COVID-19 and the Entrepreneur

We live in very strange times. The public reaction to the COVID-19 virus has been truly astounding. People have altered their behavior – sometimes common sense prevails and other times it is like observing a bizarre alternative universe. Through it all, businesses large and small have been ravaged and some are gone forever. As entrepreneurs, most of us have never experienced anything like this in our lifetimes. We are attempting to plot a course that not only leads to survival but also offers an opportunity to thrive. So, how should the entrepreneur view and react to COVID-19?

What is the worst thing we can do right now with respect to this virus? It’s not going to be what you might think. First and foremost – we must stop watching and listening to the media. Why? Because there is a tremendous amount of misinformation being conveyed – sometimes intentionally. By consuming a daily dose of COVID-19 from our newspapers, televisions, and social media, one could easily conclude that every new case reported is going to end with someone’s death. And where does this lead . . . FEAR!

Fear can be a terribly destructive force. In short bursts, it is potentially protective in nature for it may be enough to cause us to pause and course correct in such a way to avoid serious harm – physical, emotional, financial, etc. The kind of fear being caused by COVID-19 appears to be a constant fear. Fear – especially constant fear – results in stress, triggering a hormone called cortisol. An elevated level of cortisol over an extended period is a bad thing in many ways. It can negatively impact the immune system and cause an increase in cholesterol, blood pressure and heart disease. A healthy immune system is exactly what we need to ward off this virus. Elevated cortisol and its underlying stress can also lead to serious mental illness issues and depression.

Think about how we react to fear in our daily lives. Are we able to make clear and rational decisions when we are afraid? Do we experience positive energy that opens us up to being more creative? Are we strategic when we are in the “fight or flight mode?” The answer to these questions is obvious. And yet, I know many entrepreneurs who are living in a chronically fearful and stressful state as they try to deal with COVID-19 and its impact on their businesses. There is no joy in Mudville right now (for those of you too young to remember this reference, Google the classic poem, Casey at the Bat).

There is a solution to the fear. Get. The. Facts. I said earlier that we should stop paying attention to the media. Instead, go to sources for the actual data. Dig into the CDC website – it is a treasure trove of information. Interview medical professionals who have real insight into the virus and avoid anecdotal accounts that you might hear second or third hand. Stitch together the facts from as many different sources as you can. The data is not perfect and there will be some contradictory results at times. But for the most part, we can synthesize what we discover in ways that makes sense. Then, armed with the facts, we can reach logical conclusions that will lead to strategies we can deploy.

We make sure we maintain good daily physical activity which is a great stressbuster. Besides staying physically fit we practice good eating and sleeping habits. We regularly connect with our friends, family, and colleagues. We strive to do what we can to help and support other people. Above all, we remain positive and know that this moment in history will pass just like all the others have for time immemorial. Guess what? These are all things we should be doing regardless of COVID-19!

COVID-19 should not rule our lives. We must ignore the politics, the politicians, and the media for they are likely agenda-driven in some way. Instead we take charge of what we believe and drive away the fear that we may be feeling.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Not Just Any Old Alarm Clock

Calvin Klein has a women’s fragrance called Obsession Perfume. It’s relatively inexpensive – around 20 bucks or so for a 3.4 ounce spray bottle. This blog is not about the perfume but it is about a particular type of “obsession;” one that is worth far more than 20 bucks.

What dominates our thoughts as entrepreneurs? Is it cash flow? How about the competition? Maybe it’s growth or perhaps it’s market share. Most of these aspects aren’t worth becoming obsessions. In fact, there is very little that rises to the level of importance to be worthy of obsession. Yet, there is one element that is so fundamental to the success of our businesses that it should be front and center as a focal point. You might say it’s the “Obsession on a Pedestal.” Everyone throughout the organization starting with the CEO should be obsessed about . . . the Customer.

Well of course, you say, it’s obvious that the Customer is important. No, I’m talking about something more intense than “important.” Customer Obsession takes many forms. There are certain business establishments – stores, restaurants, gas stations, etc., where I enter the restroom and am amazed at how sparkling clean they are. And they even smell good! That’s Customer Obsession. There are certain business establishments where I am called by name when I walk in the door. That’s Customer Obsession. Or take the case of a regular customer of a resort who developed a fondness for a particular type of clock radio. She looked high and low trying to purchase one but to no avail. She messaged the resort staff to see if they could point her in the right direction but was told that the clock was not commercially available. She was pleasantly surprised on her next visit to find a clock radio waiting for her as a gift upon her arrival. That’s Customer Obsession.

Wouldn’t it be incredible if we could create a culture where everyone is equally obsessive about the Customer? This utopia would have every member of the team smile and greet a Customer in a friendly manner when in his or her presence. This utopia would be a flurry of random thank-you notes, thank-you calls and other forms of true expressions of gratitude to our Customers. When a mistake occurs involving a Customer, our culture encourages a quick, heartfelt apology and a genuine attempt to make amends.

When I think about Customer Obsession, I want to know exactly what the Customer needs and wants. This requires a deep dive into data and other methods to understand what makes the Customer tick. And I want to go way beyond understanding what the Customer currently needs and wants. I must determine what his/her future needs and wants are going to be. I want my Customers to seek me out and tell me that they aren’t just satisfied. No, I want them to tell me that they are fulfilled beyond their wildest dreams.

I want to know when a Customer quits and why; and then I want to make a supreme effort to save that Customer and regain his or her trust. I want to talk directly to our Customers on a regular basis to understand as much as I can about the experience we have provided them. I realize that the cash flow, the competition, the growth and the market share are all secondary to Customer Obsession. Those aspects of our business will be fine if we have an ever expanding base of Customers for whom we are fanatical about making ecstatically happy. Finally, I want to constantly innovate with an eye on how to better serve the Customer. Running in place is not an option. We can and must always do better for the Customer’s sake.

Many obsessions aren’t necessarily healthy. However, obsessing about our Customers will help ensure that our business is healthy and prosperous for years to come.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 54 – Blind Pigs.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Connecting the Dots

Why should I care about politics? It’s just a bunch of doublespeak from a collection of greedy, grimy people with big egos. Why should I care about the Consumer Sentiment Index? Isn’t it just some arcane statistic that gets published every so often? Why should I care about the financial crisis in Greece? Why should I care about the number of Baby Boomers who will reach 65 each year for the next ten years?

Entrepreneurs are a busy lot. We’re always on the run and totally consumed by what goes on in our world. So it’s tough to stay abreast of what is happening “on the outside.” And besides, there’s so much information out there that it’s simply overwhelming. Right? All of this is pretty much true . . . and more. But here’s the big “however.” Everything that is happening around us – 24/7 – is a treasure trove of opportunity. If we invest some time and effort, the information we uncover may help us connect the dots. These are the dots that could lead us to discover a new and innovative product; or identify a trend that could help or hurt our business.

Connecting the dots will require an open mind, a healthy dose of curiosity and the ability to think critically. I’ve always wanted to be the one to connect the dots as opposed to having someone else do so because that “someone else” could very well be a competitor. Some things we learn may have no direct connection to anything to do with our business or personal lives. And yet, we never know exactly when a supposedly random tidbit might be that final puzzle piece we’ve been desperately seeking and didn’t even know what it looked like. I’m constantly advocating that we entrepreneurs should be voracious readers of everything we can get our hands on. And what we read should be broad and diverse.

Allow me to try and tie all of this together with a hypothetical example. Let’s assume that you and I own a company that manufactures fine oak barrels for premium wines. Why do we care about politics? A stiff tariff was being proposed on the special metal bands that we import from Japan to secure our barrels. Our relationship with several elected officials enabled us to educate them on the unintended consequences of this action and the tariff idea was scrapped. Dot A was connected to Dot B. As students of the Consumer Sentiment Index (compiled and published monthly by the University of Michigan) we learned that Americans are becoming increasingly more optimistic about the future of the country. Based upon history, we know that Americans drink more expensive wines when the future outlook is bright. With this knowledge, we make the decision to expand production of our wine barrels to meet increased demand. Dot C was connected to Dot D and then Dot E.

The ongoing financial crisis in Greece proved to be a tipping point for us with respect to a significant customer there who bought large lots of our wine barrels periodically. Because the Greek government restricted the amount of cash that could be withdrawn from the banks on a daily basis, we became concerned that this customer might have difficulty selling his product. We suggested that he scale back his order until more normal conditions existed in his country which saved us from carrying a large account receivable with him. Dot F was connected to Dot G.

Finally, by studying the demographic trends involving the number of retiring Baby Boomers and matching that with their buying habits, we projected that there could be a large increase in their purchase of premium California wines. We deployed one of our top salespeople, armed her with this data and sent her to call on the wineries in the Napa Valley. She came back with a terrific picture of how these wineries intend to introduce several new brands that match with the emerging tastes of the Baby Boomers. Dot H was connected with Dot I.

Paying attention to the world around us can yield valuable information. We can then connect the dots using this data in ways that contribute to the success of our enterprise.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

connecting the dots