Making Business Personal

Every aspect of business is personal – buying, selling, managing, accounting for costs, planning for growth, etc. It is personal because, no matter how much we automate it, business is driven BY humans, FOR humans. The more we connect, relate, and inspire humans, the better we will grow.

Yet, prevailing advice over the last couple decades, has been about the exact opposite.


Demographics used to be how we described and ‘understood’ our ideal audiences. Females with college degrees, zero children, age 25-40, and working professional careers is FAR TOO BROAD to gain deep insights. They do not all think or act similarly, nor do they believe or want the same things.

There is both too much variety in this audience, as well as enormous missing opportunities of efficient customers who do not fit this demographic. Yet, many businesses continue these dated methods (mostly because they are so heavily invested in them). it is wise to understand that the same things will not entice them or create interest.

21st Century businesses need to adjust their thinking towards attracting and engaging audiences based on activity like social media, subscriptions, membership programs, contextual web search, and plenty more lifestyle information. Access to this information is easily available and crucial to building audience segments that support future growth.


Even when ‘similar’ people are interested in your products, they would purchase it in very different manners. Where one might look for lowest price, or highest quality, others might be moved by the support of long-standing relationships and strategic partners. Some might be looking to purchase and have immediate use of a product (no shipping delay) and still another segment might only make the decision after extensive review of information.

MRI scans reveal that the part of our brain that makes decisions is the same part that controls our emotions. The decisions we make generally reflect the things that reduce stress and fear or actively increase our feelings of safety and connection. Being that individuals have different feelings about data and relationships, the process of distributing information can go a long way towards growing revenues.


I remember decades ago when I began learning how to set up mail-merge documents to allow us to insert key fields of personal information from a spreadsheet into a form letter. Between this level of customization and the variety of ‘handwriting’ fonts, we saw a significant increase in open rates, interest, and engagements.

Technology has advanced quite a bit now to allow us to personalize or customize many more aspects of our communications. Some of the most powerful aspects of customization is in determining what, when, how and how often certain information (or offers) is presented to our highly selected audiences.

Business growth plans are even more customized than marketing and communications plans. I take a wholistic approach to understanding your business before creating an approach that will reach your audiences as well as your objectives. Connect with me here and we can set up time to discuss details.

Identifying Correct Problems

Every business has their own unique problems to address. I can easily say that the largest, most important opportunity exists in identifying the CORRECT problems to address.

Running closely behind this is understanding the full extent, reach, impact, or cost of the problem; only to be followed by creating an adequate budget or plan to address it.

In my consulting role, I get to hear a lot of problems, challenges, difficulties, and struggles. This is not a complaint whatsoever as it plays well to my strategic, forward-thinking, idea-generating strengths and keeps me engaged in my work. I find an outsider’s perspective to asking difficult questions and checking assumptions is incredibly efficient at pinpointing major challenges. It also helps to minimize blame and emotion – just stick to the facts of where you are as compared to where you want to be.

As you begin identifying problems; you’ll likely run into the following distractions:

Lack of budget; lack of time; lack of talent; don’t know what to do next; lagging sales; low conversions; slow pipeline; anything technology-related and countless more.

These are NEVER the correct problem. Read that again. They are important, but not the actual problem. They are, however, indicators of the problem. Trying to fix the distractions is a never ending cycle of shifting resources from one fire to another without fully extinguishing any of them. Keep digging and you’ll soon arrive at the source.

Fair warning; the source of all the problems is usually the owners/leaders. It often comes down to a disconnect between goals, purpose, vision; and the messaging, audience selection, and/or structure design. 

I freely admit that this is a bitter pill to swallow. Like taking vitamins or eating plenty of vegetables; the benefits far outweigh the temporary unpleasantness.

The Simple Approach

Whether it is a desire to show how smart, talented, or gifted we are (ego and collective ego), or not taking the time to make sure we understand it to the very core; we often make things more complex than they need to be.

Perhaps you’ll get some inspiration from the following quotes. This notion has been around for a long time.

“The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple.”  ~ Albert Einstein

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”  ~ Hans Hofmann

Some things are naturally more complex and nuanced than others. But everything has its own base of simplicity. When we rush to market without a certain level of simplicity, we are plagued by struggles, challenges, and slow growth. When we invest the time into discovering and pushing this simplicity, efforts will be rewarded with ease of communication and the spread of ideas.

As we develop clarity about these disconnections, we can begin to see new opportunities for solutions that make significant and sustainable changes in our organizations.

If you are interested in learning more about how to identify the correct problems in and around your organization, connect with me here and mention ‘opportunities’ in the introduction.

The Business of Inclusion

The old saying reminds us that, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ resonates perfectly with raising an idea into a growing business. Too often, leaders and founders repeat simple mistakes that undercut their success.

Here are a couple ways you can include others to help keep your ideas growing.

Directing Passion
It should come as no surprise that passion plays a huge part in the growth and demise of an idea. Massive amounts are needed and the majority of it must come from the owner/founder.  But the more she or he can include the passions of others, the more it will grow. It really helps to recognize that ideas come through people, they do not ‘belong to’ anyone.

Because owners are the source of passion, they often give it all to the project and forget to get more. This leads to a quick and unfulfilling burn-out. Just like our digital devices, we too need time to recharge our supply of passion. Books, podcasts, TED talks, blogs, time away are huge resources for ourselves as well as for our teams.

Direct a bit of passion to building a resource library that inspires you. Plug into your library on a daily basis (30 min will do wonders) if not weekly (90+ min chunks). Directing your people to the library will reduce some of the demands on you as well as building them as a resource.

Try sticking a crisp $20 into a random page of several books with a sticky-note saying, “Education is a reward itself, but this one comes with a bonus.” Or a sticky-note saying, “Tell me one way this book inspired you for a cash prize.”

Passions are made from emotional connections. The right sort of books, stories, education, etc. make tons of emotional connections. With emotional connections, you can expect harder work, longer work, more effective solutions, inspired ideas for new products/services, and other creative contributions.

WE Mindset
A simple and powerful way to start building and directing passion is to build a culture around using the word ‘we’ (especially as opposed to ‘they’). ‘We’ is inclusive, connecting, supporting, and infinite. It also reflects the absolute interconnectedness required to make even simple operations run.

It will likely sound a bit awkward at first, but people will quickly adjust their hearing as well as their own speaking to participate with little explanation or coercion.

Fire Yourself
Early stages of an idea or business are about operating as lean as possible, people have multiple roles and wear multiple hats. Firing yourself is about identifying aspects, tasks, or projects that are not an ideal fit and removing them from your charge in order to find someone better qualified to do them and allow you to redirect that time towards tasks that you enjoy and excel.

Accounting, bookkeeping, marketing analytics, quality control, operations, social media, website design/build, and sales calls/presentations are some of the biggest claims to owners’ time. You should absolutely know enough about each of these to ask good questions and be able to spot talent.

Try firing yourself from a project or task every 6 months and you’ll discover more energy, passion, and results.

Including people can take many different shapes, from simply bouncing ideas around to full-time employment, large-scale investment, and more. Be sure to include this in your favorite social feeds as well.

Differentiating Value Proposition

DVP is a business school term that I vowed to use only on special occasions. Most of the time I simply ask, “What makes your company different or better than competitors?”

I am not sure which amazes me more; business owners not having an answer, or owners who say ‘their people’ are the difference.

In theory, having ‘people’ be your differentiating competitive advantage is an ideal situation. But in practice, this is almost never the case.

1. Do you attract the best talent?
We are not just talking about the best talent you can afford; the best talent in your region; or the best available Thanks to technology on every smartphone and laptop, there is often little difference between working with a busy professional across the hallway, across town, always on the run, or somewhere on the other side of the planet.

Your talent pool just got infinitely large! Also thanks to many of those same technological advantages, great talent is often able to juggle multiple gigs on a permanent part-time basis. For some this might seem like a conflict of interest, but it brings plenty of advantages for everyone involved and it is similar to a department juggling a heavy project load.

2. Do you lead better than competitors or outside benchmarks?
Great talent demands great leadership. Great leadership is diverse – operating fairly rather than equally. Competition for talent in leadership goes far beyond geography and even industry. In order to make ‘your people’ a sustainable advantage, you must make sure you can continuously inspire them (note, this is very different than motivating them).

Research by Gallup Organization reveals that upwards of 70% of employee turnover is based on managers. Their famous saying is, “People don’t leave or stay with companies. They leave or stay with managers.”

Great leaders throughout the organization make decisions to help achieve a greater purpose – not just quarterly profits.

3. Do you meticulously build/maintain/defend strong culture?
Employers used to offer pensions, retirement plans and bonuses based on performance and longevity. As pension funds are drying at alarming rates, such perks are not offered much any more.

You don’t need to act like a technology upstart to offer a great working environment as a way to attract and retain their people. It is not about the Ping-Pong table, napping rooms, or open floor concepts, per-se. It is about creating a culture where your people feel physically, mentally, and emotionally comfortable to perform their best.

Building this environment is only half of the equation. Maintaining, and protecting this culture is the other half. Research shows that intent and consistency often brings better results than flashy or grandiose promises.

4.  What growth opportunities do you offer?
Many companies do attract great talent, strong and personable leadership, and maintain a healthy work environment; but they don’t have much opportunity to grow. I call these the ‘nice places’ because they are tend to be pleasant places to be. They have little turnover among people or customers.

This might sound like a good situation until you look at what happens to a body of water that doesn’t circulate. It slowly shifts from a great place to be towards a stagnant or suffocating environment.

Great leaders build organizations that attract and retain top talent by offering opportunities for growth.

In answering these simple questions, you can be assured that ‘your people’ actually ARE a sustainable competitive advantage for your business.

What To Build When Building A Business; Part 2

Last week I shared 4 powerful concepts to start building as you build your business. The short-list includes Relationships, Revenue Streams, Sales Channels, and Others. Feel free to refresh your memory here in the full article.

Now that you have had time to master the first steps, here are three more. Keeping in the chronology of how I discovered them; these three have been my major focus for nearly the last decade of my career. I feel like I am just now getting warmed up with them. As always, feel free bookmark this and share it with others.


Build a Brand
A brand is much more than your products, leaders, proprietary processes, and culture. There is a synergy created by these things that makes an imprint on people – THAT is a brand. It is not something that can be easily controlled because it lives in the minds of customers, prospects, competitors, vendors, distributors, and the general public (with any luck).

Brands need nearly obscene amounts of passion, talent, dedication, creativity, and cash. When done well, the returns dwarf whatever sum was invested. A brand needs a team, a leader, and a system to focus our collective energies. I like to refer to this as a purpose, but purpose is discovered, not built.

Build an army of advocates
One of the most effective ways to build your brand, sales channels, and relationships is through advocates – raving fans who love to talk about you, your company philosophy, and products. They do this with or without being actual customers and do it completely without compensation. Actually to compensate them (even with free or discounted goods) often cheapens the relationship.

Your advocates will support you through product recalls; open doors to new deals; introduce you to thousands of customers; and help make you a household name to ideal audiences. Part of building an army of advocates is building a system that attracts, connects, and empowers them.

Build a culture
Culture is simply a summary of all the thoughts, emotions, and actions of a group. Every organization has a culture by default. It can become an incredible asset when it is formalized, supported, and refined slowly over time. A good culture will not only support itself through growth, but will help drive away those who run to contrary to it.