Stop spinning your wheels and start getting ahead: What Works is all about the nuts & bolts of what it takes to build a stronger business. Tara McMullin talks to experienced small business owners & entrepreneurs about marketing, management, mindset, operations, product development, sales, customer service, and more--so you can learn what's really happening behind the scenes. No gimmicks or fads. Just an inside look at how coaches, educators, lawyers, digital product creators, agency owners, writers, consultants, and more make it work.
EP 324: 4 Patterns That Make Relationship-Building A Challenge
A big part of how I do what I do is by spotting patterns.
As a podcaster, I’m looking for the patterns in the stories my guests tell me.
As a business coach, I’m looking for the patterns in how a business is functioning or how a business owner is approaching a challenge.
As a community builder, I’m looking for patterns in how people connect and ask for help.
As a producer, I’m looking for patterns in content, perspective, and voice.
We have a lot of patterns when it comes to our relationships. And I’ll spare you the impromptu podcast therapy session and assume that you’ve noticed some of yours.
My own patterns include conflict avoidance, overgiving, and ghosting–that’s my non-technical term for my pattern of just disappearing from relationships.
I have good relationship patterns, too. Of course, those don’t make for entertaining and educational podcast episodes.
All this month, we’ve been examining the relationships in our businesses and how we make them stronger. We looked at our relationship with our customers, our relationships to our team members, and our relationships to our community and internet neighbors. We even looked at our relationships to ourselves and our businesses.
This week, we’re going to step back and take a look at the patterns that often make nurturing our relationships difficult.
A couple of these patterns are overt–and a couple are more stealthy. As you listen, I encourage you to pay less attention to the specific patterns and stories we’re diving into today and pay more attention to your own curiosity at how your own relationship patterns are at play in your business. You may or may not see these exact patterns and stories as your own–but I know that your own patterns are influencing YOUR story.
You’re going to hear from 4 different business owners today and I’ll help you unpack the very common patterns that I see at play in each story. My goal isn’t to pathologize or armchair diagnose. I just want to help you hear what I hear in these stories and celebrate the ways these business owners have overcome their patterns made really great choices for them and their businesses!
Today, you’ll hear from coach Carla Reeves, real estate broker Page Huyette, coach & podcaster Shawn Fink, and attorney-turned-community-builder Ali Zucker.
EP 323: Get To Know Your Neighbors With Rebelle Founder Shannon Siriano Greenwood
Do you know your neighbors?
Sean and I know a couple of ours—but most are strangers.
At this point in time, not knowing your neighbors is pretty common. We mind our own business. We go about our own lives. We rarely intersect with the people around us–which is even more true today when we are not supposed to be intersecting with people outside of our own households!
Most of the time this is fine, right? Maybe it’s not ideal. But it’s fine.
It becomes a problem when there’s a need. Maybe you just need to borrow a cup of milk. Or maybe you’ve got to leave town for a month to care for a family member. Maybe there’s an extended power outage in town.
Who can you rely on?
This week, we’re wrapping up our series on relationship-building. We’ve looked at your relationship with yourself & your business, your relationship with your customers, and your relationship with your team. Now, it’s time to examine your relationship with your network. All the neighbors in your neighborhood, if you will.
So as I just alluded to…
Getting to know your neighbors is a disaster preparedness skill.
I heard Autumn Brown and adrienne maree brown talk about this on the How To Survive The End of The World pocdast. Autumn said—and I’m paraphrasing because I have no idea which episode it was in—when you know who is around you, you have a better idea of how you can care for each other. You’re more likely to seek out community-based solutions when things go awry.
This idea has stuck with me. Partly because I heard it while walking through my neighborhood of strangers in the middle of an ongoing global health crisis. And partly because it got me thinking about my “internet neighbors.”
It probably comes as no surprise that I am a huge proponent of getting to know your internet neighbors. And by that, I mean the people who are closely adjacent to you in your industry, in groups you belong to, and in the social media platforms you frequent.
I feel lucky that I got on social media before we’d optimized our tactics and sliced & diced the amount of time we spend actually getting to know people in those channels. I really got to know my internet neighbors in those early years. We had each other’s backs. When something bad happened, we could come up with a solution together.
We knew each other so much more than just as personal brands or headshots.
I think it’s legitimately harder to get to know your internet neighbors today–despite it being more important than ever.
So few people are actively engaging with social media. They’re planning & scheduling their content and then getting the hell off the platform.
In her book, Trick Mirror, Jia Tolentino writes, “On the internet, a highly functional person is one who can promise everything to an indefinitely increasing audience at all times.” That’s not advice—by the way. It’s a warning. And it’s one of the reasons why our internet neighborhoods feel so foreign and impersonal.
Social media has taught us to be flat, to optimize our identity, to be as consistent as possible for as long as possible.
In other words, we rarely have the chance to actually get to know someone as a human being. To get to know your neighbors,
EP 322: Building A Stronger Team With Productive Flourishing Founder Charlie Gilkey
I didn’t start a business because I was excited about managing people.
I wasn’t dreaming of hiring a team while I was writing blog posts in the stolen moments between nursing my baby and nap times.
Truth be told, I’m still not excited about managing people–although, I do dream about hiring more often. Yet, here I am–managing 5 people between 2 companies.
If I had to pin down the biggest lessons that I’ve learned about building a business, I think they might all have to do with the relationships I have with my team members.
Which is not to say that I have it all figured out! But boy oh boy, do I approach things differently than I used to.
This week, we’re examining how we nurture the relationships we have with the people who work with us.
I’ll be honest with you: there are so many different places I’d like to take this episode. There are so many of the lessons I’ve learned that I’d like to pass on. Luckily, the lessons I’ve learned have largely come through conversations I’ve had on this very podcast!
And there’s one conversation in particular that I come back to time & time again. It was my first interview with my friend and founder of Productive Flourishing, Charlie Gilkey.
Looking back on this conversation, I can see that there were already lessons that had started to come into focus about how I work with people and what it looks like to nurture relationships with team members. But what I can also see is how much this conversation actually helped to solidify those learnings into how my thinking & approach have changed since.
Before we get to that conversation, though, I wanted dig into a topic that I’ve been thinking about a lot and writing about some—and that’s the value of maintenance work. I think any discussion of the relationships we build with our team members needs to acknowledge that some of the most important work that gets done in our businesses is often under-appreciated and undervalued.
And I want to make sure that we approach this topic with the shared understanding that it’s not a conversation about delegating or handing off work you don’t want to do. It’s a conversation about team-building, management, and relationship-building—and to do any of those things effectively, we have to get comfortable with the value of maintenance work.
We need to get more comfortable with contributing our fair share to maintenance work—because yes, entrepreneurs and CEOs have maintenance work to do. And, we have to get comfortable with recognizing the contribution that the people who do maintenance work with us make to the overall health of our businesses.
Because, there are some really harmful things that happen with hiring & management in small businesses.
There are low wages, weird power dynamics, and the mislabeling of workers. There’s abuse, unrealistic expectations, and boatloads of scope creep.
It happens in restaurants, in corner stores, and in accounting firms. And, yes, it happens in coaching businesses, marketing agencies, and online course companies.
The problem is that many of us have put the work we do as business owners on a pedestal and see all of the other work—the maintenance work—as beneath us.
Whether it’s customer service or project management or formatting content or organizing files,...
EP 321: Designing A Remarkable Customer Experience
“Exceptional customer service.”
I’m sure you’ve heard those words uttered during a training session for a retail or service industry job at some point in your life.
Heck, those words might even be in your own values statement or team member handbook.
Goodness knows I’ve got nothing against exceptional customer service–it’s just that it’s a little… vague. And more than that…
We tend to associate “customer service” with fixing problems.
There will always be problems to fix for customers but what about the rest of their experience with us?
What if we used the relationship we want our customers to have with our business as the basis for designing their WHOLE experience.
Last week, we talked through how critically examining your relationship to yourself as a business owner can help you develop a healthier relationship with your business so that it can take care of you instead of you always taking care of it.
This week, we’re taking a closer look at our relationships with our customers.
Sure, we could talk about delivering “exceptional customer experience.” But the ideas that always pique my curiosity are the ones where I learn how a business owner is thinking really creatively about how they design their customer experience.
Customer experience starts long before you ever make a pitch.
It begins when a potential customer first learns about your business and brand. That first impression sets a tone that will likely carry over into their experience of buying from your business and using your product or service.
Customer experience carries on through the buying cycle as a potential customer learns more about your business and how it helps people like them. They experience your business in a new way when they actually make a purchase and get onboarded into your world. Customer experience is, of course, baked into how they use your product or service, as well as how they’re “off-boarded.”
But customer experience doesn’t stop there!
It continues on after they’re done with their initial purchase–the ongoing nurturing they receive from you impacts their experience, too. And then, when make a follow-up offer, that’s ALSO part of their customer experience.
Being really intentional about how you design the customer experience from start to finish means you’re being really intentional about the relationship you want to build with the people who are buying from you–and even the people who never do.
What I really love about customer experience design is that it can be so creative!
There truly is no one-size-fits-all process. Our different values, types of customers, ways of serving, skills, strengths, differentiators, points of view… they each contribute to making our customer experience uniquely our own.
During the course of this episode, we’re going to look at 4 ways you can make your customer experience remarkable and help build a more intentional relationship with the people who buy from you. I’ll share some things you can consider as you think about your own customer experience and you’ll hear examples from thoughtful business owners who made customer experience design a priority.
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EP 320: Making Your Business Your #1 Ally
Businesses are all about relationships, right?
Sure, I think we can all agree on that to one extent or another.
But what exactly do we mean by that?
Most often, a business’s relationships are understood in terms of customer service, promotional partnerships, and management structures. They’re draped in the same words we use to describe our time and money: optimization, efficiency, investment, opportunity.
That’s not the language we use to describe our relationships with the people we genuinely care about, though. Most of us don’t want to optimize our marriages or see our friendships as opportunities for advancement.
We want to connect.
To relate. To belong. To nurture. So what happens when we apply this same motivation to our business relationships?
This month, I’ve got a series on relationships for you. We’re going to explore the obvious—our relationships with customers, with our teams, and our colleagues. We’re also going to explore the not-so-obvious—our relationship to ourselves and our businesses.
As I mentioned, much of the talk about relationships in business is couched in the language of optimization, opportunity, and even domination and exploitation. When Gary Vee says he’s “crushing it,” it’s not really an “it” he’s crushing but a “who.” When we talk about likes, shares, clicks, and eyeballs, we forget that there’s are living, breathing humans on the other side of that metric.
Our capitalist culture has taught us to reduce all of these interactions to their ability to help us earn more and get ahead.
We’re taught to value individualism, speed & efficiency, competition, ownership, hierarchy, and the myth of the meritocracy. Jennifer Armbrust, who you’ll hear from later in this episode, describes these traits as part of patriachy and the masculine economy. Jennifer proposes a different type of economy, the feminine economy. In the feminine economy, we value abundance, gratitude, empathy, care, collaboration, and interdependence—the roots of true relationship.
It’s tempting to think that, because we’re small business owners, we’re always on the side of good, honest, sustainable business.
But since the patterns of domination and exploitation are baked into our definitions of power and success, we don’t get a free pass. Small business isn’t the solution to our problems but it can be a vehicle for pursuing business relationships in a more human way if we’re willing to examine how we do business and what that means for the people we’re in relationship with.
This is one expression of how Jennifer describes feminist entrepreneurship. She writes in Proposals for the Feminine Economy:
Feminist entrepreneurship requires that we quit equating masculine principles with success and power, and feminine principles with inadequacy and weakness. To do something as audacious as call your business “feminist” requires showing up every day with humility, heart, intrepid creativity, criticality, courage, self-love, and a passion for growth. It requires accountability to yourself, your business, and to the larger social project of dismantling patriarchal & oppressive systems.
How we understand the relationships we form in business and how we pursue nurturing those relationships can be a huge step in the direction of doing business through a feminist lens.
EP 319: Why Our Plans Need More Margin
Margin is space—the space between and around.
There is the margin of a page, of course. And there is the margin around the border of a forest. There’s also the margin in your business–the space between your revenue and your expenses.
Most of us don’t have nearly as much margin as we used to. At one point in our lives, we uttered the words, “I’m bored…” and our caregivers rolled their eyes and told us to go outside. The margin between planned activities, play dates, and bursts of play gave us an opportunity to feel that boredom.
When do we ever feel bored now?
When are we ever faced with a lack of things to do or chores to take care of? Even in the midst of this Great Pause, margin feels tenuous. I’ve had countless conversations with people who fear returning to normal and, with it, the crush of things to do and places to go that squeezes all of the margin out of our lives and work.
I’m one of those people who feels anxious at the thought of losing the margin I’m now enjoying thanks to the forced change in my habits and patterns. My 12 year-old daughter is too. She loves cooking and crafting and finding endless ways to rearrange her Harry Potter Lego sets without the distraction of constantly coming up with things to do outside of the house.
This month, we’ve been talking about how to work our plans—how to see a plan & its execution as a learning process, how to identity the working style that works for you, how to invite change into your plans.
Margin is a key component of planning, but one we rarely acknowledge.
In fact, a lack of margin is one of the chief reasons we fail to follow through on our plans.
We don’t allow for margin at the start or finish. We don’t leave margin between projects or items in a check list. We certainly don’t make room for error. And the result is that everything we do starts to feel rushed, harried, and full of anxiety.
In Episode 298, my friend Kate Strathmann told me that she noticed she’s more likely to cause harm when she’s feeling urgency. We were talking about sales in that conversation, but I think this idea applies to many things—including planning.
We’ve inherited a pattern of over-scheduling, over-planning, and over-committing, as well as technology that eliminate our margins and induce urgency—and, with it, anxiety. We’re taught to believe that more is better by cultural forces like rugged individualism and white supremacy, as well as our broken capitalist economic system.
We try to tackle too many things at once. We think we can do things faster than we really can. We forget to factor in preexisting commitments. We don’t take stock of our resources before we start doling them out—literally and figuratively.
It’s no wonder then that we so often feel “the crunch” when we’re trying to stick to our plans.
And when we’re feeling “the crunch” we’re much more likely to take action that causes harm to ourselves, to others, and to our communities.
Maybe we ignore our families or intimate relationships. Maybe we pull too many all-nighters. Maybe we resort to choices and tactics that damage the community or industry ecosystem we’re a part of. Maybe we start to believe the horrible things we say about ourselves: how slow we are, how unprepared we are, how unskilled we are—and my personal go, how lazy I am.