Monday, November 29, 2010

Being a Small Business Sub-Contractor

It always amazes me as I travel around the world how different our cultures and life can be--and yet how much is still the same. As a small business that has worked in the transportation industry in Arizona, I found an amazing similarity when I met a woman from Afghanistan that builds roads. See Video.

My experience with the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) was primarily as the Communications Manager for the State Route 179 project. I also worked (an am working) on some smaller projects, such as the study on Interstate 17 north of Sedona and south of Flagstaff, and several projects for the City of Sedona. I am always a sub-contractor to the primary business that won the contract award.

There are great people/companies to sub for, such as Katherine Bush at URS in Phoenix and DMJM+Harris (now AECOMM) in Phoenix, there are some that are good and there are others that are terrible--which I am so tempted to name, but probably better not. The worst offender was a woman in Phoenix who used another colleague and myself to win the award, and then brought our services in-house (so she would get more of the $$$$). We wrote and designed the proposal.

But when I talk to a woman in Afghanistan about building roads--I expect to hear all kinds of problems -- about security, about funding, about working conditions, lack of supplies, etc. Yet what was her main complaint? About being a small business sub-contractor. She said the large firms get the $3-$5 million contracts and then contract with her to do the work at just a fraction of that price, keeping all of the profits. Well, its best left to hear in her words: See Video

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Things My Daughter has Taught Me

My daughter’s cat had to be put to sleep on Saturday. Looking back to how she got this cat as a kitten 16 years ago made me smile. And made me realize for the first time at the age of 12 she also had a pretty good business sense.

I was in the process of selling my sign and banner shop and Christmas was just a week or two away. I was having a holiday open house for 150 people later that week. Busy time, to say the least. My daughter called me, right before I was heading home, to let me know that she had found a kitten abandoned in our outdoor storage shed. Could she keep it?

But her question wasn’t that simple, figuring that I would say no, she quickly added, “I talked to Connie and she said you need to pick up…..” and she gave me a list of things (like a doll bottle and baby formula) to pick up on the way home. Connie was my best friend and is the ultimate cat lover. She also had helped Erika pick out her initial two rescue kitties three years earlier (one of which was now dead—leaving Erika to believe there was room for another cat in the house).

I had to give it to Erika. She did her research BEFORE she called me, and rallied “the team” around her request. But I still said no—if I had to stop on the way home to do that type of shopping—I was just too tired and had too much going on to take on something else like this.

Erika did more research and called me back. She had called Connie again. By putting cat food and water in front of the kitten, and the kitten eating and drinking, meant the baby bottle and formula wasn’t needed. I didn’t have to shop on the way home. She added creativity and initiative to the mix, along with foreseeing problems and obstacles and having her message points ready, and added that—oh by the way—she had made a bed for the kitten in her shower and named it Butterscotch.

Of course I said yes this time. Just shows what good research and good teamwork can accomplish!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Who’s the Quarterback?

It always seems self-serving when I recommend that an outside consultant is needed during a crisis communications situation.

Let me back up a beat. First of all, the MOST IMPORTANT thing for a crisis or challenging situation is to have a plan in place in advance. That’s most important.

I have a video clip that talks about the importance of having a plan in advance, and why outside consultants should be considered.

See Crisis Communications Video.

An outside consultant or agency helps add a dose of objective realism. It may be difficult for internal staff to see the whole picture objectively, as an outsider would.
When you work at a company, you are part of that company’s family--no matter how good you are at work/life balance! Thus, when something happens that may be upsetting, those in-house are emotionally involved and are not necessarily in the best position to either make objective, critical decisions and/or may need help in carrying out everything in the plan.

What is important when you bring in an outside consultant to help, is to define who is going to be the “quarterback” of communications. Control should always be firmly in the hands of the organization, but the outside consultants should become an integral part of the crisis team. The agency or consultant should play an advisory role while the organization makes the final decisions.

If you are working with an outside public relations agency or consultant, it is important to keep them on retainer so that you have their expertise available to you with the additional people power that can be brought to bear quickly in a crisis. By having them involved early on, it will help your ability to deal quickly with the media should a crisis occur. If a retainer relationship is not possible, bring in an outside consultant before a crisis occurs so that the company benefits from the preplanning expertise of the consultant, ideally to the extent of avoiding a crisis in the first place.

Discuss with the consultant or agency, in advance, such things as what resources they can make available, what media contacts they have, what they would charge in a crisis situation (by the hour, day or crisis), who exactly will be working with you (what level of seniority), and can they work on-site?

The downside of bringing in external help is the morale of your current communications staff (feeling discredited or unappreciated) and the perception of your external audiences that may indeed be an even bigger crisis than they imagined since you are soliciting outside assistance. (Consequently, a prior relationship with any outside sources is important so this perception does not exist).

SEE WHY MARY RECOMMENDS OUTSIDE CONSULTANTS FOR CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS—and more on the importance of having a plan prepared in advance…

Friday, August 20, 2010

Take the Time to Reinvigorate Your Brand

Last month I gave a speech on crisis communications at the AMMJE conference in Cozumel, Mexico. I talked about the “crisis” that Cozumel, and Mexico as a whole, was having with the tourism industry being way down. Media reports of swine flu and drug cartels in other areas of Mexico have affected Cozumel severely, as well. One of my suggestions was to take the time to develop scenarios of what might happen in the future, and develop their responses. Rather than operating in a “crisis” mode, be proactive.

I also talked about being innovative and looking at new strategies besides the cruise ship tourists. Who else can they communicate to?

At dinner that night, a business owner’s son asked, “My mom is busy every minute of the day. How can she take time to plan? I am helping her this summer, and I don’t even have time to think about these things.”

Patty DeDominic, a Strategic Business Coach in Southern California, says you have to step out of the office to do such work. “Outside workshops and retreats are becoming more and more popular. You must step back and work ON the business not just IN the business. When you go offsite to do planning you get the big picture and can capitalize on the energy in the room. By getting away from your daily tasks, you can see things in a different light and get a more accurate reality of your strengths and weaknesses, rather than just a one-sided perception that the office is giving you that particular day.”

Karen Duncum, owner of a coaching and training firm in Santa Barbara, recently wrote a column for The Huffington Post on “Put Your Feet Up and Innovate.” She said leaders arrive at big-picture solutions by pulling the plug on their usual routines and doing nothing. “Most of the time executives find themselves bombarded with reports, e-mails, telephone calls, fire-fighting, and meetings. The answer is to engage in what I call passive innovation. I routinely advise my clients to unplug by taking a drive to a park, the ocean, or into the country with only a blank pad of paper and pen. Think of it as a coffee break for your brain.”

Two of her tips in the article for “overachievers to clear their minds and open up pathways for breakthrough thinking” were:

Put on Your Thinking Cap: While you can't force inspiration, you can mentally prepare for a productive session of creative ideas. Setting aside time for the specific purpose of "doing nothing" can train your mind to be open to the process.

The bottom line: We all have an unconscious tendency to sell our mental abilities short by miring ourselves in unnecessarily restrictive, shortsighted thinking patterns. Use mini-vacations for your mind to break free from the forces that keep your untapped creative powers in check. Don't be surprised if you discover your greatest productivity occurs when you're doing nothing at all.

Workshops, such as the upcoming BRANDit four-day workshop in Iceland where I will be speaking, offers just this kind of escape. Not only is it an opportunity to combine work with pleasure, but the striking setting of Iceland is the perfect back drop for the workshop. The inspiration of Icelandic nature is being incorporated into the workshop for the women while they are reinvigorating their own branding. There will be some scenic and remarkable side trips, including a stop at the world famous Blue Lagoon.

DeDominic added, “Sometimes it might take an international location to truly get people to turn off their cell phones and e-mail feeds during the planning sessions. It’s important to be in a quiet environment where you are not distracted and give yourself permission to think totally creatively.”

How long has it been since you’ve taken a few hours, or a few days, to explore how to re-invigorate your branding, your strategic plan and/or business operations? It might be time now to purposefully set aside time on your calendar and make the reservations to get away.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Branding is Not Just For Start-Ups

By Mary Schnack

Your brand is your most valuable asset. How long has it been since you’ve re-vigorated your branding?

How do YOU as the business owner fit into that branding?

The goal of branding is to define a brand that creates an emotional connection between you and your customers. It is not just the traditional “graphic” elements that confirm your brand identity.

As business owners, we represent a big part of that branding. It’s everything—the organizations we join, where we advertise, how we reward employees and for what, where you meet with clients…..how firm your handshake, how thorough your follow-up, how aggressive your sales pitch -- all of these say something about you and about your business. Every action either builds on or detracts from your brand.

The owner is the lead ambassador for the brand. You are identified with your company’s brand, and your company is identified with you.

You may start with your visual and your words, but a brand is built on fundamental sustained behavior. Never lose sight of what makes your business special, promote your strengths and build a brand that targets your core customer base. It becomes part of a business’s anatomy based on how you, the business owner, engages with your audiences—whether they are customers, local community, suppliers, industry colleagues or the media.

“When we started organizing our BRANDit workshop, the first reaction from women business owners was that it must be for start-up businesses,” said Runa Magnusdottir, a certified business coach and the CEO and Founder of Connected-Women.com. “We want women with established businesses to look at transforming themselves from “an ordinary business woman” into a “powerful brand”. Our workshops will help them think unique, think independent, and step outside of their daily business mindset and get creative.”

Magnusdottir and Bjarney Ludviksdottir started BRANDit, offering women business owners worldwide a four-day workshop in Reykjavik, Iceland, to create and reinvigorate personal and business branding. Ludviksdottir will use her experience as a casting director and co-owner of Eskimo Models, an Icelandic modeling agency, to capture each woman’s personality via a new headshot, video trailer and press kit.

BRANDit offers the opportunity to revisit your branding. You can change the direction of your business, add new products or services to your business model, but you never change your core values behind the brand. That’s who you are as a brand. It’s your businesses personality.

You have to communicate that brand promise and in order to do that, you have to know what that promise is inside and out. Just like you re-visit your strategic plans, you need to re-visit your core values and branding. Your brand promises customer service, community leadership, corporate integrity, environmental responsibility and democratic values. The brand is YOU, YOU as a leader. It’s more important than you may think.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Creating a Business Value and Culture of Sustainability

I stated earlier that I didn’t learn much about sustainability at the World Expo in Shanghai because of my terrific client, Nancy Goshow, co-founder and managing partner of Goshow Architects in NYC. She gave a webinar yesterday for WIPP’s Entrepreneurs, Energy and Environment series titled Creating a Business Value and Culture of Sustainability. Nancy packed so much information into the 30-minute webinar that I would highly recommend people to go listen to it online. You can find archived podcasts of this and other past training sessions on EntrepreneursAndEnergy.com in the Resources section.

Goshow Architects is dedicated to sustainable design for the public sector and is known for its diverse range of green projects in the New York metropolitan area. These are now starting to expand internationally.

Most of us have, by now, started recycling programs and changed our light bulbs. Many have even quit using paper products. (Even me—who HATES to do dishes!). In this webinar, Nancy not only told us HOW to be a sustainable business, but more importantly for what I want to write about here -- how to create a culture of sustainability in our workplace.

Nancy outlined points on creating that culture:

- Inspire stakeholders toward a greater greener future.
- Engage by delegation and collaboration (two heads are better than one).
- Create a Green Task Force supported by a green study group.
- Foster communication up and down within your organization.
- Require accountability and flexibility from all participants.
- Ask all stakeholders to be open and on the watch for new ideas.
- Promote & Maintain an ongoing sustainability conversation with all stakeholders.

She also discussed the triple bottom line: people, planet and profits. Goshow Architects has reached their goal for the triple bottom line this year:

- People: We are a diverse firm of architects working collaboratively.
- Planet: On a variety of High performance green buildings.
- Society: For public sector government agencies serving the public good.
- Profit: We are a very busy firm and we are profitable.

She said sustainability has given Goshow a future focused strategically for success in the 21st century. However, their success has not only been on green design for their projects, but because of the diversity of their people and projects. I’ll be writing more about diversity in the future, and I love to see the importance of diversity tied in with sustainability.

Friday, June 4, 2010

New Chinese Name

I now have a Chinese name—Mary Mulan. (My African name is Njoki, meaning “one who returns”).

During my stay in China we did a three-day trip to Shang Qui in the Hunan Province. This is where the Mulan Temple is and where that entire story originated. The story became famous worldwide in 1998 when Disney did an animated movie on Mulan.

Doking Foods’ factories are located in Shang Qui, a small Chinese city of 10 million people. Most people I have met in Shanghai have never heard of it—because it’s small by China standards. It also is the hub of agriculture output for China.

Doking was the primary financial sponsor of the Legacies Dinner for the Global Summit of Women dinner in Shanghai which honored the President of Finland. Mr. and Mrs. Liu, who are one of the most delightful couples I have ever met, started the business about 10 years ago.

What really astounded me about Doking is that they are introducing a new organic grain drink in their 92 stores across China. And an etching modeled after my photo is on the cup! They decided to make me the face of this health drink since I am a six-time cancer survivor, a former basketball player and coach and still pretty healthy despite all I’ve been through.

When our train pulled into the Shang Qui station, I was a little dazed after sleeping most of the five-hour trip. But I woke up quickly after stepping out on the platform. Mr. Liu was there with flowers for me and the other women in our group. A banner at least 10 feet long welcoming me to Shang Qui was on the platform and there were photographers everywhere. As we left the station, a lot of city, regional and province government officials were there to greet us, too.

We went to our hotel and I was given a suite. At that evening’s dinner I was honored with gifts and – more pictures were taken! And yes, we did a lot of “cheers” and drinking. The top woman official for the region was at the dinner, too.

The next day we went to the Doking Factory and toured the Shang Qui area. We were given a police escort everywhere so we would not be held up in traffic and yes, there were photographers at every stop.

Doking already had a brochure and video made that had photos and editorial mention of the Global Summit dinner, which had just been two days earlier. They are one of the few factories in China that do not allow smoking on the property.

Besides the Mulan Temple, we went to the Mulan Cultural Park, the city wall and old town and the “Fire House.” It was all very interesting and informative. And of course, that night we had another celebration dinner before leaving the next morning on the train.

Mulan was a warrior from somewhere between the 4th and 6th centuries that went to war disguised as a man so her elderly father would not have to go. Of course, she was one of China’s greatest warriors for the next 10 years and not until her service was over did she reveal that she was a woman.

To be compared to the “most famous and strongest” woman in Chinese history is quite an honor. And at first I was embarrassed by it. But I know it is in fun—and I decided, why not? I have been working for many years to help further the status of women throughout the world. In the last few years, my main focus in this area has been for women in developing countries.

The woman that heads the women’s association in the Hunan Province was at the Mulan Temple to greet us as well. This is not just a group for businesswomen, but for all women. She said that the association helps women with personal issues as well as business issues. She said that many women want to start businesses. I asked her what is the biggest issue overall. I expected something like child care, domestic violence, health care services – something more on the personal front. Her quick answer was “getting capital.” It’s amazing that no matter how different things are, they are still the same. That is probably the primary obstacle for women business owners in the US, as well.

Videos from China

China Pavilion:
video

DEVNET Pavilion:
video
Caribbean Pavilion:
video

Iceland Pavilion:
video
African Pavilion:
video

video
Booth at the Global Summit of Women in Beijing:
video

Thursday, June 3, 2010

World Expo

I could make a blanket statement that I was really disappointed in the World Expo. I could make a blanket statement that I think countries focused more on tourism and reaching the Chinese population who is known to be the next (or already current) big tourism market. But I shouldn’t because there’s far more of the Expo that I didn’t see than what I did.

Was I wowed by any new technology? Only in the Youth Innovation area and that was about computer games, mobile devices, etc. Nothing too far “out there.” Did I see anything where I learned more about sustainability or “Better City Better Life”? No.

The US Pavilion is an embarrassment. There are two films (one with Hillary Clinton and President Obama) and then there is a large room of corporate sponsor advertisements. Each sponsor (Microsoft, Pepsi, Dow, Dove, and, gee, the other ones are lucky as I’ve already forgotten them) has an area with an LCD screen. Some use it for blatant advertising and some try to have some sustainability information, but not much. Hopefully, most foreigners won’t recognize this “sponsorship” model.

Then, following the Disneyland model, to exit you have to walk through a large gift shop.

The other thing I realized is that I really was here to work. I spent another half day with the two winery clients in the DevNet Pavilion and seeing how we could improve their display.

Otherwise, there are just too many people and the lines are too long to get into Pavilions—1-3-5 hours long. Standing in line for hours is harder on the body than walking around for hours.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Freedom of Speech

I met a woman at the World Expo who grew up in Tijuana, Mexico. We talked about the internet being blocked for You Tube, Twitter and Facebook. She said she doesn’t mind. She is willing to give up Freedom of Speech for the safety she feels here in China (there is little or no crime on the streets, etc). She asked me if I didn’t agree. I said, being from the US where Freedom of Speech is one of our founding principles, I could never willingly give that up.

But I don’t have her background—growing up where there is SO much crime that you constantly fear for your own personal safety. Interesting how our perspectives are shaped so differently depending on our backgrounds. A good thought.

P.S. People ask why there is no “crime” here. I asked too one day on another trip as we walked down an alley at 2 a.m. looking for a foot massage place….I wondered—is it because their jails are so bad or prisoners are treated so horribly? I was assured not. It is that most people who commit crimes are caught as people are not fearful of being eye witnesses here. There is no “I don’t want to get involved” or “I saw nothing.” They tattle tale!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Francoise Mukagihana

I met Francoise Mukagihana from Rwanda in the Africa Pavilion at the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai. She was selling items made in Rwanda by her Rwandan Art-Crafts & Beyond women's group. I'll be buying fruit baskets (like the one she's holding), treasure baskets, pencils, earrings and dolls from her which should be arriving in July. Let us know if you'd like any specific color on the baskets. The treasure baskets are a bright red.

Coaching Stephen and Joan

I am going to the Expo with an 18-year-old boy whose English name is Stephen. Earlier in my trip I spent a couple of days with a 16-year-old girl. She had given herself the English name of Linda but we changed it to Joan. Both Stephen and Joan want a US Visa to go to the US to study so I am trying to coach them on their English, and give them a lot of practice in speaking to me! This is necessary for them to “pass” their Embassy interview.

I have really enjoyed the time I spent with both of them. They are very sweet and appreciative. Stephen even took me shopping on Sunday to the Silk Market with his mother. His mother does not speak English but she is VERY stylish and I appreciated her opinions on what to buy – and what not to buy. Yes, I did buy a Chinese-style dress. She smiled and said that she has never bought such a dress. But that is what I have found—it is the foreigners who wear the Chinese-style clothing, not the Chinese!

Anyway, I think Stephen will be glad when I go home—a day shopping and two days at the Expo! He’s ready for a break, I’m sure.

I asked my business partner here in China, who handles these immigration matters for clients, why Chinese students want to come to America for high school, when in the US we complain about our failing education system. She says, the Chinese system is so rigorous that the students—and parents—don’t like it. They gain no “social skills”, and this is important if they want to do global work. Stephen’s father owns a very successful company that manufactures valves and taps for oil wells. Stephen does not want to go into that business, he wants to start his own business and build it up. Right now he is thinking of being an engineer—that is, when he’s not thinking about playing basketball (no wonder we get along so well!)

Monday, May 31, 2010

First Day at the World Expo

Whew! Done with my first day at the World Expo. I will do another day tomorrow. Today we visited the Africa Pavilion, Caribbean Pavilion (no Bermuda—sigh), DevNet Pavilion and China Pavilion. Our “contact” got us into a two-hour que at the China Pavilion—otherwise it would have been four hours!

The China building is amazing but I was disappointed in the content. Thanks to my client, Nancy Goshow of Goshow Architects in NYC, I have learned tons about sustainable design and practices. So on one hand I’m pleased to report that I really knew everything being presented and on the other hand—it was very disappointing that there was nothing “new” or truly “innovative” there. It seems like the other countries’ Pavilions are more for tourism outreach than following the theme of “Better City, Better Life.”

Tomorrow we will go to the USA Pavilion and I hope it is better than the disappointing reviews I’ve heard from other Americans who have attended. I also hope to go to Iceland and I will go back to DevNet again.

The DevNet Pavilion is in the United Nations area and it is where my two clients are exhibiting: JiuQiunJiu Wine, the Official Rice Wine, and HanSen Winery from Mongolia, the Official Red Wine of the Expo. Both are EXCELLENT wines. I meet with the President of DevNet tomorrow and hope I can make some significant changes (additions) to our displays.

The other impression of World Expo? Lines, lines everywhere. You may have noticed, or heard, before that Chinese do not really take well to lines. They have no problems “cutting” in line, pushing past, etc. I decided to be a bugger about this and they did not push past me! Although it is somewhat amusing because by pushing, they might move up 2-5 people and in a two-hour line—that means nothing time-wise. I was told that last week at the German Pavilion, when German workers were trying to stop the pushing and cutting, an all-out war-of-words broke out, with a lot of name-calling, and the Chinese suggesting a boycott of the German Pavilion. LOL German and Chinese cultures in that situation certainly would be clashing!

More to report after my visit again tomorrow!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Greetings from China

Greetings from China! I came to China for several reasons. First was the Global Summit of Women in Beijing. More than 1,000 women attended from about 85 different countries. The best part of these conferences is to meet the other women. I was moderator of a panel on “Handling the Difficult Conversation.” It was a GREAT panel and I hope to keep in touch with my panelists—two women from the US and the President of China Mobile in China (yes, a woman!). Actually Pam Teagarden, one of the “US” women, has homes in Russia, London and Berlin. We hope to work together in the future on crisis communications. She handles the behavioral psychology side of it and I would handle the planning and implementation. Sounds good to me!

I also hosted a booth for Sunflower, who provides the pearls for my Up from the Dust products. They had sales beyond belief in the 2 ½ days. Our booth was constantly packed and some women said they didn’t buy from there because it was always too crowded. A good problem to have. Before we started, Sunflower said she could not pay the booth fees as they were too expensive and what if they only had $1,000 in sales? They had four women there working. Well there sales were more than 10 times that and at the end they were saying—why didn’t you get two booths?

I have also introduced products from Susan Shi. Susan is from Beijing but lives in London. This is in my efforts to also help women business owners in the “missing middle.” Susan designs for the European woman so her designs will be a nice addition.

I am bringing back incredibly unique designs and necklaces from both Sunflower and Susan and look forward to hearing my customers’ responses.