Category Archives: Helpful Hints

A Second Opinion

This Foodie Friday, it was an old Rodney Dangerfield joke that got me thinking:

My psychiatrist told me I was crazy and I said I want a second opinion. He said okay, you’re ugly too.

OK, so what does that have to do with food and, of course, with business? These days, much like Rodney’s psychiatrist, everyone’s a critic. There is a huge problem with that since constructive criticism implies that the critic knows something about the subject. Unfortunately, with the internet offering everyone with an opinion a place to express that opinion, the assumption that the critic knows anything about the subject is often proven to be completely wrong.

Think about a professional restaurant critic. They dine out several times a week at a minimum. They are exposed to many different types of cuisine and usually many different chefs cooking each type of those cuisines. They can distinguish between types of pizza or BBQ and write knowledgeably about what makes one execution better than another. Before they write about a place they will usually dine there a few times both so they can sample more of the menu and to make sure that their impressions with respect to service and the dishes are correct.

Now take your typical Yelp reviewer. They may go to a place once. Their experience with many cuisines is limited and the examples that they’ve sampled might not actually be representative of a great execution (think someone who stumbles on to real Chinese food vs. the American Chinese food served nearly everywhere). Maybe they had to wait 10 minutes past their reservation time and got angry so they wrote a bad review. In short, they often criticize based on limited information and out of spite, exactly the opposite of what any constructive criticism should be.

As a reader trying to figure out where to go for dinner, I look for a second opinion. One thing I do is to only look at the 1- or 2-star reviews. Generally, they have very little in common with one another which tells me that they might have been posted out of anger or a single bad experience. Maybe everyone thinks the desserts are awful but since I don’t eat dessert that’s not relevant to me. When things are apparent across the bad reviews, I trust that information. Ignore the false criticism and get a second opinion.

It’s the same in business. You can’t just listen to the praise directed at you, of course. You need to hear the criticism so you can grow. That said, you need a second opinion much of the time. Don’t take it personally, don’t listen to the tone but only to the words, and ask yourself what you can learn. Then go ask someone you trust – someone with enough experience both with you and your work – about the validity of the bad review.

Yes, opinions are like asses in that everyone has one. But they’re not all created equal. Get second opinions before you make changes, just as a smart restaurateur does. Value the informed critics and ignore the trolls. Can you do that?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints

Slow Down

“Fail fast” has become one of the mantras of our age. The notion is that iterating fast failures will get us to the desired result faster than taking our time and seeking a more perfect answer. I agree that the perfect can be the enemy of the good and that at some point the cost of reducing variance and getting to the perfect far exceeds the benefits derived from actually getting there. But I’m not so sure that slowing down and taking a bit more time is a bad thing. Let me explain why.

People are deluged these days. Marketing messages overwhelm them. We don’t have 100 channels of entertainment nor even 1,000. There is an unlimited and expanding number of sources, both physical and digital, of entertainment. Walk into any supermarket and the product offerings in almost any category boggle the mind. Why is this a big deal? Because I don’t think you get a second chance. If you’re not solving a problem and creating value for the customer right out of the box, you’re dead. That means that you have to get it right the first time.

How many apps have you installed and removed from your phone because they didn’t meet your expectations the first time you opened the app? Was version 2.0 better? Who knows – they had their chance. How many new restaurants have you tried that were disappointing either in food or service and not returned? Did the menu evolve and new a manager show up to fix service? Who knows or cares – there are plenty of other options.

I’ve noticed it in a bad habit I have. My brain is often working too fast as I’m listening to people and I will often respond before I’ve listened to all the information they are trying to convey to me. I need to slow it down a bit so my first answer to them is the right answer and not something that I need to revise.

If you make things, do market research. If you write things, proofread them and put them aside to read them again in 5 minutes instead of hitting “send”. We all feel the time crunch and the need to get stuff done, but slow down a bit. Your results will be better and you’ll actually save time since you won’t need to do it all over again as more information changes your thinking. Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Happy MLK Day. Dream On!

I think I got it right last year so I’m reposting it this year along with the introduction I wrote at the time. Happy birthday, Dr. King!

As I sat down to write this morning’s screed with Dr. King’s birthday on my mind, I realized that it’s been 50 years since that horrible year of 1968. I was 13 at the time and if you’re younger than about 55 today you probably have no memories of the almost non-stop bad news. It’s hard to believe but things seemed even more screwed up and polarized than they do today. The day Dr. King was shot is one of my indelible memories and the killing of Bobby Kennedy two months later snuffed out a small glimmer of hope that Dr. King’s legacy might come to fruition soon. It took another 40 years for that although there are valid arguments that we as a country are still waiting in many ways.

With that, what follows is my post on celebrating Dr, King and his message from a few years ago. It’s about listening, something many of us don’t do often enough. Maybe you can give it a try this week?

Today is the day we pause to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday.  I went back and looked at my post from two years ago, which was about dreams – specifically one of Dr. King’s dreams becoming a reality.  That was sort of focused on what he saw – his vision.  Today I want to focus on one of the great man’s best qualities that influenced how he acted to make that vision real.  I think it’s applicable to business.  No, it’s not going to be another ethics rant (although those are never out of style in my book).  Today, it’s about the most important skill I think all great businesspeople – and great leaders – possess.

To me, great leaders serve to fulfill the needs of their people.  For Dr. King, it meant endless meetings with various groups to understand their concerns and explain how broadening civil liberties to be more inclusive could help meet them.  For those of us in business, it means paying more attention to the concerns of our customers and co-workers than to our own agenda – these folks ARE our agenda to a certain extent, along with the underlying needs of our businesses.  In a word – listen.

Everyone wants to feel as if their ideas and thoughts are being heard if not acted upon. Without someone hearing them, acting on those concerns is impossible. Listening, then speaking, brings trust.

I know this isn’t a new thought in this space but it came to mind on this day thinking of Dr. King.  If you go back to the early days of Dr. King’s involvement in the civil rights movement, it’s pretty clear that he was a reluctant leader. He was drafted to lead and was kind of unsure of himself.  As he listened to the members of the community and other clergies, he realized that he was simply a voice for the community and their agenda became his agenda.

Many of you will be familiar with Stephen R. Covey, who wrote that we ought to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  I think Dr. King if he read pop-psychology, would have appreciated that.

What are you listening to today?

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Filed under Growing up, Helpful Hints, What's Going On

How Your Dog Food Tastes

I saw something in an article this morning that had me nodding my head in agreement and I thought it was something that all of us should think about. It was a piece about how the growth of marketing technology companies has stalled and it gave as a reason this:

There is a long list of sales and marketing tech vendors that have had their growth stalled for a number of reasons: failure to find a use case with broad market appeal, product based on a feature, or quite simply couldn’t execute.While these companies might have received more funding two or three years ago, in today’s climate VCs are not replenishing their offers. Today, there are big rounds for those with momentum and a big story, or no funding for those that don’t.

In other words, many of these companies have been able to attract a client base but the results those clients were expecting haven’t been there. That’s a critical thought when you’re making promises, isn’t it? I can’t begin to count the number of tech companies I’ve spoken with over the years that made huge promises but failed to deliver.

I wrote about this several years ago. Way back in 2011, I wrote:

I can’t tell you how many presentations I’ve sat through for companies that were going to grow my revenues 10x but wouldn’t take 90% of the first year’s incremental revenues as a fee.  Big red flag.  Then there were the companies who promised great service but wouldn’t sign service level agreements that legally obligated them to provide that great service.

So at the risk of repeating myself, I’m going to repeat myself (this time from 2016):

Nothing like eating your own dog food, right? But that’s a critical part of serving our customers well and each of us needs to do that on a regular basis. When was the last time you tried to go through checkout on your own online store? How was the experience? How about trying to return what you purchased or put in a call to your customer service department? My guess is that none of your top managers have done any of those things in a while.

You can only grow so big if the results aren’t there. If you haven’t explored those results with your customers along with the time, effort, and expense it took them to achieve those results, you’re not doing your job. More importantly, you’re setting your growth curve on a downward course because nothing in business happens in a vacuum these days. People talk.

One thing I’ve learned in consulting on franchises is the importance of what we call validating the franchise. It’s when a prospective owner speaks with current owners to find out if the representations made by the franchisor are accurate and complete. It’s kind of like checking references when you hire except the FTC requires the franchisors to disclose the names and phone numbers of all their current franchisees so you can’t control with whom a candidate speaks. That means the results have to be there, pretty much across the board.

When was the last time you spoke to your customers about their results from using your product or service? If you have to think about it, it has probably been too long. Food for thought?

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The Right Stuff

It’s Foodie Friday and this week it’s tool time. As I mentioned in some previous posts, I’m in the process of moving, which means that a lot of stuff is packed up and not readily available for cooking. You never think that you’ll use some kitchen-related item (I won’t be ricing potatoes any time soon, will I? Pack the ricer!) right up until you need it. Then comes the internal debate assessing whether to unpack it (assuming you can find it), try to make do with some similar tool, or cook something else altogether.

One of my absolute mantras is that one needs to have the right tool for a job. You might think that throwing a smoothie into a food processor will work (because you packed the blender), but you’re wrong. Not only does it not yield a respectable smoothie but it makes a horrible mess. Then there is trying to make a roux with a fork instead of a whisk because, well you know where the whisk is, and it’s not in the kitchen.

Another non-food example. I just spent a day and a half trying to wire cat5 plugs around the new house. A buddy of mine had most of the tools to do this save for a punch tool to seat the wires properly. We tried to punch them down using everything from a tiny screwdriver to a pen. None of the connections were solid. An hour back and forth to buy the right tool and suddenly we were flying through the job. The right tool makes all the difference. Was $50 expensive to get it? Not in light of what it would have cost to hire someone to do the job.

You should remember that when you’re running your business. The right tools – and I include the right people in that category – makes all the difference. Spend the extra buck on software that works for you and don’t try to shoehorn your business into some freeware that really isn’t right. Sure, there are a lot of very good free tools out there but most of them begin to charge you as you reach the enterprise level. Make sure they’re worth paying for before you get too embedded in their platform.

Finally, spend more on good people that are right for your company and right for the job. Having a fantastic free design tool is great but you need someone that knows how to use it or the results will look amateurish.

Having the right tool makes an excellent finished product much easier to obtain. Using a shoe to drive a nail rarely works, don’t you think?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Helpful Hints

TheYear Of You

So here we are again at the start of a new year. If you haven’t already started to implement your resolutions for the year, let me humbly offer a suggestion that should be a part of them. Make this the year of “you.” To be clear, I’m not suggesting that it be a year of self-centered egomania. In fact, I’m suggesting quite the opposite, and I’m doing so because it will improve your business. As a bonus, it may also improve your non-work life.

How does one go about making it the year of “you?” Start by this: quit saying “I.” Stop thinking about your business’ bottom line and focus on solving your customers’ problems. Don’t put out messages about what people can buy from you. That’s selfish. Focus on how what you’re selling helps. Ask “how can I help you” and not “how can you help my bottom line.”

Let me show you how the “you” focus works because it is something I try to practice here in this space. My focus is on what I hope is important to you. I try to have an outward focus. If all I did was blabber on about what’s important to me, we’d be indulging in a discussion of the new rules of golf or my incompetence at beating certain video games. That doesn’t help you at all and I suspect after 10 years of that my readership would be down to just me. By writing this, which takes time and effort, I’m hoping to grow both the audience and my credibility and I don’t ask for anything in return. OK, once in a while I will remind you that I consult and if you want to look at franchise opportunities, I want to help you do that, but that’s about as far as it goes.

It goes beyond a customer focus. Suppose you’re going after a new job or a new client. Your best strategy is to focus on the needs of your potential employer and client instead of plugging your own skills. Nobody cares about your craft if you fail to make it relevant to them.  You have to change your pitch to suit your audience. I can’t tell you how many pitch meetings I’ve sat through that were generic and which failed to address MY problem as a potential customer or partner. Generally, no sale.

Don’t talk about what you do. Ask yourself if you were your potential client or listener how your service is relevant to them. Don’t be the one at the party who talks only about themselves. Don’t ask “how do YOU like MY outfit?” Ask “how can I help YOU?” If we all do that this year, it will be quite a good year indeed don’t you think?

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Top Foodie Friday Post Of 2018

The most-read Foodie Friday post that I wrote this year was written in October. I can’t recall what prompted the thought behind it although I suspect it had to do with some unappetizing takeout food. As the new year approaches, some of you might be making up lists of thing you will do differently and, hopefully, better. I’d urge you to put your best steak forward, which was the original title of this piece. Enjoy!

It’s Foodie Friday and we’re back to our regular nonsense here on the screed. Today I want you to think back to that time when you ordered takeout and it was not very good. I’m sure you’ve had such an instance: we all have. Maybe you ordered some fried dumplings that showed up as soggy as your recently washed laundry. Maybe the pasta dish you ordered had aggregated itself into a small object better suited for football than eating. Maybe you ordered a steak frites to go and it didn’t travel well. No one likes soggy fries and a cool steak doused in cooling, congealing butter.

For many restaurants, takeout has become a critical part of their business. Life today often leaves little time for cooking at home, especially during the week. Think about how many places you know that have only a few tables but do a ton of takeout. The growth of delivery services and apps has accelerated the trend while actually decreasing profitability (the services take a cut of the bill and in many cases, it’s close to the entire margin on the order). I’m not sure, however, that many restaurateurs put enough thought into putting their best products out there for takeout. Why sell something that you know won’t travel well?

Putting your best steak forward, so to speak, is something that every business should do. The most customer-friendly takeout situations have a separate counter to speed customer service. They might have a menu that’s priced a little differently since the costs of servicing a customer are different. They pack hot foods apart from cold foods and they take care to make sure that condensation in the hot food doesn’t make it soggy (vent holes, people). As with any customer encounter, how you present your brand matters. I wouldn’t even offer to sell a customer a product that I know won’t travel well. If they’ve enjoyed it before in my place, they’ll be disappointed. If it’s their first time, they won’t be back. We see this in businesses that take on jobs for which they’re ill-suited. I’ve turned down many opportunities over the years to build people websites since my ability to design and to code is not up to my ability to perform other tasks. That’s not my best steak.

Is that something your business is doing? Are you gathering data and keeping records of every customer interaction? Are you constantly looking for feedback so you can adjust your menu? Are you putting your best steak forward each and every time?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Helpful Hints