What it means to be a Leader

What does it mean to you to be a good leader? Everyone has a different leadership style, usually ones that we have learned or the ones we respond best to. What is the right style for you? What style do you respond to the best? In my opinion, being a leader is not a title, and trust me there have been many managers that I have had that were not leaders. They were more of a driver, cracking a whip and telling others what to do without showing how or leading the way. They would often sit in their offices checking the numbers and would come out when you did something they deemed good and give you praise, only to remind you in the next sentence that you are only as good as your last deal. Does that sound familiar?

I learned a long time ago that I respond better to someone who will go out, roll up their sleeves, and do the dirty work with me. Someone that finds the way to motivate his or her team and is always is there to keep that motivation going. I remember my first “boss” who did this. Howard Toole, CEO of Rome Radio Partners in Rome, GA, is a mentor of mine that I was happy to call my boss then and who to this day is someone I still consider a friend. I worked with him (notice I said with him and not for him) from 2011 to 2014. There are many things that made Howard a great leader, but what stood out the most is that he celebrated each win and took each loss with us. When we did lose, it wasn’t a harsh lecture, but rather a discussion on how the outcome might have been different. Howard would go to war with us and lead the charge. He was open to going to any meetings, discussing strategy, and helping with creative solutions to help us win the account. To me, that is what makes a true leader, not directing people, but doing it with them.

In November of 2018, when I was asked to take the position as Eastern Regional Manager for the Vernon Company, I wasn’t a leader from the start. That was a title I had to earn from my peers and the individuals I work alongside at Vernon. What was most important for me was to lead by example, not by being a “boss”. 

There are many qualities that make a good leader. The qualities that stand out the most, to me, are communication, understanding, patience, and the ability and willingness to work with the team. Those qualities have allowed me to build a solid rapport and trust with all 500 Vernon family members. The great thing about Vernon is anyone has the capacity to be a leader; and I’m grateful that we have plenty of them in our Vernon family. That’s the best thing about Vernon – we want everyone shine in their own way.

Do you agree? Take a moment and think about what you want and need in a leader and leave your thoughts and comments below.

A new way to meet.

The idea of a video conference call used to make me cringe. There are many things about it that are hard to get used to. Maybe you don’t feel like you look your best, your shirt isn’t the look you wanted to portray to your clients or your team. Maybe you are mildly interested in the meeting and would prefer to be able to tune out (you would never do that-I know) but, it could happen.

I am here to tell you, if you aren’t meeting face to face by video conference call- you are missing out!

I am part of a work group where we are constantly told, show up with video, no matter how you feel you look. Hair not washed, no makeup on- it really doesn’t matter.  Even though we say it, people are hesitant. You sit there on a call and while you get to see everyone else, you are also seeing yourself! Let’s be clear, we are our biggest critics and you are the only person that will notice.

Here is what you gain personally when you do a call by video:

  1. Face to face meetings
  2. The capturing of expression and body language
  3. The ability to smile at one another, or show you are really concerned without words
  4. Better flow of when to answer and less overtalking by the visual experience
  5. Be more engaged in the meeting

Efficiencies of the video call:

  1. The ability to quickly and easily share what you are talking about on the screen
  2. The ability to look things up while on the meeting and share them
  3. There are apps where can connect your software to your outlook calendar for easy scheduling

The bottom line, I don’t care what you look like today- the meeting isn’t shaped by weather or not you put makeup on, shaved, didn’t shave, or you put a hat on your head. What does make a difference is the deeper human connection and efficiency of the video call. Once you get used to doing them, you will feel cheated if you only get a phone call.

Here are some tips I use for a last-minute video call:

  1. Have a standard spot that you use. Jump on a video meeting by yourself and look for a nice background. Anything that looks cluttered-remove it. Is the lighting decent? Are you showing something that you don’t mind the world seeing? I like to look out the window when I work but the video view was of my door. I have a cart that I roll over to create the space I want so I am not compromising my workspace as I want it.
  2. Give yourself a quick refresher. I know I am going to see myself for the duration of the meeting and I feel better with a bit of lip gloss on. If I wore a sweatshirt, I throw a scarf on. If you work from home, change to a shirt that’s a better color for you. If you don’t, again, no one will notice but you.
  3. Don’t apologize for the way you look. You look great- think of the alternative and know the meeting will be better because you showed up and that’s what I really want.

Happy meeting!

Here are some links to free video conference calling apps that I have used and enjoyed:

https://www.freeconferencecall.com/

https://zoom.us/meetings

Don’t have a camera? No worries, you can do this from your cell phone. Or you can pick up an inexpensive camera at any major retailer starting at about $20:

https://www.target.com/p/logitech-c270-3-0mp-webcam—black–960-000694-/-/A-13252212

https://www.amazon.com/Hrayzan-Streaming-Microphone-110-Degree-Conferencing/dp/B07T3S1TCG/ref=sr_1_6?crid=2ILOK9WJACSEV&keywords=computer+video+camera&qid=1574434960&sprefix=computer+video%2Caps%2C210&sr=8-6

Chris Vernon Named Among Industry’s 50 Most Powerful People

Chris Vernon, MAS, CEO and President of The Vernon Company, has been recognized among the Counselor’s Power 50, the annual ranking of the most powerful executives in the $25 billion promotional products industry. This is the 14th consecutive year he has made this prestigious list. Mr. Vernon is the only Iowan represented on the Power 50 ranking.

The ranking is determined by a panel of editorial experts at ASI’s Counselor magazine, “the voice of the industry,” and is based on factors such as nominees’ achievements, industry influence, corporate revenue and the overall health of their respective companies.

“It is truly an honor to be recognized among so many of my industry peers,” said Vernon.  “I consider myself lucky to work alongside a highly engaged and customer-centric team here at Vernon. We constantly strive to bring our clients great brand-building ideas, value, and service.  I really feel like this recognition is more of a reflection of the way we work together as a team. I couldn’t be more proud.”

Time is a DIRTY four-letter word

I reached into my archives for today’s topic. Why is it that with all the improved technology and organizing tools at our fingertips that most everyone that I speak to says that there just isn’t enough time in the day. It should be just the opposite. Right?

We should be golfing or going to the spa three afternoons a week, because we have accomplished so much!

Now I don’t know about you, but I would have a hard time finding the golf course or the spa, because it has been so long since I have been to either. Shame on me.

I am beginning to come around to the concept of making sure that I set aside some “me time” in order to avoid burn-out. If you are anything like me, this is a really tough thing.

As I sit here on a Friday morning, I am thinking about the vacation that I have coming in less than two weeks. This is my first real vacation in quite a while. Whew, vacations take a lot of planning! To be honest, I am not really spending any time planning the vacation however I am planning my work schedule leading up to the vacation and then also planning the time when I return from the vacation. Seems kind of funny, but this is what I am doing today!

The bottom line is that I hate the feeling that I do not have enough time to do what I need to get done. Why is that? Some recent analysis (it isn’t that hard to figure out) has proven to me that this feeling comes from spending inordinate amounts of time on things that are not your top priorities. I start every day with my list of things to do. I am very disciplined about this. I hope that you are as well because this is very important in business today. So far, so good…right?

This is where my strategy starts to go awry. At the end of every day (not until the end of the day) I realize that I was busy as can be, but I did not accomplish any of the things on my list. How can this be? I just told you that I am very disciplined. Well, it appears that I am disciplined until I walk into my office at work, until that first email that I was not expecting arrives, until the phone rings, until someone brings a problem to my desk, until…you get the point!

My disciplined approach was not disciplined enough. I have come to the realization that I need to set aside pre-defined time blocks. Small time blocks should be set for the less important things. The larger time blocks taking up most of the time, MUST be set aside for the things that will really make a difference! Seems simple, doesn’t it?

If anything on your list needs to get bumped from Tuesday to Wednesday to Thursd (does anyone ever do this?)…we must make sure that they only include the less important function or tasks.

Experience should be a great teacher for all of us! Common sense must prevail if we are to succeed. It is ironic, but sometimes we must all slow down to figure out how we can be more effective with our time.

My final thoughts for the day reveal some quick easy tips (for anyone) to follow to be more productive. Here is the scenario: I have one hour to kill, perhaps late on a Friday afternoon, and I am not sure how to make the best use of my time. What can I do?

Here are some things that will make a difference.

  • Order FREE Spec Samples for your customers. Many suppliers will produce these at NO COST.
  • Create a selection of flyers to send out weekly…use such headings as Exciting Trade Show Ideas, Hit ‘em straight with these Golf Promotions, Top Gifts for your SPECIAL customers, etc.
  • Make up some virtual spec samples for some of your key customers. Many suppliers offer these for FREE!
  • Order and Create embroidery tapes for your key customers so that you can produce some apparel samples as gifts.
  • Send out Thank You cards.

These are five simple things that can help you to increase your business today. Of course, you hold the key because you need to act.

Good luck!

It’s Not Just Business, It’s Personal

Where have all the gestures of gratitude gone? The small things. The personal touches. Random acts of kindness? They say it’s just a sign of the times, but is that really true? We can’t blame everything on technology. Just because we use the internet to communicate, doesn’t mean we aren’t capable of making phone calls or sending snail mail. We choose not to. We’ve stopped making an effort- stopped taking the time. If we want to keep our business relationships personal by offering more than a website can offer, then we need to make them personal. Whether we’re the ones selling or being sold to, it’s NOT just business, it IS personal.

Notes & Messages

It takes little time at all to write (with an actual pen or pencil) a little note and drop it in the mail. Aren’t our best customers and business acquaintances worth 3 minutes and 55 cents? Most of us spend far more time and money than that standing in line for coffee every day. A handwritten note is one of the oldest and most sincere gestures of kindness and it’s such a lost art that people are extra tickled to find an actual note in the mailbox these days. And have we become so busy (or lazy) as a society that we cannot be bothered to spell words? Must we speak in acronyms? If you must text your sincerity, you must also spell it. Would you rather receive a “TY” text message or a very sincere; “Thank you for your business.”?

Whether you’re thanking a customer for their business or thanking a salesperson for going the extra mile, make it personal.

Dates

While some of us have an old school planner and some of us prefer to “sync” our life schedules, most of us keep a calendar. Making a note to remember important client birthdays and anniversaries is just a pencil mark or click away and it means a lot to be remembered on a special day. Birthdays, anniversaries, and grand openings all deserve some attention. Try sending a message the night before so they know you were thinking of them after work hours. “I hope your promotional products make a lasting impression at your Grand Opening tomorrow!”  And don’t fret if you’re a day late, your greeting will stand out from the multiple timely messages your client received.  “I’m so sorry I missed your birthday yesterday! I hope you had a wonderful day!” This sort of message makes you seem human, yet sincere. Definitely not an automated message.

Allow your calendar to be your personal assistant by sending you reminders while you add the personal touch.

Follow-up

Whether it’s a survey or a personal phone call, courtesy goes a long way. It means you care about the service you’re providing beyond the monetary transaction. This is beneficial to both parties. The client feels cared for and the business or salesperson receives valuable feedback and one more opportunity to connect. This is a two-way street. If you loved a product or service, follow up with your salesperson. Let them know that the product they recommended was a huge hit and you look forward to working with them again in the future. If you truly care about your client, ask them if they received their product on time and if they were satisfied with the quality. Even if the product was just mediocre, your service will still get a gold star.

If you think to follow up, then take the time to actually do it. Good customer service never goes out of style.

Connect

Be sure to like and follow both your clients and the companies you do business with. Not only is social media an excellent way to connect, but it’s also a way to keep up to date on promotions and important dates. Although not as personal as a phone call, a social media message is the next best thing. A moment out of your regular day to just check-in or send well-wishes. If you see an event coming up, recommend products. On the flip side, you might see special offers or discount codes that are only available on social media.

Don’t be afraid to use social media as a marketing tool. Just keep your personal life and your professional profile separate.

Gifts

There is no better way to show appreciation than a gift. And there are no better gifts to give clients than promotional items. The tricky part is giving your clients a gift they will use and appreciate while it represents your business. Lucky for you, all you need to focus on is the client because once it has your logo on it, it represents your business! Regardless of your budget, there is a promotional product for you. From the small gesture of a pen to the large gesture of a barbeque grill, all gifts are appreciated. After all, it’s the thought that counts. Right? Just be mindful of your clientele. Just because you like it, doesn’t mean they’ll use it so spend your money wisely. Don’t assume everyone would like a cat magnet just because they frequent your veterinary clinic. It’s very possible that they’re “dog people”.

Keep it less personal to you, and more personal to them. Get your brand on the right product, and your token of appreciation will be appreciated!

If you want to keep a business relationship personal, you need to make it personal in a way that the internet can’t compete with. So it might be just business, but it’s still personal to someone.

How to Make the Most of the Business Roller Coaster

Business is a roller coaster.  It will be up and down with twists and turns all along the way. But it’s your choice to close your eyes and scream or jump in the front seat and enjoy the ride. The ticket’s been punched, you’ve waited in line, now it’s time to make the most of the business roller coaster!

Climb & Ascend

Just as the roller coaster needs to climb that first hill to convert potential energy into kinetic energy, we need to ascend our way to the top of our business. No business was ever created by snapping one’s fingers. Every business started with an idea or concept that escalated into something bigger. We need the steady scaling of determination in order to appreciate the view from the top. The reward will be so much sweeter if you actually earned it.

The climb is where we’re building our strategies, ordering products, making business plans, hiring employees, and anticipating it all coming together.

Highs

The high points of business are fun while they last but it’s up to us to conserve some of that exuberance for the next hill. It’s easy to get consumed with the high points, which is oftentimes what leads to the low points. When business is booming,  we tend to be less vigilant and stop marketing as much, minimize our research efforts, and assume that customers don’t need to hear from us as often. But this is actually the time that we need to assess what got us to this high point so we can stay there.

The high is when we reflect on what got us to the top. Time for some analytics and assessments. What’s been working and why?

Twists and Turns

Just as roller coasters wouldn’t be thrilling without twists, a business wouldn’t continue to thrive without turns. Nothing ever stays the same. Ever. The world is full of overachievers and developers who are constantly forcing us to take those turns.  It’s time to be susceptible to the changes that lie ahead because they’re coming whether we like it or not.  Remember that day you realized that your phone replaced your laptop, which replaced your desktop, which replaced your filing cabinet?

Twists and turns are when we offer some new products or services and switch up our marketing strategies. We must stay relevant to be successful. Ride the trendy train.

Stagnant

There will always be stagnant times in your business; where it’s not growing, but it’s not declining either.  Have you ever been on a roller coaster that has so many twists and turns that you can’t tell when you’re upside down or right-side up anymore? Eventually, you can’t even feel the anticipation of the next hill. We need that horizontal stretch to catch our breath.

The stagnant section is where we catch up on all the small things. Update your contact list, mail the invoices, stock up on supplies, and take a nap, but just a short one!

Downs and Lows

Nothing teaches us more than the low points. When we feel our business slowing down or reaching an all-time low, we know it’s time to grow. The ride down can be fast and scary. It sometimes feels like we might just crash, but we don’t. Eventually, we level off and hang out at the bottom for a while, or immediately start to ascend. You can choose to close your eyes and scream; throw your hands in the air and let whatever happens, happen; or jump in the front seat of that train and be the first to head back up!

Being all the way down teaches us to do better. Perhaps we let our guard down. Maybe we weren’t trendy enough. This is where we learn. This is where we grow. There’s nowhere to go but up!

Whether you choose to board the slightly bumpy or the fully twisted and upside down business roller coaster, you can’t get off in the middle. You must stay seated (and level-headed) for the entire ride.

The Vernon Company is recognized as one of the largest and most successful promotional product firms in North America. Founded in 1902 by F.L. Vernon, we serve more than 40,000 customers from our Newton, Iowa corporate headquarters.

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