What happens when you don't have a vision : Michael Bay and the Transformers debacle

I wrote this blog a fair while ago - and never published . The timing just didn't seem right.

Transformers : The Last Knight is terrible.

There I said it.  As a die-hard fan (since childhood)  the movie was painful to watch, excruciating to dissect afterwards, and in a last cathartic attempt to get some value out of the dollars spent on a 3D IMAX ticket ... I am throwing down some thoughts and lessons for business owners and entrepreneurs.

I've written a full review which I may never publish, it is so vicious and unrelenting in it's criticism. Yes, that's how much, I , a lifelong fan of the franchise disliked this movie.

The Main Bullet points are this :

  • The editing is shockingly bad
  • The story-line is disjointed, lacking a single coherent narrative
  • The script is so bad, I'd be tempted to say they filmed on Improv Night right after legalising good ole M-J
  • The "Strong Women" ( a la We're so Over the sexist 90's ) are ham-fisted and clumsy.
  • The only female 'baddie' is a sexy-as Great Deceiver. Very telling boys, very telling.

The real question is what this has to do with business owners ?

The business of running a business

The latest transformers is a chilling, and blunt example of what happens when there is no vision at the top ( i.e. from the founders) .

We have a couple of possible scenarios

  • Michael Bay and the Producers had different visions for this movie
  • Michael Bay and the Producers had a vision but didn't communicate it properly
  • Michael Bay didn't have a vision for this movie

In the context of this movie, The Vision would a single compelling story-line.

Whichever of the above are true doesn't really matter much - because the outcome is the same. A big messy movie, with gaping plot holes, terrible editing, horrendously disjointed scenes that don't propel any kind of coherent narrative.

In the world of business - you pretty much have the same deal to get around. Your vision is your internal narrative, from which springs the narrative that feeds and informs your pitch, your marketing, your business stories (you always have multiple stories, especially in sales) - and - the language and tone of your communications, in real human terms, with your clients.

You need to know it.  You need to own it. You need to live it. You need to breathe it.

You also need to coherently, succinctly, repeatedly, and with a great amount of grace and sincerity - communicate that single vision and story to your team members, your clients, your partners, your vendors, and anyone else that comes into your sphere of business.

Yes - you can run a business without giving this vision stuff much thought.

 

Yes, you can make widgets and sell them cheaply, and cut costs and get operational efficiencies --

You can never, however,  achieve the dizzying heights of Facebook, Amazon, Google etc without having, communicating, and inhabiting your vision. Your vision should infest and inhabit every single aspect of your business operations.

So how do you go about this whole process of infesting your business operations with your vision?

2 things really, and they sound so simple. But don't be fooled, they are as difficult to do as they are easy to write.

First up - you need to Be the vision.

This is not the same as telling it. It's not instructing staff on what to parrot back to clients when they ask about service. It's not sticking up signs around the the office saying "Our vision and mission .... ". Although that last one is pretty helpful as an affirmation and lends itself to beautiful social media fodder.

You also cannot hire a consultant to define the vision for you. You can hire a consultant to help you identify it, but they can't do it for you. It's also why your vision absolutely cannot be "Make Money". If your internal narrative is all about money. Well, we know what the world thinks of those types of people.

Making money is a given. Working towards profitability is a given. Unless you're a charity, in which case making money is a necessity,  to sustain the ongoing ability to Do Good.

Every other business needs to make money in order to continue existing. There is nothing unique in that.

You are the vision of your company;  in every word you speak, and every piece of work that leaves your hands. If that is consistent then it will infect and spread through every single bit your business. You can tell people WHY you do things, but if you show them with your actions that it is true; that is so much more powerful and credible.

The second thing is you need to write down HOW you want things done.

In corporate speak - you need to have processes and procedures.

Sounds like an onerous task. Well, it can be if you do it the corporate way. It doesn't have to be.

Once you have settled on a process for something, then write down 3-5 steps of WHAT to do. No more than 5, no less than 3. If you need more steps, it's either too complicated, or more likely, you're jamming in more than one process into a single document.

Take each WHAT step and expand out sub-points of  "how to do this step". Include things like how you want clients to feel, and the tone of voice to use in communications. If you want people to do things the way you would, you need to give them an instruction manual. Otherwise they will do it the best way that they see how, and that may not match the vision of your company.

So there it is.

Be the vision of your company, and show the world your "Why", by your everyday actions. And make sure that vision is trickling down every single damn day so that you are not the next Transformers disaster.


Manage your Emails Effectively - LEAN principles applied to emails

I recently did a free speaking gig, where I talked through how I manage my email accounts ( 2 work email addresses and a personal account). The topic was so popular, I decided to blog about it, to show you how you can manage your emails effectively.

I've made great progress since my Sept 16 Blog about being the bottleneck just by the way.

Here's the outline of what I do and how I transitioned from email overwhelm, to having Sundays off entirely ( I'm not kidding about the Sundays).

Read more


Referring business is a skill, and well, some people are just better at it than others

Just recently , a fairly new acquaintance of mine referred someone to me, or rather , I was referred to them.

This is not unusual - a lot of people see a lot of opportunity with the various business interests that I have, notwithstanding my startup Rocking Rose, and my new social networking App Network Buddy.

And if you consider my "Day Job" with Dolphin Worxs as their main person , chief chick in charge and all round general Bossy Person, you get the picture that a lot of people would like to sell me, or pitch to me, a variety of services or products, and even partnerships.

However - this recent incident brought a wry chuckle to my throat. For the sake of keeping things anonymous,  I will not name the company, referee, or service that was referred to me, I shall instead talk about Baking Cupcakes.

The Story Begins

I was on the phone with said New Acquaintance, when I happened to mention that I hadn't been able to call them back in recent days, because I had been a little busy Baking Cupcakes.

side note - I was in fact Baking Cupcakes for one of my largest clients, and it was an activity that I happen to be fairly good at, I have a custom recipe, which I have perfected over the years, and I follow it to the letter. The result is that the final Cupcake is exactly what the client ordered. I was being paid to Bake Cupcakes. 

We continued our discussion, and the call ended.

A couple of days later , I was formally introduced by email to a Specialist Cupcake Maker. Someone to whom I could outsource my Cupcake Baking Woes.

Say What How ?

Cue extremely puzzled expression while reading emails.

A day after that , the Specialist Cupcake Baker replied to the email, thanked my aquaintance for the referral and confirmed their availability to speak with me.

Alrighty then.

Steph Looking at her phone confused
but ... I like Baking Cupcakes ...

I made a mental note to call or reply to Cupcake Specialist at some point to politely thank them and confirm that I was not actually in the market to outsource my Cupcake Baking Activities.

Before I could do that, I was called. On a Public Holiday. To discuss my requirements for the Cupcakes. It was a slightly awkward call I can assure you.

Said Cupcake Maker had done nothing wrong, and was in fact following all the right steps for a word of mouth referral. It would have been glorious, had I actually wanted,  or needed to outsource my Cupcake Baking Activities.

But I didn't, and in fact I didn't even say that I wanted to, I simply mentioned that I had been very busy Baking Cupcakes. And that was it.

One Sentence. That's it. And it turned into a referral.

So - what's the point of my story?

If you are listening for subtle cues about pain points, that's fabulous. Just don't listen so hard, that you invent pain points where none exist.

And if you are going to refer, or you think there's a potential referral, clarify.

All it would have taken, is one question about whether I was struggling with Cupcake Making and I would have quickly assured my contact that I was in fact thoroughly enjoying the work, and quite happy to do it. It was in fact not something I needed to outsource.

Don't be a blunt instrument where tact and precision are called for. Don't be the referral equivalent of the spray and pray letterbox drop, or the business card confetti at networking events.


The LinkedIn Comment Unsubscribe Option (yay!)

I realised a couple of days ago that I have reached LinkedIn Comment Fatigue.

I will go to comment or like a post, or an image, or a share by someone in my network, and , wait for it ... I hold back for a moment rethinking if I should indeed participate or not.

Not because I don't want to comment  - and not because I'm rethinking the engagement of others in a thoughtful debate. I hesitate sometimes,  on particularly popular or viral posts and shares.

For the sole reason, that I know, for the remainder of my time on earth, I will be pinged to death by notifications as the whole rest of the world negotiates and comments and likes and shares their own thoughts on the post. At some point it all gets a bit annoying.

Whats the Answer then ?

Today when I discovered that LinkedIn has the exact same Unsubscribe Option as Facebook Posts ( ie , you can no longer receive notifications when someone so much as breathes in the direction of the post ) - Oh Glorious Days was I happy!

And it's as simple as clicking on the little x . X Marks the Spot indeed.

Screen Shot of LinkedIn Unsubscribe option on posts

If anyone needs me, I will be unsubscribing from the posts that I commented on last  month that are still kicking ....


Being the bottleneck

Bottlenecks.

Those thin long bits at the top of your wine bottle that allow a smooth pouring of your 5pm pickup. The point of them is to make sure your wine/ beverage of choice doesn't rush out and spill. Heaven forbid you waste any Happy Juice. *smiley wink emoji*
More figuratively alluding to a place in your business where things are squeezed and tightened and slowed down. In the literal sense, they are necessary and good ( not spilling wine) , in the figurative sense, they are not good. They prevent good people from getting on and doing the business at hand.
We talk of 'reducing', 'removing', 'alleviating' bottlenecks. But we never really talk of how we do that, or why the bottleneck exists in the first place.
The most common bottleneck in a small to medium sized business, sadly, is the owner, owner-manager, or hired gun that runs the place. Because your baby is exactly that, your baby, and usually you are unwilling, or unable to fully trust your staff, or outsourced vendors (even just a little bit, admit it). You want to be sure every moment of the experience is on brand, and just perfect for your clients. And at some point, that obsession with being in control of the experience overrides your common sense, and your clients start having bad experiences. Delays in getting their emails responded to. Delays in getting the answers about their projects. Just so many long delays.
And if you're a complete control freak, perfectionist, with trust issues, such as myself, then well, you likely are the biggest and worst bottleneck. As I am, very often.
Now, I know the answer to this, and I also know , as anyone who identifies with my predicament, that resolving it is so much easier said, than done.
The answer is a 3 pronged attack
1) Answer emails promptly. (responsiveness)
2) Pass on the work to others promptly (delegation)
3) Encourage clients to go directly to the relevant staff. (creating autonomy)
I am managing 3 fairly well I reckon, and I try very hard not to get in the way of my super stars too much. They are exceptional at what they do for our clients, and I really don't want to get in the way of that.
I manage to do number 2 about 50% of the time. Mostly because I just barely manage number 1. I have tried everything imaginable to get on top of the 200 odd emails from real people, clients, suppliers , vendors , partners , networking contacts , that I get daily.
I've tried doing my emails in 'blocks' at a specific time of day -  and on that day , 3 clients had severe hardware failures which they emailed me because my email address was the only one they could remember. Yeah, that went well.
I also tried the block-time method 2-3 times per day - slightly better - except clients started ringing my mobile to find out if I had received the email, and then we ended up discussing the email , while I was trying to pay salaries sort out wages and resolve issues with 2 bookkeepers across 2 continents. Yup - that went smashingly well too.
Lately I kind of settle for a 'thinning of the herd' approach. I first scan for emails that can be passed onto my staff and I try do so as quickly as a I can. Then I scan for emails where I can reply immediately with info or an answer,  and finally , I add the emails that require some work effort or input from me beyond a 'read-reply' to my task list, and work my way down.
It doesn't always work as well as I'd like to be honest, traveling to visit distant clients usually leads to a bigger backlog for a while.
It has also been suggested that I should clone myself by several clients and friends. I am not so sure the world is ready for 2 of me.
Advice welcome from any other lady Bosses our there grappling with the issue of being a bottleneck.

Just Do it ! And test, test, test ....

This is a quick post , being written on a train , at 7:52 am on a Saturday.

Yes - I'm on a train to the city before 8 am on a Saturday morning - welcome to the life of an entrepreneur ! Why I'm on the train , is another story for another post ...

This post is about a wee bit of testing I did recently for the Network Buddy app and service that I am developing.

There are 2 pieces of advice startups and new business owners with new ideas will hear over and over,

The first , is just do it. Get started. Don't wait, don't keep your idea secret and work on it alone, tell everyone and anyone, and get started. Want to know if someone will buy something at a certain price point ... sell it to them.

And the second , is to test, test and test some more. Never stop testing assumptions, never stop testing your idea, and never stop testing the advice you get from people.

And to help you understand how you really and truly can do this , on a shoestring budget, for a new idea in it's infancy - here's a real world example from the life of Steph ( it's like the life of Pi but without the amazing CGI, or a tiger. It's more like the Life of  Brian actually.... )

So about 6 weeks ago ( give or take) I decided to take this idea I had for being a Network Buddy / consulting mentor/ networking helper - and turn it into a scalable tech business .

It didn't just happen by itself, I had several conversations with some amazing women at the Fishburners Female Founders Hackathon in Sydney . And I had several more conversations with lots and lots of people subsequent to that weekend , as I attended every single networking event I could lay my hands on to test the hypothesis.

And here's how it went.

I put up a website , with a landing page - briefly outlined Network Buddy as a service/app to connect people for the purposes of mentoring/buddying each other at Networking events.Thus far , this has cost me nothing but time, and a small fee for shutterstock. I'm using a free AWS micro instance and a wordpress install with a free launch page template

At the first networking event I went to , I had nothing printed with me, I just talked about the idea,and mentioned the website . I had 8 signups in one night.

I then put up a facebook page - and asked the amazing secret society of awesome women that I belong to ( you know who you are *wink wink*) to give me some feedback on the landing page. They did, and it was good constructive feedback . Some even signed up. The page hasn't changed much publicly (mostly because the launch page template I used doesn't lend itself to too much customisation) - but all that awesome feedback has been taken in and will be used for the final release of the website.

Then I attended a networking event which was all about networking. ( duh!) And to that event I took with me pamphlets, which I designed and ran off on my home printer.

Home printed Pamphlets ???

They were not perfect, or professionally printed. But that wasn't the point. I didn't have time ( or the budget) to have 1000 pamphlets printed . I need 30. and this is why.

I printed 2 variations of the pamphlet , so only 15 of each .... they looked the same, but had slightly different content .... I placed them on the table at the entrance to the event in 2 piles , right next each other.

At the end of the event , I had 3 left of option A , and 14 left pf option B . A very definitive result for my test.

Option A - all about finding a Network Buddy, being too shy to introduce yourself , and not knowing where or how to effectively network at an event.

Option B - All about becoming a mentor and the Network Buddy - helping other people to find their feet , and raise money for the charity of your choice at the same time.

 Photo of Homemade pamphlets showing 2 piles with sightly different content
Option B at the top - lots of leftovers
Option A underneath - only 3 left ... much more effective

My theory going in, was that at that specific event, I would likely find a lot of people looking for help and feeling unsure , and probably not more than 1 or 2 Buddy Mentor people.

Knowing this - I have tailored the actual content and design of the brochure to speak to people who need help, and will be sending it off to a graphic designer imminently for that professional touch.

I just received my first batch of 50 business cards -- and have commenced dishing them out to test reactions to the design .... watch out for the results of that test in future posts.

 

 Photo of Network Buddy Business Cards - first draft from and back
The test cards ... (ps I do love them myself)

So - there you have it - for the cost of 30 sheets of A4 paper , printed on a home printer - I established very firmly what type of content and style I needed for my brochure , and I also established a very firm need for the idea as well.

Test, test and test some more -- just do things - don't wait until you have the perfect design or the perfect budget. People will not be able to tell you about something that they cannot see , so if you need to know which content works better, or which image works better , print up something and hand it to people, and watch their reactions . Far more accurate than asking them outright what they prefer or think about your idea or how you should market it.

Rocking Rose  over and out for another day of hustling.


Just graduated to Tech Geek - the advanced class

Ok , so maybe not quite as advanced as some.

But this is what I did yesterday ( and perhaps you'll see why I'm so chuffed with myself)
After battling for weeks to get some minor settings on my new Wordpress website for Network Buddy to update, I pulled the band-aid off this weekend , and started from scratch .
And this is what I did yesterday ( Sunday)
- Started a new Linux  instance on AWS. - it's a micro instance, which I will scale up as a need to once we go live.
- Setup ssh to get to the instance and then used the Terminal ( command line ) interface on the Mac to install pip , and then php, followed by MySQL on the instance .
Then I installed and configured and started up an Apache web server.
I had break for some tea and lunch at this point.
After lunch, I installed the AWS CLI , and proceeded to download and install the latest version of Wordpress, which again, I configured through Terminal / CLI.
For my final act, I logged in through the browser GUI on my brand new Wordpress website , and installed the theme, made the changes I was battling with on the first instance , and voila! Everything worked perfectly.
And with that I moved some of the content over from the old website, and proceeded to workout some of the kinks until it was time for dinner .
So Network Buddy is probably a couple days over where I would like to be ... But it's working so much better than it was yesterday morning .
And the one lesson I have learned is that if you want your own website with your own stuff on it, probably best not to use the AWS default marketplace install of Wordpress , which as it turns out was the issue all along. Seems the people ath bitnami set up some security that blocked the theme I had purchased from working properly, and it was so badly setup I pretty much couldn't even use ftp or ssh to override anything or adjust the rights on the instance or the Wordpress database.
And I'm chuffed with myself, because with only a couple of pointers from my tech hubby , and some help though a couple of tricky commands , I pretty much did the entire thing by myself.
Go me !

Collaboration is not a dirty word

The all knowing fountain of collective knowledge that is wikipedia has an article about Collaboration. It starts with the sentence 

Collaboration is working with others to do a task and to achieve shared goals

Now, I know that we sometimes associate the word "collaborate" with evil ends, and naughty people, doing horrible things in concert. (as in 'together', not on a stage with an orchestra) . A colluding of sorts.

But for me, collaboration in business is everything. I'm a firm believer in the sound economics of value based service, and collaboration in achieving goals.
Examples of good collaborations abound in business, and while they may be (sadly) outnumbered by the more nefarious collusions that attract the attention of the ACCC, or the Competition Commission in South Africa, they should be lauded nonetheless.


Using the word collaboration openly, as I do, has resulted in some very interesting conversations. 

I have even been warned that I would be reported to the ACCC, because apparently simply saying collaborate is so dangerous that I cannot be trusted to do the right thing by myself, my employees, my clients, or anyone else in my industry (competitors or not) . 
Whatever. I rolled my eyes just there. 
 
Let me be clear on the meaning of the word and the context in which I use it. Collaborate is not a dirty word. 
 
Collaborate means to grow business success such that all participants in the supply chain benefit. 
 
That means : I benefit, anyone working with me will benefit, my clients will benefit,  and pretty much the whole industry benefits in some shape or form. Value is added at every stage to anyone, including those at the purchasing end of the business transaction. 
 
If all 4 of these are not true in some context, then it's not a true collaboration.
Let's collaborate ... C'mon ... What have you got to lose ? 

Facebook spam - the reporting and blocking tools

So while we wait for the hung parliament to be announced, here's a random HOW TO for Facebook.

Seriously , I cannot believe we voted for lying union thugs in equal measure to lying smarmy snake-oil salesmen . Bleugh! Almost as bad as spammy fake profiles on Facebook. 

We all see them , the spammers with fake profiles , commenting into popular discussions and feeds, inserting backlinks to pages that (at best) sell fake followers, or worse, well, let's just say I've seen some doozys popping up in my feed lately .

So, generally what happens is people start commenting to the admin of the group to do something about the fake profile or person ... And that's ok, but if you are not directly naming the admin , then time is wasted because trust me. In a group of 10k , it's going to take them a while to find the random comment addressed to the The Admin.
Here's how you can a mange your own feed, and help keep your feed, and Facebook in general as clear as possible of spammers
These instructions are for the Facebook iPad app - but similar steps apply across most devices and the browser interface. And yes - I do use this very very often for blocking trolls and fake profiles as well as spam.
First up - here's the offending comment - I checked out 'Shane' - totally suss when you profile photo is a stock shot ... #justsaying.
Screenshot of Fake Spammy Profile comment on facebook
Tap the comment and you'll get a short menu -- with some options
Screen Grab of Menu once you tap on a comment in facebook to report the comment or the profile
Pick the Report option , now it gets interesting, because Facebook wants to know why you're blocking this person , so I picked spam, because frankly that's what it is.
 Picking the SPAM option on facebook reporting tools
You'll then be presented with some actions you can take further -- now this is where people get all angry with Facebook , and I just don't understand why ...just pick the block option. Simple.
You will be asked to confirm the block, by tapping the button that pops up.
 screen grab showing the option to Tap to Block a fake profile after reporting a spam comment
And then the spammer is blocked - you won't see them, or any of their comments or posts, and they won't be able to contact you or see you.
Why does this matter in Groups with Admins , surely the admin can kick them out ?
Yes, they can, in groups larger than 1 few thousand members though, it's a far stronger, and more swift result if members of the group block en masse , as it lets Facebook know that this is a profile they need to take a look at. As in a real person who is moderating the whole of Facebook goes to assess if 'Shane' is real, and if the profile should be cancelled entirely.
Happy Sunday ....

You can also read my previous posts about Facebook features


Facebook Hack : turning off notifications

If you're anything like me , your Facebook feed is cluttered , and you comment on posts left right and centre. 
Which is fine , and dandy , except when you're just over something that happened like 5 days ago, and you still keep getting notified every time a new person comments , or like the post, and well, that wasn't really what you wanted, was it ?
You just wanted to add in a thought maybe a hahahaha, perhaps a like to show support, and now, well, you don't really need to know about every additional reaction to the post .
Here's how you can clean up your notifications :
On the post tap/ the small arrow at the top right to get the menu where you can save posts : the last option on the list ( and you may need to select the More' option to see it ) is Turn off notifications for this post'
`Screen Grab from iPad for the post privacy options in facebook
You're welcome :-)