Saturday, October 27, 2012

You know you are getting old when....

Along with 500 other women bloggers (and three brave men), I attended the Blissdom Canada conference last weekend. 

Having blogged for seven years now and turned my blogs into my book, Day by Day, I thought it would be fun to learn what I should have been doing.

I think it would be safe to say that I was the oldest woman there, spying only one other silver-haired blogger in a sea of young faces.  And if I wasn’t convinced of my status, it was quickly reaffirmed for me by the Kraft online tool we had to complete in order to get a goodie bag.

Keen to sample the products, I lined up with others to fill out the form online.  Naturally they wanted lots of information, including date of birth, and that is where I came undone.   

My year of birth wasn’t listed, the options didn’t go that far.  So I did what any honourable woman would do, I lied.   

I am now six years younger.  I joked about it all with a young girl next to me and she was quick to tell me that her grandparents were tech savvy and how silly of Kraft not to realize that.   So I am now feeling six years older!

As for the fancy dress party and karaoke on the Saturday night, I gave that a miss.  After all, as a “senior” it was way past my bedtime.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Talking to your customers

When I worked as a community developer, I would bring groups of people together to discuss common issues  they were facing, in an effort to find some practical solutions and ways that the social services sector could help.

 The challenge was often the professionals believed they knew best about what families needed, and were locked into the programs they delivered instead of being responsive to the needs of their clients. It ended up being the same old, same old. 

Now I am not so sure it is any different  in the private sector, where we deliver programs and services that suit our needs, make us the most money, without really checking if this is in fact what the customer needs or wants.

All of this came to mind after hearing Marg Hachey speak at our Oakville breakfast.  What a wealth of information she shared.    As someone who owned a $50M business, she knew only too well how to listen and be proactive, and this ability to take the pulse of the sector and act promptly was one of the secrets to her success.

When her customers would ask her if she provided a certain service, she would quickly reflect on whether there was  business potential – and usually there was – and promptly say “yes, we do.” She would then set the wheels in motion to make it happen.  Her rationale was that if this customer needs this service, so will others.

Even when she had a huge team behind her, Marg kept in touch with her customers so they knew her door was open and they could approach her with a concern, or better still, another idea.

When we keep delivering the same old, same old, are we really delivering what our customers want, or more what we want because it fits our needs, particularly financially.  I am constantly asking myself that question.    I am always looking at what we do and how we can improve so we truly meet the needs of our customers – in our case, small business owners. 

 When we get caught up in playing the numbers game or where the greatest profit margins can be had, we may be missing the boat. Yes, you may make more money, but are you building customer loyalty?  Whose needs are you meeting?  

 Sometimes we have to give, to gain.  When we do something more as a bonus or added service which doesn’t bring in the same revenue but is valued by our customers, we build a stronger customer base.  

How often do you check in with your customers?  How often do you actually pick up the phone and call them – not to sell anything, just to see how things are going?  My sense is that if we did, we’d have a stronger customer base, and be more in tune with the marketplace out there. 

 Because at the end of the day, if we don’t listen and provide what our customers need and want, they will just go elsewhere, so it behooves us to be flexible and nimble so that, like Marg, we can pick up a new idea and run with it.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

What advice would you give yourself?

It was International Day of the Girl on October 11, and CNN, to celebrate and honour the day, asked different celebrities what would be the one piece of advice they would give their fifteen-year-old selves.

Food for thought.  When I was fifteen, I had just moved from Edinburgh, Scotland to London, England.  Now this may sound exciting, it was the time of Twiggy and Mary Quant, and London was a hot place to live.  But as a teenager with friends, and more to the point, my first boyfriend, the move was traumatic.  I remember very dramatically, as only a teenager can do, telling my parents that my life was over!

Recognizing I was homesick for my friends, my parents very wisely let me go back for a visit about three months after we’d moved, and I learned a hard life lesson. When you’re gone, you’re gone.  Nothing was the same. My friends had moved on and I was history.

It took me some time to settle into my new school.  I had this broad Scottish accent, so no one could understand me and wanting to be accepted by and sound like my peers, I worked hard to get rid of it. 

It was hard too coming mid-year into the school as friendships were already established, cliques formed and so making new friends took time. For months, I felt very much the outsider.

That said, what advice would I now give my fifteen- year old self?

1.              Be yourself.  Don’t change who you are just to fit in.

2.              Be proud of your heritage, don’t hide it.

3.              Nothing lasts forever.  People change. Relationships change.

4.              Don’t take stuff too personally. 

5.              Be flexible and open to new opportunities.

Not bad advice for any age really.  What would you tell yourself?

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Do we value brilliance?

There is some truth to that saying that travel broadens your mind.  Our recent getaway to Barcelona, certainly opened my mind to another world, one full of wonderful architecture and design.

I’m loath to confess this but prior to this trip, I’d never heard of Gaudi, yet his presence and buildings dominate the landscape in Barcelona.  Touring his not-yet-complete Bascilica of the Sagrada Familia was the highlight of the trip for me.

Perched on a hill, it looks down on the city, all majestic in its glory.  Once you get closer it is easy to get swept up in its grandeur, simplicity and structure which may sound like a contradiction in terms, but every detail and aspect of the building had been considered and covered, with complex and simple designs co-existing together.

But what is really amazing is that Gaudi who died in 1926, started building his dream cathedral over a hundred years ago and today it stands, almost complete, as a testament to his vision and forward-thinking. He was ahead of his times.

The building is breathtaking, with stain glass windows that are colourful, modern and meaningful.  Each scene in the windows depicts an aspect of nature – light, water, the sun, for example and Gaudi had left directions on the light he wanted to create in the building.

Despite being designed over a century ago, the building is modern and Gaudi wanted it to be a testament to all religions.  It was also to be a haven for those seeking peace and tranquility; a place where they could meditate and be at one with their spirituality.

We left the cathedral with a sense of awe and fascinated by the talents of Gaudi, made a point of visiting the other buildings he’d designed.   When he was tragically hit by a tram and died at the age of 70, he’d devoted  40 years of his professional life to pursuing his dream.  Much was written in the Spanish newspapers and it was like a royal funeral.  He was so revered by the Spanish people.

It does make you wonder whether we would show such respect to someone today who seemed so forward thinking.  Steve Jobs, maybe.  It makes me question whether  when someone is so talented, and so visionary in their dreams for the future, do we accept and support their ideas or do we dismiss or ridicule them? 

Food for thought.