Everything Critical About Business I Learned From My Dog

biscotti_ben_spaghettiThis month’s newsletter is dedicated to my recently departed dog Biscotti (pictured above with my son Ben about 10 years earlier showing their beautiful trusting relationship). Biscotti reinforced in me (and my children) the values that we hold true in business and life. After 15 years of loyal companionship and love, Biscotti is no longer with us, except in spirit.
The story I share this month is about a disastrous lobster bake I hosted for Ben’s high school graduation (he’s grown up since the picture was taken) and exemplifies the best and worst of people in business. I’m confident Biscotti is looking down upon us grimacing at the horrible traits that not even a bad dog would exemplify and secretly wishing he had been there – simply to have feasted on the lobster that splattered to the floor after 3 hours of cooking.Beth

Lessons From Our Canine Friends

Beth GoldsteinWhat are the most important traits that define a business and exemplify its brand? They include: establishing relationships built on trust, being loyal, making good connections, following through and showing unconditional compassion. Those characteristics are ones exemplified by our canine companions and the reason we call dogs ‘man’s/woman’s best friend.’ Biscotti held these traits, and as a member of our family, he was loved and respected by all. In the best business relationships, these same characteristics are self-evident. In the worst, they are completely mutilated, and my Lobster Bake story unfortunately shows the complete obliteration demonstrated by the owner while his young crew showed the best of these qualities.

It all began when I saw a Groupon for a Lobster Bake and thought – wow, what a great idea for my son’s graduation. I looked up the company, Saldoni’s in North Chelmsford, MA, (yes, in this rare instance, I am sharing the company’s name) and didn’t find anything negative about them. Since the Groupon was a bit vague, I called the owner directly to make sure I understood what was included, and he pitched me an offer to go directly through him. Knowing that Groupon would have provided him just 25% of what I paid, it sounded acceptable, and I hired his team months in advance. He told me his crew would arrive at 5 p.m. on the day of the event to setup and we’d be eating around 6 p.m.

A few days prior to the event, he called me to confirm, and we reviewed times again. Things, however, went downhill from there. On the day of the party, no one showed up at 5 p.m. The owner didn’t answer or return my calls to him at 5:15 p.m., 5:45 p.m. or 6:15 p.m. My messages began in a gentle tone and then escalated as time passed. I grew annoyed as my guests grew hungrier. At 6:20 p.m., he finally called back. That’s when the ugliness began. He told me he was sorry, he was catering another affair, and didn’t know where his crew was but that he would solve the problem ASAP. They showed up a few minutes later looking innocent and honestly surprised when I asked them why they were so late. They told me they were instructed to arrive at 6:30. Nonetheless, they could not have been sweeter. It was obvious that they felt terrible and quickly pulled things out of their car to begin the lobster bake.

Immediately, I felt better seeing this as a communication gaffe that wasn’t their fault but clearly the owner’s responsibility. I was watching them work hard to set up the equipment in my back yard when the owner called back and told me, “My crew had a flat tire!” Really? I exclaimed because they told me they were instructed to arrive at 6:30 p.m. I asked, “Which lie is the correct one?” and he got mad at me and said, “This is my business, and they had a flat tire.” I knew he wasn’t telling me the truth but checked with them any way. They were as surprised by the lie as I was and they were looking me in the eye telling me there had been no car problems.

The situation then went from bad to ugly. After learning that the owner had thrown his team ‘under the bus to protect himself,’ I then discovered there was a problem with the equipment. To make a long story short, they couldn’t get the water to boil because the equipment wasn’t working. Two hours later, we gave up with their efforts and attempted to cook the lobster on my stove (in my lobster pot) and finally got them semi-cooked by 9 p.m. The rest of the food couldn’t fit in my home-style pot so it had to be thrown away or frozen (anybody interested in frozen corn? I have a lot).

Talk about a WOW (NOT) experience! This was beyond disappointing. To top it off, the owner told me his policy was to never provide refunds (even when he’s at fault?) and kept insisting that I accept another meal on ‘the house’… personally cooked by him. Seriously, the last thing I wanted was this dishonest business owner, who treated his staff with disrespect, to cook a meal for me and my friends. It took me two days and one nasty YELP review (social media can be quite powerful) to convince him to give me a refund. Let’s face it, people make mistakes and equipment fails. I am very much pro small business and would have forgiven him (and not gone to the web to voice my disgust) if he had been honest.  But when he tried to place the blame on his honest employees… that was the last intolerable straw for me.

What does this tell us about his business and his brand? Nothing positive, for sure. He’s not trustworthy, doesn’t deliver on promises made to customers, is unfaithful to his employees and doesn’t follow up. If only he had taken a lesson from my dog BIscotti or perhaps yours, and shown loyalty and compassion… he wouldn’t have a really awful review on the world of social media (feel free to check it out).

In closing, as you manage your business, always keep in mind the important lessons of honestly, trust and loyalty that our four-legged friends teach us every day.

Now, please excuse me as I go give our other dog, Twizzler, a belly rub! Next month I will share stories of my adventure in Nigeria as I head out next week to speak at conference on innovation and entrepreneurship in that fascinating country.

When Did Hiring a Lawyer Become the Easy Way of Handling Conflict?

 

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Ever have one of those days (or weeks) when you just felt like  sticking your head in the sand? I love a good challenge and embrace the opportunity to learn from every scenario presented to me. But I have no patience for people who don’t practice a high standard of business ethics and morals. 

In this month’s blog, let’s talk about why shared business values are so critical in selecting your partners, clients, customers and anybody with whom your business interacts.

Beth

I admit it, I’m a bit of a domain hoarder. In fact, I own over three dozen domains. I’m a marketer still plagued by the fact that I didn’t buy marketingedge.com in time. So now whenever an idea for a product or service pops in my head, I check to see if the domain is available…and buy it. They automatically renew, so oftentimes I forget I own them – which can create issues….

Recently, an organization that I did business with a few years ago decided that they should be the legal owners of a domain that I bought in 2008. This is a group to whom I had donated hours and hours of my time to help them create their product.

Instead of picking up the phone to call and ask me to transfer the domain to them, the head of this non-profit organization hired a lawyer (who I presume works pro bono) and sent me a certified letter DEMANDING that I turn over the domain to them.

As a small business owner getting a letter from a law firm via certified mail does not constitute ‘a great day.’  I turned to two different legal experts for advice and spent hours piling through contracts since I needed to know my rights. Frankly, I was shocked. If you’ve done any work with me, you know that I am a huge supporter of small businesses (for profit and non-profit). It’s simply not part of the ethical business standard that I follow to try to cause harm or disrupt the operation of any other organization. I won’t get into the legal issues here, but both lawyers assured me that I had not done anything wrong and could not be held liable. Nonetheless, I spent days dealing with this before I spoke to the organization’s president.
 
What was most surprising and what  I wanted to know was why she decided to hire a lawyer rather than simply calling me. Her response? It was easier to hire the lawyer. REALLY? When did hiding behind lawyers become the easiest way to handle conflict... especially when one party doesn’t even know that conflict exists.

A simple call would have been more than sufficient to resolve the issue. I would have given her the domain had she just asked.  Instead, this non-profit organization forced me to hire my own legal experts to confirm my rights.

In the end, I have agreed to give them the domain because I still believe in the stated mission of the organization and it is the right thing to do. But I’m disappointed (no, horrified) by this organization’s actions against me and by the fact that their stated mission to support small business owners somehow did not extend to me.

Contrast this recent domain-name trouble with an earlier one. About a year ago, I received a call from an organization that was running a national event called The Small Business Tour. They were using the domain name: thesmallbusinesstour.com and contacted me because I owned SmallBusinessTour.com (which, at the time, automatically directed to my website m-edge.com). It was causing confusion amongst individuals who wanted to register for their tour. They were interested in purchasing the domain from me.

The woman who called me was terrific and we had a great exchange about our business models and goals and quickly recognized that our missions intertwined. She asked me if I would be interested in being a speaker and sponsor for the “Tour.” To make a long story short, I pointed my site to their site (it’s still pointed there) and also got involved with the event. It was a win-win and they are great people whom I totally respect.

Both of these incidents raise the question: Should goodwill be a core value of a business or organization? 

Where do YOU draw the line for what constitutes right and wrong in terms of ethical and honorable business practices?

Please email me your thoughts on this compelling issue and, as always, I look forward to being inspired by what you have done to propel your business forward