability to check-in on them as you do in a traditional office.

When you’re needed to serve various, undefined roles.

The final work situation that does not lend itself well to a virtual position is one in which you are the Jack of all trades. Think of an office assistant. Their job description might outline the role of answering phones, entering data and scheduling appointments. But in reality, they are likely asked to take on many additional projects to help around the office since they are there and available. In an office where it’s all hands on deck, virtual employees benefit from being “out of sight, out of mind” and are not utilized to their fullest. This leaves the in-office employees to pick up the slack.

Even though we just covered four situations that are not best suited for the virtual work environment, don’t get me wrong. There are still many, well-documented benefits. Studies show that home workers are more productive, happier in their jobs and less likely to leave than their office-bound peers.  Virtual working also saves money, is better for the environment and gives staff the flexibility that many people crave. But it’s equally important to note that “home working” simply doesn’t fit every situation. Technology can connect us from sea to sea, but it can’t completely replace the need for in-office employees.

 

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The Best Way Out Is Always Through

robert frostWe’ve all endured our own challenges. They come in varying shapes and sizes and sometimes seem to pile on all at the same time. No part of life is immune to struggle; family, health, work and finances can bring us to our breaking point in the blink of an eye.

In the poem “A Servant to Servants” by Robert Frost, he captures a profound thought that I have used as my personal mantra during challenging moments. “The best way out is always through” I’ve taken this to mean that when you’re in the thick of things and feel like you want to turn around and go back. Don’t. Get though life’s challenges by continuing to move forward.

Here are some reasons why, even during the toughest moments, the best way out is always through:

It encourages taking calculated risks

I recognize that there are times when it’s better to cut your losses and walk away. However, that’s a different scenario than what I’m talking about here. Rather, Frost’s advice applies to well-thought out decisions or challenges from which you simply can’t turn away. Ones that you need to move forward with despite the overwhelming feeling to give up.

When choosing to venture down a path, first calculate your risks. Take time to really think through a decision before you dive right in. But once you decide it’s something worth doing, don’t turn back. Force yourself to work through the struggle. Whether it’s switching jobs, moving across the country, improving your health or getting married, be certain about your decision and then see it through the ups and downs.

You won’t lose the progress you’ve made

By turning around, you lose all the time and energy you’ve invested thus far. Seeing the challenge through until the end ensures that your progress is not wasted.

My time spent working on a statewide political campaign was a very trying time in my life. Fresh out of college, I was alone in a new city working long hours for terrible pay. I knew that Election Day was my finish line, but there were still moments when I wanted to give up. Had I turned back, I would have lost experience, friendships and job opportunities that ultimately led me to where I am now. The best way out of that stressful time in my life was to see it through.

You might be nearing the end

Just because you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, doesn’t mean you’re not nearing the exit. Reprieve could be right around the corner. Think back to a challenging time in your life. When was it at its worst and when did it end? So often the greatest struggle happens right before things improve.

If you had given up and turned back, your journey home would have been far longer than continuing until the end. Plus the guilt and regret you’d feel would make for terrible travel companions.  We don’t know what our journey is all about which is why we must continue to move forward with the hope that the best is always yet to come.

You’ll never have to wonder what could have been

Regret is one of the hardest emotions to bear. It will consume your thoughts and haunt you the rest of your life. The best way avoid regret is to see your challenges through. If you give up on your dream of starting your own business just because you encountered your first bump, you will always wonder whether it could have been a success if you stuck with it. Any chance for progress is a reason to keep moving forward. Don’t spend the rest of your life dwelling on what could have been – instead, turn it into what has become.

Progress is always accompanied by challenge. If it wasn’t, we’d be a far more accomplished society – but we wouldn’t appreciate it near as much.  Every challenge will result in change, but it’s up to us to make it positive. For the important lessons that life teaches us through struggle, don’t turn back and run away. Heed the advice of Robert Frost and keep moving forward until you’re out.

How do you approach life’s challenges? Do you agree or disagree that the best way out is always through?

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2014 in Business & Success, Life

 

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Appearance vs Experience: How social media has changed what we value

taking a photoHow often would you say you check your social media news feeds and see a picture of a friend on vacation, enjoying a fancy dinner, attending an expensive sporting event, meeting a celebrity or buying something big like a car or a house? I would venture to say this is likely an everyday occurrence. It’s common for social media to attract information such as big announcements or fun experiences, but what’s concerning is the trend of sacrificing the full enjoyment of these experiences in order to amplify their appearance.

We are becoming a society that is more focused on the appearance of our life experiences than we are with the actual enjoyment our life experiences. We can no longer appreciate a Valentine’s Day dinner unless we first check-in to the restaurant on social media, share a picture of our pricy entree and finish with an overly mushy (and overly personal) post about our significant other. Why do we need the validation of our social networks to confirm that life is good? Your vacation still occurred whether it’s on your Facebook newsfeed or not and your new car still exists even if your Twitter followers haven’t seen a photo. But maybe the reality of our lives is no longer enough. Maybe now we feel we need a broader audience to really enjoy life’s pleasures. This thought begs the following question…

Do we value the appearance more than the experience?

If you have ever paused, recreated or staged a moment so you could take a photo for Facebook, then the answer is yes. If you have ever updated your status in the middle of a romantic dinner, on vacation or during a massage, the answer is yes. I know I’m just as guilty of this crime as many of you may be and worse yet, it’s a hard habit to break! Next time you’re experiencing something really fun or unique, resist the temptation to update your social media. It seems downright unnatural. In particular, Facebook is becoming a “brag book” where we seek approval and validation for almost everything we do in life. It’s simply not accurate, and a little absurd, to measure the importance of such special moments by the number of “likes” a photo receives. We need to reverse this trend by refocusing on the experience over the appearance. We need to disconnect, even briefly, to allow ourselves a chance to take in the memory of a moment.

While social media has become the catalyst for this problem, it is a platform for sharing. There’s no reason not to update your networks with good news or a photo of something you enjoy. This is only cause for concern if in doing so you diminish the real-life experience for yourself. If you’re too busy trying to capture everything on your iPhone, the world is going to pass you by. Sure you’ll have photos to remind you of these great memories, but wouldn’t you rather simply live them first hand?

Have you seen examples of this emerging trend? Maybe you’re even a contributor. Where do you find your enjoyment – in the appearance or the experience?

 

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