Service Minded

Debra Helwig on Marketing & Leadership in Professional Services

Posts Tagged ‘creativity’

In Praise of Showing Up

Posted by debrahelwig on March 22, 2013

MailvEmail

A few days ago, this Internet cartoon drifted through my Facebook feed.

My reaction? Oh my God, YES.

So I shared it. And my friends and colleagues reacted the same way.

What is it about this that makes everybody I know react so strongly? I sat down to blog, and I just couldn’t wrap my brain around it.  What is it that makes this idea important?

The answer struck like lightning at my kids’ PTA meeting last night.

Our school has a high overall level of parent involvement. The event was skillfully planned. Robust agenda. Thoroughly publicized. Food and childcare included. All this should be a recipe for a well-attended, highly successful meeting, right?

Exactly five parents showed up.

The result? Huge disappointment for the folks who worked so hard to make it happen. Big hard feelings of “does anybody really care anymore?” (This EVEN THOUGH the Facebook page for the PTA is quite active, and there were a ton of “So sorry I couldn’t make it, go PTA!” messages posted there.)

That crushing disappointment is the place where the meeting and the cartoon connect.

Because through technology, we’ve created a culture of convenience.   And, all over the place, our cyber-induced complacency is short-circuiting relationships that matter.

It’s true that sometimes for real reasons (the economy forcing people to work two jobs) and more often for fake reasons (spending time sucked into Facebook or online games or email), we seem to have less time than ever before.  It’s easy to connect with people via email and Facebook, in our own time, at our own schedule. It’s convenient and quick and we can do a lot more of it and feel very productive.  Look at all the connections I have!  Look at who I contacted today!

But at their heart, the very effortlessness of these connections devalues them.

In our deepest selves, we appreciate effort. It matters when we show up. When we connect in a physical way.

A virtual hug, however appreciated, can never hold the same value as feeling sheltered in the arms of a person who cares.

An email, however lovely, cannot substitute for the time and effort that goes into a card that is hand-chosen, handwritten, hand-stamped, hand-sent.

Online support and donations are valuable for a charity or service club or PTA. But they cannot replace the nurturing that comes from being present with people who need us.

In professional services, no amount of email, or newsletters, or excellent technical work, can substitute for face-to-face time with a client. Looking them in the eye. Hearing their concerns. Saying “You matter to me” in ways much louder than words.

Perhaps it’s time to rethink our relationship with the Interwebs ever so slightly. Facebook, Twitter, email, and all the rest need to be a tool to augment personal interaction, not replace it. Don’t stop emailing or Facebooking. God no.

But sometimes, you just gotta show up.

In our hearts, we know this. It’s why this cartoon has been shared and shared and shared. Why we rejoice over cards in the mail and make a big deal when there’s a great turnout for the Food Bank workday.

If we want to make a lasting difference to the people around us – clients or friends or family – we must find a way to be physically, tangibly present when they need us.  We can’t wait for other folks to do this work. It’s up to us. Even when it’s inconvenient.

Maybe especially when it’s inconvenient.

Cartoon by Victor at http://www.poofytoo.com.
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Posted in Accounting, Attitudes, Marketing, Networking, Relationship Building, service | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Go, Make Something!

Posted by debrahelwig on March 14, 2013

MakeSomethingThis week, the stomach flu landed at my house.  On me.

Two days of evilness, followed by the sickest feeling I’ve ever had in my life: coming back to work to a list of 35 urgent “to do” items and an inbox with 150 actionable messages in it. It’s Busy Season in the accounting world and I was already crazy with work. Now…God help me.

And I had thought I was queasy before…

My immediate reaction was one of overwhelming inadequacy and stupidity.  Especially taking into account that there isn’t just WORK stuff. At home I have kids on spring break who are screaming “I’m bored!”; a house that hasn’t been cleaned, with puppy tumbleweeds flying across the den like we’re the last outpost on the lone prairie; bills to pay; a gratitude journal to write; a thank you note I haven’t sent; and OH MY GOD Easter is coming and I haven’t thought about cookies or egg hunts or any of that stuff….

It’s enough to send a person back to bed in a crumpled heap, never to emerge again.

It’s my guess that most of us have been in this place at some point – crushed by the feeling that “the world is falling on my head and I’ll never get out from under.” Frankly, considering it’s Busy Season, I’ll pretty much guarantee I’m not the only one feeling at least a little like this at the moment.

But, in the middle of all these feelings of “Oh My God, I will never be able to do all this,” and “I am suuuuuuch a miserable faaaaaailure!”, two independent pieces of wisdom floated into my inbox yesterday and combined in a way that stopped me in my tracks.

First, there was this post by Mike Figuolio called Quit Being a Critic and Go Create Something. Mike makes great points for anyone in a leadership role, saying:

What you must understand is your criticism carries weight.  It impacts the performance reviews of your people.  It determines whether a supplier wins a contract or gets booted.  It shapes the perspective on whether someone gets promoted or not.  You get the picture – your words change lives. I invite you to go a step beyond the simple criticism.  Help build something beyond your words. … change your mindset from one of critic to one of creator.  Instead of looking at your job responsibilities as only setting direction and judging the work of others, spend time with your team creating new ideas. 

From that came my first BIG THOUGHT:

I am the leader of Team Debra. And I am spending all my time criticizing me, instead of creating great work. I am a professional critic – of myself – and boy, am I a mean one!

Hmmmm.

Then, from my friend Michelle Golden, I received a link to a brilliant TED Talk from Elizabeth Gilbert called Your Elusive Creative Genius.

In this presentation, Gilbert presents the idea that we are not solely responsible for our own creativity. She explains that in ancient cultures, they believed there was an external source for creativity (called the Daemon, or the Genius) that helped the process along. That, in that context, our only responsibility is to show up and do the work, and the creative spark will come. That it’s not on us, as radically frail and freaky creatures, to be the source of making good stuff happen.

Double hmmmmm…

SO – this was my internal conversation that pulled all these thoughts together:

I am a tremendously horrible critic – mostly of myself. When my workload gets too deep, I immediately go to that place of “I’m a horrible failure and it will never get better.”

          This is not helpful. Instead of being a critic, what if you become a creator?  Create, don’t berate.

But I’m too BUSY to create anything! There’s this awful to-do list of mechanical stuff that just Has. To. Be Done. And it’s not creative work! It’s spreadsheets and database files and uploads and….

          Who says that stuff can’t be creative? You’re making something.

Um…

          Even if you have some stuff that isn’t “creative”, so what? Not everything has to be. Just make something every day and you’ll feel more energized for other stuff you have to do.
Maybe just make ONE thing. Make dinner. Write a blog post. Clean up something (make a clean space!). Tell the kids a story.

But I’m soooo tiiiiiired and overwhelllllllmeeeeeddd, I can’t be creative!

          Oooh, but if Elizabeth Gilbert is right, YOU don’t have to be creative. That external THING has to be creative (call it what you will, the genius, the divine, God) – but YOU
don’t have to do it. You just have to show up.

And then I do stuff?

          Right.

And work gets done? I make things?

          Right.

And I feel good about it?

          YES.

But there will still be this huge list of stuff that I didn’t do!

          But it won’t feel the same, if you’re paying attention to what you ARE doing and what you made today. Things will move faster and feel better.

In so many ways, this internal shift doesn’t change a thing. My to-do list is still a morass of electronic insanity. I’m still eating toast and bananas and wishing I felt good enough for a cup of coffee.

But this morning, thanks to Mike and Elizabeth, I’m deciding that the place where I begin my day is not with the idea that “I can’t do all this” and “I am the worst employee ever”.

Instead of being scared of my list, now I’m curious. I can’t wait to find out what my Genius (the Divine, God, the Muse) is going to bring – and what I’m going to get done.

Anticipation, not fear.

Today, I am going to make something great. I wonder what it will be?


Photo by jessica wilson {jek in the box}. License.

Posted in Attitudes, Busy Season, Leadership, Professional Services | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Starting Over

Posted by debrahelwig on March 6, 2013

StartTwo years, five months, 14 days. That’s how long it’s been since I posted on this blog.

So long, in fact, that I forgot the login credentials for WordPress. So long, my design template is officially obsolete. So long, I almost quit.  Forever.

You see, I got busy. Super busy. My company merged, tripled its international reach, and completely renamed and rebranded. There were three different bosses – with three utterly different management styles – in less than a year. As lead on the branding project, I worked 18 months straight of 18+ hour days, full of multi-lingual, multi-cultural insights and difficulties.

Blog? What blog? I made the excuse that I was too overextended to worry about it – though occasionally I would remember and be sad that I’d left it behind.

We launched the PrimeGlobal brand in July last year (hooray!) and I turned back to my regularly scheduled life. I thought about starting to write again.  But it had been SOOOOOOOO LONG.  “Who would care anymore?” whispered my inner demons. I had started something good and let it die. I was embarrassed, so I pretended it didn’t matter anymore. But it still tied my guts in knots every time I thought about it.

Then my dear friend John Hill died at the age of 44. Thirty days later my beloved father died suddenly. Then 45 days after that, my friend Spencer Cox. Then, my great-aunt Ruby. Mom’s cancer became terminal. My not-quite-so-toddler-anymore started Pre-K. My 9 year old acquired her first boyfriend – and her first breakup. Holidays set up and fell like dominoes, one set of decorations down, another up. For a control freak like me, this much uncontrolled life left me spinning, deliberately unengaged for fear that if I connected, just ONE MORE THING would happen. I didn’t want any ONE MORE THINGS. And this blog was just that. One more thing.

The internal dialogue went like this: “How could I start again? Real writers, they write.  Real bloggers, they have something to say all the time and post like mad. They are witty, insightful, and most of all, timely. That can’t be me.  It’s been two years. No way. Just do your day job. Take care of your kids. This writing thing, that was just a fun little dream anyway. Forget it.”

But the day I went to hit “delete”, I didn’t remember my WordPress login. And before I could find it, I had a chance conversation with my friend Melinda Guillemette. Melinda is a woman with thoughts like spun gold. She is 100% witty, insightful, and one of those folks who on my better days I wish I could be like. And she, this person I admire so much, said pointedly, “Darn it, I want you to start writing again. The world needs your voice.”

Really?  Me?

Then just a few days later, another extremely smart friend, Michelle Golden, posted a statement to Facebook that hit me in the face:

“Just declined doing the wrong work at the wrong time at the wrong price. Always hard to do but feels good once it’s done.  Also about ready to walk away from the wrong work at the right price. Even harder to do.”

Wow. So, don’t just work. Do what you love. And let the work figure itself out from there.

That idea really made me think. And I stopped feeling sorry for myself long enough to start looking around. This is what I saw:

Heather Kreiter, launching a line of cute-as-heck plush toys via Kickstarter.
Ashley Garrett, officially the Baddest Mother Ever, launching a blog because the world needed to hear her voice (and believe me, it does.)
Michelle Golden, not staying pat in the social media space, but sharing brilliant insights on Value Pricing.
Tracy Crevar-Warren, who blew up her life as a professional services consultant to be SuddenlySwiss (and remain one of the brightest minds in professional services at the same time).
And, to take the tale back to professional services, Grossman St. Amour CPAs, who just launched a fabulous niche in equestrian accounting.

These folks naturally GOT something I missed, in my busy-ness and malaise of the past couple of years.

It’s never too late to start – or start over.

This applies to my whole life, and maybe to yours too. Do you have a friend, or maybe a client, that you’ve neglected because you got too busy with other things, then never called because it had been “too long” and would be “embarrassing”?  Do you have a hobby at home, or a niche or a certification at work, that you always wanted to pursue, but stopped yourself because “it’s too late, I’m doing other things now?” or  “I don’t have time, and who would care anyway?” A type of work you want but haven’t pursued because “someone else is already doing it?” or “no-one will like me doing this?”

Let me tell you what Melinda said to me: “Honey, they aren’t doing it like you. Because they aren’t you. The world needs YOU doing this, even if everyone else is doing it too. Because your way will be different – and it will be something that people need.”

If it’s true for me, it’s true for you too.  Both in your personal life and in your professional career.

What have you been neglecting out of embarrassment or fear? What dream or idea keeps running around in the back of your mind, unwilling to be laid aside? And what step can you take today to say “to hell with what anyone thinks, I’m doing it anyway?” and see where it takes you?

Me, I’m taking a stand. I choose to be brave like Ashley and Heather and Michelle and Tracy. I’m going to write. Right here.

I hope you’ll come along for the ride – and that you’ll share your dreams and plans in the comments as well.

Let’s do this.

Photo by Stevendepolo. License.

Posted in Accounting, Attitudes, Professional Services | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Beat Perfection Paralysis – Take it to the Happy Line

Posted by debrahelwig on July 26, 2010

To quote the immortal Hannibal Smith from A-Team, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

All right, I can’t believe I’m quoting the A-Team. But it’s true. Don’t you love it when your projects are spinning along just right? When your writing zen is on and you author the blog post of your life? When the marketing campaign you dreamed up lands ten times its projected leads? When your well-placed phone call makes the difference between keeping and losing the biggest client on your balance sheet?

Of course you do.  I do too.

When you’re aiming at perfection and actually hitting the mark, work is bliss. As the poem says, God’s in his Heaven and all’s right with the world.

But there’s a problem in this land of sunshine and glory, and I’m sure you already know what it is.

People. And circumstances. And you. Yes, you, on the days you have a cold, or didn’t get enough sleep, or had way too many jalapeno poppers at dinner the night before, or whatever other circumstance you can imagine. Stuff you can’t predict will always get in the way, darn it. And things get messed up.

Note, mind you, by “messed up” I don’t mean that your project is a train wreck, or even a moderate failure. By messed up, I mean that it doesn’t match up to what your inner perfectionist says it should be.

I’ve lived in this place. It’s not fun.

For the longest time, when things at work didn’t go exactly the way I thought they should (nevermind what anyone else thought), I would feel like a huge loser, because I knew I could do better. I had a vision of the perfect result I should have achieved, and my evil inner perfectionist would whisper, “What makes you think you know anything?” or, “If you keep this up you’re gonna get fired.” Then, I would react in one of two ways:

1. Overwork it. If the project didn’t feel perfect the first time, I’d keep at it. Rewrite for the thirtieth time. Take it back to design again – and again. Set up another focus group. Hold another group of employee meetings. Better to deliver the best possible job than let go something that’s less than perfect.

2. Avoid it. If I was afraid I couldn’t do a perfect job, then I’d push the project down to the bottom of the to-do list until I had the experience/skills/talent/contacts to do better. Or I’d ignore it until the need for it went away and I didn’t have to worry about it anymore.

Bad, baaad.  The perfection paralysis became a never-ending, vicious cycle, with my self-esteem as the target.  It took a very wise boss to jerk me out of it.

One afternoon a number of years ago, this boss called me into his office and asked to see the status of a marketing campaign I was working on. I told him I wasn’t happy with it, that there was still work to be done, that I wanted to tweak it for a couple more days.

He looked at my work, tossed it on his desk, and said, “Send it.”

“But wait,” I protested, “It’s not ready.”

“Oh yes it is,” he replied. “You’re at the Happy Line. Get it out the door.”

As I was leaving, he called after me, “Quit trying to make everything so perfect. Get to 80% of perfect and 99% of people will be happy with it. And you’ll get a heck of a lot more done. Take it to the Happy Line.

His advice rocked my world.  And I still live by it today.  Because he’s right.

Sure, there are some professions (tax accounting is one of them) where 100% accuracy is required.  But in marketing and customer service, the truth is that 80% of perfect is always, always better than 100% of unfinished.

By applying the Happy Line principle in my job, I’ve discovered:

1. I get more done – and more quickly – than I ever did before.
2. My creativity opens up and I have fresher ideas.
3. I stop playing it safe and try new things – and those things sometimes turn out to be my most innovative and groundbreaking work.

If you try this, what you do won’t be perfect.  But your work will be finished (on time!) – and maybe even great. Probably even great.

Aim for the Happy Line and see how far it can take you.

At minimum, you won’t be driving yourself crazy anymore.

Photo by • • • annajarske.com (license).

Posted in Attitudes, Business Development, Leadership, Marketing, Professional Services, Relationship Building, service | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

You Are Not a Loser if You Hate to Blog (or Tweet, or Facebook, or…)

Posted by debrahelwig on June 29, 2010

Wherever you go these days, there are people talking about how we have to get into social media. Blog now! Start a Facebook page! WHAT? You don’t have a LinkedIn profile??? The mantra, “You have to be ‘out there’ to be successful today” resounds from every corner of the business world.

But if you’ve given it a try, and every time you type a tweet your innards scream “I don’t WANNA!” Or if every time you sit down to write a Facebook status or blog post your guts cramp up, I have a wonderful, liberating piece of news for you.

You don’t have to.

Yes, social media is real and is here to stay. The blog, the Twitter account, the Facebook page – all that stuff will change the way some businesses work. But these things are TOOLS to help you do your business, which is accounting or law or whatever other great service it is that you provide. Contrary to what many, many consultants will tell you, it is permissible to read other people’s blogs and learn from them without having your own. You are not a gutter-trawling loser for limiting Facebook to just your friends and family.

Doing anything – social media or otherwise – because you’re afraid (of looking dumb? of being left out? of losing business or friends?) is a really bad idea. Fear is an incredible spur to action, but a terrible way to stay motivated and productive.  So don’t give in to fear.

If you have other offline ways you’re more comfortable working with people – you’re fabulous face-to-face or on the phone, but you’d rather eat uncooked tripe for lunch than write – then for goodness sake do what you do best. Work your magic your way and to hell with what anyone else thinks. Just realize that your clients may be looking for you in these social media spaces, and if you don’t want to be there, you’ll have to find other ways to keep them engaged. Or find clients who don’t care whether you have a social media presence or not. Both things can be done. You can do things your way and be successful.

This is not permission to quit with social media before you start. This is permission to say “No thanks, I really, truly tried that, and it doesn’t work for me.” That’s honest. And the people who work with you will know the difference.

Photo by jeannahmc (license).

Posted in Attitudes, Business Development, Marketing, Networking, Professional Services, Relationship Building | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Doing Great Work Should Not Equal “Be Boring”

Posted by debrahelwig on November 2, 2009

Different_pencilA few months back, I read a post by Michelle Golden about the fact that a creative and edgy approach to business attracts clients.

She is sooooo right.

With startling regularity, I meet people who do really interesting things for a living. People like my chiropractor, who studied with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (yeah, the Beatles guru guy, that guy), or my neighbor who owns a balloon delivery business and leaves for work in a gorilla suit almost every Saturday. Or the gal who’s making a killing running a full-service day spa for dogs.

No matter what their line of work, these quirky, interesting people have one big thing in common. When I ask them, “Why did you choose THIS job,” almost all of them say, “I just couldn’t imagine doing something boring – like being an accountant, you know, or a lawyer.”

As if a professional services job is the most dull, lifeless, autonomic career in the entire universe.

Huh. I want to shout, “Buddy, you don’t know the accountants and lawyers I know!”

But maybe that’s the point.

Somewhere back in the mists of time, someone decided that accountants and lawyers shouldn’t present themselves to the world as quirky and interesting. I’m not sure who started the conspiracy. But whatever the cause, far too many firms succumbed (and STILL succumb) to the “me too” boring-itis of navy blue logos, bland Web sites, and marketing copy full of generic speak about “quality service”. For now, the professional services firms who choose to take a more personal, more creative approach to business are still the exception rather than the norm.

That shouldn’t be true. It doesn’t have to be true.

Social media gives you a seriously easy path to show a new, more personal way of doing business – one that’s a heck of a lot more fun. If you want to see how it can work, check out the people Michelle mentioned in her post: Valorem Law Group, MoFo, and Choate. And if Michelle’s list wasn’t enough to convince you, try these on for size:

Kelly Phillips Erb (TaxGirl) – Arguably one of the funniest and best tweeters in the legal profession, TaxGirl’s blog is also full of great repartee. Her site says it all: “Why Taxgirl? Because paying taxes is painful… but reading about them shouldn’t be.”

Steven Zelin – Tax accountant Steven Zelin isn’t just your average tax guy – he’s also The Singing CPA.

Jay Shepherd – Author of the top-rated Gruntled Employees blog and a witty tweeter, Jay’s work shows you that his firm definitely isn’t your run of the mill employment law firm.

Scott Heintzelman* – Scott’s Exuberant Accountant blog and his tweets put a face on “Servant Leadership” and provide a great introduction to him and to the values of his firm. Scott’s not zany – just real – and that’s an edge a lot of firms could use.

Paul Neiffer – On his FarmCPAToday blog, Paul talks to his clients in a personal way, in a language they understand. You won’t find a better example of a niche blog anywhere.

Stephen L. Snyder – This guy is a high powered litigator with major wins under his belt – and a massive sense of humor, as evidenced by his “Snyderman” videos. (Hat tip to Legal Blog Watch for introducing me to Snyderman.)

Notice – these are all high-quality professionals doing high quality work. Just like you. But they’re getting loads of attention (and business, by the way) from their commitment to showing the world not just what their firms can do, but who they are, why they are, and why it matters.

Not one of them is doing something you and your firm can’t do.

All it takes is the decision that being a professional services person doesn’t have to be cookie cutter. Or boring. It’s not a sin to show a little personality in your work – even if it does involve spreadsheets or legal briefs.

How can you and your firm show more creative spark?

Photo by Mommyof4Ruggies (license).
*In the interest of disclosure, Scott Heintzelman’s firm, McKonly & Asbury, is a member firm of my employer, IGAF Worldwide.


Posted in Accounting, Attitudes, Business Development, Law, Leadership, Marketing, Networking, Professional Services, Relationship Building, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Power of Space (or, Time to Stop Playing Whac-a-Mole)

Posted by debrahelwig on July 28, 2009

Wack a Mole photoThis past weekend, I got a great lesson in the power of space. And how space can affect your career (and sanity).

Last weekend was my husband’s 30th highschool reunion. And, since he had the civility to graduate in Daytona Beach, Florida, that meant a weekend at the beach. Without the kids. No pressure. No priorities.

Hooray, right? Sign me up!

Or so you’d think.

Instead, I started finding every excuse in the world not to go. The babysitter can’t handle the kids. The dog threw up. I have too much to do at the office. There are dishes and laundry and emails and OH MY GOD I haven’t blogged in 10 days and what about the Web site project and…

I was too overwhelmed to even consider time away.

I’m not unusual, either. Professional services folks everywhere are overburdened. A survey this summer by the Institute of Management Accountants found that “When asked what they need most to be effective leaders, most accountants [29%] said more time.”

I feel your pain. But here’s a truth for you: busy-ness begets busy-ness. And not all busy-ness is good.

Today, it’s easy for professional services work to become what I call a Cosmic Game of Whac-a-Mole. Remember the 1980s arcade game? You had a big mallet and a board full of holes in front of you. As the moles popped out of the holes, you hit them back down. And the faster you were, the faster they got. Never stopping, just hitting and hitting until the game was over.

Does your project list operate that way? How often do you get to work, sit down at your desk, and immediately get buried in mountains of email? Start with meetings at 8 a.m. and never make it to your desk? Take one client file off the pile only to have 10 more added to it? Is the pressure driving you crazy?

That was me. And if it’s you… survey responses aside, you don’t need more time. Or more staff.

You need space. A reflection zone.

I was lucky. When I started down my list of all the reasons I couldn’t take a weekend away, my husband told me to shut up, turned off my PC, and stuffed me in the car. And guess what? I came back energized – with thoughts about how to handle a crisis at the office, blog post ideas, and plans to kill a few projects, start a new one, and move others down the priority list.

Busy-ness begets busy-ness. Space begets sanity.

Even if you can’t find an entire weekend like I had, taking a few minutes daily to reflect can make a difference in your outlook.

Try this: schedule 10 minutes a day on your calendar as a “meeting”. Shut your door, or if you’re in a cubicle, find a private space. Turn off the PC, the iPhone, the BlackBerry, the cell phone. This is think time. Use these moments to ask yourself basic questions about your work, like:

• What are my most important projects right now? Why are they important? Do I really need to be doing all of them, or can I delegate or reprioritize some of them?
• What am I doing that is urgent but not important? How can I reduce or eliminate that kind of work?
• What are the top three things I want to accomplish today? This week? This month?
• What am I doing to engage other people right now, both for business and personal development? Do I like what I’m doing? Could I try something else?
• What meetings do I have this week? How can I reduce the meeting time? If I am meeting too much, is it my colleagues or is it me? And if it’s me, what am I avoiding?

You may not find answers, at least not at first. But making space to ask the questions every day can be transformative all on its own.

If you stop playing Whac-a-Mole – if you give yourself permission not to be busy every moment of the day – you’ll get more done. And you’ll be a lot saner, more effective, and just plain happier in the process.

Where can you create some space in your day?

Photo by jrubinic (license).

Posted in Accounting, Attitudes, Leadership, Networking, Professional Services, Relationship Building, Strategic Planning | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Swine Flu and Pandemic Panic: A Wake Up Call for Your Business Continuity Plan (And Five Steps to Get You Going)

Posted by debrahelwig on May 4, 2009

swineflu This past week’s outbreak of swine flu (H1N1 virus) has set the world afire. You can’t turn your head, in public or online, without tripping over someone talking about outbreaks and closings and the potential for disaster if this nasty little bug really takes off.

And though (thank goodness) the spread of the illness so far isn’t living up to its media hype, the fact that there’s a panic about it makes sense. Not just because many, many people might get sick, but because a true pandemic could cripple operations for every kind of business imaginable.

Including yours.

Many firms already know this. The tragedy of 9/11, the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, wildfires in California, SARS and more – all of these events sparked waves of business continuity planning throughout our industry.

BUT (and this is a big but) – it’s been a while since the last awfulness. How up to date is your plan? Does it cover all the new ways you’re doing business? What about your completely remote workforce, who might be put out of commission by storms in their area while all is perfect weatherwise at the headquarters location? What if everything is fine in your company, but the factory you’re set up to audit next week is shut down because half the staff has swine flu?

You might want to dust off that old plan (if you ever had one) and think through these eventualities.

And here’s a twist you might not have considered – what are your top clients‘ business contingency plans? If there’s a pandemic or a disaster, how are they going to continue operating, and how might it affect the way you work with them? That’s a level of detail most firms skip – but if you don’t take the steps to find out, you may find yourself in a world of hurt when crisis hits.

So, with that in mind, here are a few items you should take care of right away. This week. Now.

1. Identify your top 10 clients (could be less or many more, depending on the size of your firm and the relative value of the clients’ activity)
2. Contact those clients and ask them about their business continuity plans. Use the swine flu (H1N1) outbreak as the opportunity to begin dialogue.
3. If their plans are insufficient, direct them to resources to help them consider their position, both relative to you and to their suppliers and clients as well. A few resource options are below to give you a start.
4. Using the client’s plan (or lack of plan) as a guideline, build a strategy for how your firm would continue to provide them with service in the event of a disaster or emergency. Ensure that every member of the client service team, from partner to staff, is aware of the parameters of the plan and prepared to implement if necessary.
5. File the plans in an easily accessible place or place(s) – (not just on a PC – what if there is a power outage with no computer access?) and hope you never have to use them.

If you need help putting together a business continuity plan, check out the following links:

http://www.ready.gov/business/plan/index.html
http://www.ready.gov/business/plan/planning.html
http://www2.agilityrecovery.com/resources/events/2/Webinars
http://www.yourwindow.to/business-continuity/contents.htm
http://www.fema.gov/business/bc.shtm
http://www.nfpa.org/assets/files/pdf/nfpa1600.pdf
http://nonprofitrisk.org/tools/business-continuity/intro/1.htm
http://en.bcmpedia.org/wiki/Main_Page

And if you want to track or prepare specifically for swine flu, check out:

http://hbsp.ed10.net/r/GS4D/00YIN/RNJZBB/OHOZ2/D99V5/6C/h

http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/index.htm
http://edition.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/04/30/ep.swine.flu.questions.answers/index.html

Even if H1N1 swine flu doesn’t live up to the hype, there will be other emergencies. So get ready.

Being prepared for any eventuality is just smart business.

Photo by Archie McPhee Seattle (license).

Posted in Accounting, Leadership, Professional Services, Relationship Building, Strategic Planning | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

How Flexible is Your Menu?

Posted by debrahelwig on April 3, 2009

cheeseburgerI love Mexican food. Especially with jalapeños. LOTS of jalapeños.

In fact, I find it hard to believe that there are people out there who wouldn’t like to gluttonously drown themselves in cheese dip. But there are – a few. And one of them is my friend, the amazing-marketing-insights-person Barbara Price.

Last year Barbara treated us to a wonderful story on her blog called “Every Cheeseburger Begins Life as a Hamburger,” which shares the story of Barb’s non-Mexican-loving taste buds’ journey with friends to a local Mexican restaurant.

Barb ordered a hamburger, and they wouldn’t give it to her, because there were only cheeseburgers on the menu. Barb’s retort? “Every cheeseburger begins life as a hamburger.”

Her blog used this story to make an incredibly important point: Sometimes what we have written down – our policies, our offerings, our way of doing business – blinds us to opportunity.

That story stuck with me. I’ve thought about it over and over during the past year.

Because she’s right. And more now than ever before.

Think about your own firm for a minute. As the recession took off, I’d bet your clients started to worry. To ask questions about price. About cutting services. About streamlining and doing less. How did you react?

So many of us, when examining these requests in the light of our standard “menu” of offerings and hourly rates, just freaked out. In Barb’s parlance, we saw our offerings as “the cheeseburger for $3.99,” and couldn’t see that underneath the piece of cheese was a less expensive hamburger waiting to be sold. Instead of getting flexible and learning how to recombine and revitalize our services to meet the market’s needs (without changing the base structure of the menu, mind you!), too many of us have said, “We can’t do that!”

Yes, you can.

Because every cheeseburger begins life as a hamburger. Everything you do at your firm can be stripped to its bare bones and recombined in ways that make sense to your clients – for now. And then you can adjust your menu again as the market improves.

In the current economic climate, rigidity could be the kiss of death. How can you make your firm more adaptable to the requests and needs of your client base?

Keep it flexible. Give ’em the hamburger if that’s what they want.

Thanks, Barbara.

Photo by foodinmouth. (license)

Posted in Accounting, Business Development, Marketing, Professional Services, Relationship Building | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Ford vs. Hyundai: A Cautionary Tale for Professional Services Firms

Posted by debrahelwig on April 1, 2009

Are you sick of hearing about the upheaval in the auto industry yet?

I thought I was. In my house, we’d gotten to the point of throwing (soft) objects at the TV anytime someone said “auto bailout.” Enough is enough, right?

But then, I ran across a few stories that really made me think. About the ONE, MOST BASIC thing we all could be doing better – in this economy or otherwise – to generate and keep loyal clients and customers.

The A-Ha Moment

My “a-ha” started with a post by Marelisa Fábrega that had this amazing nugget (edited here for length):

At one time, Ford asked Edward de Bono for advice on clearly differentiating themselves from their many competitors. Ford asked, “How can we make our cars more attractive to consumers?”

Dr. de Bono approached the problem from a completely different angle: “How can we make the whole driving experience better for Ford customers?” Using this perspective, Dr. de Bono came up with an idea: Ford should buy up parking lots in all the major city centers and make them available for Ford cars only. Unfortunately, Dr. de Bono’s innovation was too radical for Ford; they saw themselves as an automobile manufacturer with no interest in the parking lot business.

Lots of irony here.

If Ford HAD done this and other similar loyalty-building exercises, would they have created enough raving fans to avoid the brunt of the current auto meltdown? Hmmmm.

Heading in the Right Direction

Now, let’s look at a competitor of Ford’s called Hyundai.

In my circle, Hyundai hasn’t had the greatest rep – mostly because my good friend drove a serious lemon with their nameplate attached. BUT… then Hyundai released this ad.

WHOA. Take the car back (or, in later iterations, make my payments) if I lose my job? Shocking.

In the space of one commercial, my attitude about Hyundai completely changed. Not because they built a better car. But because their actions shouted – “We hear what our customers need and we’ll break new ground making it happen.”

Were other people as impressed as I was? Well, according to a study by CNW Research:

Surveying consumers shopping for a vehicle…as well as eventual buyers, about the carmaker’s vehicle-return program, CNW found that more than half of “intenders” hadn’t considered Hyundai before hearing about its program, and 53 percent said the program was the key reason for considering the brand.

Reports show Hyundai’s year over year sales were down only 1.5 percent in February, and up 25 percent over January 2009; Ford’s were down 48.4 percent year over year. Coincidence? I think not.

And, additional irony, yesterday Ford launched its own assurance program, with many similar features to Hyundai’s.

Coming Late to the Party

Will Ford’s attempt at an assurance program make a difference? IMHO, not much.

The Hyundai Assurance Plan is working not just because of the plan itself, but because it made Hyundai the first automaker to visibly demonstrate a new way of approaching customer relationships in the current economy. The plan is “proof” that Hyundai is not only interested in building customer relationships, but is dedicated to making the experience of buying a Hyundai better, just like Dr. de Bono suggested to Ford with his parking lot idea years ago.

I’m certain Ford’s also-ran entry into the “assurance plan” business will help them some, at least in selling cars to people inclined to buy Fords anyway. But will it change hearts and minds and create new raving fans for Ford? Likely not.

Hyundai got there first.

Now, About Professional Services

If you work for a professional services firm, it’s quite easy to fall into the mindset Ford had when it approached Dr. de Bono. Think about how often you ask, “How do we make our firm more attractive than our competitors’ firms?”

Ultimately, that line of reasoning will put you in the same position as Ford.

I urge you to flip your thinking. Ask instead, “How can we make the entire experience of consuming our services better for our customers?”

Remember, it’s the HOW, not the WHAT. Creating fans is not just about refining your end product, it’s about surprising and delighting and showing that you listen and you care. It’s about responding in radical ways to your clients’ needs. And being the first in your market space to do it.

For Hyundai, it’s not all about the car. For your firm, it can’t all be about the audit or the tax return or the legal brief or the contract. Change your thinking and you can reach unimaginable heights – and maybe change an entire industry as well.

What are you waiting for?

Posted in Attitudes, Business Development, Marketing, Professional Services, Relationship Building | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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