Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Why This Is NOT The Season For Giving!

Do you remember the Grinch?  He had such a mean temperament and didn’t see any need to give to others, because he felt that no one cared for or appreciated him.  I experienced a “Grinch moment” recently during a conversation with a good friend of mine. 

Our new priest strongly promotes giving to others less fortunate.  We were discussing a casserole drive that he announced in church the previous week with some of our friends.  I had already made and donated my casserole and welcomed this opportunity to give to others.  My friend did not agree.  He didn’t know why our parishioners should spend their money helping people who so obviously didn’t want to help themselves. 

While I was biting my tongue (hard), I thought, why do some people have such a hard time giving?  Especially during Christmas, the “season of giving”?  Why do some welcome the opportunity to share, while others take a more “Grinch-y” attitude?  I have decided that one of the reasons that some shun the opportunity to give is the mindset that there is a season for giving. 

If you think about it, the requests to give during Christmas increase exponentially.  We receive emails and letters asking for us to help those less fortunate during the holidays.  Our money or a donation is requested to help kids or the sick or the hungry or the homeless during this “season of giving”.  In addition, we are asked to bake cookies or attend Christmas plays or give to special collections.  It is my belief that, because these requests are so prevalent and frequent during the holiday season, people get weary, resentful and “Grinch-y” from being asked to give so much at one time. 

What if, instead of looking at Christmas as a season for giving, we considered our ability to give throughout the year?  What if we looked each day for small opportunities to give to others?  And, what if we considered giving of our talents and time as equal contributions to those of a monetary nature?  As business leaders and grant writers, we have a lot of gifts that we can share that can enhance the lives of others and contribute to society for little more than an investment in time.  

Here are some non-monetary ways that we can give throughout the year:
  • Working as a pro bono grant writer for a community organization with a special need.
  • Providing free fundraising expertise for a special cause. 
  • Using musical or a passion for reading to entertain those at nursing homes or in hospitals.
  • Counseling struggling community organizations on business and financial management practices to strengthen their capacity to serve. 
  • Volunteering at organizations such as Reading Link or Big Brother/Big Sister
  • Helping a co-worker through a rough time by making food or taking him/her to lunch just to talk
While many of these require little time and cost, the “return on investment” is great!  You will feel better about yourself and others.  You will also find that the more you give, the more you receive.  I have found that in my own life. 

Christmas is NOT the “season of giving”. We are called to give throughout the year.  Once you making giving a habit, you may not see the increase in requests during Christmas as quite so annoying or tiring but rather an opportunity to “ramp up” your efforts due to the truly increased need. 

Take a few minutes at the close of 2013 to determine how you can give to others by giving of yourself and your talents in 2014.  Give freely!! 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

How Twitter Has Transformed My Grant Writing Business

My kids make fun of me.  They seem horrified that I post frequently on Twitter.  They mock the snippets sent from @lakeviewgrants and roll their eyes when they see my little emoticon appear on their phone screen.  Little do they know! 

As a small business owner with a very limited (non-existent) marketing budget, Twitter has been my primary business development tool as I have started and grown my business.  Those 140 character posts have been the avenue for me to market, network, connect and learn this past year. For me, it is the ultimate social network. 

Not everyone shares my passion for Twitter.  And, that’s ok.  As I have frequently written in my posts, you have to find the right social network for your business.  However, my hope is that, by providing the benefits that I have experienced from the use of Twitter, other small business owners and grant writers will be more confident about testing the waters. 

Here are some ways the use of Twitter has transformed my grant writing business in 2013:

Marketing - I am a Seth Godin fan, and love his tribal marketing concept.  Basically, Seth advocates that the only way to market is to identify and grow your tribe and then market to them.  A tribe is defined as a group of people who share your passion and mindset.  I have used Twitter to grow my tribe.  I frequently post information that I hope is helpful to my tribe (grant writers, other consultants and business people).  When I got on Twitter, I searched for grant writers and followed them.  When I heard grant writing experts speak at conferences or meetings, I found them on Twitter and followed them.  And, many of them follow me in return.  So, when I post my content on Twitter, it gets sent out to those people and they know more about me and my expertise. 

Networking -  Not only do I market through Twitter, but I also network.  I belong to a Twitter chat group through the Grant Professionals Association, #grantchat.  We “meet” via Twitter posts once a week and discuss a topic selected by two fantastic moderators (@dianehleonard and @JM_Grants). One of the moderators posts a question (which are often developed by topic experts) and then all participants provide an answer.  There are 10 questions and it lasts an hour.  It is fast-paced, fun and VERY informative.  In one hour, I can network and learn from dozens of expert grant writers!  How awesome is that!  If you want to see the conversations, they are documented in Storify, just search for #grantchat.  New ones will start after the first of the year, join us!

Connecting - As I have posted my content on Twitter, people searching for my rather unique expertise in for-profit grant writing have connected with me via Twitter to present business opportunities.  I actually enjoy a wonderful subcontractor relationship with a grant writer many states away that was started via a Twitter connection.  Twitter allows you to connect with people all over the world very quickly and efficiently. I have gained business as a result and you can too! 

Learning - As you probably know, Twitter allows people to post articles, videos, and pictures.  I found a great new Christmas album by Pentatronix from a Twitter post by Michael Hyatt (@michaelhyatt).  I have discovered infographics and and articles that have helped me understand and better serve my clients.  When I need a break from writing, I can always get a laugh one from Ellen DeGeneres, @theellenshow.  When I need to satisfy my craving for the latest and greatest news, @todayshow gives me my quick fix.  For the best grant writing resources and information, I check out the latest Grant Professionals Association tweets (@gpanational).  I have learned so much from national experts on leadership, productivity, humor, and marketing from tweets.

So, maybe it’s time you dip your toe in the waters of Twitter to test the temperature.  The Twitter universe is vast, but I can guarantee you will find so many ways to improve your business and your life.  It is worth the effort! 

Thank you to all those above and others who share your expertise so freely via Twitter!  It is truly a blessing to be the recipient of your knowledge! 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Four Ways to Grow Your Business by Increasing Your Capacity to Serve

I love shoes.  That may not be surprising considering my gender’s affinity for those lovely foot decorations.  I am a particular fan of Naturalizer shoes, and even more so after a recent encounter with the Brown Shoe Company. 

I have a wonderful pair of brown Naturalizer boots.  They have served me well through at least five fall and winter seasons.  I noticed recently that the heel pads were wearing badly.  By the way, I don’t know if “heel pad” is the proper terminology, but they are the plastic pieces nailed to the very bottom of the shoe’s heel and that’s what I call them.  I emailed Naturalizer’s customer service department inquiring if they had any shoe repair services.  I received an email back less than 24 hours later telling me that, although they didn’t offer shoe repair through Naturalizer (or their parent company, Brown Shoe Company), they would reimburse me up to $20 to get my shoes repaired and provided instructions to receive payment.

The customer service person didn’t ask for any proof of purchase for my boots.  She didn’t question the age of my boots (which I clearly stated in my email were about five years old).  She just provided me a solution to my problem.  This is a fantastic example of service. 

How does your company serve your customers?  What kind of solutions do you provide for their problems?  I don’t care if you run a non-profit organization, a Fortune 500 company or are a one-person start up, you are in business to serve.  And, the more capacity you have to serve, the more successful you will be. 

How can you increase your capacity to serve?  Here are some ways I recommend to do so. I hope that they can be as helpful to your business as they have been for the companies below. 

Know Where You Are and Where You Need to Go - It is hard to increase capacity to serve unless you understand your current ability to do so.  I am working with one company on a performance assessment of their culture, leadership and operations.  The results of the assessment will identify where this firm stands against world class companies, and an action plan will be developed to address the gaps.  As these gaps are addressed, the organization will increase its capacity to serve both its employees and its customers by getting process improvement and targeted management training. You can similarly assess your company's business to figure out a path to reach an increased service capacity. 

Increase Your Level of Expertise - If you are a company that supplies stamped metal parts to the automotive industry, you are probably really great at what you do.  How much more valuable could you be to your customers, however, if you obtained the expertise to design and make the stamping tooling?  Companies like Versatech, LLC in Effingham have done just that, and this company has grown its business by leaps and bounds as a result. Examine your operations and mission and find out what complimentary expertise you can offer to increase your service levels to your current and future customers.

Give Generously - This doesn’t necessarily mean emptying your pockets.  Openly share your knowledge via social media and directly with your customers.  Even though my formal position with a former employer was in sales, I also provided continuous improvement advice to the company current and prospective customers.  My ability to add this level of service solidified business with current customers and helped the company gain new ones as well.  The company wasn’t compensated by its customers for this part of my job, but chose to increase their capacity to serve in this way anyway, and it paid back dividends with increased sales.

Increase Your Financial Resources -  Maybe you have reviewed your mission and what you can offer to better serve your customers, but feel that the investment in equipment or training is too great to do so.  Consider applying for a grant to help offset the investment, particularly if the expanded service capacity will address economic, environmental or technological challenges faced by your customers.  I helped one company access over $2 million in funding to expand their service capacity to include customers in the wind energy industry.  This can be a challenging endeavor, please contact me if you wish to pursue this avenue further.

So, how can YOU be of greater service to your customers in the New Year?  Take a few minutes to consider the options above, and share through the blog comments if you have additional advice for readers based on your experience.  

I look forward to helping your company dramatically increase your capacity to serve in 2014 and beyond!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

What’s Your “One Thing”? How Focus and Intention Create Success

My primary goal on this blog is to provide readers with great examples of the power of the written word, as well as productivity and leadership tips to complete the “profitability toolkit”.  This post wraps all of these elements into one, enjoy!

This time of year, many of us are reviewing our 2013 accomplishments and looking to the new year with hope for a better 2014.  For many companies, goal setting takes center stage as the holidays approach.  While many of us can clearly state our goals, we sometimes struggle with reaching them.  Enter “The One Thing”, by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.  I learned about this book from the Read to Lead podcast, which I highly recommend for business leaders.  The premise of the book is that, in order to reach your goals, you identify and do “one thing” every day to achieve your goals.  If you follow the method in this book, the authors say you will achieve greater productivity and lead your team or family to extraordinary success.

The keys to incorporating the “one thing” into your life or business are focus and intention.  You first write down your long term goal, and the drill that down to the daily steps you will need to take to reach that goal (intention). 

Then, every day, you ask, “What is the one thing that I can do today to reach my goal such that it makes everything else easier or unnecessary?”.  Then, you do that “one thing”.  You focus on that “one thing” and only that “one thing” until it is done.  Then, you ask the question again.  You continue to ask until you have reached the goal.  Then you set a new goal and the whole process starts again. According to the authors, research has shown that extraordinarily successful people use this focused, intentional approach to achieve their goals. 

Here are some other key insights from the book that will be helpful as you use this approach:

  • Time Block - The authors recommend blocking out time every day to doing your one thing.  They recommend a minimum of four hours of un-interrupted time be scheduled on your calendar.  No phone calls, no emails, no social media, just work on the “one thing.  While this may seem excessive and impossible, I suggest you try it for thirty days. 
  • Stay Healthy - In order to really focus, you must maintain your health.  You will need energy to focus on the one thing and still do all the other things that need to be done in your life.  The authors suggest starting with striving for 10,000 steps per day. 
  • Eliminate Distractions - While all of us think that we are excellent multi-taskers, many studies have shown that multi-tasking actually makes us less productive.  The greatest productivity results from focusing on one thing at a time and getting that done, then moving on to the next thing.  The “one thing” concept is built around this very concept.  Find the place where you can be most productive and go there during your time block.  Turn off your email and cell phone.  Let others know that you can’t be disturbed.  Again, while all of this may seem impossible to do, people will quickly understand that you are not available and respect it.
  • Do It For 66 Days - According to research, it takes 66 days to establish a habit.  Every day for 66 days, use the time block to work on your “one thing”.  That really isn’t a lot of time to do something that will help you achieve your goals and lead to extraordinary success.  Make it your New Year’s resolution and start 2014 off right!
  • Put It In Writing - Write down your goals and your habits.  As I have often said, the written word can be a powerful tool for success, and this is one excellent example.  The authors advocate written goals to promote accountability and discipline.  If you write down your goals and habits, you will be more likely to reference them, and achieve them.   The book’s website, the1thing.com, allows you to register for a great application that helps you document goals and the habits that you can incorporate to make everything else easier or unnecessary.  You can have reminders sent to your phone or email on a schedule that you choose, and you can select an accountability partner to help keep you on track. This person will be notified if you achieve a goal or are struggling.  They then can provide support to help you. 

What is your “one thing”?  What is the one thing you can do today to make everything else easier or unnecessary on the path to achieving your goals? 

Read the book “The One Thing” to find out how to use focus and intention to make 2014 your most productive and successful year ever! 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Outcomes vs. Outputs Christmas Style!

Happy Holidays!

If you follow philanthropy or non-profit publications, you have seen a dramatic increase in articles regarding foundations' expectation for strong program outcomes from the organizations they fund.  I recently sat in on a St. Louis foundation's workshop.  They spent almost one-third of the presentation defining outputs versus outcomes and explaining the for well-documented and defined outcomes on foundation applications. 

While the progression to outcome based funding has been well-documented, there still seems to be confusion between outcomes and outputs.  Outputs have traditionally been the measure of the success and they still have their place as a measure of the activities that support the project goals.  Outcomes, however, are the key measure of success in most funders' eyes. 

Simply put, outcomes relate to attitudes and outputs are associated with activities.  The holidays provide many examples to illustrate the difference in a very merry way. 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer:

As we all know, Rudolph's nose so bright guided Santa's sleigh.

Output - X number of toys delivered to X number of children all over the world, thanks to Rudolph's shiny nose.
Outcome - The use of Rudolph's nose to guide a sleigh on a foggy Christmas Eve transformed the bullying attitudes of X number of reindeers to ones of respect for Rudolph.

Frosty the Snowman:  

Frosty appeared to a group of children and helped them save Christmas.

Output -   Frosty used his positive attitude and magic to help lead X number of children down the streets of town right to a traffic cop.
Outcome - Frosty helped X number of children believe in the magic of Christmas and feel empowered to save Frosty from melting.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas:  

In this classic Christmas tale (artfully portrayed by Jim Carrey in one of my favorite modern Christmas shows), the townspeople of Whoville persuade the mean old Grinch to participate in Christmas festivities.

Output - The Grinch participated in X number of festivities with Y number of Whoville's townspeople. 
Outcome - After learning of the town's generosity and spirit, the Grinch taught X people in future years about traditions in Whoville, leading to a growing appreciation for the town's history (as measured by pre- and post-tests during the training). 

As you can see, when viewed in a different light, many of the popular Christmas tales are really about the transformation of people's attitudes from non-believers to believers.  Isn't that what this season is really about? 

So, this Christmas (or Hanukkah or Kwanzah), remember that the outcomes are the most important.  It isn't about the number of presents you give or the money that you spend. It is about the joy that comes from giving and the loving transfer of Christmas traditions to future generations. 

I hope the holiday season brings magical, beautiful outcomes for you and your family!