Vernon Cares

During Covid-19 I’ve read more…lots of different genres (some business guides, a little detective fiction, and finally my favorite book, The Upside of Being Down, by Jen Gotch).  This book discusses the struggles and challenges of launching a business, creating a brand, selling the business, marriage & divorce, mental illness, empowering young women (I have two daughters), and learning how to really love yourself and find beauty around you. 

Normally I wouldn’t mention a book like this because it encompasses so much more than business acumen, but I found it very moving.  It’s all about life’s’ struggle and I know most of us are encountering that issue in some way or another right now.  The author discusses her ability to find beauty in even the most negative situations.  I’ve found that while Covid has been catastrophic on many levels, I have also received gifts that I never intended.  Watching our account executives come up with creative new communication methods to keep their customers engaged and informed, selling products (PPE) in the droves when even 60 days ago no one knew the difference between N95 or KN95, suppliers going above and beyond so that we can continue to bring in sales and prepare for the coming months as our customers open back up.  Not to mention our home office staff…they have been nimble and continue to foster a team spirit seamlessly continuing their work from home which is a new experience for most of them. 

I’m proud of The Vernon Company and I’m proud to work with my family.  My brothers, Cameron and Rick, are on the front lines working with customers, and Chris continues to shepherd us all.  We will see smoother waters, but if I have to be on rough seas I wouldn’t want to be with any other crew.

Virtual Office: Tips 1-5

If you’ve ever thought working from home with small children beats driving to the office each day, you may be sadly mistaken. My children are definitely the apple of my eye, but they can be a handful anytime I sit down to complete an important task. It’s almost as if they have an internal switch that flips on any time the cover of my laptop opens!

It was quite a struggle to balance running a business with an infant in tow. After years of following all sorts of tips to minimize distractions, I finally figured out how to successfully accomplish tasks without pulling all my hair out.

Here’s a comprehensive list of tactics I’d suggest if you’re having a difficult time working from home with children:

1. Be realistic
If your children constantly demand attention during non-business hours, do you really expect them to sit in a corner with a pile of crayons, coloring books, or an iPad for hours at a time while you work?

Even as an adult, I am sometimes easily sidetracked during work hours by phone calls, text messages, email alerts, social media (the ultimate time-suck), or a light bulb that suddenly goes off in my head — just to name a few distractions.

And remember, you are the main attraction for your little ones.

2. Have the talk
Assuming they’re old enough to keep themselves occupied, explain the situation and that you’ll need to remain focused throughout the day with minimal interruptions. Communicate to them that they are a part of the team and their role is to help mommy or daddy remain productive.

3. ‘Emergency’ drills
There’s nothing more embarrassing to a work-at-home mom, dad, or entrepreneur than a sudden outburst from their children during a conference call. (It happened to me this morning). Luckily, the client was understanding.

To minimize this risk, run through a series of simulations to prepare your troops. Nothing is guaranteed, but it’s worth a shot.

Since my children tend to be experts at interrupting me at the most inopportune times, we frequently practice the most common scenarios. A few examples:

  • If the phone rings and mommy quietly steps into the office, do you run after her screaming or quietly have a seat and wait for her to finish the call?
    If (for some strange reason) I leave the door unlocked and you decide to enter and notice mommy on the phone, how do you react?
  • If mommy is staring at the computer screen with “that look on her face” when you enter, do you scream your demands or politely request mommy’s attention?

Over time, I’m confident the children will get the hang of things and give me quiet time when I desperately need it. But until then, we’ll keep practicing.

4. Offer incentives
Set goals for your children to keep them occupied. If they successfully meet the target, offer them a reward. I began using this strategy with my boys about two years ago, and we’ve been going strong ever since. Whether it’s 30 minutes at the park, popcorn, and a movie, or pizza night at the local parlor we absolutely adore, they hold me to it. Plus I get to spend quality time with them during the workday.

5. Designate an area for your “home office”
You definitely don’t want to completely isolate yourself from the children if no one else is around to tend to them, but the kitchen table won’t serve as the optimal workspace, either. Search for a well-lit area in your home, preferably a spare room with a door, that will enable you to organize your files, stay on task, and minimize interruptions.

Pat yourself on the back
Balancing children and a full-fledged workload is beyond difficult, but it can be done. It’s OK to occasionally treat yourself to your favorite meal or a night out on the town for your efforts — within reason. When my husband is able to rip me away from the computer, I enjoy spa sessions or a mini-vacation with friends.

Regardless of how you wind down, make time to pamper yourself on occasion to avoid burning out and crashing into a mental brick wall from work overload.

Most importantly, hang in there. As your children age, it will get easier.

Virtual job search. Step one: Wear pants

How to successfully navigate a virtual job search. Step one: Wear pants.

With hiring freezes, furloughs, stay-at-home orders and more than 26 million Americans filing for unemployment benefits over the last five weeks, the coronavirus pandemic may not be the best time to find a new job.

But career experts say you can get hired now, and despite enhanced unemployment benefits, those who have been laid off might not want to spend their time watching Netflix until the stay-at-home order is lifted.

There may be opportunities for remote work in distant markets that wouldn’t have been possible before COVID-19. So update your resume, arrange your home office for a good video interview and, experts advise, don’t forget to wear pants.

Lean on Supplier Partners

In an industry that relies on someone else doing the selling of products, promotional products industry suppliers are a wealth of knowledge and expertise. If you haven’t been leaning on your supplier’s bank of ideas for your customers, you are missing out. Suppliers have the products, but without the buyers, the products mean nothing.

Here is why they are invested in you:

  1. Good suppliers think through all of the uses of their products for end-users and industries before they bring them to market.
  2. Suppliers have little influence over the sales process through distributors but the more they can affect change, the better they can control their sales cycle.
  3. This is one small way the supplier can influence the selling process when it is seemingly out of their hands.

“As a business philosophy, we are invested in the long-term success of the distributors we serve, rather than just valuing the transaction. As a result, one of the areas we can add tremendous value is by providing sales resources and ideas. Promotional products aren’t anything special just on their own. What makes them magical is when they are used in a way to effectively drive a call to action, invoke emotions, or shape attitudes. To accomplish this at the highest level, it requires experience, expertise, and creativity. The most successful suppliers and distributors going forward are those who embrace this. By working together, there is the potential to provide end-users with returns and outcomes that surpass any other advertising medium available,” explained Nate Robson of industry supplier, Raining Rose.

Why suppliers are better at bringing ideas to the table:

  1. As distributors, we have thousands of products we represent. With so many products to choose from, how could you possibly be the expert for all of them?
  2. Suppliers know why each product was introduced and what market it is targeted for. They know how it’s unique features can solve your customer’s business problems.
  3. Suppliers help a diverse group of distributors all day with those specific products and know how they are working best for individualized markets. Why reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to?

Here is a simple way you can get started:

Be proactive. Take the industry you sell to the most and schedule an appointment with yourself for 15 minutes each week. In those 15 minutes, make a folder with that market, compose a personal email asking a supplier to help you generate ideas for this specific market or industry. Send the email to your favorite suppliers until your time is up. That’s it for now unless you can find more time. As you get responses, throw the ideas in the folder you created. Next week, you will go to the folder and find your favorite ideas, start sending them to clients and potential clients with a nice personal email.

Sometimes, nothing will happen. Sometimes, you may prompt an order or another opportunity with that client. You never know, but really, you are only out 15 minutes which you might have easily wasted away… binging potato chips or browsing through your favorite shopping site? From the supplier side, they know the value of bringing you ideas with their products, if they do a good job of telling the story, you will get an order and that means…they will get the order. Win. Win.

“I like to use the phrase ‘one-stop-shop’ when it comes to acting as a liaison for project requests.  I personally enjoy working on projects from the ground up by suggesting products that fit provided guidelines and then seeing the project all the way through. That includes the initial product recommendations, creating and providing mockups, providing price quotes, processing the order, and providing tracking once completed. This is especially helpful for distributors who are unfamiliar with our products; seeing a website with loads of products may be overwhelming to start but we are able to easily eliminate products that are not a good fit for a given project. Additionally, since Origaudio is now part of Hub Promotional Group (HPG), we are able to combine our product offerings with other companies within our group. For example, a client needs a speaker and a water bottle: Origaudio may be a good fit for the speaker but we only carry one water bottle; we can loop in our sister company. It’s best to provide the water bottle and have everything fulfilled at one facility on the back end to take the burden off of the distributor,” shared Bryan Woods with Origaudio.

What are you waiting for? You can see suppliers are anxious to help you and do what they do best! Let these partnerships take you to the next level.

Yes, There Is Video Chat Etiquette. Here Are 10 Rules.

Office? What’s an office? Nowadays we work on our home sofas. We check in with the office — or with the co-workers who would inhabit such an office, if it existed — from remote locations. And sure, email’s great, but sometimes you just need to speak face to face, and that’s why we have video calls.

Whether you use Skype or Google Hangout or some other program, there are some general guidelines you ought to follow. The word “etiquette” may summon images of tea sets and green lampshades and haughty Victorians with their curling mustaches — but you wouldn’t show up to a live business meeting without giving some thought to how you appear and behave, so don’t do that for an online one, either. Here are ten key rules of etiquette for doing business over video in our often-remote, always-connected age.

1. Test your technology.
Open your app ahead of time to check for any software updates, and try a test call or two to make sure everything’s kosher with both your camera and your microphone. Nothing looks more amateur than running late while your 2009 MacBook reboots with a new Skype update, or logging in to a video conference and yelling “Can you hear me now?” like the 2011 Verizon spokesman we all inevitably think of.

2. Look nice.
Yes, you do need to look … nice. That doesn’t necessarily mean a suit, but it absolutely means no bathrobe. Most people look worse in low-res video than in real life, so this might be a good time to find a clean shirt and maybe comb your hair. “Whatever fashion choice you’re making, keep it neat, keep it clean, take some pride in your appearance,” says Daniel Senning, an etiquette consultant at the Emily Post Institute. “That is part of your reputation, that’s part of how you present professionally.”

A tip: Small, fussy patterns and extreme colors (red, white, black) fare poorly on camera. Pastels, on the other hand, do well. So in video, as in life, be like Don Johnson.

3. Make your background look nice. A bare hotel room wall will do fine if that’s what you’ve got, and a crowded bookshelf with a few personal tchotchkes may help others get to know you. But before you join the call, look behind you. Please keep pin-up girls, 1990s magic eye posters, and ransom notes written in blood out of the picture. A key thing to think about is lighting: People would prefer not to speak to a cave-dwelling troll, but if overhead light is too bright, you’ll look like a zombie. Ideally, you want even, plentiful light coming from the side, not blasting into the camera. You may need to draw the window shades (or open them) to get it.

4. Don’t go straight to video.
Are you a bad movie? Most likely not. So don’t go straight to video — reach out to the person you want to video chat with beforehand in a less intrusive medium like text or telephone, to make sure they’re available. Only once you have their permission should you initiate a video call. And if they decline, do not under any circumstances keep bugging them.

5. If their camera is on, yours should be, too.
This is a judgment call, but generally, if you’re on a video call with several colleagues, and their cameras are all on, it looks bad for you to leave yours off. Any choice you make about the camera reflects on your professional image, Senning says. If he’s on a video call with someone who’s “working from home” that day, and they don’t turn their camera on, “I say to myself, ‘They probably didn’t even get dressed this morning.’” The slackers.

6. Look ‘em in the lens.
A secret to video calls is that looking into the camera is the equivalent of looking others in the eye — that’s how you appear attentive on the other end. For that reason, Senning advises positioning your camera close to where you’d naturally be looking on your screen. You don’t have to be looking into it at all times, but if you’re presenting in the meeting, it’s good to give that li’l lens some love.

7. Do not submit to distractions.
On an audio-only conference call, it can be okay to stand up, move around the room, fidget, even play with your phone — because no one will know. On a video call, everyone will notice the second you become distracted. On camera, you need to adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward sending email, texting, eating (duh!), and doing anything else that might betray your wandering mind. Typing on your laptop while using it for the video call is a particular sin, since the microphone is likely right next to the keyboard, which means you’re pounding that Facebook status straight into everyone else’s ears.

8. Control your environment
In a perfect world, you’d take video calls in a quiet room with a door that locks. But unless you live in a very different place than what we know, you’ll need to optimize the environment you got. The worst environment for video calls is a crowded coffee shop, with slow wi-fi, lots of background noise, and frazzled, overcaffeinated techies scampering in the background. Hey, did we just describe your open-plan office? Pro video callers often make a sign to either hang on the door or hold up to others that says, “I’m on a video call because I rule at business, leave me alone.” Or something. And if your naked four-year-old does wander into the frame with a paintball gun, be cool while dealing with it: Anything you do with co-workers watching will influence your professional reputation, Senning says.

9. Know what’s supposed to happen.
A video call can do almost everything an IRL meeting can do, but maintaining order with a large group of people is much harder through a screen than in person. For that reason, Senning suggests that any video call with more than three or four people should have a clear structure: a designated host, an agenda, time set aside for questions and comments, and maybe even a hand-raising policy. It’s better to go back to third grade than to be constantly and accidentally interrupting one another.

10. Don’t forget that the mic and the camera are on, especially when it’s over.
Nothing is more embarrassing than thinking you’ve ended a video call, blurting out, “Well, we’ll never work with those bozos,” and then realizing the microphone is still on. Or throwing shade at a co-worker via video and then learning that they’re listening on the other side. These are easy things to do on video calls, where audio often runs through a separate channel (like the phone), you may not be able to see everyone on the other end, and the contents of your screen may be shared. So please, to save everyone a lethal amount of shame, warn others about live mics and cameras, tell people on the other side of calls who else is present, and use discretion about what’s on your screen. Real talk should commence only after you’ve triple-checked that everything is disconnected.

Be Prepared

Like anything in life, the better you prepare, the better the experience. We are working hard gearing up for our National Sales Meeting in April and like anything else, a successful show is closely related to the amount of thought put in on the front end. Our Account Executives give their energy during these few days with their friends and colleagues but without a plan its just time away and fun experiences. Our hope is that it’s both of those things and so much more.

It’s important for our people to know what they will need before the meeting and to come prepared with:

  1. Artwork from their top customers. That way, they can quickly share it with suppliers at any moment.
  2. A list of upcoming customer events and projects to make it easier to collaborate and brainstorm with suppliers on-site.
  3. Reach out to.

It’s also common for our account executives to reach out directly to top suppliers in advance to better prepare them for discussing specific clients and ideas during the meeting.

We also strongly encourage participants to approach the meeting with specific goals in mind, such as:

  1. Striving for conversations with five suppliers about proactive marketing campaigns.
  2. Sending customer art to three suppliers ask them to prepare storyboards and virtual samples that can be discussed in person at the meeting.
  3. Finding one or two favorite products and using those for a self-promo project after the meeting. This is a great way to showcase the product to clients while promoting themselves.

By having a plan and building intention into once-a-year opportunities like our annual sales meeting, our reps can have a great experience but come with a plan to maximize the event. If they can make everything happen by having art files already sent, there is no follow up, they can get back to work and the work from the show starts rolling in. Then, the chance to shine is with their customers by bringing the suppliers’ great ideas to life.

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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