Company Name Change

London Euston Train Departures Sign - Company Naming Journey - delightability

Considering a Company Name Change?

You’re about to embark on a journey to a new place. It will be more wonderful if you are prepared. It could go really well and you’ll love the destination. Your journey can be especially rewarding if you have a thoughtful plan. Here are 17 guiding points to consider in creating your plan of action for a company name change.

      1. What is the Problem, Exactly?

        Is it the logo or the company name your are dissatisfied with. Or, do you need a complete brand makeover?  What problem or opportunity are you addressing? Consider a home remodel. It might be that your house is too small for your growing family. Rather than move, you add on. For an enterprise, the current company name might not reflect what the company does, or is about, or wants to be know for.  Is it a company name change you seek or an updated logo or do you wish to tell a new version of the company story? The answer might be one, some, or all of the above.

        This Time It’s Going to Be Different
        The new company name and subsequent logo seeks to make things better. Properly executed it may. But, many a homeowner who has grown tired of their patchy lawn and turned to ready turf, ushers in the next cycle of neglect. Imaginary grass is always greener. Care and feeding of a brand matters. It matters tremendously. See Your Brand Matters and Promise Delivery System.

        Unacceptable Discomfort Spurs Action
        It is important to pinpoint the source of the unacceptable discomfort. Is the company name and logo the cause or the symptom of something else? It is also possible that the unacceptable discomfort doesn’t involve built up angst as much as it is a desire to be opportunistic. This can happen when markets shift, acquisitions are made, a business pivot is in play, etc. Not everybody will see things equally. That’s okay. The key is to decide whether there is enough unacceptable discomfort with the current name and logo, or not. There is? Great, let’s keep reading….

      2. Committed to a Company Name Change

        You’ve decided a company name change is in order. You’ve decided. You have an inspiration, a hunch. You have a domain name or sketch or burning feeling. Any of those are okay. But, unless you are an army of one, you now have to enroll others like any other change effort. If you want to up-skill yourself in change leadership, read Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. It’s one of my favorite business books. That is why I’m telling you now. Okay back to this post.

        This is good news actually that you are committed to a company name change. You have an opportunity to expand the collective thinking. Unless you are a sole proprietor in a startup you probably have other stakeholders. Pull together a team that can represent different viewpoints. Not everybody should be on the team. Here is who should be.

      3. Establish Your Brand Counsel

        Think republic as opposed to direct democracy. It’s perfectly okay that not everybody is on the team. Let others represent. The key is that each person on the brand counsel view the company name change through the lens they represent. Not all lenses will be appropriate for all companies at all stages but here are some to consider along with questions they might explore.

        Visionary – this person must ask, can this new company name endure, can we breath live into this brand, what is the core message? Will we be valid 5 years or 10 years hence? What will we look like as an organization when we really, truly lean into the new company name and logo?

        Regulatory – this person is concerned with trademarks, competitive space, availability of domain name, social platforms, etc. Can we own this company name? Who needs to be notified, Secretary of State, press releases, investors, etc?

        Creative – this person asks what is the concept that needs to sing with the audience? What story is the company telling and what does this and sound like in a name? How does this appear in a logo? Is it typography alone or is there an accompanying mark? What are the explorations that we should pursue as a team? What other ideas, alternatives, and suggestions do people have?

        Executive – this person is responsible for championing change, reinforcing the discipline to persevere through the process, keeping the team focused on an outcome of mutual acceptable discomfort, and then committing to projects and programs to breath life into the new name and logo. You don’t want to arrive at the “bad turf” stage again, right?

        Operational – this person will feel the most ripple effect of a company name change over time. They will sequence the work. You cannot do it all at once unless you are a pure startup just getting started. Collateral, business cards, website, sign on the building, paint on the vehicles. New logo on invoices, envelopes, boxes, tape, etc. The ripple effect.

        Remember to consider partners and other stakeholders. The person with the operational lens will be responsible for leading the implementation and dissemination of the new name and logo across all aspects of the business after the initial project completes. The brand project becomes an evergreen program.

        Even if you don’t have all of these dedicated people that can participate in a company name change journey, you’ll still need to represent each of these lenses. The startup entrepreneur has to walk in all of those shoes unless they have the ability to bring in additional help.

        Brand Counsel for Company Naming Journey
        The Brand Counsel Deliverables
        The brand counsel will work together, deliberate, sometimes pontificate, noodle, brain share, discuss, reflect, observe, lead and follow. They will also gain feedback from others not on the team. That means that work product will have to be packaged up and presented in an effective way so that people who were not in every meeting can provide good feedback.

        Not everybody will have the same insights. People will go at different paces. For some this may be easy work. For other, it will feel like trudging uphill with a heavy pack, while wearing wet boots. Other duties will call. But this can be a fun, liberating, collaborative, and rewarding journey. This team will get through the process. No animals will be harmed. In the end, the company will have a new name, a logo, and identity. But, that logo will be an empty vessel. It will still need to be filled.

        Creativity Loves Constraint
        It’s hard to solve a problem that isn’t pinned down or is ever-changing. The best creative professionals love constraint. Clear boundaries and guardrails establish the design playground. Knowing what is in bounds and what is out of bounds not to be considered helps prevent spinning wheels and wasting resources. A good creative brief can go a long way here.

      4. Develop the Creative Brief

        Your Brand Counsel should pull most of the weight even if you hire outside help. Whether or not you work with outside consultants or an agency it is helpful to put your thoughts to paper. I say paper intentionally because you’ll want to print this out circulate it in a tactile way that demands more attention than an email. Things to include in the creative brief:

        Problem Statement: source of unacceptable discomfort

        Scope: company name change, refreshed logo, or complete brand makeover?

        Expected usage: expected places this new company name will live, e.g. website, social media, partner program, collateral, vehicles, building signage, call center. Think physical, auditory, and for some brands touch, taste, and smell. Think T-Mobile jingle or Victoria Secret smell wafting out of the front doors of each retail store.

        Complete a Brand Spectra Questionnaire to help the Brand Counsel get on the same page with respect to the company’s aspired-to brand personality. This might be different than the current company name and brand. Discuss any differences.

        Show word associations. This is a collection of words associated with your brand. If you are doing a brand makeover you might consider having the as-is and to-be versions of this. In the best of worlds you will have completed a brand audit that reveals what stakeholders have said about your brand.

        Create a Visual Landscape of Competitors. As a early starting point consider creating a visual landscape of your competitive space. Look for patterns. Are the names and logos geometric, do they resemble people or animals, or objects, etc. Eventually your logo will be swimming in the competitive ocean among others. Will yours stand out or be lost in the crowd?

        This is a good start. If you get your creative brief this far, creative professionals will be able to further develop the brief and discuss things like brand spectra, tonality, etc.

      5. Follow a Documented Process

        In the end, you’ll follow a process to complete a company name change. It is best to be intentional about that process. You’ll have a better outcome and earn more buy-in from various stakeholders. Unless you have all of the expertise in house get some outside help.

        An outside perspective can bring cross industry experience and also brings objective honesty and discipline that isn’t as concerned about office tensions and other dynamics that can sometimes sink or stifle initiatives. You don’t have to have giant budgets to get outside help. There are large naming agencies, solo consultants, and firms of all sizes in between ready to help you with a company name change project.

        Summary of Company Name Change Process:
        1. Define problem
        2. Commit to change
        3. Establish team
        4. Build create brief
        5. Document process
        6. Determine naming criteria
        7. Expand thinking
        8. Report findings, score, discuss, explore
        9. Work on tandems
        10. Share release candidates – get feedback
        11. Present short list
        12. Create mood boards
        13. Downselect and further refine
        14. Acceptable discomfort
        15. Rollout company name change
        16. Reinforce
        17. Thrive

    Claude Monet Followed Process - Important to Company Name Change

    1. Questions to Ask and Naming Criteria

      A few obvious questions to ask about proposed company names are: is the name already in use; what does a trademark search reveal? Is the domain name or an acceptable variant available and is the name available on social platforms? Is it associated with things we don’t wish the company to be associate with? If there are obstacles, can these obstacles be overcome through negotiation, acquisition, etc?  Is the name in use in other industries? How dominant and well known is that company? Performing some basic internet searches can reveal quite a bit about the space around your proposed name. Other considerations could be:

      • Distinctiveness – will our company name be easily distinguishable in a crowded marketplace?
      • Brevity – should our company name get to the point without too many letters, symbolism or marks?
      • Empty vessel – does the name give us freedom to build the brand or are does the name invoke preconceived notions about the company and its products and services?
      • Sound – do we want hard consonants in our company name as in Kodak, Kodiak, or IKEA. Or, do we want softer sounds like the “H” or “S” in Sherwin Williams and Hilton Hotels & Resorts.
      • To vowel or not to vowel – should we have vowels or drop the vowels? Think Google versus Flckr.
      • How many words? – people will shorten a name if it is too long. Consider the shorter version from the start. Bank of America gets shortened to BofA, #bofa on twitter. Harley-Davidson Motor Company gets shorted to Harley.
      • How many syllables? – generally, fewer is better. Too many syllables and your audiences will shorten the name. You might not like what customers end up calling you.
      • Acronyms – is there a good reason to hide behind the obscurity of an acronym? I’m guessing not, but that is for your team to decide.
      • Appropriateness – is this a good name for a company of our business type in our industry?
      • Fitness – does the name mesh with our company’s brand personality and culture? If not, can we aspire to it? Will products and services under than company name ring true with customers?
      • Multicultural – If I ask you if beem-a-ling or boom-a-loom refer to #1 or #2  in a bio-break you’ll guess correctly. Every English speaker in every country I’ve ever asked, has. Will the new company name be so universal? Need it be?
      • Translation – how does the name appear to people who speak different languages?
      • Easy spelling and pronunciation – is the name mistake proof? If it’s not you have more to manage. Will people be able to pronounce it to others?
      • Storytelling – Does the name tell a story? How big of a story should it tell?
      • Likability – does it feel good? Is the name friendly? Should it be?
      • Rhythm – does it roll off the tongue and linger on the brain?
      • Architecture – does the name have to fit a family of companies or products and services?
      • Playfulness – is this important to our audience and company personality we wish to communicate? For Southwest Airlines the answer would be yes. Note playfulness doesn’t come across in their logo but it does in their operations. If you’ve flown SW then you have experienced this firsthand.
      • Extendability – can the company name and logo be extended across campaigns and channels. Consider McDonald’s. The iconic “M” shape is even used as a handle to the Happy Meal box.
      • Misspelling – is a misspelled word for our company name acceptable?
      • Protectable – are we concerned about protecting our company name, regionally, nationally, internationally?
      • Memorable – will people remember our company name after hearing it? Will they be able to spell it correctly after hearing it?
      • Origin and Etymology – from where does the company name originate, or is it simply made up?
      • Longevity – will the name outlive the founders, partners, products/services being offered today, etc? Is it necessary?

Bollard in Square in Liverpool - delightability

    1. Expand Thinking to Grow List of Names

      Each of the relevant naming criterion from step 6 can be used as a source of inspiration. For example, if longevity is important, then brainstorm on things that have long lives, that endure for millennia, etc. Maybe that was behind the name of Sequoia Capital. Or, it might have simply been what they saw in nature.

      You’ll need to expand your thinking. You’ll need more creativity and more brains and eyes and ears on the task. Names can be inspired by many things. Sources of inspiration might be animals, songs, objects, sounds, textures, the dictionary, word origins, deities, pictures, random letters, translations, etc.

      Work on this individually and then come together to riff on one another’s ideas. There truly is no limit to this creative pursuit. But at some point you’ll want to reign in the creative kingdom and present potential winners. You don’t want to present e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

    2. Report Findings, Discuss, Return to Explore

      Emotions rule but we need to be objective. Some names will spark feelings of puppy love with some people. It’s cute but not really what’s needed. You’ll need to create a spreadsheet. List your criteria for the new company name. Score each proposed name against the predetermined criteria. Don’t name your company Sequoia Capital even if you provide financial services to timber products companies for the green economy. The shoe might fit, but if it’s already worn by others you should keep looking.

      Have a Calibration Meeting
      Self score your possible company names on your own. You’ll eliminate some darlings but you might spark new possibilities, too. Come together for a short comparison meeting early in the process so that you can keep people oriented, working on the same project using the same criteria.

      Schedule time to share findings and ideas but avoid having these meetings devolve into groupthink. I suggest that coming up with potential company names is at first an individual creative activity. This way the group will benefit by a more diverse range of input when they do come together.

      Shortlist and Iterate
      Your eventual winning name will not likely be present in the first round, maybe not even the second or third. You’ll keep getting more inspiration and you’ll eliminate names on purpose. You’re getting more in tune with your own developing brand. You know what doesn’t fit.

    3. Your Brand Counsel Should Consider Tandems

      If this is a complete brand overhaul in addition to a company name change then revisit the company values, vision, and positioning statement. Think of your audiences past, present, and future. Your audience will ultimately judge your brand; think of them from the start. If you have developed personas for your various audiences then imagine your brand through each of their hearts and minds. What will they think and feel about the name change?

    4. Share Release Candidates and Gain Feedback

      You cannot possibility present every name considered and the reason for its rejection to all stakeholders. That would be disruptive to business operations. If you broaden the audience from whom you are getting feedback make certain they understand the context for the feedback. Ask them to score the company name and logo direction against a downselected list of the most relevant criteria.

    5. Present Short List

      What the Brand Counsel should present is a short list of those company names who rank high against the criteria. If the stakeholder feedback warrants further exploration or sparks new ideas go back to steps 8 and 9. If you short list is “good enough” then present to your stakeholder group. This group is defined by you, but could be department heads, other executives, could include partners, customers, investors or anybody you’d like to have an early look. They may validate your team’s work or provide redirection. If things are a go, then begin developing the visual identity of this short list at the same time. Do this through the use of mood boards.

    6. What the Heck are Mood Boards?

      A mood board is a creative exploration that captures the tone and personality of a brand. It can include images, shapes, descriptive words, and colors. It is used to set the direction for other creative pursuits like websites, collateral, photography, video, even letterhead and business cards, and the shirts worn at events.

      Mood boards are not seen by the end customer, these are internal creative explorations only. Mood boards are a great place to explore and present color psychology that communicates the proposed company name and brand.

    7. Downselect and Further Refine

      You’ll want to further reduce the names, word associations and visual directions down to a shortlist. It is possible that at this point your brand counsel is working with 5 distinct mood boards with some degree of overlap between them. Or, if you are only revising the company name and logo you might have 5 distinct areas of exploration.

      Within each exploration you may have multiple logo variations. Some people might like a particular combination of typography and name while others may gravitate toward a particular shape or color in a logo design. It can be helpful to view black and white versions of names to remove early color bias.

    8. Arriving at Acceptable Discomfort

      Now I’m talking to your future self. Remember when you started the company name change project and you had unacceptable discomfort? That is what we’re trying to alleviate. Not every member of the brand counsel will agree on every aspect of the company name, logo, and brand identity. It is important to reconcile any unacceptable discomfort. If no names and logos are measuring up then keep creating.

      Resolve that while you might not love every aspect of the new brand identity you may still able to support it. If this is the case then you have reached acceptable discomfort. This is a bit like arriving at a crowded train station, say London Euston railway station pictured above. At first you might be confused, disoriented and overwhelmed with information. But, you have the courage trust the process and the professionals and get on with your journey. You eventually find comfort.

      Perfection is the Enemy of Good Enough
      It might be that adjustments can be made going forward that make the name and logo even more appealing to you. If you don’t envision that possibility then you need to speak up. Your brand counsel needs to respect your concerns. Articulate your concerns well. Remember, perfection is the enemy of good enough.

      It is very likely that at this stage you have the makings of a winning company name and logo. Now you can begin to lean into that new brand. You can change external brand perceptions through positioning. Remember the position is what others say of your brand. It is their perception, not your company’s. Positioning is the activity your organization undertakes in attempt to shift that perception.

Rolling Out the Company Brand Name Change - Handholding Required

    1. Rollout the Company Name Change

      Once the company name change is complete it is time to roll out the brand identity across all aspect of the organization. This is internal and external. Readiness is key here or else you might alienate some stakeholders and that could leave an unpleasant brand aftertaste. Avoid this by improving your organizational readiness, just as a first responder anticipates future scenarios and prepare to meet them.

Brand Is What You Say and Do - Delightability

  1. Reinforce the Brand

    The brand counsel may disband at the project completion or stay together and recast themselves with a new project, namely, brand reinforcement. It is also possible to assign a new collective of people for this task. It will be helpful to have some level of sponsorship or access to at least one member of the brand counsel. The person wearing the operational role is organizationally suited for this role in most organizations. Whoever this reinforcement team is going forward they are responsible for making the new brand live after the initial project completes.

    Welcome to the Brand Police
    Every new piece of collateral, new company presentation, video, commercial, press release, product release, partner or channel program, etc. will be judged in the eyes of this brand police force. This duty to brand will eventually become habit for all employees. This should be part of employee development. Publishing brand style guide, talking points, FAQs, fact sheets, etc. will help employees, vendors, and partners to keep on brand.

    Your Brand Promise
    Your brand is a promise to customers of specific benefits, quality, and value. Your brand is what THEY say it is. You’ll need to measure this over time. If there is a gap, you’ll need to close the gap through positioning. If you don’t you run the risk of becoming a Lumpy Snowball of an Organization.

  2. Thrive in the Brand Promised Land

    In the end, no matter which company name you choose, you’ll have to satisfy customers better than the competition in the long run and not run out of cash in the short run. If you do, you’ll be a going concern. If you don’t, well the Annals of Business Failures is not yet fully written. The list of dead companies is long and growing. Some of them had good company names. Whatever company name your brand counsel finalizes, it will not be sufficient unto itself. No matter how keen your insights, wondrous your process, and generous your budget, ultimately, you’ll need to breath life into your brand so that it can blossom and reach it’s full potential.

    Customers, employees, investors, partners, and other stakeholders are the ultimate judge of your new company name and brand. Their hearts and minds will be moved by a brand that consistently closes or exceeds the gap between what the company says and does and what stakeholders think and feel.

    Suggestion: A year following the company name change, perform a brand audit with stakeholders to determine your position.

Start Your Company Name Change

Hopefully, I’ve provided you with enough perspective that you can make the most informed and prepared decision to pursue a company name change. I’ve attempted to encapsulate in one article what I’ve experienced in naming or rebranding companies, products and services and creating brand identities for startups and decades old enterprises.

Establishing a brand counsel that can own the initiative inside a company, even if outsiders are ultimately doing much of the work, is essential. Good luck in your company naming journey. May you and your stakeholders enjoy the journey and your destination.

about the author

image of author and consultant Gregory OlsonGreg is a virtual chief marketing officer to small and medium sized businesses. He founded Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers success will follow.  Greg  authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences. The second half of that book is concerned with building a healthy innovation culture  so that once you design better experience you can more easily make them come to life. Gregory Olson’s also authored L’ impossipreneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans.

Clouds or Weeds: Where Should Strategy Live?

Having lofty ambitions is good. After all, by striving to achieve the impossible we may actually do it. And, the rewards can be many. But, if we only have lofty ambitions and pay no heed to the myriad actions required along the way to achieving them then we’ll likely never reach our destination. Many organizations (and individuals) fall into this head-in-the-clouds trap.

Being More Grounded

You’ve heard it, maybe even said it, “You’ve got to be more grounded. Get your head out of the clouds.” People who say such things are mindful of the implementation details. They are the “execution police” among us. Whereas some minds are filled with lofty ambitions, others are consumed with getting things done. The details they fret over may appear to some to be too grounded, or “weed-level.” But completing weed-level projects is necessary for a functional organization. Whether it’s invoicing the newest customer or making payroll, updating the website, or producing and distributing the latest company news or developing a block of code, weed-level projects guided by a coherent strategy propel an organization toward its destination.

Guided by Coherent Strategy

The caveat in that last statement is “guided by a coherent strategy.” If weed level projects become the strategy unto themselves then the organization is headed for trouble. When strategy gets hijacked by a propensity toward getting things done, minutiae can begin to consume all available resources. When this happens, there is no longer capacity in the organization for healthy discourse. Nobody would ever hang a banner on the wall expressing the norm of “Guided by Minutiae” but many have felt this way in organizations large and small. This spells trouble for employee engagement and an otherwise would-be innovation culture.

Beware of Action Junkies

At the extreme, “action junkies” place demands on the organization that might be counter to the strategy already in play. The time horizon for gratification shrinks. Instead of thinking long term strategy and the benefits thereof, short-termism takes over. This can happen at all levels of the organization, shifting the focus and further demanding the attention of others. Suddenly people are pulled into “surprises” while others may be shed like an unwanted winter coat. You’ve heard this play out in organizations before; perhaps you’ve even uttered the words, “We just need….” When short term tactics become the basis of your strategy, your organization begins to drift. Persistent strategic drift will cripple an organization, no matter its size or tenure. See related articles: Don’t Let Your Organization Become a Lumpy Snowball and also Focus Focus or Hocus Pocus.

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” – Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu said this well, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” 2500 years later we still are dealing with the same human foibles on the battlefield, in board rooms, and in every room.

The False Choice

In the title of this article I presented you with a false choice, namely, where should strategy live, in the clouds or in the weeds? Actually, you need strategy in both places. Your strategy needs to produce strategic imperatives that communicate the overarching aims of the organization. You also need a strategy to continuously ensure that the execution level details remain hitched to strategic aims. This passes the relevance test. You should be able to walk down the strategy from the clouds to the weeds and vice versa from the weeds up to the clouds. If you cannot do this without massive tension among those involved in the discussion then more work (and conversation) is warranted. Two scenarios are likely at this point.

Scenario 1: Mapping but Questions Remain

You’ve heard of such practices and maybe have some firsthand experience mapping individual goals to department goals and objectives that in turn map to the organization’s strategic imperatives. That is great.  You’ve started but related challenges to resolve include:

  • Is your innovation culture able to detect changes in customer mood, needs, and desires?
  • What about the changes in technology, communications, and other factor outside your organization that are certain to change?
  • Does your organization embrace ideas that may come at times inconvenient? Does it matter where those news idea comes from?
  • What about responsiveness to competitive changes or budding alliances in the business landscape?
  • And, how will you keep score of your progress or lack thereof?

Scenario 2: Conversation Needed

You’ve not performed strategy mapping in any form. In that case, definitely more conversation is warranted. For that, I recommend you assemble a team, carve out quality time (and place), and begin a regular dialogue beginning with the questions raised in scenario 1) , but more generally how can your organization remain relevant in a constantly changing environment? One model to leverage is the Promise Delivery System, the subject of Chapter 8 in, The Experience Design Blueprint.

The model and method you use isn’t as important as you establishing a regular dialogue on strategy and execution. Once you do, you’ll more naturally know whether the weed-level project du jour is “on-strategy” or a defection thereof.

A Strategy That Lives

When enough people in the organization are executing on a coherent and communicated strategy, employee engagement will soar, an innovation culture will coalesce, and the organization’s well being will improve no matter how you’ve collectively defined that. Then you can revisit the original question about where strategy should live. Instead of answering “in the clouds” or “in the weeds” you can confidently state “our strategy lives in both places and in between. We are able to shape and shift our strategy as needed. Our strategy is alive and well. Our many stewards of strategy are on the watch and at the ready.”

about the author

Gregory Olson is a consultant, speaker, and author. He founded strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and entire nations. image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossipreneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans.

Greg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.

Small Business Leaders Struggle with the 3-Legged Stool: How to Overcome

Like most entrepreneurs and small business owners, you likely have a long list of things that get shoved off to the back burner waiting for another day or week when there is more time. The trouble is, more time never actually arrives, right?

Today is no different from yesterday and tomorrow will look much the same. You only have 24 hours in a day. When it comes to time, there is no aristocracy of wealth. Genius or laziness is not rewarded or punished with any more time.

The 3-Legged Stool

3-legged-stool of operations - promoting value - delivering value - balanced personal life - Delightability LLC.

Every small business owner struggles with maintaining balance among these areas:

  • Maintaining a smooth operation – invoicing customers, paying expenses, having good procedures in place to prevent business breakdown and wasting resources
  • Delivering value – providing to customers whatever your business does as its core offering, i.e., products, services, and support
  • Promoting value – performing the sales, marketing, and business development functions to ensure 1) prospects know your business exists; 2) customers understand your value and provide you with validation; and 3) employees, partners, and customers stay engaged.

Stop Letting Your Personal Life Suffer

The person sitting atop a well-balanced 3-legged stool has the opportunity for a personal life. Chances are you’re not very good at all three legs of the stool. In a large company you have the benefit of departments to focus on activities related to the different legs of the stool. That probably isn’t the case in your small business where you have to spread your time, talent, and attention across sales, marketing, account payable, human resources, product development, etc. Even if you are good in all areas, you’ll struggle with the limited time available. When the legs of the stool get out of balance or become all-consuming then you and your personal life get sacrificed or worse, topple to the ground. Business performance then also suffers. We’ve all been there.

Five Things to Overcome the Struggle

  1. Recognize the need to slow down: sometimes you need to slow down in order to speed up. It is true when hiking up a steep trail and it’s also true in business. As a now deceased friend has taught me, “Make time to linger.” R.I.P. Donald Marsh.
  2. Revisit your operation: perhaps you need new operating mechanisms that could prevent snags in the business operation that if left unresolved will end up consuming resources. As a start, begin to identify where your time gets wasted. If you don’t know, begin monitoring your own time over the next week or month. Identifying the workarounds could be a place to fix first. If you have employees, they’ll know these rough spots.
  3. Stay on course: your energy spread in too many directions can fatigue you and crush personal and business performance. Be deliberate on your destination and script the critical moves needed to get there. Read the Destination Postcards article for an exercise that can bring discipline to charting a course and then staying true to that course.
  4. Confront reality: mind the uncomfortable gap you have between your current performance and expected performance. Focus on key areas and find acceptable discomfort for what you’ll not work on in the near term.  You cannot do it all, so find some peace in accepting that. See Business Performance Continuums exercise.
  5. Force multiply through others: recognize that you cannot do it alone. It is difficult to involve somebody else in your projects and business, especially if you already feel overwhelmed. But, chances are you’ve wasted more time agonizing over how to start a project that another person would have completed by now, if you engaged them. There is plenty of talent available to help you in whatever your endeavor is. More talent on the team can come in many forms: full-time or part-time, employee or alliance with a service provider. At Delightability, we are a virtual marketing department serving clients’ needs, providing both consulting and creative services. Whether small or large projects, every one of our client engagements involved busy business leaders, like you. But, remember what our clients have now come to realize, namely, that you don’t get the benefits of a strategy not implemented.

Write that down on your wall or whiteboard and revisit it often, “You don’t get the benefits of a strategy not implemented.” Eventually, you’ll do something different to close your uncomfortable gap across the 3 legs of the stool while at the same time getting your personal life to soar.

about the author

Gregory Olson is a business and marketing consultant, author, and speaker. He founded strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and entire nations.
image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossipreneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans.

Greg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.

Avoid Event and Launch Fail by Thinking in Three Zones

Conventional thinking says showing up is half (or 80%) of being successful. This is rubbish. If you just show up, you’ll not like the results. Even if you do, others will not. Showing up isn’t good enough for things that matter. Imagine a news anchor “just showing up” or a keynote speaker, actor, executive, job applicant, bride or groom, sales executive, or you. Showing up might be okay for insignificant things like cleaning your garage or drinking coffee in your pajamas while reviewing pre-breakfast social media trends. But, most of us aim for bigger moments in life. And in those moments we’ll want to do more than show up. Here is some secret sauce to make the most of moments that should matter.

Think of Big Moments as Events

No matter what you are working on it can be represented as an event that completes at a point in time. The exception to this is a program. Programs by definition are ongoing as opposed to projects which are finite in duration. Programs can be thought of as a series of connected projects.

The Point in Time

If you are working on planning an event the point in time becomes obvious. It’s the moment that eventually arrives. After all, you’ve put it on the calendar and probably invited people. But, less obvious are things like product launches, website launches, design of new services, communications, strategic planning, assembling a team, creating a movie, going on vacation, or moving to a new location.

The Big Moment

So, we have this point in time where your, we’ll call it “big moment”, completes. Let’s unpack that moment. There is the time leading up to your big moment as well as the time that follows. And of course your big moment covers a span of time as well. For an event that might be an hour or a few days in the case of a trade show event. So, really we have three periods of time, or time zones.

Three Time Zones

As it turns out, anything you’re working on has these three time zones. If you are mindful of the preparation leading up to the big moment then no doubt when your big moment arrives it will be smoother, higher quality, more engaging, and more likely to yield the results you want. And, when that happens the time zone following your big moment will be likely involve sharing, celebration, reflection, and more opportunity.

Ignorance is not Bliss

But, ignore any of the time zones and you are leaving much to chance. Imagine the best trade show ever (or family reunion). Of course you’d love to have pictures to relive the memory of where you connected with your best customer (or cherish the memory of when your favorite Aunt was still alive). Well, to have those pictures to reflect upon, somebody somewhere would have had to think to secure a photographer or provide instructions to many people to take pictures and later share. Without that forethought, the event would unfold in time and the opportunity to take pictures will evaporate along the way. Time marches on whether you are prepared for it, or not.

Make the Most of Your Big Moments

To make the most of your big moments, whether you are working alone or alongside a team, think in three time zones. What needs to happen ahead of the event, during the event, and following the event.

Zone I – Readiness

Most things of any significance cannot be accomplished alone. Things to think about in the readiness zone include:

  • Who needs to be prepared?
  • What information will be needed? How will we get it?
  • What is the sequence of actions leading up to the moment?
  • What can be completed ahead of time?
  • What communications need to be created?
  • What deadlines to we need to be aware of?
  • Who can help accomplish all of this?

Zone 2 – The Moment

Project yourself ahead in time to the big moment and answer the following questions:

  • Who is the intended audience and what will be their context?
  • What experience do we need to create for them? (See CH 1: What is an Experience?)
  • What will ensure the experience unfolds as planned?
  • Should we aim for remarkable, unbroken, or generous? (See CH 6: Aiming for Remarkable, Unbroken, and Generous Design)
  • Who will be on point for different activities?
  • Will we capture the moment in pictures, sound, or some other medium?
  • Who will keep us orchestrated?
  • What could go wrong and how will we mitigate?

Zone 3 – The Follow

After the big moment completes there is the tendency to rush to the next thing. But, here is a case where slowing down now can actually help you to speed up later. Follow-up, debrief, and apply what you just learned so that you can positively impact what’s next. Some of the things to think about here include:

  • What should be the follow-up with our audience(s)?
  • What did we learn and how will we apply it?
  • Who can benefit by our sharing?
  • Did we or can we still gain validation?
  • How could this event be even better next time?
  • Was it worth it? Shall we repeat it?
  • What should we adjust going forward?

Summary

If you want to make your big moments matter then you’ll need to imagine yourself in each of three zones before they actually unfold in time. Thinking about what will need to happen in each zone and having conversations with others who will be involved will make the difference between an memorable event that makes a big impact and a lackluster event where people simply showed up. A couple of other guiding principles to keep in mind are:

  1. A task unclaimed is a task undone;
  2. Inspiration has expiration so best to get started soon;
  3. Show visible progress to keep motivated and moving forward;
  4. Checklists are good insurance against overconfidence

If you are working in a team then introduce the three time zones into your business vernacular. Those big moments that await you will notice the difference along with your audience and the team that played a part in making it all happen.

about the author

Gregory Olson authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true. Chapters in the book that especially pertain to this article include:

  • Chapter 2: Make the Customer Come Alive
  • Chapter 6: Aiming for Remarkable, Unbroken, and Generous Design
  • Chapter 8: The Promise Delivery System
  • Chapter 11: Barriers to Innovation and Overcoming the Wall
  • Chapter 13: Taking Flight

Gregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans.

thumbnail image of author Gregory OlsonGregory Olson founded strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and communities, but sometimes we need a little help.  Gregory also serves as a volunteer board member for Oikocredit Northwest, a support association for social and impact investor,Oikocredit International.

 

Mid-Year Business Performance Tune-up: 7-Step Action Plan for Leaders

Automobiles, machinery, and precision instruments at times need to be tuned and calibrated to ensure performance. Life and business have similar demands. If you aren’t concerned about performance then whatever you’re doing is adequate. But, periodically in your life and in your business you’ll want to re-evaluate strategies that are misfiring, products and services that seems amiss, a launch that falls short, an identity that isn’t working, communications that don’t connect, recognition that is absent, etc.

When there is an uncomfortable enough performance gap, then you’ll do something different. This is true in life and in business. Mid point in a calendar year is a natural point to reflect on the first half and project forward what you’d like to have happen by year-end. You may have a similar cycle with your financial planner and dentist. But, what about the rest of you and your business?

There are plenty of tools and conversations you can use. The key is to start. Once you begin it is easier to keep going and pretty soon you’ll be closing the uncomfortable gap just as you avoid toothaches and worse with periodic checkups and cleaning.

Here is a 7-Step Action Plan for a Business Performance Tune-Up

  1. Revisit your strategic imperatives for the year – what were the big bets for the year and are they paying off? Didn’t really have any solid strategic initiatives? Now would be a good time to establish some. Get clear on the destination: where are you going and what does success look like? See related post: Make Work Feel Like Vacation
  2. What have you learned and how can you apply it? Consider both the business landscape and the customer ecosystem. Organizational immaturity and old habits and patterns may get in the way of identifying and leveraging the talent and resources available in the business landscape. Also, if you don’t have personas to represent your various stakeholders now would be a good time to prioritize their development. Personas provide representative profiles for a customer base and other stakeholders too, e.g. investors, employees, partners, etc. As a design tool, they are a powerful way to visualize and communicate behaviors, goals, wants, needs, and frustrations.
  3. Get clear on your audiences and priorities: what promises will you make and keep and to which audiences? Make visible your Promise Delivery System for each of your stakeholders. The Promise Delivery System is a closed loop system that revolves around an audience and includes strategy, delivery, validation, and learning. You have a Promise Delivery System for each stakeholder that is served as well as those who serve. This is the subject of CH 8 in the Experience Design Blueprint.
  4. Define deliverables: what will you produce and deliver to keep your various promises? Think products, services, events, campaigns, programs, and communications.
  5. How does all of this line up against the calendar? What will be your day-to-day operational reality? What will your organization invest its time and resources into?
  6. Establish operating mechanisms: how will you stay on track and maintain your Promise Delivery System? What will be the rhythm and pace of the organization? Revisit your operating mechanisms and calendaring processes and events to ensure excellence in execution. Create an operating mechanism to capture ideas that may come at inconvenient times. Also, create an operating mechanism to evaluate and advance ideas. These are important to maintain (or establish) a culture of innovation.
  7. Revisit your performance metrics. How are you keeping score? If any of your metrics are irrelevant, modify them. If something is working well and appears to be a bright spot, then do more of it. Dial-up the activities that drive desired metrics. Stay focused on those areas where you have uncomfortable gaps between current performance and desired performance. See related post: Business Performance Continuums. Identify experiments you can run to test ideas for value. These represent quick trips around the Promise Delivery System.

You wouldn’t be comfortable flying in a commercial airliner that doesn’t receive maintenance and performance tuning. Your business is no different. Don’t let you customers, employees, and partners suffer through an under-performing business, especially when many of them would love to be engaged in a solution path to higher performance.

“Drive thy business, let not that drive thee.”

Benjamin Franklin
Author, Printer, Scientist, Musician,
Inventor, Satirist, Civic Activist,
Statesman, and Diplomat
(1706 – 1790)

Ben Franklin said it well, “Drive thy business, let not that drive thee.” Leadership sets the tone and begins the conversation. If you’d like some brainshare and assistance shoring up your strategy and designing deliverables to accompany that strategy, then please contact me.

about the author

Gregory Olson authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true. Exercises and mental models in the book will build your confidence and competence in envisioning better possibilities and then making them come true, whether you are working alone or alongside a team. Chapters in the book that especially pertain to this article include:

  • Chapter 2: Make the Customer Come Alive
  • Chapter 3: Who is in the Sandbox?
  • Chapter 8: The Promise Delivery System
  • Chapter 9: The Neighborhood
  • Chapter 11: Barriers to Innovation and Overcoming the Wall
  • Chapter 13: Taking Flight
  • Chapter 14: The World of Work has Changed (see Glimpse)
  • Chapter 15: From Argh to Aha!

Read The Experience Design Blueprint on Kindle or any device using the free Kindle Reader application or read the full color print edition.

Gregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans.

thumbnail image of author Gregory OlsonGregory Olson founded strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and communities, but sometimes we need a little help.  Gregory also serves as a volunteer board member for Oikocredit Northwest, a support association for social and impact investor, Oikocredit International.