The Power of Imperfection

Diamond

“Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.”  – Confucius

Over the last few months, I have been taking creative writing classes. I’ve learned a great deal and found that I really do enjoy this writing thing. Each week, I’ve had to submit assignments for instructor feedback. Inevitably I find that there are elements of my piece that don’t neatly fit into my construct and I feel must be stripped away in order to have a cohesive story that can be wrapped into a nice little package.  But here’s the thing – sometimes those elements of the story that I want to strip away are the most interesting and critical parts of the piece. It’s just that I don’t yet have the skills as a writer to massage the piece into a better form. But by removing those parts completely, I lose the opportunity to learn from my instructor about how to make it better.

As entrepreneurs, it’s important that we too look out for these perfectionist tendencies – the notion that if we can’t do something perfectly, we shouldn’t even try.  This can be especially tricky if you already have some success under your belt because there is a fear of messing up the good thing you’ve got going. Giving into this trap, however, can make it difficult to take a business to the next level and we are denying our customers the opportunity to provide feedback and to receive new offerings that would be of value to them.  It’s scary and I certainly have been guilty of holding back on something because I was afraid it wasn’t good enough.  But as with all of life’s problems, awareness is the first step.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that we put out slapdash, poor quality work – we should always do the very best we can with the skills and knowledge that we have at the time. But we should also be willing to try things that may require a few iterations to get right. Here a few ideas of how to do this:

  • How about bringing the customer along for the ride? Be upfront that we are trying something new and that we welcome their feedback so we can improve. Example:  “Hi Joe, we’re rolling out a new customer loyalty program and we’d love to get your feedback so that we can continue to make it better.”
  • Take a page from the marketing and web development world by using A/B testing to try out different ideas. In my very layperson’s definition (experts: please forgive me!) A/B testing is a method for testing out two different approaches to accomplish the same thing in order to see which will be more effective, such as two different web page layouts or two different versions of marketing copy. The testers know that one option will be more effective than the other, but they don’t know which option will be better until they run the test. If there is a program, promotion or event that you would like to try but are concerned about, think about whether you can present it to just a subset of your customer base and consider presenting two versions to different subsets. That way you can get feedback to improve the offering before presenting it to your entire customer base.
  • When something does go wrong (and inevitably something will), own it, learn from it and move on. If it negatively impacted customers, apologize, explain the situation and mitigate the impact it had on them by offering something appropriate to the situation (e.g., replacement product, free service, gift card for future purchase).  If it did not have a customer impact and was just an idea that didn’t work, debrief with your team and then let it go. People are often much more forgiving than we give them credit for and have shorter memories too. Believe it or not, our businesses are generally not at the center of our customers’ lives and they have other things to worry about.

So, what are your thoughts?  Do you agree or disagree that embracing imperfection in your business can lead to growth? Do you have any strategies for accepting and using imperfection? Please leave your comments here and let’s continue the conversation. Thanks for reading!

Storytelling

Photo courtesy of Brenda Clarke/Flickr CC2.0

Photo courtesy of Brenda Clarke/Flickr CC2.0

This week I had the opportunity to attend a talk given by Nancy Duarte, presentation guru and author of Slide:ology and Resonate. The topic of the evening was storytelling and the main lesson was that to effectively persuade an audience, you need to contrast what is with what can be.

As business owners, we too are in the business of storytelling. We need to persuade our customers or clients that we can help them bridge the gap between the current state (showing we understand the pain points they are experiencing) and the ideal future state (a healthier body, an improved bottom line, etc.) By painting a compelling picture of what can be, we are creating a call to action. Here are my takeaways from Ms. Duarte’s presentation as it applies to entrepreneurs:

  • When speaking with potential customers or clients, use anecdotes to show that you understand what pain points they are currently experiencing and examples of how your product or service addressed those pain points for others.
    • “Martha was experiencing chronic back pain and could not walk more than a block without stopping to take a break. We asked her to try a pair of our ACME walking shoes and now she can walk miles without pain.”
  • Be as descriptive as possible in describing the ideal future state. Allow the customer or client to see it in their mind’s eye.
    • “Imagine if your employees could see a list of your top customers at the touch of a button and a profile of each customer that highlights possible sales opportunities.”
  • Don’t just describe what your product or service does, explain how your product or service will get them from the present to the future. This is the difference between product features and product benefits.
    • Feature: “This radio uses solar power to charge itself.”
    • Benefit: “You can use this radio wherever you go and you never have to worry about the batteries dying.”

So, what do you think? How have you used storytelling in your own business? Please leave your comments here and let’s continue the conversation. Thanks for reading!

Always Be Branding

Photo courtesy of martha_chapa95/Flickr CC2.0

Photo courtesy of martha_chapa95/Flickr CC2.0

I watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thursday as I do every year. And I noticed, as I do every year, that some of the musical performers do a lackluster and even atrocious job of performing. Much of the music is lip-synced, of course, but that doesn’t mean that performers can’t put on a good show. Unfortunately some of the artists did not seem to take the performance seriously enough to be bothered to perform along with their lip-synced music. I’m sure it’s not easy but based on other performances, it is achievable. Not only do the subpar efforts make the individual look foolish, it also damages their brand. The parade is viewed by millions of people, creating a great opportunity for artists to reinforce positive feelings in current fans and introduce their music to a new audience…or do the opposite.

No matter the venue, business owners represent their brand. Whether we have a booth at a tradeshow, a tent at a community festival or a table at a holiday crafts fair, it is important that we present the brand image that we want our business to be remembered for. That means:

  • Create a visually pleasing display – use professional signage, display products in an attractive manner and hide the boxes we hauled our stuff in. And don’t forget that our choice of clothing also makes a statement about our brand.
  • Put down the phone. Whether it’s a coping mechanism to deal with our fears that nobody will stop by our booth or we are trying to multi-task, it’s not a good idea. Focusing on the phone makes us unavailable to potential customers and suggests that we don’t need their business.
  • Be friendly and approachable to the 1st person and the 100th person who comes by. Even if we are discouraged, let’s not let it show. It’s good to remember that even if we are not doing gangbuster sales, we are creating goodwill. So let’s refrain from bad-mouthing the event and keep that smile on our face. Give out samples, give out business cards, have fun.
  • And don’t pack it in early unless the event as a whole is ending early. It will look bad to attendees and will not endear us to the event organizer.

So, what do you think? Please share your thoughts and let’s continue the conversation. Thanks for reading!

There Are No Dumb Questions

I am passionate about business, especially entrepreneurship. I have been a management consultant, a business operations leader and a small business owner. It was that last role that was the most challenging and fascinating. I started this blog because I wanted to create a place where I could share what I learned in the process of starting and operating my business in the hopes that it might help someone just starting out or struggling with similar issues. I also wanted to pose questions that I never figured out the answer to so that someone else may share their wisdom. One of the basic tenets of this blog is that there are no dumb questions. There are so many issues that come up for business owners that they have never faced before. Yet it can seem as if we should already know the answers and thus we struggle in silence. So, if you have a dumb question, please share it here. Let’s figure it out together!