‘Tis the season to be thankful

 

It’s almost Christmas but I hope it’s not too late to send out a big thank you to Outsider Tart for a fantastic Thanksgiving. For the first time in 13 years, I did not cook up a turkey and all the trimmings on my own, but instead took the family to Outsider Tart for the annual feast. Here’s why it was a real treat.

 

The dining room restaurant, Blue Plate, was transformed into a magical harvest festival with candles and table decorations. Our kids were especially pleased with the personalized cookies at each place and I was impressed that my name was spelled correctly. Family style seating meant that we met other friendly Chiswickians celebrating America’s holiday of gratitude. We enjoyed our neighbors and the buffet style serving that allowed us to have seconds – a tradition at all Thanksgiving meals, surely!

 

The food offered an exciting combination of traditional and new flavors. My turkey never turns out as juicy as the one served that night so it was truly a ‘main event’ instead of the usual boring bit in the middle of the plate. I loved the cranberry cornbread stuffing and vowed to find a recipe to try at home. Our favorite sides were corn pudding (made with homemade buttermilk ricotta), pear succotash and pumpkin kugel.

 

Everything was delicious and I don’t know how we managed to save room for the pumpkin cheesecake. But we wouldn’t dream of eating at Outsider Tart and skipping dessert.

 

The effect of the feast was transformational. Our kids behaved well, we enjoyed the evening without pressure to wash mountains of dishes, and we remembered how good it is just to enjoy a meal together. So that’s why I’m so thankful to David and Other David of Outsider Tart for hosting Thanksgiving this year. We may make it a tradition!

 

What are you thankful for as we near the end of 2014? It’s not too late to share the gratitude. A columnist put it well when she said that she wished holiday cards expressed more than ‘I remembered your address.’ Perhaps communicating our thanks will help us aim for success in 2015.

 

Happy holidays and thank you too!

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Five tips for 2015 communication planning

It’s the time of year when our thoughts turn to wrapping up work for the holiday season and looking ahead to business growth in the next year. Most businesses need thoughtful planning to grow and develop so take some time to create a 2015 marketing plan. Don’t be intimidated by the idea of a plan as it can be as simple or as detailed as suits your business. Yours may be scribbled thoughts on the back of an envelope or a detailed document outlining activities and timing. Whatever works for you, here are some questions to consider when developing your marketing ideas.

1. Assess 2014

What marketing activities resulted in expansion of current business or new leads? Which ideas felt the most effective? Look at the amount of time you spent on different types of marketing and think about which activities were the most efficient in producing results. Where did you invest your marketing time and money? Did you communicate with the right target customers and if not, why not? Did your business grow in the direction you wanted it to? If you have time, ask a few of your new clients how they heard about your business and why they chose to engage with you.

2. List target clients

Based on your existing client base and your thoughts about new business, decide which new clients you’d like to reach in 2015. Do you want to gain more of the same type of work or do you want to add customers to your roster from new industries? Do you have specific expertise that is not being used by your current customers and, if yes, would you like to work with new clients in that area? Be as specific as possible by listing companies and individuals you’d like to work with and which of your services or products would benefit them.

3. Mix and match

With the 2014 assessment for reference, list the marketing activities you will implement in 2015. If something worked well, don’t reinvent the wheel but update and repeat that process. Also be open to new communication avenues that you haven’t considered in the past. Your decisions need to be guided by your audiences so you’ll need to do some research into what will work for each of your new target clients. For each new target, think about their influencers, where they learn new information and how you can get your messages in front of them. You’ll want to position your products or services as solutions to your target’s business challenges so take some time to understand their needs. Match up your list of new target clients with the marketing approach you’ll use for each.

4. Strengthen existing relationships

It is so much more efficient to gain more business from existing clients than to recruit brand new customers.  Make a list of the existing clients that you really want to keep and grow in 2015. Think about why they chose to work with you and make sure you’re still going above and beyond for them. Perhaps 2015 is a good time to offer a feedback session where your key customers can tell you what they feel is working and what could be improved. If hospitality is appropriate, take your top clients out for a new year’s lunch to find out what new business challenges they’re facing. Offer as much support as you can, even if it means referring the client to an associated business. Choose one new service or product to introduce to each existing client in the course of strengthening relationships next year.

5. Make the time

Have you just found your wrinkled 2014 marketing plan at the back of a notebook and thought, ‘Those were some good ideas – I wish I had implemented them this year’? Do you recall a distant but energetic conversation with a mentor or peer about exciting new communication approaches? Let’s make sure 2015 is different and that you’ve got solid results from your marketing efforts one year from now. Make time in your own way. You might mark one day a month in your calendar and spend it communicating with new target clients. Or you could spend several days in January planning different messages to use in your client communication through the year. Perhaps scheduling in-person meetings with your existing clients will strengthen those relationships. Or just keep a visual reminder of your 2015 marketing ideas in your office.

Good luck writing your 2015 marketing plan. I’m wishing you all the best for successful business communication in the coming year!

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Inspiration for women in business

Looking for some motivation this week? I attended a conference organized by the Athena women’s network and thought it might be helpful to share some of the tips, reading suggestions and inspiration I gained there. The successful women who presented served as powerful examples of how to achieve your business goals while remaining true to yourself.

Sophie Bennett talked about how to raise your charisma by deciding to radiate your best internal qualities: grace, passion, integrity, warmth and confidence. I’ll admit that some days I may not have the energy needed to radiate! But it was reassuring to remember that these internal qualities are within all of us, we just need to decide to share them.It makes sense that the word ‘charisma’ comes from the Greek meaning ‘gift of grace.’ Only your audience can decide whether you have charisma.

Jane Milton reminded us of the value a business mentor can bring to you and your company. Instead of looking for a particular type of mentor, think about what you want for your business. Seek people who will take you out of your comfort zone. It also helps to look for a mentor who has done or achieved what they intended.

Marisa Peer shared her insights about natural leaders and the power of praise. I loved her demonstration of how negative thoughts literally make us weak. But by praising others and ourselves, we fill up with goodness and strength. She also suggested using solution-oriented language when facing challenges. Instead of asking why, focus on how you can improve or fix the situation.

Nichola Cairncross suggested an enlightening exercise to examine how we define our business success. Create a chart with a scale of 0 to 10 on the y axis and time in years on the x axis. Then use three different colors to mark, over time, your levels of hard work, happiness and income. Here is Nichola’s result:

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Nichola also recommended a handful of books to anyone in business, but they might be particularly inspiring for women entrepreneurs:

  • How to be a woman of substance
  • Rich dad poor dad
  • Seven day start up
  • Traction
  • Pitch anything

Catherine Watkin recommended ways to market our businesses and ‘close the deal’ without feeling pushy. She suggested offering a service that will leave the client in a better place than before they connected with you. Perhaps if our service doesn’t do this, we shouldn’t be selling to that particular client. Clients need to trust you and feel they are in safe hands, so asking if they have concerns will help them feel confident in their decision.

Taking a day away from my office to interact with other women entrepreneurs was rejuvenating. I recommend the Athena Inspire conference  to others running small businesses as a valuable investment of your time.

 

Book group – The Husband’s Secret

Liane Moriarty’s story was a winner in our book group. The characters were recognisable even though they were dealing with secrets beyond any of our experiences. Issues of sisterhood, forgiveness and parental guilt gave us plenty to discuss.

  1. What did you think of the chapter structure moving you through the days of the week?
  2. How did the image on the front cover of a butterfly in a jar relate to the story?
  3. Was this story set only in the described time period or could the same tale have been told during a different timeframe?
  4. Was this story particular to Australia or could the book have taken place in another location?
  5. Did you relate to or sympathize with any of the characters? Why or why not?
  6. How did the story focus on mistakes that had been made by the characters? Did the characters expect forgiveness? Were they prepared to live with being unforgiven? How did this expectation or state of being unforgiven add to the tension in the story?
  7. Were the characters able to keep secrets without impacting their lives? Did any of the characters feel it was better not to tell their secrets?
  8. What role did stereotypes play in the story? How much did you expect particular characters to be found guilty or not guilty? Did any of the characters fall prey to their prejudices about other characters?
  9. Did you think any of the characters were putting up a façade or false front to portray their lives in a particular way? Why did they not tell other characters how they really felt or what they really knew?
  10. What did you think of the sister relationship in the story? Would it have survived the events described?

The Husband's Secret