Stop Comparing and Start Improving: A Lesson from Ellen Bremen

Ellen Bremen is my favorite professor and she teaches about 2,500 miles away from where I went to college. Ellen is a tenured professor of communications at a college in Seattle, Washington. She is passionate about connecting with her students and facilitating a revolution in the student-professor relationship. I met Ellen, known on Twitter as @chattyprof, through the 12 Most community and recently discovered the publication of her new book, Say This, Not That to Your Professor. [Read more...]

Pokism #7: On Picking Yourself

“Reject tyranny of ‘picked.’ Pick yourself.” – Seth Godin”

My prolific blogging friend (and mentor), Anthony Iannarino wrote an article exactly two weeks ago, titled “Your Permission Slip.” I printed off the article, signed it, and framed it. Maybe you should too…

Remember back in grade school when you were going to go on a field trip and needed express, written permission from your parents in order to go? Remember when you needed a “Permission Slip?” It seems so childish doesn’t it–to have to ask for permission?

Yet unfortunately, as adults, most of us never grow out of asking for permission. Not just from our parents, but from everyone. We are constantly seeking approval to justify acting on our convictions. We ask our teachers, our bosses, our employees, our colleagues, our friends, and even our enemies.

We Need Someone Else to Tell Us It’s Okay

I’m not talking about completely ignoring the advice of others. Sure, it’s a good idea to consider other perspectives, especially when they are coming from people who care about and want what’s best for you. No, I’m not talking about disregarding everything everyone says. But I am talking about not being controlled by it.

Because, you see, when all is said and done, you can’t blame others for the bad advice they gave you. You can only blame yourself for having taken it. You are responsible for your actions–whether you admit it to yourself or not.

I think that’s why so many need the input of others, though, in order to validate our convictions. If we go with our gut, we have no one to pass the blame on when we fail. If we let others run our lives for us, we can escape some of the guilt and self-loathing that comes with the setbacks. Waiting for permission–or even instructions–is simply just easier.

Waiting to Be Picked

Seth Godin, in his book Poke the Box, talks about how everyone is always waiting to be picked. Entrepreneurs wait to get picked by venture capitalists. Employees wait to get picked for a promotion. They need someone to select them, he says, in order to validate the value they bring to the table. I don’t have a solid business idea unless I get funded. I’m not really that great of a work unless I get promoted. “Reject the tyranny of ‘picked.’” Seth Says, “Pick yourself.”

A couple of days ago, Anthony Iannarino wrote another post about a few of his undergrad students wanting to launch a business. Apparently, one of their other professors had told them not the waste their time because there was a group of MBAs attempting to do the same thing. “What makes you think,” he asked, “that you are able to start a social media consulting practice?” Anthony’s advice for those students? Ignore the skeptics and go for it!

You know your capabilities. You know what you want. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t or shouldn’t accomplish the goals. Allow your convictions to be shaped by reason and good sense. But ALWAYS ACT ON YOUR CONVICTIONS!

What are you waiting for? Who are you waiting for? Stop waiting. Sign your permission slip and get going.

Why Do You Do What You Do?

I’m coming up on the 6 month anniversary of this blog and the small business consulting business I launched along with it…and I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching.

I could do a number of things to earn an income. I have a broad knowledge-base, a decent skill set, and more interests than I know what to do with. Why did I settle on web consulting for small business owners? Well, the answer’s going to sound simplistic and maybe even a little cliche:

I want to help other people become successful.

I get a rise–a feeling of personal and professional satisfaction–when I help someone else get ahead. And that feeling is worth more than wealth. It’s worth more than fame. It’s worth more than anything “just doing my job.”

What You Do Vs Why You Do It?

We are obsessed with talking about what we do. We talk about our industries. We talk about our jobs. We talk about our skills. Those are the things people ask about. Those are the surface things–the things they can see. But those aren’t the things that matter.

People want to know what’s in it for them. My clients don’t care that I do web consulting; they care how I can help them improve their businesses. In other words, they don’t care about what I do. They care about why I do it.

What Motivates You?

I hope it isn’t money. Sure, you need to make a living. But there’s a point at which you forego a higher income in order to make a difference you are capable of making. I hope you are motivated by something more. I hope that you do what you do, because you want to help others. I hope you are doing what you do, because you believe deep in your heart of hearts that the world would be worse off if you didn’t. I hope you are driven by a relentless passion to improve the lives of those you touch.

Here’s a neat little exercise: instead of just thinking of yourself as a proprietor of the product or service you provide, think of yourself as someone who helps someone else do something. Fill in the blanks for your business: I help ___________    _______________. For example…

  • I help small businesses owners become more successful on the web. (me)
  • I help my patients live more pain-free lives. (a chiropractor)
  • I help my clients find their way home. (a realtor)
  • I help my customers capture their most important memories. (a photographer)
  • I help my patrons feel better about their bodies. (a gym owner)

Who do you help? What do you help them do? That’s why you are in business. Never forget it.

Next time someone asks you what you do, ignore the question completely. Answer instead with why you do what you do. That’s the answer that matters. That’s the answer they really want to hear. And that’s the answer that will keep you grounded in providing the value you need to provide for your customers.

Never forget why.

The Story You’re Telling and the Story They’re Hearing

I heard a great presentation a couple of weeks ago about marketing in a down economy. The presenter, Richard Hahn of Keynote Media Group, brought up a very interesting point about branding. The point wasn’t really a new idea, but it is something we often forget about as we go about trying to reach our audience. The idea is this: there is a difference between our brand identity and our brand image.

Your brand identity is how you see your brand. It’s how you want your product positioned. It’s what you want your customers to think about your company. It is manifest in all of your marketing literature. Your slogans. Your taglines. Your mantras. It’s who you say you are and, in your own mind, who you really are.

Your brand image is how your customers see your brand. It’s the market that is really drawn to your product. It’s what your customers really think about your company. It is manifest in the feedback you may or may not get. It’s in the online reviews. In the Tweets. In the coffee house conversations. It’s wherever you are being talked. It’s who other people say that you are.

The Identity-Image Tug-of-War

You say you are something. Your customers say you are something else. And so it goes…

There is a constant struggle between what you think your brand stands for and how others perceive it. All too often, business owners trudge along marketing the heck out of themselves and expecting customers to just buy the pitch. And that’s not to say that business owners are being dishonest. I believe that most have the best of intentions when they are marketing their brand. However, they often make promises that don’t bear out in reality. And customers can see that…

But business people are stubborn. I know. I am one. We fall in love with our message and want to shove it down the throats of our customers–even if it is inconsistent with what we actually produce. We love to tell our story. But guess what? The real “story” is not in our marketing literature. It’s not in what we say about ourselves. It’s what we do. That’s what customers see. That’s what they respond to.

All too often, though, we have no idea what our customers are thinking. Because, deep down, we don’t care. We just want them to buy into our message. We want them to fall in love with our story the way we have. But maybe, just maybe, we’re missing some huge opportunities by not listening to the feedback. Maybe there are some things we can learn from our customers. Maybe our customers could help shape our brand…

Take a Look in the Mirror

Each and every day, allow your brand to check itself in front of the mirror; it may just have broccoli in its teeth.

Are you aware of what your customers are saying about you? How shocked would you be if you stepped out from behind your promotions to say how people are actually reacting to your brand. Have you set up Google Alerts for your brand to discover when you are being mentioned online? Are you using a service like Tweetbeep to monitor conversations about you on Twitter? Have you opened up the door for feedback by having a solid Facebook page?

If there is one thing the web has to offer that is more important than anything else, it is the ability for you to monitor your brand. Yes, people are still talking about you with their friends in real life, but you can’t hear those conversations. You can hear the conversations that are happening online. Are you listening?

The closer your brand identity gets to your brand image, the more successful you will be. Do you know what you look like to others? In the end, it’s all about alignment. How consistent is the story you’re telling with the story that is being heard?

Own Everything You Touch

I just finished reading, “Do You Mean Business?” by Babette Ten Haken. The book, in a general sense, is about bridging the gap between the nature of engineering and sales. But there is an undercurrent that goes far beyond sales and engineering to the very core of what it means to be successful in any business endeavor. Babette renounces the notion that your “job” (regardless of your role) is simply to perform your particular function. Whether you’re a salesperson, engineer, manager, or the owner, your job is to add value to your organization. In Babette’s own words, “You are your job’s CEO.”

What if You DO own your company?

Most of my readers here are owners of small businesses of one kind or another. You aren’t employees trying to generate revenue for your organization. You’re owners of the organizations. So, do you really need to be told to take ownership? Well yes, unfortunately, I think owners need to be told to take ownership more than anyone else.

If you own your business, you need to act like you own it. That’s the benefit of working for someone else: you can shrug off accountability and get away with it. Maybe not for long, but it’s possible for a while to just follow the rules and blend in without adding any real value. If you own your business, you are accountable for keeping it alive. The reigns are in your hands, whether or not you choose to steer.

As owners of businesses, we don’t transcend human nature. We are subject to the same temptations of mediocrity and the status quo as employees working a 9-to-5. It can be very easy to take a passive approach to business, sitting back and watching it unfold instead of determining the direction it goes.

As business owners, we need to own everything we touch. We need to be inescapably accountable. We need to be accountable to:

  1. Our team: The people we hire (or the people we contract) have expectations of us. They need clear direction. They may be too afraid, apathetic, or uninformed to provide you exactly what you’re looking for. Yes, you could get mad at them and tell them that it’s their responsibility to uncover your needs and expectations. But that’s not very productive. Own it. Forget about their responsibility. Think about your responsbility. Own the outcome of your relationship with your team.
  2. Our customers: Here’s the flipside. Your team works for you; you work for your customers. You may say that it’s your customer’s responsibility to tell you what they want. Don’t shrug off the responsibility for making your customers happy. Own it. Ask them questions. Uncover their needs. Be relentless about improving their lives or businesses. Own the value that is created for your customers.
  3. Ourselves: Don’t treat yourself as the owner of your business. Treat yourself as someone you’re employing. Manage yourself. Lead yourself. Own your personal and professional development. Because, guess what? If you don’t, no one else will. Own it.

What about you? Are you stuck in a rut watching your business unfold before your eyes? Or, are you in the trenches owning everything that you lay your hands on?

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