Archive | December, 2010

Realistic Optimism

28 Dec

By: Larry Roy

Realistic OptimismAs 2010 winds down, I can’t help but reflect on the year’s events, both good and bad. As a business owner, this year has certainly presented its share of challenges. It’s also brought about opportunities. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between the two. My experience is that it’s purely a matter of perspective. There are always cycles in business, as in life, and those cycles are mostly out of our control. What we can control is how we deal with them.

Flash back to 1987. Our business had been booming for several years and of course we expected that it would continue that way. Silly us. The economy changed and, like many other businesses at the time, ours started to tank. As the saying goes, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.” We had grown to 2 locations and more than 50 employees. It became clear that our revenue streams were drying up, and something had to give. We continued forward with blind optimism for a short time, leaning on our reserves and hoping to weather the storm. But that wasn’t going to fly any longer. So we had to make some hard choices—the hardest being to lay off fifteen people just before the holidays.

There is nothing more difficult in business than having to let people go for reasons other than their own bad behavior. This economic downturn wasn’t their fault, but they were the victims.  I remember thinking at the time that this just isn’t fair! But as my father so eloquently pointed out, if we didn’t take these steps, we were going to find ourselves selling pencils on the street corner. That didn’t sound like fun. Pencils weren’t in great demand at the time.

So we did what we had to, and survived the crisis. That wasn’t any fun either, but it was a huge learning period for me. Crisis management is truly a test of one’s character and resolve. We ultimately found new opportunities, new ways to generate revenue, and better ways to manage what we had. Through it all, we found a way to maintain our sense of humor, keep our focus and trust that we could find our way back to the “promise land.”

I know that for many, 2010 has been tremendously difficult year, and I feel for them. However, what I admire most is the optimism I hear in the voices of other business owners. Yes, times are tough, but they are committed to fighting through it and getting back to the business of doing business. To me it’s not blind optimism, it’s about accepting the things we can’t control, having the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Yes, there’s a prayer in there somewhere.

So I for one will enter 2011 with a renewed conviction to grow and prosper; to seize opportunities, to face whatever challenges come our way, and to remember to find joy through it all.  Otherwise, what’s the point? Pencil anyone?

Rallying Around the Claus

9 Dec

Santa Claus

by: Thomas Nast, Harper's Weekly, 1-1-1881

by: Larry Roy

For most of us, this is the time of year when we tend to draw closer to those around us, to be less intense and more forgiving. Do you buy that? Truth is, I don’t know if that’s true for most of us or not. I can only speak for myself, and simply hope that’s the case for everyone else. It does feel good, however, to believe in the ideal of a more connected, less cruel society, even if only once a year.

Why is it that we draw closer? For many, it’s about faith and what the Christmas holiday represents. For others, it’s simply about the joy of giving (and receiving). Still others want to believe in Santa Claus—or at least the idea of Santa Claus, a jolly old chap who brings gifts to all the world. For me, it’s all of these things. Whatever one believes, the holiday season should be comforting, inspiring, joyous. I hope it is for you.

Sadly, this is also a season where many find themselves more hurried and frantic, or more depressed. Perhaps it’s the weight of another year of unfulfilled wishes coming to a close. Maybe it’s rooted in a magnified sense of loneliness or distance from friends and family. Whatever the cause, it is my hope that those who feel this find some connection to the world, to the season and all its wonder.

There’s that word again—hope.  Ben Franklin said, “He that lives upon hope shall die fasting.” Perhaps he was right. Simply hoping for the best for others doesn’t make it so. That requires action. So for those of us who find ourselves in a giving spirit, let’s make the effort in some small way to touch those who are struggling through the season. It may be no more than a smile to a stranger, a cup of coffee and a conversation, a donation of time, money, clothing or toys. Just do something. The action is its own reward.

Now where was I before my plea to you to be charitable? Oh yes, that inescapable yearning for connection to one another during the holiday season. I think much of it is fueled by the pervasiveness of the season. It becomes the center of attention—in the news, in advertising, in our own little worlds of holiday parties and mall traffic. It reminds us that we’re all in this together. We all rally around a cause or event that affects us as a whole. That’s why movies about alien invasions are so inspiring to me. They unite the world against a common enemy. It’s why there is such a pouring out of help and support when natural disasters strike anywhere in the world. We realize that the event is bigger than any of us.

So whether you believe in Santa Claus or not, I implore you to believe in what he represents. Don’t dismiss the power of the myth of a jolly, white-bearded chap being whisked across the sky by tiny reindeer just because you’re a grownup. Let that giving spirit and sense of unity draw you closer to those you know, and those you don’t. Be a kid. I promise it doesn’t hurt. Just ask a kid. They’ll tell you.

Original Thinking in a Template-Driven World

3 Dec

By: Larry Roy

Improving Your Brand Template #4What happens when you hire a company to help you improve your brand, or increase the flow of traffic to your website or your business? What’s their process? Do they go in the back room and grab “Improving Your Brand Template #4” off the shelf, rename it and say, “Here you go?” I hope not.

We can’t tell any company exactly what should be done to accomplish their goals through marketing and advertising until we thoroughly understand a few things. Let’s start with who they are–meaning who they think they are, who they want to be, how they are really perceived by the public, and do any of those match. It takes some significant probing and prodding to get a sense of this, but our clients appreciate it. They get what we’re after.

There is much more we need to learn before we can devise a real plan of attack and the necessary weapons to employ, but let’s skip that for now and jump to the process of brainstorming. What a cool word—raining on the brain or, I guess, from the brain. In any case, it’s fun and challenging at the same time. In our group, we tend to take the information we’ve extracted from our clients’ heads, then sift through it independently. Allowing individual thinking first, without the influence of others, pushes our team to think for themselves. That’s a good thing.

When we do come together in a brainstorming session, it’s a free-for-all by design. I don’t want us hung up on the how-to or the inherent silliness of an idea, at least not at first. If we’re not laughing hysterically at some point during a brainstorming session, then we’re probably not unearthing the best ideas. When you let diverse minds interact with a singularity of purpose, but with total freedom to dream up anything they want, it’s amazing what comes out of it! Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge,” and I listen to what he says.

So after the frivolity of a brainstorming session or two, we switch sides of the brain to zero in on the best, most feasible ideas for a client. Then we fine-tune them, and organize them in terms of priority. Next step, present to the client.

“You think we ought to do what?” It’s not an unusual first comment from a client when we sit down to review our ideas. That’s okay. If we don’t surprise them with something they haven’t considered before, then we haven’t earned our keep. That’s not to say that our sole objective is to shock the client with some crazy idea, but they’re paying us to think differently than they do. They ought to get their money’s worth. Besides, there’s always a method to our madness, a strategic logic behind our crazy ideas, and typically some precedent of prior success.

This is phase one of the process we follow with our clients. Phase two is defining budgets and timelines for implementation; more on that in the next installment. In the meantime, my advice to those seeking brand enhancement or advertising help is to look for a company that isn’t afraid to ask you hard questions, and then tell you what they think. It helps if they’re a little off their rocker, too! Just a little.