The Secret Ingredient

Ever since I was a little girl I can remember my Mom and Dad making perogies by the stockpot-full!!

The house would be filled with simple aromas from boiled potatoes and sautéed onions. The moment those smells hit your nose your stomach craved for what was to follow. 

Tender pockets filled with harvested potatoes & onions combined with good ol’ Canadian Cheddar served softly boiled with a dollop of sour cream. But of course their secret (aside from a solid dose of black pepper) was the love Mom & Dad pinched into every piece! (I’m pretty sure Love is a true pantry ingredient!)

Being the youngest of eight I had seen many family gatherings but the best ones were those in which our family grew even bigger!

Seriously …we just kept adding & adding. Yes I’m talking about weddings!  It was our family’s tradition to prepare all the food by hand for all weddings. 

It was all hands on deck! And boy did we have hands. Our typical feast consisted of: borscht (beet vegetable soup); cabbage rolls (2 types); perogies (2-3 types) meatballs with gravy; roast beef packed with garlic cloves plus a host of common veggies, and some special mixtures like pepanke (a type of mushroom with gravy) and my favourite garlic mashed beans mmmmmm.

For Us, (a poor Ukrainian Prairie Family) food was more than something you needed to survive. It was a foundation, a source, a way of showing love & a way to pass along traditions. Today I’m happy to believe that this holds true for many families as well as mine.  Be sure to always stock your pantry with my Mom & Dad’s secret ingredient!

Advisory Boards: What, Why, When, and How

What is an Advisory Board?

An Advisory Board is a group of trusted mentors and advisors who provide you with guidance and feedback, based on their skills and interests. An Advisory Board has no governance or fiduciary responsibility, although many Advisory Boards transition to Boards of Directors over time, as a company matures. Advisory Boards are in place simply to advise. Advisors add value by asking the tough questions at the right time, helping you to find the answers. In fact, their most valuable contribution may be to ask probing questions, rather than “provide advice”.  

Why should my business have an Advisory Board?

An Advisory Board can bring broad skills, experiences, and credibility to a business and its owners, depending on the Board’s composition and mandate. If chosen carefully, an Advisory Board can provide access to specialist and generalist skills not held by the owners, decades of experience in the right industries, and a network of connections for building your business. Simply having an Advisory Board signals your willingness to seek outside counsel, an important attribute when looking for new investors and business relationships. An Advisory Board can help provide you with the discipline to periodically re-assess business strategy and success. Having to succinctly describe your business challenges to your Advisory Board will help you tackle them successfully.

When should I set up an Advisory Board?

An Advisory Board should be established at the earliest practical time. Although you may believe that you don’t have time to set up and maintain an Advisory Board, you should quickly see better decisions and accelerated success by bringing more brains to bear on your challenges. Expenses are generally limited to travel and meeting costs, because most Advisory Boards aren’t paid, at least not initially. Time and money should not be constraints. 

Who should be part of my Advisory Board?

Advisory Board members should bring skills that complement your own, filling gaps in functional areas such as strategy, finance, marketing, and technology. At least one of your Advisors should have deep knowledge of and connections within your target markets. Look for a variety of skills and perspective among your Advisors. Try to explicitly define knowledge gaps and search for the right individuals. Keep the number of Advisors to a modest level (3-6). Having too many dilutes individual relevance and challenges quieter members to be heard. All your Advisors should be strong communicators, with great networking and listening skills. Avoid celebrities, unless you are confident these individuals will remain actively engaged. Remember that prospective investors often will want to speak to your advisors, so make sure yours are all active and up to date. Finally, make sure that your Advisors support your company values and remain excited about your company’s success.

How do I find and appoint Advisors?

Individual Advisors are typically recruited informally, often following a successful business relationship or through networking. This works fine until you decide to bring your Advisors together for a common purpose, such as reviewing a product launch strategy. At this point your advisory relationships need to become more formal, through a simple letter outlining elements such as time expectations, meeting frequency, expense reimbursement, deliverables, termination, and term expiry dates. Developing a consistent letter for all Advisors will help ensure unity and consistency in Advisory Board operations.

How do I compensate my Advisory Board Members?

Initially you need not expect to compensate your Advisors except for expenses and meeting costs. Be careful to not expect your Advisors to freely provide services (e.g., accounting) for which they normally charge other clients. When you reach the point of compensating your Advisors, more-formal contracts will be needed. Eventually you may wish to invite one or more of your Advisors to join your Board of Directors. This could happen when you secure significant outside investment or begin to hire middle managers. Compensation, when implemented, could involve retainers, meeting stipends, stock options, etc. Stock issues, if used for compensating Advisors, should be kept modest and symbolic (e.g., 0.1% per year served). Even though you will not be financially compensating your Advisors initially, look for ways to acknowledge their contributions, such as through client introductions and referrals, recommendations, and feedback on the effectiveness of their service.

How do I operate my Advisory Board?

At the outset, Advisors need to be provided with a good understanding of company vision, core values, and business strategy. This information should be provided in written form about a week in advance of the first meeting. Adequate lead time is needed for review, allowing the initial meeting to focus on discussion, rather than presentation. The initial meeting should be face-to-face and have a formal agenda, allowing each participant adequate time to interact with others and establish comfortable communication. Allow 2-4 hours for this meeting. Most subsequent meetings can be virtual, once this comfort has been established. Face-to-face meetings are not needed more than once or twice per year. Between meetings, Advisors can be kept abreast of company progress through periodic reports. Advisors should be contacted when and as needed, keeping communications responsive and relevant. Advisor engagement ought to be straight-forward and compelling.

Are you passionate about your business?

That can seem like an odd question to some business owners. They don’t see themselves as passionate about selling automotive supplies, doing tax returns, or cleaning houses. These individuals often go on to tell me they do it for money and security; they are in this business because it provides them a living, and they certainly aren’t passionate about their work.

Interestingly, businesses owned by these people tend to operate satisfactorily at best, providing adequate customer service sufficient to sustain the business at a modest level. Sound mediocre?

The truth is, the owner’s passion goes a long way to determining whether a business will excel, or merely survive.

The automotive supply store owner who is genuinely committed to seeing her customer leave the store feeling great that he has the solution to his steering issue is passionate about helping people solve DIY problems with their cars. In turn, her customers are enthusiastic about the service she provides, building the store’s positive reputation. The store owner who isn’t passionate sees the customer as just another clunk who doesn’t know what he is doing. Even if the customer leaves with the right solution, he is likely frustrated by the owner’s bored or even condescending attitude. The store’s reputation remains merely adequate, at best.

The accountant who is passionate about ensuring his clients get the best possible tax advice will ask the right probing questions of his clients when they show up to have their tax returns done, making sure that all the relevant information is used. He will also offer suggestions about business and bookkeeping practices that could have favorable tax implications for future years.The client is confident that her accountant has completed the tax return accurately and is sincerely interested in helping her business perform better. The complacent accountant will take the information provided by the client, check for completeness, request missing pieces, and crank out yet another tax return. Guess which customer raves to her friends about the great service.

The house cleaner who is passionate about his work gets satisfaction from the knowledge that his customers’ expectations have been exceeded. He relishes the genuine joy and pride that the customer feels when her home has been cleaned so well. This house cleaner has very low client turnover, a loyal staff base, and a backlog of clients wanting his service. The house cleaner who sees her business simply as a way to make a living struggles to keep both clients and staff, as she continually pushes to find efficiencies (i.e., cut corners) in her engagements.

The examples above are composites based on real business owners I have encountered, both passionate and otherwise. There is a common thread in the passion displayed. It’s all about the customers. All three passionate business owners are truly committed to helping their customers have the best possible service experience. Their passion for great customer service drives business success. Those who cannot find passion in their businesses are doomed to mediocrity.

Now, can you find something to be passionate about in your business?

Wellness In Your Workplace

What are the telltale signs you work in a healthy, thriving work environment?  

The team hits target and gets bonuses? The company is generating good revenue and profits?  You’re bringing on a good quantity and quality of new clients? Your clients are happy? What about your employees, are they healthy and safe?

An ongoing challenge in the world of health and safety, is how do you know you’re doing it well?  If you’re injuries are low, is that because you’re in a low risk environment? Is it because you’re employees are following the right processes and procedures?  Are you just lucky? Perhaps a blend of all three?

The only real way to measure if your employees are working in a healthy and safe environment is to consider what that is, and measure it.  Traditional health and safety often relied on lagging indicators, things like injuries, and damage. Proactive safety programs often consider more leading indicators such as positive inspection results, near misses reported (can also be lagging), hours of training, hazards identified and corrected etc.  So if you’ve got all of those in check, you must be doing safety right, right?

Maybe, maybe not.  You’re certainly identifying key aspects of safety, such as monitoring, and responding to findings, but what about the less subtle aspects?  What about employee wellness? Have you considered aspects such as:

  • Employee work loads and stress levels?
  • Employee engagement?
  • Employees at work, but not focused, not effective, or in other words presenteeism?
  • Time pressures for targets and deadlines?
  • Length and time of hours worked and risk of fatigue?
  • Bullying, harassment, or even social pressures?
  • Employee burnout and turnover?
  • Employee nutrition and dietary habits at work?

The above are just some aspects of employee wellness, which can be seen as a broader term that encompasses the engagement, and involvement of employees and both their in work environments, and out of work environments.  The days where these environments were seen as separate, or less connected are behind us.

It is difficult for many roles, and individuals to simply stop work at the end of the shift, or simply leave personal life at the door before entering work.  The two overlap, and the stresses, challenges, and pressures of these environments can work synergistically to influence employee wellness in a healthy or harmful context.  They can balance each other, and they can work to cause health or harm depending on how they are managed.

Health and Safety isn’t the same concept it was 60 years ago when my father started his career, and neither is the world we live in. Employers and employees can work together to identify key sources of harm in the workplace, that may be typical health and safety related harm, or perhaps more subtle workplace harm such as work related stress, health habits, or uncertainty.  These sources of harm can be reviewed, ideally while engaging the workers, and addressed to reduce the potential for exposure of workers to the harm, and the process doesn’t have to be time consuming, or expensive.

Some solutions may seem to be more people focused, rather than directly related to health and safety, but can lead to a sense of engagement, trust, and community in the workplace, and improve relationships, and culture.  Wellness, health, safety, they are all about people after all. Some examples of a range of solutions that can be considered are:

  • Utilization of a health, safety, or wellness committee to focus on trends and priorities
  • Considering how existing benefits can be complimented with greater wellness benefits
  • Flexi-time for workers to manage work and personal life priorities
  • Reviewing nutritional habits within the workplace
  • Working remotely on occasion particularly with infectious colds or flus
  • Exercise breaks for a walk or short run to get a break from sitting at a desk
  • Enforcing regular breaks throughout the day
  • Review workload and project management needs to consider sustainability
  • Collaborative lean thinking type problem solving exercises between workers and management
  • Employee career development and succession planning to provide structure, stability, guidance

These are just some of the less obvious, but related examples of adjustments in the work environment that help impact wellness in the workplace.  They can contribute towards addressing some of the challenges preventing organizations from truly creating a healthy, thriving work environment.

Creating Value – Part III

Belief.

A Belief that you have and share, about the marketplace, about your customers – this is the third big powerful wagon to hitch your business to.

How you view me shapes our relationship. Back to Seth Godin’s Tribes: don’t just understand me: believe in me, uplift me. Speak to your customers with a shared language and beliefs and values. Find the stories and associations that work for your people.

I love this one. You are a smart, powerful woman who can compete in a man’s world by being yourself.

Together, you and the book are shutting out the cacophony of the world; you are in independent thinker in the sea of sameness. You are resisting!

My customers love where they live, they have a sense of place. They have memories about these special places.

Know your customers intimately, and express your shared belief about your marketplace in:

  • tag lines
  • images
  • thank yous

Find the stories and associations that work for them and for you. Here’s one more:

So that’s the 3 “wagons” you can hitch your business to, in order to create big value that justifies higher margins for a small business:

The Big Idea

  • Problems in your marketplace
  • What do your people want?
  • What hasn’t been pillaged?

The Future

  • What’s in the future that you can identify with?
  • Where can you take your customers that they want to go?
  • Occupy the high ground early

A Belief About Your Marketplace

  • Who are your customers?

What stories and associations work for them?

Make this a topic at your next BforB Round Table conversation!

Creating Value – Part II

The BIG Idea.

As discussed in Creating Value – Part I, Chevy is using The Big Idea – patriotism – to sell their cars.

The Big Idea is often a value that is widely shared by your customers – hence the need to know them really well. Your Tribe, in Seth Godin’s phrase.

Here are a couple more:

Imagination!

The tag line for this baguette is, “ready to bake at home.” Comfort! Cosy nest!

Soroptimist International is committed to, “Improving the lives of women and girls, locally and around the world.” The Big Idea is Gender Equality.

Now here’s mine:

I personally need to feel like I am putting down roots in the place I live; I need to be connected to my community. I was telling a business coach about the toy store I used to co-own, in a small town where people wanted the small town feel. “Sure we were selling toys, but really we were selling the white picket fence.”

She said, “Isn’t that what you’re still selling?”

I slapped myself upside the head and went, “Oh duh! Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – it’s not just me, it’s everyone. I am selling a sense of belonging.”

Finding your Big Idea:

  • What is happening in your marketplace; What are the problems? At Soroptimist, we tackled 2 problems: young women who need to make their first home, and older people needing to downsize. So we created Anney’s Closet, and the mundane explanation is a free store, but the Big Idea is Passing The Torch.
  • What do your people want, that you can give them – adventure? Healthy food? Taking care of their parents or partners?
  • What idea hasn’t been pillaged (Being Green?) When in doubt, go with a classic.

I’ll leave you with a couple more I found:

The Future

The Future is the second big wagon to hitch your business to, in order to create big value. In The Art of War the Chinese general Sun Tzu said, “ Occupy the place of conflict early.” For example, water tables are dropping in the US Southwest. Therefore, water is a precious resource. I can associate with water conservation: occupying the high ground in the place of conflict.

Panasonic ads show the technology to its fullest potential, it brings you into Star Trek. This is the future of play, and Panasonic brings you there NOW.

The tagline for this annual biking event with over 10,000 participants is “Move the City.” You can be part of what cities will be like in the future.

One Soroptimist program is all about the future, based on research showing girls with access to mentoring are far more likely to achieve their dreams:

I’m taking a different approach, similar to Moleskine:

Moleskine is incredibly successful at mixing romance and history into their product. The future is one-world, one-size spandex spacesuits, and rush rush rush.

So my high ground is being ready to respond when people get fed up with the generic world. These paper calendars say, “My life is not disposable.” They are calendars for keeps, about a meaningful life.

Finding your Place in the Future:

What is our world coming to? More importantly, your customers’ world:

  • What’s in the future that you can identify with?
  • How can you advantage of what is going to happen?
  • Where can you take your customers that they want to go?

Your 60 Seconds of Fame

Here is a bit of glimpse to what it’s like at a Business for Business Networks meeting. We have 60 seconds in which to educate and captivate our fellow Business For Business Network members and guests.

60 seconds to help them understand what we can do, and how we can help them and their customers. To demonstrate we are the BEST at what we do, so they can recommend us with confidence.

Are you doing at that in your business? Do you have knowledge and practical tips that would improve the lives and businesses of other members? Do you have stories that give us insight into your world?

The point of Business for Business Networks is firstly to build relationships, and knowledge, and work through roadblocks we face with trusted business peers through round table conversation, to become better business owners and professionals. Second, it is to build our businesses by being recommended by others who trust us.

We gain and build trust by getting to know each other and watch each week, as everyone demonstrates how they are an expert in their field, and offer advice to one another at the round table.

Last week I let loose a bit of a rant in our Low Town Business for Business Networks meeting, which turned into a great discussion on our updates and infomercials and how to improvxe them. I thought I’d share the gist of it with you all.

The Problem: I don’t really know what you do and what sets you apart.

The Solution: Use your 60 seconds to tell us:

  • What’s one aspect of your business? Capson Electric is the top rated installer of NEST systems: what is NEST, that you are such an expert at?
  • How do you do stuff? I described part of my digital painting technique at Blue Heron Art to show how complicated it is.
  • How have you been a hero? I still remember how Iris Mayfair saved a marriage with eyeglasses.
  • What have you done for a customer? Vancouver Island Osteopathy has “fixed” all kinds of joints and muscles and ailments.
  • What sets you apart? Comfort Keepers uses iPads for up-to-the-minute communication.
  • What do you know? Kristen Yarker constantly gives dietary tips that proves she is the number one in knowledge.
  • Who loves you? Share a testimonial.

In other words:

  • Assume I know nothing about what you can do or how smart you are, but I WANT to.
  • Tell me, piece by piece, not just once, but repeat in a few months, because I forget.
  • Take the time to plan and practise – will it fit in 60 seconds? What is the important bit?

Tell me a story, week by week, that shows how awesome you are, and I will recommend you whenever I get the chance.

This is how businesses grow naturally and form loyal customers, be proud of your business because you are working hard to be the best at it.

Don’t be scared to ask for recommended and testimonials from happy clients and customers – you earned them!

If this post makes you want to drop into a Business for Business Networks morning meeting contact one of the leadership team of the group nearest you!

Creating Value – Part I

Most of us in Business for Business Networks own or are a part of small business, with relatively low volumes. That means, to make money, we need to have high margins, fairly high prices. That means, in turn, that we have to offer our customer BIG value. How do we do it?

I started my business under the auspices of the government’s Self Employment Program, with stellar business coaching from The Reger Group. One of the presentations was on just this: Creating Value. It helped me to see how I was doing that in my business, and how I could do more.

By the way, I am also a Soroptimist, meaning I belong to the best women’s organization in the world, dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls. I’ve seen how Soroptimist offers members, volunteers and donors BIG value for their time and money. I thought other Business for Business Networkers might get something out of the ideas, so over the course of a few blogs, I’ll share what I’ve learned.

Here’s one example, the one David Bell at Reger started with:

What is Chevy actually selling?

Patriotism!  If you own a Chevy, you are a full-blooded American.

There was even a song – the theme song to NBC’s “The Dinah Shore Chevy Show” (1957 – 1962):

See the USA in your Chevrolet

America is asking you to call

Drive your Chevrolet through the USA

America’s the greatest land of all

Etc etc for 3 more verses/ refrains . . .  Isn’t that priceless? No matter what we think of the Excited States of America at the moment, you have to admit that in 1957 – this was brilliant. A business can hitch themselves to a much bigger wagon than selling cars, and elevate what they are selling to a much higher level of value – and price.

Stay tuned for “The Big Idea” in part II – of which patriotism is one.

Are You Eating the Right Breakfast?

I don’t know if the old saying “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” is true. It may not be the most important meal. But it certainly is an important one.

Starting off with the right breakfast raises your blood sugar gradually and keeps you full for hours. It’s like armour protecting you from the tempting, junky foods that surround us all day.

The great news is that there isn’t just one perfect breakfast. Many foods can make up the “right” breakfast. Here are the 4 important characteristics of the “right” breakfast (and some food ideas):

1. Produce. I highly doubt that you’re surprised at me wanting you to include fruit or vegetables in your breakfast. Most of us could use to eat more produce. So why not get a serving or two in at the start of the day? Eat a piece of fruit, top your oatmeal with berries, add some spinach in your omelet, or warm up last night’s stir-fry leftovers.

2. Protein. Here’s something that toast or cereal eaters often miss. Including protein will help your blood sugar be stable for longer, which means no mid-morning crashes and cravings for donuts. Sprinkle hemp hearts or chia seeds on your cereal, spread nut butter on your toast, or enjoy a couple of eggs.

3. Real whole grains. This one is optional. You may just want to include
protein and produce and you’ll be doing great. Others (me included) do better with some real whole grains at breakfast. What do I mean by “real” whole grains? I mean minimally processed grains. Something that you really have to chew.

There’s a lot of highly processed breakfast foods that claim to be whole grain and/or high fibre. I recommend avoiding anything that’s super light-weight, like a lot of breads and puffed cereals. They digest really fast and your blood sugar starts to drop quickly. Instead look for something that needs a lot of chewing, like steel-cut oats or is heavy to hold, like many sprouted grain breads.

4. Sugar. Again no surprises here (except where it can be hidden). Have as little added sugar as you can (ideally none). Watch out for it in “healthy” cereals, take-out smoothies made with fruit drink concentrates, and in “fruit”-on-the-bottom yogurt.

Start with the right breakfast and enjoy the benefits all day!

How WCB Claims Impact Your Bottom Line

Pamela Stover WCB Claims Health care costs are only the beginning of the financial impact of a worker’s injury. Lost time claims and mismanaged claims cost businesses in productivity and profits.

Some common issues that affect your bottom line:

  • Internal mismanagement of claims: Untrained or generalists may make internal errors which have a lasting impact on your bottom line as well as missed opportunities.
  • Failure to review claims for cost saving opportunities: Claims should be reviewed by an experienced professional that is versed in law, policy and procedures in order to mitigate claim costs and ensure proper management of a claim. After all, claims costs impact a businesses bottom line that has a lasting effect.
  • Fraudulent misrepresentation claims: Some claims are not as obvious as to the origin of the disability and/or work-related injury and therefore require deeper examination. Unfortunately, some workers are reluctant to RTW or are non-compliant in the process.
  • Improper claim reporting: Lack of information on the Accident Investigation Form and/or Form 7.
  • Late reporting: Cost employers in fines and delayed reporting takes away the ability to properly investigate a claim which can impact your claim costs.
  • No Return to Work Plan: A formal RTW program will assist with getting your injured worker back to work by providing them with meaningful work that allows them to stay involved and is proven to assist in their recovery. It also assists with reducing the overall claim cost and returns skilled workers to productivity.
  • Lack of sustained employer involvement: Some employers believe that once a claim has been established with WorkSafe BC that they can become a passive participant. Whereas, quite the opposite is required.

Effective and consistent claims management reflect ultimately in lower costs of a claim and subsequently lower premiums/surcharges. Our extensive knowledge, expertise and commitment drives us to achieve the best outcomes for our clients.