Monday, March 25, 2013

The Business of Caring

Thanksgiving was just days away. 

On the front seat of my hard-working Honda was a neat stack of QuickBooks-generated invoices.  They were ready for signatures as I delivered the days promised products to our clients and customers. 

Carefully placed on the backseat and in the spacious car trunk sat the neatly organized cookie orders, reminding me of the logical pattern of bricks on a chimney.  There were Kraft-colored boxes holding my companies signature cookies; hand decorated butter cookies this time shaped like turkeys, acorns, plump pumpkin and other green and mustard-yellow winter vegetables.  Some of the cookies had been wrapped in crystal-clear cellophane bags with pretty ribbons while the brown boxes were closed with beige twine and stickered with Penny’s Pastries colorful polka-dot labels.      

At a stoplight I quickly took a peek to the backseat to make certain my deliveries were not shifting in the city traffic.  Afraid I’d stop short in mid-afternoon traffic or need to swerve slightly to miss a biker, I always carried extra product.      

But on this day the backseat was in order. 

As I once again turned my attention back to the traffic light something beautiful caught my eye.  Across the busy street I saw a caregiver and a tiny blind child.  The child in black sunglasses that seemed too large for his face awkwardly carried the traditional red-tipped and bright white cane of the blind.               

I could see the caregiver gently talking to the young boy as she instructed him in the ways of crossing the busy urban street.   It was as if I could feel in my body his trust in her and at the same time her acceptance of her awesome responsibility. 

Something inside me whispered, “She is doing God’s work.” 

As the light turned green I eased into the intersection and spontaneously pulled into the first parking place I saw.  I turned off the motor and reached into the backseat, picking up one of the square cookie boxes. 

By now the caregiver and boy had safely crossed the street.  I greeted them, introduced myself and my company and offered them my gift of cookies.  They accepted the cookie box with big grins and we wished each other well. 

Even though I tell you this story with clarity it happened well over fifteen years ago.  But its memory is crystal clear because on that day I incorporated a life lesson that has never left me. 

Entrepreneurship can be isolating and extremely self-directed.  With its challenges, it’s need for creative strategies, tactics and skillful negotiations it can certainly bring out the selfish side in all of us. 

What I learned that day was my business could be a vehicle of kindness, compassion and caring.

And that I could create a business balanced between cash flow and caring for my community. 

Monday, March 18, 2013


Indeed sometimes it’s nice to live in a predictable world.

Including the world we create with our business.  We want to know our products provide a consistent experience, that our employees are dependable, our vendors punctual, and our anticipated profits probable. 

Where predictability is not so valued is when a business strategy is obviously obsolete and needs to be replaced with fresh, new ideas.  No strategy is effective forever.  At some point your business is going to need an injection.  Creativity, not predictability, needs to fill the syringe. 

I've seen it a million times.  When we’re faced with a problem we look for the easy solution.  Problems make us uncomfortable, even agitated.  We want to solve it, get rid of it and move on. 

But not so fast – is the first solution the best solution?  If it’s the safest, most logical, most predictable then you can bet it won’t solve the problem for long.  Look to the creative, the inspired, the remarkable, the memorable the outrageous, the courageous. 

There’s a simple game I play when I need to develop new strategies/new solutions that works every time.  I first identify the problem, getting really clear.  Then I mastermind at least ten solutions.  As I make my list, the first couple of ideas are rather predictable.  It’s as I continue that things get interesting.  Try it – it’s simple but it works.      

Now what would be predictable here would be for me to suggest you read anything by Seth Godin to get your creative mind engaged.  So I won’t do that. 

Instead I think I’ll go with The Artist Way by Julia Cameron.    


Monday, March 11, 2013


Have you ever had a conversation that feels really weird but you can’t figure out why it’s weird?? 

I talk with entrepreneurs constantly; I mean I’m an entrepreneurial tutor.  In one way or another I've been doing it for years. Occasionally I’ll be engaged in a conversation that can really furrow my brow and leave me confused and a bit exhausted. 

Just a few days ago I figured it out –I had a real “light bulb” moment.

There I was talking with a client that produces delicious donuts.  In our meeting she mentioned something that struck me as odd and unconnected. 

She told me how important total freedom was to her. Setting when she worked, how she worked, and what she did, all needed to be dictated by her personal clock.  She said she loved the total freedom that comes with being an entrepreneur.

But shortly after this free-spirited declaration she wanted to discuss her next step with regards to production needs.  Should she consider coming out of her home kitchen and opening a manufacturing facility versus using an existing processor (aka: copacker) for her production.          

And on we went this way; zigzagging between living a life deliciously on her own terms and then just as easily and eagerly wanting to discuss increased capacity, increased overhead, increased capital needs.    

With my head titled to the side and my eyes wide in disbelief I had my “aha” moment. 

There is a definite difference between “doing your own thing” (that “total freedom” thing) and building a business. 

If doing your own thing appeals to you my advice is to keep the activity small and personal. On the other hand developing a business is a totally different conversation with a totally different strategy.

Which do you want?  The choice is yours.

Because the good news is happiness, success and profitability can be created using either model.  What doesn't seem to work is attempting to combine the models.

So it’s really rather simple; you just have to decide what you want. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


Winter in Austin is pretty amazing.  Most mornings greet us with clear blue skies, gentle breezes and temperatures that stay in the flawless zone. 

I celebrate this perfection by doing a series of daily outdoor exercises.  

Yesterday was no exception.  Dressed in my usual attire, house key safely pined to the inside of my jacket, cross trainers securely laced and fully hydrated; I push into my first movements.  I’m not a hundred yards from my front door before I trip over an unseen crack in the sidewalk.  The good news is that I catch myself before I completely fall on my face.  

It all stays rather ordinary yet invigorating until I come face-to-face with a Mini Cooper who obviously is more concerned with turning on red than making sure he doesn't cream me in the process.  I hit the hood of the car right before his bumper makes contact with my leg.    

Given these near misses in one “uneventful” morning of exercise makes me wonder how many narrow escapes I dodge daily.  How many times are the cute little angels that perch on my shoulder called into action to circumvent some situation that could become tomorrow’s news.  Probably hundreds. . .if not thousands. 

And that's why customer service is so important. 

How many “near misses” do you have a day?  How many times is there a gap in communication or a goof in delivery to say nothing of the times we think we’re on target when we’re sadly not even close? 

And yet our clients and customers give us the benefit of the doubt.  They stick with us with all our imperfection never keeping score, staying loyal to the brand. 

Certainly great customer service is a way to enhance the level of customer satisfaction before, during and after a purchase. 

But it’s also an acknowledgement and an apology.   The process of going above and beyond to service our clients is a gesture that admits to our imperfections and communicates a sincere appreciation of their loyalty and allegiance.