The Best Time is Now

Hourglass

I didn’t get the blog written this week. I have a new client. In these pandemic times, that is fantastic news. And this client, well, like many businesses, they’re fighting for their lives. So I owed it to them to make sure they got some time from me. I also had commitments to a strategy planning session with my CCSBE Board. I also had work with our collaborators at Platinum Pivot. All this to say, if you miss your target and need to stage a recovery, the best time is now.

That wisdom has been around for a while. There’s an old Chinese proverb, often quoted, that says the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now. Readers usually see a post from us on Thursday or Friday. Funny thing, though. We’re regular people, and once in a while, commitments just get in the way. We break promises even to ourselves. I bet that’s happened to you, as well. My friend, coach Debbie Adams, would tell you that when you’ve fallen off the wagon (your plan) you’ve got to chase that wagon!

We’ve all been going through unprecedented times. This week, conversations with clients, contacts, and colleagues have been taking on a different tone. They’re feeling a shift, like the frenzy of video calls is subsiding somewhat, and they’re getting work done. They’re looking at their businesses and making changes. They’re holding strategy sessions and planning for the future with a frisson of hope. These are good things. So if you’ve got something you’ve let slide, and it’s important to you, the best time is now. I just did it, reaching out to you.

I’m Megann Willson, and I’m one of the Partners here at PANOPTIKA. We work with our clients to help them see everything they need to know to make better decisions. If this was helpful to you, I hope you’ll share on social. You can also find us on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Or you can subscribe to our news, straight to your inbox, using the orange button, below.

Just. Stay. Home.

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The world is changing every day. 

It’s time to pay attention. Steve and I want to start this post with a plethora of gratitude to the selfless people who are risking themselves daily to be sure there is medical treatment, food, and medicines available to all of us. From first responders to front line grocery and pharmacy workers, thank you all, truly.

For the rest of us, it’s time to hunker down at home. As a very small business, we know as well as anyone, the implication of not earning income. We also know that we would far rather be broke, than dead. (That said, Steve and I have a host of skills if you need paid help on a project).

This pandemic is nothing to be trifled with. So we ask that, if you’re not working from home and can, please start. If you are well, watch out for your neighbours. Rediscover the telephone and reach out to people you know. Let them know you’re thinking of them. This is going to be a long one.

Still, we’re optimistic. We see incredible acts of kindness and selflessness every day (they’re there if you look for them). Magical thinking solves nothing. Instead, step back. Take stock. Figure out what to to do build a little fortress, lay in supplies, and stay tuned. We’ll still be sending updates once a week via our newsletter (subscribe below), and posting here.

Let me know what you need. I’m Megann Willson and for two decades I’ve been helping clients talk through their big hairy challenges. My number’s on the contact tab, or you can find our company on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. We’ll get through this, together! 

Do you feel like slamming on the brakes?

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With ever-increasing bad news, do you just want to pile the binders to everything, step back, and hide?

While that may feel good temporarily, if you’re running a business, hitting the brakes and then heading for the hills is never the best policy. Instead, take a step back and then plunge into activities like these:

  1. Use your empathy when dealing with clients and colleagues – you have no idea, especially now, what they may be dealing with.
  2. Communicate, communicate, communicate – it’s important to keep people posted on what you’re doing, and just to let them know that you’re there, and that you care.
  3. Then innovate – before simply giving up on what you’re working on together, figure out whether there are new ways to collaborate and get work done, in a low-contact environment.
  4. Educate yourself and validate what you know – make sure you don’t disseminate information that’s inaccurate, misleading, or induces unnecessary worry for your clients and colleagues.
  5. Explore – new sources of support and revenue, work on changes you haven’t had time for, and summon up your resilience to face whatever comes. Attitude is altitude!

I’m Megann Willson, and with my Partner, Steve Willson, we’re PANOPTIKA. We’re determined to keep our business alive during this pandemic, and will be doing our best to provide practical, usable advice to help you make better decisions for your business, through all our channels, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. You can also subscribe to our News You Can Use via the orange button, below. 

Five things you must do to save your business

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What a week! It seems like we’re saying that every week. The challenge is, the longer we allow ourselves to be distracted by the shiny novelty of the news, the less runway we will have to save our businesses and do what we need to do to be sure there’s something left when we “get back to normal”. With that in mind, I’m going to launch right in on some steps for surviving, and perhaps even thriving.
  1. First, face facts. This is not ending any time soon. If you’re trying to hang on by your fingernails, understand that even when it’s “over”, the business environment has been irrevocably impacted. Your business and your customers will not (and dare I say, should not) be the same when this is over. Like any other crisis, this can be a time of clinging to the past, or a time for seeking a new opportunity. Realize this, and commit to finding a new way forward.
  2. Next, decide what you need to stop doing. Whether that’s spending money on non-essentials, or reaching out in your marketing efforts in ways that are ineffective, insensitive, or pointless, look at everything you do, and stop everything that isn’t adding value for you, your employees, or your customers.
  3. After that, evaluate what you must absolutely continue. What are the non-negotiables? Not the “nice to have”, but the essentials without which, your business would die. Is it internet service? (For most modern businesses, yes. It’s not like you can pop round to the corner coffee shop and poach their wifi any more). Paying your rent? Maybe, if you can’t negotiate a freeze or a deferral. Paying for food or medicine? Yes. Preserving your mental and physicial health? Absolutely.
  4. Next, make a list of what you can change, that will make you ready for the future, or stronger in the here and now. Perhaps it’s listening a little less to the news. Or putting on “real pants” instead of working in your pyjamas. Or taking less money out of your business than usual, until you find your sea legs in this ocean of change. Or doing one of your “continue” items, but in a less expensive, safer, or more efficient way.
  5. Those four things will give you stability. They’ll let you get into “ready position”. If you’ve ever played a sport or taken a gym class, you might recognize that expression. In case you don’t, it’s where you know you’ve got your feet firmly under you. The challenge is that you can’t hold the ready position forever. It’s designed for movement. It’s meant to help you launch. So the fifth, and final action, is to decide what you can start doing. Where are the opportunities? Is there something new in you, that you’ve been too busy to start? If it is something you’re uniquely or especially good at (the what), and people need it now (the who and the when), and they’re willing to pay for it and you can get it to them in this low-touch environment (the where and the why), it’s a business opportunity worth exploring. You’ve got this. Start now. Figure out the how.

These five steps are mission critical. Now’s the time. You’ll never have another opportunity like it.

I’m Megann Willson and I’m one of the Partners here at PANOPTIKA, along with Steve Willson. For nearly twenty years we’ve been helping companies and individuals make better decisions for their businesses and careers. If we can help you, hit the contact tab and find out how to reach us. No obligation. We’ll listen, and if we can’t help, we’ll do our best to point you to someone who can. We’ll continue putting out content like this via LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. And if you’d like some good news in your inbox each week, join our subscriber list. A new issue drops on Fridays at 3pm Eastern. 

 

The number one tool to build freedom into your job or business

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Thanks for the photo from JillWellington via Pixabay
A recent Quora question got me thinking about this topic. Then, as often happens, the Baader Meinhof phenomenon kicked in. Suddenly opportunities to talk about the importance of this tool were everywhere. 

So what is it, you ask? It’s this: have a system. Whether you want more time for travel when you’re a business owner, or you’d like more reliable sales results, or you want to be sure your research about customers is a reliable guide to your decisions, a systematic approach makes the difference. Systems are the reason franchises improve many business owners’ success rate. Systems free you up to concentrate on your most important tasks. And systems let you see whether it’s your research approach, or a change in your customers attitudes, that has resulted in a different response than usual. 

Let me give you a couple of examples. The first has to do with the freedom to be working on your business, and not just in it. This is the freedom to travel more, to sell more, to do high-level thinking. The best system I know for doing this has two parts. Part A is to prioritize your work focus regularly, and don’t take on anything that doesn’t move you toward your over-arching goals for your life and business (those goals should be aligned, by the way). Part B is to invest in help if there is work that is important but can be done by others, more effectively or efficiently than by you. I learned Part B as the $10, $100 and $1000 tasks rule. 

Every day, make a list of all the tasks you must take on, and then prioritize them. If they do not contribute to your goals at all, find someone else to help, or eliminate them altogether. (Reading random posts on Facebook when you’re not a social media manager, or even when you are…gone). Secondly, figure out which tasks are both urgent and important. They should be at the top of your list. Which of these can be done only by you? (Selling to your best customers? Check. Making strategic decisions for the future of your business or career? Check.) Which of the jobs can be done by someone else, if you pay them? Look at those jobs, and as your first step, pay to get rid of any $10 tasks. Those are the tasks distract you from your most important, or $1000, jobs, like finding your next customer or finishing a project that will make your boss realize how valuable you are. You’d spend $10 (or even $100) to save or make $1000, wouldn’t you? I knew you would. 

Every business problem that seems like there isn’t enough of something (cash flow, customers, sales, ideas, insights) can benefit from putting a system in place. Buy yourself some freedom. Establish a system today.

I’m Megann Willson, and I’m the CEO and one of the Partners here at PANOPTIKA. You can also find insights from us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. And for News you can Use directed right to your inbox, sign up using the orange button. Are you stuck and looking to make a career turnaround or start a business? Let’s talk!

If You Really Love Your Customers, Do This

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Image from Ron van den Berg via Pixabay
Every day, we hear companies saying they love their customers. And how do they show it? They push them tons and tons of irrelevant content. They flood their inboxes. They try to sell them things they don’t want or need. And here’s what many of them don’t do:

Try to find out what will really make them happy. 

If you’ve been fortunate enough to be in a long-lasting relationship (like we have), you’ll know that you’re always looking for ways to delight the other person. To show them that you want to help them get what they want and need to feel like they are their best. Saying sorry when you’re wrong. Asking their closest friends if there’s something they’ve been dreaming of that they haven’t told you. Not taking, taking, taking. 

So today, on Valentine’s Day, and every day, if you really love your customer:

  1. If you’ve messed up in any way, apologize. Sincerely.
  2. Find out what they’ve really been dreaming about without asking them to spell it out for you (watch, observe, pay attention, or ask others who know them as well or better as you do) and then help them get it.
  3. Do an unasked kindness for them that doesn’t have an immediate payoff for you (A referral? An endorsement? A sincere note of thanks that isn’t a sales pitch?

To you: thanks for reading. We appreciate it. And thank you to all of you who refer others, endorse us on social media, and engage in conversations about how to find, understand, and engage customers. I’m Megann Willson, and I’m one of the Partners here at PANOPTIKA. (The other is Steve Willson – Happy Valentine’s Day!) You can find us on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, or through our weekly email news.  

 

Even market research is about pleasing your customer!

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Photo courtesy of Free-Photos via Pixabay
Sometimes a phone call with a new market research client begins like this:

 

Client: “Do you do focus groups?”
Us: “It depends. What do you need to understand?”

It might also include some of this:

Client: “I’ve got a deadline to meet. How fast can you get this project finished?”
Us: “How fast can you do your part in framing your needs and doing your prep work?”

When we’re asking these questions, we’re doing two things. The first is to narrow down as precisely as possible, what the client really needs to see in order to take an action or make a decision. (That’s why we say we help you see everything you need to know to make better decisions. You don’t need to know everything. Just all of the relevant things. Secondly, we need to do the most important thing, and it’s this: we need to make your customer’s experience with market research as comfortable, even delightful, as possible. That means not pushing them so hard that the process is frustrating or annoying for them. It means working to timelines that work for them, not only for you. It means having them say (to us, if they’re a live interview or group, or in comments, if it’s a survey), “Wow, that was really interesting!”, or “The time went by way faster than I thought, that was fun!”

Why does that matter? It matters because your reputation depends on it. Even in double-blinded research (much of what we do keeps the client anonymous to the respondent, as well as the other way around), the person doing the answering will speculate about who’s doing the asking. And they’ll make assumptions about the organization they believe is doing the asking. So if we have them take time in the middle of their workday, or in their busiest week, or we nag them incessantly to participate, it reflects badly on us, and very possibly, on you. If, at the end, they feel like they’re being treated like some sort of lab rat, it’s not happiness-making. Reputation management and customer relationships are as important in research as in everything else you do. 

So the next time you’re planning to do customer research, we’re happy to use a variety of methods to get the answers you need. (Often we will recommend that you combine one or two, for precision and richness in what you learn). And we hope you’ll take our advice when we also recommend ways to make it as pleasant as possible for the most important customer of all – yours. 

I’m Megann Willson, and along with my partner, Steve Willson, we’re PANOPTIKA. We’ve spent decades getting to know our customers, and yours, and we’re always happy to help you find more ways to excite them, delight them, and keep them coming back for more. You can find more content from us on Twitter, LinkedIn, or even Facebook. And if you’d like ideas, offers, and opportunities delivered straight to your inbox, the button below is where you can sign up.

Making an Entrance When You Could Have Had an Encore

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Business is changing. Employee turnover is on the rise (here in Canada, we’re 4th in the world). With that come a host of symptoms that make it harder and harder to build the kind of strong, connected relationships with customers that time and research have proven, work. And work especially well in a business-to-business environment.  Couple that with budgets pared to the bone, and organizations are doing the bare minimum to understand their customers and find out what makes them tick. Sure, salespeople are there, talking to contacts who are active in the sales cycle, and connecting with the rest during classic slowdown periods. And billing goes on, as long as there is something to bill. And customer service will respond, if someone complains. But research, inquiry, curiosity, and simply asking questions like “What if?”, “What’s changed?”, and “How might we?” frequently get pushed aside. 

We were reminded of this when a former client contacted us out of the blue. They were interested in some deeper exploration of a customer group of theirs, and they had found a report of ours filed or in a drawer (we rarely do paper reports now, but this was long enough ago, that that was still the standard). The contact was new to us, and we to them. In the time since we last worked with this company, virtually everyone who was a key contact has moved on to a new organization. When you have one or two buyers in a company, and they leave, you’re often back to ground zero. We’ve kept connections with some of those, and have worked with them on other projects in their new workplaces. (Although that takes time, as newcomers take a while before they start bringing in new suppliers  when they themselves are just building trust in the organization). A few aren’t in a position to spend money because they’ve started businesses of their own, but have referred us to new clients. One or two have even retired. So really, this company is almost like a brand new client for us. We know some of their history. We know some history the current contacts haven’t even experienced. And all they know of us is that we once wrote some reports. There’s a break in the thread. That’s on us. After a certain period of trying to keep the relationship going, in their time of constraint, restraint, and change, we moved on to more fruitful opportunities. (Is this sounding at all familiar?)

Here’s the thing. This potential new client has done something similar with their customers. They haven’t taken an in-depth, objective look at their key customers in several years. They’re doing it now because their business environment has fundamentally changed – they’re in a regulated industry and government policy is driving them to re-examine everything about how they do business. Some of their relationships have changed. They want to build on the research and strategy work they did with their key customers all those years ago, and find a new way forward. We’ll make sure they get our very best work, and hopefully rekindle what was a fine working relationship. But we can’t help but feel a little wistful because it will be almost like starting over. We’ll all be making an entrance, when we could have been having an encore. 

Let’s pledge to avoid this in future. It’s easy to use research to make an entrance, to use the knowledge to carry you forward through one, two, or even three acts. But if we make the intermissions really, really long, the audience will get disconnected from the action – and we’ll never get to have an encore. Instead of continually building our body of knowledge, deepening our relationships, and asking the questions a few at a time, all the time, for a long time, we will scratch the surface repeatedly, never really making the most of what’s right in front of us. So today, make a list. Reach out to a customer you haven’t worked with in some time. Cultivate them like a whole new audience. And see if you can turn your entrance into an encore.

I’m Megann Willson, and I’m one of the partners here at PANOPTIKA. My partner Steve Willson and I have worked since 2001 to help our clients see everything they need to know to make better decisions. You can find us here, or on LinkedIn, on Twitter, or even on Facebook. If you’d like to have insights delivered direct to your inbox, help us be part of your encore performance, by clicking the button, below. 

Let’s Ask This, Just Because We Can…

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This week I was reading The Magic of Thinking Big, by David J. Schwartz. It’s not a new book; in fact it was written in 1959. And although the tone may seem a bit old-timey, much of the advice is as valid today, as when it was new. Schwartz is a big believer in goal-setting, and in the importance of setting out with a plan. He also alluded to a problem we see in the research and consulting business, which is the gathering of data for data’s sake, and an over-emphasis on keeping vast repositories of information in our heads or at our fingertips, as a way to “add value” to ourselves. But machines can do that. Here’s what Dr. Schwartz said: “More and more we rely on books, files, and machines to warehouse information. If we can only do what a machine can do, we’re in a real fix.”

It’s not the data (however big) that helps us make better sense of the world, understand our customers better, find new markets, sell more, or grow our businesses. It’s the synthesis of the data – what we do with it, how we shape it, where we find connections – and our “knowledge goals”, that make a difference. Knowing what we want to do with the answers, how we want to use them, and why they’re important to us, will help us have a richer understanding of the people we’re investigating in our research. Before adding yet another question to an overly-long survey, or jumping in like Columbo with a “just one more thing” query, ask yourself these things:

  1. What will I do with this answer if I get it? 
  2. What decision will I be able to make? 
  3. What action will I be able to take?  
  4. Will it harm the relationship with the respondent in any way (abusing their time, being irrelevant, or being invasive for a purpose which we haven’t been transparent about)? 

If you have good answers for those, and you’re still comfortable asking, by all means, go for it. Then use what you’ve learned wisely and do something excellent for the person responding. That is why you’re asking, isn’t it?

I’m Megann Willson, and with my partner, Steve Willson, we’ve been helping PANOPTIKA’s customers see everything they need to know to make better decisions for richer customer relationships, for over 18 years. You can also follow us on Twitter or connect on Facebook or LinkedIn. And if you’d like to join our community to have the conversation come right to your inbox, there’s a button below that will do the trick. 

It’s All (Not) Going According to Plan

“Plans don’t work out.”
“No business plan survives first contact with the customer.”

“If you want to hear God laugh, tell her your plans.”

Have you heard these? We know we have. Usually from people who don’t want to invest the time in putting their plans to paper. Here’s what we also know: committing to a direction in writing, clarifies and solidifies your thinking. It lets you get clarity on:

1. Where you want your business or product to go
2. What actions you believe it will take to get there
3. How you want your customers or stakeholders to react
4. A set of benchmarks you can use to measure, adapt, and adjust as you implement

That last part is usually the part that gets forgotten. The plan isn’t a stone tablet. Just like the blueprint for a new house is only the beginning of what that place will need to become a home, the plan is a starting place. When you have a bias for action (as I do), it can feel slow, cumbersome, and frustrating sometimes. But it can also provide great clarity as you work through it. Used right, it lets you document your learning as you go. It becomes a body of evidence of your experiments, hypotheses, and assumptions, and it can help build critical thinking and the ability to “see around corners” – keeping you in business for a long time.

I’m Megann Willson and I’m one of the partners here at PANOPTIKA. We work with clients to help them see everything they need to do to make better decisions for their business, so they can find, understand, and keep their best customers. Since 2001 we’ve helped hundreds of companies with thousands of business challenges, and we can help you, too. What are we seeing? Follow us on Twitter, on LinkedIn, or set an appointment for a no-obligation conversation about what you’re trying to solve in your business.  

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