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By Rosalind Wyatt
"I believe the children are our future Teach them well and let them lead the way..."
-Written by Michael Masser, Recorded by George Benson and Whitney Houston
Yesterday was a fun day. It started out with a regularly scheduled Zoom meeting and after that was over, it was time to prepare for yet another Zoom call. But this one was about to be way more exciting and terrifying. It was almost time to talk to Ms. T's fourth grade class about climate change.
Ms. T had reached out nearly four weeks ago and asked if I would speak to her class about climate change. I had just been accepted into the Oxford School of Climate Change (OSCC), 2021 Hilary cohort, and posted about it on LinkedIn. Who knew that a little post about OSCC would lead to that special invitation? I consider it special because sharing knowledge with kids is a big responsibility and those who are tasked with the daily responsibility of teaching kids are special people. Plus kids can be tough. They typiclly have a sense of when you're trying to sell them a load of crap, so I wanted to present information about climate change in a straighforward way that they could really grasp.
But I also wanted there to be an exchange, a give-and-take conversation. After all, I don't consider myself a "sage on a stage" but a "guide on the side" and although understanding the topic of climate change and the impending crisis is crucial, I didn't want to bore thirty-plus, 9 year-olds for a whole hour. My thought was that they had already heard something about climate change, so I wanted to go beyond just helping them shore up their knowledge, I wanted them to get in on the action. During the presentation, I showed them pictures of young climate change and environmental activists, most who were only about six or seven years older than them. I asked them for their ideas about what individuals, businesses, and governments should be doing to address this impending crisis. They had suggestions. One wanted to write the president and I encouraged him to do so, right away.
Fourth graders have a lot to offer, they just need things explained in a way that they can understand. I suppose that also applies to first, second, third, fifth graders, and so on. Imparting knowledge about the impending climate crisis was rewarding, but the sweet spot was when I could see those 9 year-olds being able to move beyond learning. After all didn't Confucious or Ben Franklin say something like:
“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember; involve me and I will understand.”
Much thanks to all the fourth graders in Ms. T's class and to Ms. T for inviting me.
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The internal politics and Game of Thrones taking place within companies could have a real affect on customers. Does management ever consider how turmoil over strategic direction impacts those most loyal to a brand.
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This is the first in a series of mini-podcasts of marketing strategy tips and information.
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I was recently doing some internet research for a project I was working on that involves independent and freelance workers. One of the first websites I visited was the Freelancers Union (http://www.freelancersunion.org) site because it’s chock full of great information for and about independent workers. While navigating around that website, I discovered that the organization has what’s called a Client Scorecard where freelancers get a chance to rate the companies they’ve worked for according to whether they accomplished the following:
• Provided a written agreement to the vendor
• Paid the vendor in full and on time
• Gave the vendor a clear job description
• Paid the vendor at market rate or above
• Answered the vendor’s questions about the assignments in a timely manner
Freelancers rate the companies they’ve worked for by assigning a score of 1 star (horrible) to 5 stars (great) according to those specific areas listed above. Along with the numerical ratings, freelancers get to give a more in-depth review of their experiences with the company. I read through a number of the vendor reviews, both positive and negative and I noticed a couple themes that kept jumping out at me: professionalism and character.
After reading through a few more of the bad reviews the first thing I wondered was, if those companies created such bad relationships with their service providers how were their relationships with their customers? Okay so I thought, maybe, they have good relationships with their customers. But it also occurred to me that those vendors providing the ratings and reviews are real people, with friends and families and networks. And they probably talk and complain much more than they share their good experiences. All it takes is a Facebook post from a person with many “friends” and a few “shares” by those friends. Then the next thing you know, there’s a tweet with a clever hashtag warning “not to buy from that company because they’re unprofessional and they cheat people”. The most interesting thing is that the Freelancers Union boasts membership of more than 200,000 people. My sense is that it’s probably not great for a brand to have 200,000 people think that the company lacks integrity.
As a marketing strategist I always say to business owners, “Every contact your company has with your customers is important. You’re communicating something about your business with every encounter”. Every interaction has the potential to make a positive or negative impact on people who either buy or consider buying your products. But this doesn’t just apply to your dealings with customers. This applies to your dealings with the all the actors in the marketplace. At the end of the day every business owner is a marketer, whether they want to accept it or not. The world is a small place and thanks to social media, it’s becoming smaller by the day. Just as a bad customer experience can put a crimp in your business, having bad encounters with your vendors, and others in your marketing public can hurt you as well.
So how can you reduce the chances of having bad relationships with your service providers? By no means am I suggesting that you gleefully accept bad service and a poor product in an effort to not tick anybody off. What I am saying is this:
Get a Clear Understanding and Get It In Writing
Before you hire someone to provide a service, get in writing a clear outline of all the things the vendor is providing. For example, if you’re hiring a janitorial service, the proposal should outline in detail what comes in the package. If there’s something that you don’t see in the outline, you need to ask about that upfront. If it’s not included and costs extra, then the onus is on you to decide if you want to pay more to add that feature. It’s tedious but in the long run it reduces the chances of a misunderstanding.
Don’t Let a Simple Dispute Blow Up Into Something Major
Work with your vendor in earnest to resolve simple issues. Sitting down face to face or at least voice-to-voice is a big step in working out the problem. It’s easy to fire off a nasty email but it’s much more difficult to face someone and hash out the solution to a disagreement. But from a marketing standpoint it shows integrity and having that kind of company integrity only helps your brand.
Have Empathy for Your Fellow Business Owners
Empathy is characterized by being able to feel what other people feel because you have experienced it yourself. You want to get paid for what you do and so do other business owners. I’m sure you as a business owner you probably know what it feels like to not get paid in a timely manner or to have a customer not want to pay your full invoice. There may be legitimate issues that have to be solved. But remember that your vendor is in business just as you are.
Marketing strategy does not end with your relationship with customers. You operate in a larger marketplace and there are many players that can impact your reputation and by extension your brand. You have the opportunity to build your brand with integrity. Developing respectful relationships with your vendors and service providers will carry you a long way.
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Nothing thrills us
No one kills us
Life is such a chore
-"Boring" by the Pierces
It's good to see entrepreneurs stepping up and taking their place in the world. All over the world, startups are pitching to VCs, being touched by angels, taking out loans and bootstrapping with confidence to fulfill their dreams. This fervor is extremely admirable. Startups are like fresh air breezing through a stuffy, stale room. But sometimes it seems that the breezes keep blowing air in the same room. I wonder if the idea of creating more bells and whistles for over saturated consumers will become, you know, boring over time. We have more social networking apps and more online clothing retailers and more electronic doohickeys than we know what to do with. While most sane people love a great electronic doohickey (present company included), getting them excited about purchasing the next greatest thing seems to be harder and harder. There are brilliant entrepreneurs that are already burning up the charts in this space. And of course, every now and again someone comes along and truly changes the game, disrupting everything. But how often does that really happen? Mostly disruption is dulled down to incremental advancements. The potential to make a lot of money is certainly there. But is there an equal amount of satisfaction in the journey?
So what's left to create? I'm glad you asked. There are so many interesting problems yet to be solved or solved more efficiently; big problems that fall into categories like clean water, clean energy, food production, collaborative education, food deserts, poverty reduction, ad infinitum. Yes these really are big humongous problems and the solutions aren't necessarily glamorous. But tackling these problems certainly seems interesting. Getting a handle on these issues requires big thinking and big problem solving and loads of time and a plethora of approaches.
So hopefully a substantial percentage of the next wave of entrepreneurs will dare to think big and solve huge, crippling problems. They won't do this for free and we shouldn't expect them to. But they will lead with their hearts and be tempered by their pragmatism and good business sense. You've heard them called social entrepreneurs, mission-driven entrepreneurs or just plain old business do-gooders that are trying to conquer mountain-size problems. But climbing a mountain seems anything but boring; treacherous and harrowing maybe, but never boring. These people can take their creativity and innovation and craft solutions and make some nice dollars along the way; Perhaps they won't make as many dollars as the strictly for profit guys, but some.
So where is the next hotbed of interesting? Just look for the mountain-sized problem up ahead to your right (or left).