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Opticians, eye docs and marketing experts’ 21 solutions for 17 marketing challenges faced by small town ECPs.

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The icon of small-town retail, the general store, may be a thing of the past, but one thing hasn’t changed. In a small market, word of mouth business building inspired by quality service remains paramount, and should still be the starting point for any marketing discussion. But that doesn’t mean innovations aren’t transforming smaller markets, just as they are in urban centers. Residents of small towns aren’t who they used to be, often commuting to larger cities to work, or working remotely. And for independent business owners, navigating social media and online marketing poses unique challenges in a small-town context. We quizzed opticians, eye doctors and marketing experts far and wide to come up with the following 21 solutions for 17 common marketing challenges faced by ECPs in small markets.

We’re a tight-knit town with a lot of young families. How do I make my optical a household name?

In Dansville, NY, little league teams are named for the organizations they’re sponsored by. Vying for the pennant with the Lions and Rotary Club squads is the Mill Creek Optical team. Owner Jennifer Leuzzi sponsors it for $250 a season. Families come to watch, or listen on the radio. “My business name is mentioned over and over. I also have a sign on the outfield fence advertising sports goggles and repairs! I feel good about supporting community sports to keep kids active,” she says.

Similarly, Brad Dobson, OD, owner of Bee Cave Vision Center in Bee Cave, TX (and a second location in nearby Dripping Springs) often turns up at school functions, talking about what his practice has to offer. “We support most school sports, clubs and fundraisers. Taking time to judge science fairs and discuss vision screening results with school nurses creates a rapport and shows you want to be involved with the kids and families.” He’s also had success going to seasonal festivals, where staff set up a booth and give away promotional sunglasses, koozies and T-shirts, which he says gets his name out.

Our small-town market is home to a lot of Medicare and Medicaid recipients. It wasn’t the demographic we envisioned when we set up shop here, but how do we reach these folks?

A few years ago, Pend Oreille Vision Care in Sandpoint, ID, launched a coupon in a “Local Deals” glossy that goes out monthly. The magazine runs discounts and coupons for hair salons, restaurants, contractors, etc. The coupon, for half off lens treatments, was supposed to advertise deluxe upgrades, but the response was poor. “We didn’t realize the choice of publication was everything.” By chance, the coupon featured a summary of the business’s services, including the phrase “We accept Medicare, Medicaid, and other major insurances.” So, while the upgrade outreach bombed, according to business manager Jan Heller, “During that same period, our Medicaid new patient exams increased by over 30 percent. Since Medicaid pays well in our state, we more than made our money back, albeit in a different area of our sales than we anticipated.”

 

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My desert town is wealthy with modern infrastructure, but it’s filled with retirees. Since the demographic doesn’t lend itself to social media, what aspects of my online presence should I be thinking about other than my website?

In less populated areas — and this goes for just about all small communities, not just the kind described above — it’s important to register your business with online directories like Google My Business, Bing Local, Yelp, Superpages, Yellow Pages, Whitepages, MerchantCircle, Yellowbot, CitySearch, Yahoo! Local, and the like. A Google listing gets you on Google Maps, for a start. This’ll bring in people who might otherwise just drive on by. Make sure you fill out all the fields a particular service asks you to, and keep the information consistent across all services.

We’ve got the opposite problem! Many of our rural clients still lack decent broadband and use mobile devices for just about everything. How do I make sure I’m reaching them?

According to Sharon Strover, director of the Telecommunications and Information Policy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, 39 percent of Americans living in rural areas lack residential Internet access that meets even the FCC’s minimum definition of “broadband” service. Believe it or not, high-speed Internet is still a prohibitively costly option for some rural residents. That means your business needs a mobile-responsive website. Remember, Google is getting tough on websites that are not optimized for mobile devices, ranking them lower in search engine results. To see if your website is mobile responsive, plug your URL in here: invmag.us/061802.

We envy the immediate feedback on product and service trends that big-city ECPs enjoy. Our small town has changed in recent years. How do we get a better sense of who our market is, exactly, and how they might respond to a new product or service?

Sometimes you’re better off letting the pros handle it. There are various sites online that allow you to ask marketing professionals for advice, and even offer you the use of their research tools. Some are free, others aren’t. Sites like Marketing Sherpa, ResearchInformation.info and MarketingProfs.com have a range of resources. Thrive Hive offers a free downloadable guide with six sample marketing plans for small businesses.

 

Folks around here tend to be set in their ways. I’m sure if I could get them to try these unique frames made from old vinyl records and lacquered bird feathers they’d love them. How do I get them to take the plunge?

 

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Dr. Scott Keating at Vision Trends in Dover, OH, has an idea. “I fit key people in key business locations with free unique eyewear. I fit some of the grocery store checkout ladies in fun frames. Think about all the people who go through their checkout lines.” To ensure it is cost effective, let your rep and lab know about the plan and ask for a discount on that frame, Keating advises. “The patient/customer becomes a walking model for several years. This is a great return on investment.”

What hours should an optical/optometric business be open in a small town?

The question of opening hours is a particularly tricky and important one in a small market. According to SmallBizSurvival.com’s 2017 Survey of Rural Challenges, small business owners said staying open later with no success was their number one challenge. U.K. marketing expert Dr. Scott Dacko coined the term Time-of-Day Marketing. His study, which relies on psychological, geographical and marketing data, shows that different types of people shop at different times. Elderly, “non-time pressured” and non-working people, as well as “variety-seekers” and families with small children are more likely to be morning and afternoon shoppers. (Women tend to do more morning shopping than men, while youth, people looking for a new experience, and those without kids tend to shop in the afternoon.) Busier people shop in the evening. “A retailer can adjust…strategy and tactics dynamically throughout the day to be in tune with potentially important…customer characteristics,” a summary of his findings reads. Retailers “can alter their environment, pricing, promotions and…staff for different shoppers that…frequent their stores at different times.”

Social media isn’t working for me in this rural bedroom community of professionals who work in a nearby coastal city but local residents are tech savvy and well heeled. I’ve studied optimization, I tend to my Instagram daily, we’ve even dabbled in Facebook Events. What am I doing wrong?

That may be what your customers are asking themselves when they finally make it into your store. The double-edged sword that is social media can be particularly sharp in a small market. “When you live in a smaller community,” says Dr. Zachary Dirks of St. Peter and Belle Plaine Eyecare Centers in Saint Peter, MN, “fewer people ‘find you’ on social media, big mailer campaigns or even radio ads. Most people know you are there.” If you want to retain those people and have new ones trust you, he says, they are going to need to hear it directly from someone. In other words, in a small town, word of mouth can make you or break you, and social media’s role in this is amplified. Back up the pretty pictures with excellent service, or it could backfire.

⇢ William Chancellor of Eye Can See Eyewear in McDonough, GA, says his use of Facebook and local county discussion pages really boosted Eye Can See’s two small practices. “It’s amazing how well the positive feedback from those who do post to Facebook discussion pages has increased our walk-in traffic,” he says. The practice’s online posts include everything from educational tidbits to promotions and recognition/appreciation for customers. “Our practices are situated in smaller towns so our word of mouth and social media referrals are very important.”

We’re located on Main Street, but most of our customers in this rural town drive in for 30 minutes or more to reach us. We’d like to attach our name to an event that brings people together. Any ideas?

No need to re-invent the wheel on this one. Many of the tried-and-true marketing techniques take on a special power in a smaller market. Take trunk shows, for example. “Chatter,” according to Leah Johnson, optical manager at Central Texas Eye Center in Kyle, TX, “is important in a small town. The more we can get people to talk about us the better.” CTEC hosts a trunk show for one day every other month, showcasing a different brand each time. Each party has a theme, and themed drinks and small bites are served. “We send email invitations and pay for Facebook advertising. Customers feel special because we ‘invited’ them to a party.”

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I spend a lot of time on Instagram. There are more interesting folks than I thought in this small town; and I thought I knew everyone. How can I use this to help my business?

Welcome to the world of micro-influencer marketing. According to smallbiztrends.com, the aim is to leverage the local clout of those people in your town who actually do know everyone. You’re not looking for just anyone; the mailman may be on a first-name basis with the whole town (and he may be a lovely guy) but you’re looking for people with shared values. Start paying attention to the folks in your town who follow or like your optical on social media. Look for those who have the biggest followings of their own and who seem to post things that gel with your tastes or target customers. It could be a hip record store owner or a rabbi with digital eye strain. By leveraging their local clout, you can increase awareness of your own brand and lend it a little authority. To make this work, think of a way to engage them; offer to fit them for free or discount some frames. In return, they post images of their experience at your business. This could work well for Facebook, too.

We’re a small town that gets tourist traffic due to some local sites of historic interest. We’ve advertised in guidebooks and pamphlets but it didn’t do much for us.

Remember that what tourists are after these days are “authentic” experiences. According to SmallBizTrends.com, “Instead of checking famous sights off a list in a guidebook, they’re seeking out the local artists, authentic foods and hidden gems recommended by friends and fellow travelers.” These are the people you want to be cross-marketing with. According to David Brown, president of the Edge Retail Academy, “Stores can really celebrate their localness, their quirkiness, what makes them different. Celebrate your localness and try to make the experience unique.”

We’re a new optical in a semi-rural area. What’s the best way to get our marketing off the ground in this small market?

Here’s an oldie but a goodie: mailers. Dr. Danielle Jackson at Jackson Eye in Fairburn, GA, sent out postcards to the surrounding neighborhoods and subdivisions when the business first opened. “That initial campaign has had the largest ROI so far,” she says.

We’d love to do something for the community but don’t know where to start. We’re looking to engage with people, not just stick a donation box in a corner of the optical.

Community relationships and charity involvement are a particular strong suit for Jocelyn Mylott, director of optical operations at D’Ambrosio Eye Care based in Lancaster, MA. They even have an internal committee that plans upcoming events and fundraisers. That’s an idea you might think about if, like D’Ambrosio Eye Care, you’re running more than one practice. When it comes to outreach ideas, take your pick: “We may do a staff and patient fundraiser and donate funds or supplies to local community outreach like homeless children birthday gifts,” says Mylott. “Just recently we fundraised for a local police department to help outfit their new canine unit with a bullet proof vest.” Staff also visit assisted living facilities to do eye screenings and eyewear repairs, or even just stop by with flowers. “In the end, a lot of the town in some way has been positively on the receiving end of what we try to do through kindness. The mayor shops here, the emergency room and school nurses refer here, etc. because of the care we provide and the kindness we try to provide locally.”

⇢ Dr. Robert Easton Jr. of Easton Eye Care in Oakland Park, FL, summed this up in two words, “community action,” which he defined as “being active in my 160-member Rotary Club, doing projects to raise funds for scholarships, ‘sweat equity’ projects to help injured vets in the community, providing youth exchange from different countries to help build world peace, and more.” Easton was also active in Leadership Broward for years, a leadership networking group out to help Broward County prosper with planned growth and opportunities.

Our town just doesn’t have the planning resources that bigger towns and cities do. Wouldn’t I be better off moving to a bigger market so I can benefit from these?

⇢ Stop and think about the aim of most urban planning: Walkability, public spaces, a sense of community and locality: Basically, they’re trying to make cities more like small towns. SmallBizTrends.com reminds us that in terms of your town’s core, you probably already have these features. They just need to be revitalized. Get together with your business neighbors and get a project going.

We’ve always been curious about selling private label, but our business just isn’t big enough to justify the risks or support the large orders. It seems online should be a good option for small town retailers, but we don’t have the distribution know-how or financing to gear up for it.

Trigger alert: This item discusses online sales, and, yes, Amazon. We know this will be a red flag to a bull for a lot of independent optical retailers, but this is an article about small towns and marketing — and what is Amazon if not a market place swarming with millions of people brandishing credit cards? The service known as Fulfillment by Amazon basically allows small manufacturers to piggyback on their order-filling service, so if you’re, say, a frame retailer you can store your products in Amazon’s warehouses, sell the goods online, and they will deliver for you. It’s potentially a new twist on the private label experience, one that taps a marketing and logistics behemoth with few equals in terms of scope. The benefits for retailers in small markets, who are not located near logistics hubs, should be obvious.

We’re a one-doc practice in a small town. We’d love to expand our services but don’t know if our small client base can support such a move.

Obviously, you’d need to do your homework, but we suggest you consider the case of Family Vision Care in Alma, GA. They’re based in a county with just 13,000 people but their full-scope optometry (everything from glasses and specialty contact lenses all the way through to amniotic membranes/stem cell treatments) has such a reputation that 45 percent of patients are from the greater surrounding area; the service here stands out so markedly it sells itself. Says owner Dr. Blake Hutto, “Being in a small town you’re often the front line, and the final leg of treatment for some complex cases. It’s literally solving puzzles all day…and we love it!”

We don’t buy the idea that TV is dead. But is TV advertising worth it?

Many people assume TV advertising is prohibitively expensive, but in fact it’s usually cheaper than radio and has certain advantages that work particularly well in a small-town context, such as building facial recognition for staff. Caitlin Bruno at Binyon Vision Center in Bellingham, WA, was surprised at first when a TV ad through Comcast became the store’s most mentioned campaign. “We had a local production company shoot a 30-second commercial of a patient moving through the office with a voice over. The production was high quality so it has lasted four years and still looks good.” The local Comcast rep has even tailored airing times both on major cable channels and network cable websites (like espn.com) to fit the store’s budget.

Texas State Optical of Nederland, Port Arthur, TX, was similarly surprised when TV worked for them. They had long assumed it would be too expensive, but, “We were able to co-op an annual package of air time with other associate practices in the area and are very pleased with the results,” says office manager Pam Housley.

 


This article originally appeared in the June 2018 edition of INVISION.

 

After years covering some of the farther flung corners of the world of business journalism, Heath has more recently focused on covering the efforts of independent eyecare professionals to negotiate a fast-changing industry landscape. Contact him at heath@smartworkmedia.com.

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25 ECPs Share Their Elevator Pitches

25 ECPs put who they are and what they do for a living in a sentence or two… or three.

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OK… You’ve slipped into the elevator just as the doors are closing. The woman on your left is wearing poorly fitting frames that are totally wrong for her. The gentleman to your right is squinting as he tries to find the button for his floor. You sense a golden opportunity, but the floors are already ticking by. You’ve got until those doors open again to tell these potential clients what you do and how you can help them. It’s time to dust off your “elevator pitch.” Our Brain Squad members are rarely at a loss for a few well-chosen words, so we asked them their best pitches. Here’s what they had to say to those future customers and patients on the subject of… you.

Hi, My name is Diana Canto Sims. I am an eyeball doctor turned eyewear designer for the diverse and the bold. What do you do? — Diana Sims, Buena Vista Optical, Chicago, IL

We help you create a look that is as unique as you are. — Doreen Erbe, Snyder Eye Group, Ship Bottom, NJ

I create complete custom eyewear by hand in Glenview. This includes the frames as well as the lenses. — Kevin Count, Prentice Lab, Glenview, IL

I am the owner and doctor at an eyecare office focused on pampering our patients.  — Nytarsha Thomas, OD, Visionelle Eyecare, Zionsville, IN

I can easily knock 10 years off your look and I promise people will notice! — Jennifer Leuzzi, Mill Creek Optical, Dansville, NY

We sell unique eyewear from all over the world.” (Then give a few specific examples of exotic materials. However, never oversell or seem pushy. Just plant the seed!!!)”  — Scott Keating, OD, Vision Trends, Dover, OH

You know the eyes are the windows to the soul right? Sometimes the windows cannot see; I help with that. I am an optometrist.” — Selina McGee, OD, Precision Vision, Edmond, OK

I refine one of your five senses. I give you vision and insight into your health, with a twist of style, all while having a good time in the process. — Cynthia Sayers, OD, EyeShop Optical Center, Lewis Center, OH

I explain that I run a practice for an eye doctor and that our goal is to make sure each patient sees well and is educated on the products and materials we wear ourselves. — Amy Pelak, Proview Eyecare Optometry, Corona, CA

I help people love their new eyewear, and owning 31 pairs of glasses and sunwear, I know I can find the right pair for you. — Kathy Maren Comb EyeCare & Eyewear, Western Springs, IL

I talk about the unique things our practice offers like sensory and vision therapy. We carry a variety of frames for the whole family. From durable kids, to the fun and funky for mom and dad. We’re not your average eye doctor.” Heather Nagucki, Brodie Optometry, Perrysburg, OH

I compliment someone on their glasses. I may ask them where they got them and always say something nice about their doctor or optician. I know everyone in town after 50 years in Sacramento. If the patient discusses a bad experience then I drop a business card.”  — Texas L. Smith, OD, Dr. Texas L. Smith & Associates, Citrus Heights, CA

I help people see and look better.  — Jason Stamper Eye Care Pavilion, Davenport, IA

I tell them I try not to look like an optometrist! — Dave Schultz, OD, Urban Optics, San Luis Obispo, CA

When I meet people I always try to tell them I’m like a pharmacist for your eyeglasses. — Bob Schmittou, New Eyes Optical, Wyandotte, MI

I’m an optician. Once the eye doctor is done with you I will help you with any optical needs whether glasses or contacts. Basically, I make you look good! — Scott Felten, Fox Valley Family Eye Care, Little Chute, WI

We get to help people see to their fullest potential. It’s the best job in the world! — Caitlin Bruno, Binyon Vision Center, Bellingham, WA

I’m like a pharmacist. I fill the prescription written by the doctor. But in Michigan, your optician doesn’t have to have a license the way your pharmacist does. That’s why there are so many people walking around in ugly glasses that can’t see.  — Dave Goodrich, Goodrich Optical, Lansing, MI

I bend light for a living. — Jon LaShorne, Kirkpatrick Eye Care, Madison, IN

I frame the windows to your soul with beauty. — Frances Ann Layton, Eye Associates of South Georgia, Valdosta, GA

I have no elevator pitch. I just let people know why I love doing what I do.” — Pablo E. Mercado, Mount Vernon Eyecare, Dunwoody, GA

Nice glasses! I bet they cost you a fortune. I’m an optician. Here’s my card. Next time you’re in the market for a new pair, give me a call and I’ll save you money.” — Mitchell Kaufman, Marine Park Family Vision, Brooklyn, NY

Everyone knows what a pharmacist does … so I equate my career as a licensed optician to that. I take a prescription from a doctor and I interpret that prescription. I advise and educate the patient on how to use the prescription written. I generate a product from that prescription and then dispense that prescription as a piece of medical equipment.”  — William Chancellor, Eye Can See Eyewear, McDonough, GA

We help people see the important things in life.” — John Marvin, Texas State Optical Inc., Houston, TX

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18 Ways to Make Your Team the Happiest on the Planet

Sell more, produce more, be more creative, satisfy more customers… through happiness.

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Traditional management theory has a lot to answer for. Don’t tolerate failure, keep workers emotionally at arm’s distance, discourage individualism, focus on remedying weakness as opposed to playing up strengths, frown at play, motivate workers by throwing money at them, or failing that, wielding a big stick … The list of prohibitions and negativity goes on.


It is perhaps surprising, then, that the realization happy workers also tend to be more productive workers was one of management theory’s earlier discoveries. As part of the famous Harvard study of the Hawthorne Works factory in Chicago in the mid-1920s, researchers observed that employee performance could be greatly boosted by influencing not only the physical environment but the social context within which they toiled. A worker was more than an input. He or she also had feelings. And when employees were in a positive state of mind, they did more, better work.

That finding set off decades of experiments in which bosses sought to boost productivity by trying to make workers more joyful. Yet the results were ambiguous. This was partly because they were measuring the wrong indicator of happiness — job satisfaction (something that can be guaranteed by a paycheck, but which doesn’t translate into improved performance over time) — and partly because happiness itself is such an elusive, mercurial target.

More recently, however, a consensus has started to form on what constitutes the kind of positive mindset that drives performance —and it’s not simply sensory pleasure that comes from a bowl of free M&Ms in the kitchen. It’s about inner well-being.

“Happiness isn’t just about feeling good every moment of the day, and it’s not just about pleasure,” says Dr. Annie McKee, director of the PennCLO Executive Doctoral Program and a co-author of Primal Leadership. “Happiness at work is a deep and abiding pleasure that is fueled by a sense of meaningful purpose, hope and friendships.”

McKee’s list reflects much of the PERMA acronym developed by Martin Seligman, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, and one of the foremost experts on the study of happiness.
The acronym, which he sets out in his bestseller Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding Of Happiness And Well-Being, stands for just about everything you need to know about fostering happiness:

  • Positive emotion (optimism)5 Engagement (feeling in the flow at work, when workers are using their strengths)
  • Good Relationships (the importance of friends and feeling a part of the tribe)
  • Meaning (feeling that the work being done matters, including to the bottom line)
  • Accomplishment (the sense of making progress)

Seligman’s research suggests workers are happiest when they’re lost in a meaningful project, working toward a higher goal, or being helpful. Those factors also happen to be aligned with a productive workplace.
Happiness, then, should be light but not trivial. Get such a workplace ethos right, and the benefits are significant.

In a meta-analysis of 225 academic studies, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Laura King, Ed Diener and the Gallup Organization found that happy employees have, on average, 31 percent higher productivity; their sales are 37 percent higher; their creativity is three times higher. Other research has shown happy workers take one-tenth the sick leave, are more loyal, more likely to satisfy customers (who is not drawn to a happy worker?), and more likely to engage in safe workplace conduct. They deal with stress better, manage complexity better, are more engaged, motivated, resilient, energetic, and make smarter decisions.

“Every business outcome shows improvement when the brain is positive. I call this the ‘happiness advantage,’” says Shawn Achor, a Harvard researcher, in his book of the same name (The Happiness Advantage).

“It turns out that our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive,” Achor says.

The reason is because unlike fear or anger or anxiety, which cause our nervous systems to close down and inhibit rational functioning, positive emotions that go along with being happy, like enthusiasm and excitement, joy, and pleasure, actually help us to think better. “Our minds open up; we can take in more information; we can process it more quickly. Ultimately, we can make better decisions. Those conditions allow us to be more successful at work,” says McKee.

With such a strong case for happiness, it is perhaps surprising that most workplaces are anything but joyful. According to surveys done by the Gallup Organization, upwards of two-thirds of employees are either neutral, which means they don’t care about their work, or are actively disengaged, which suggests they are hurting the interests of their employer.

In many instances, the lack of cheer in the office, on the factory floor or in the shop is because of an entrenched suspicion of levity, that it somehow signals a lack of professionalism. Or in the case of high-end retailers, a lack of sophistication (rich people don’t need to please anyone, so why smile?).

Even in cases where companies try hard to boost happiness levels by investing in happiness coaches, team-building exercises, gameplays, funsultants, or Chief Happiness Officers, the record is not great.
As such programs have found, the frustrating thing about positive emotions — happiness, but also awe, wonder and love as well — is that they can’t be forced. It doesn’t work when you tell yourself to be happy — and when the pressure comes from others, especially when it is top down, as in a business setting, it’s worse. There’s something in the makeup of happiness that requires it arise freely; indeed, focusing on happiness can actually make people feel less happy.

There is also a problem with workers themselves, actually with all humans; it’s as if we are wired to resist lasting happiness.

Pay someone more money or celebrate the completion of a big project and after a fairly brief period, their level of happiness returns to its less-than-satisfactory base. Psychologists refer to this as the hedonic treadmill — no matter the effort applied, we end up in the same place.

Evolutionary scientists theorize this tendency serves as protection against complacency in a world of risk, but for a manager in 2018, it’s just really annoying. (Interestingly, research shows that the one time money does make people happy on a lasting basis is when it improves their social rank (i.e., makes them richer than their friends and work colleagues). But that’s not a sustainable remuneration strategy.

So what to do? How to build an army of happy worker bees?

The first step is to hire for attitude. The idea that a happy demeanor is to a large extent genetically determined is one of psychology’s most firmly held beliefs. Harvard social psychologist Dan Gilbert estimates genetics account for about 50 percent of your workers’ disposition.

That leaves a lot that you can work with.
“The goals you set, the culture you foster, the habits you cultivate, the way you interact with workers, how you think about stress—all these can be managed to increase your staff’s happiness and your chances of success,” says Achor.

The good news is that the No. 1 factor that will lift spirits is progress in meaningful work. Help your workers do their jobs better and they become happier, thereby laying the foundation for even better business results. It’s called the progress loop.

“Understand that people matter, feelings matter, and it’s the No. 1 job of a manager to create a climate where people feel good about what they’re doing, where they’re happy, engaged and ready to share their talents,” says McKee.

Too fuzzy and warm for you?

Consider that even workers participating in the most serious work — from finance to nuclear submarine crews to firefighters — perform better when they are in a good mood.

Developing new habits, nurturing your employees, and thinking positively about stress are good ways to start (and next up we’ll provide more ways you can support a culture of happiness among your team).

But perhaps the best part about building a happiness culture is that managers needn’t fret about trying to read the psyches of their workers, or manipulate complicated incentive schemes.

Ultimately, happiness can be cultivated by setting a clear direction, giving people what they need to do the job, nourishing a spirit of positivity … and getting out of their way.

 

27 Ways to Make Your Business Happier

Research suggests we have a happiness set point we soon revert to after most events, happy or sad. So, aside from plying your staff with wine, is there anything that can be done to make them more content? It turns out quite a lot. We get you started with several here, but be sure to check out our online extras at invisionmag.com/extras.

1. Set a positive morning routine

Employees’ moods when they clock in tend to affect how they feel for the rest of the day as well as their perceptions of customers and how they interact with them. “We saw that employees could get into these negative spirals where they started the day in a bad mood and just got worse over the course of the day,” says Ohio State University’s Steffanie Wilk. “That’s why it is so important for companies to find ways to help their workers start off the day on the right foot.” Get them anticipating something positive is one good way. Casa De Oro Eyecare in Spring Valley, CA, does this by getting to the office early every day, turning up the music loud and rocking out until it’s time to open the door. Dr. Selina McGee at Precision Vision in Edmond, OK, opts for something more digital. “We do fun quotes, pictures, etc., in a group text to start the day. Adding fun to our workday consists of what is authentic to us, we laugh, don’t take ourselves too seriously, we pop a champagne cork to celebrate when cool things happen.”

2. Deliver progress

In their book The Progress Principle, Harvard researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer make a strong case that of all the things that can boost motivation during a workday, the single most important is making progress on meaningful work. And the wins don’t have to be big. “Many of the progress events our research participants reported represented only minor steps forward. Yet they often evoked outsize positive reactions,” they write. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run. Amabile and Kramer say the best managers know how to activate two forces that enable progress: 1) catalysts: events that directly drive work, such as clear goals and autonomy, providing sufficient resources and time, helping with the work, using problems and successes as learning points, and allowing a free exchange of ideas — and 2) nourishers: interpersonal events that uplift workers, including encouragement and demonstrations of respect and collegiality and opportunities for affiliation.

3. Write a two-minute email

Achor recommends insisting employees take two minutes every morning to send a friend, family member or co-worker an email to say thanks for something. “We’ve done this at Facebook, at U.S. Foods, at Microsoft… What we find is this dramatically increases their social connection, which is the greatest predictor of happiness we have in organizations.” Texts work fine, too.

4. Count your blessings

The old saying is true: “What you have makes you happy. What you want makes you unhappy.” Yes, it can sound corny, but it’s hard to emphasize how powerful gratitude is. “Showing gratitude for the good things in life is the most powerful happiness boosting activity there is,” says Barker. And according to Seligman, the best way to build it is the “Three Blessings” exercise. Urge your workers to set aside 10 minutes before they go to sleep to write down three things that went well in the day, and — this is important — why they went well. “Your brain will be forced to scan the last 24 hours for potential positives,” says Achor. “This trains the brain to be more skilled at noticing and focusing on possibilities for … growth, and seizing opportunities to act on them.” Vision Solutions in Lamar, MO, does something similar with its end of day meetings. “We incorporate any funny or odd things from the day into our end of the day huddle, recognize staff who went above and beyond, and recognize any team members for outstanding work,” says Bryan Hartgrave.

5. Exercise

What makes people happiest? Sex, socializing and exercise, says Eric Barker, author of the Barking Up the Wrong Tree blog. As a business owner, it’s the last of these you can promote. A Finnish study of 3,403 people in 1999 showed that those who exercise at least two to three times a week experience significantly less depression, anger, stress, and “cynical distrust” than those who exercise less or not at all. Being in good shape also increases learning ability. Enter your store in a fun run, give staff 10 minutes at lunch to fit in a CrossFit class, or play in a social softball league.

6. Do fun things often

Here’s an interesting fact about happiness: frequency beats intensity. Lots of little good things make people happier than a handful of big things because they give people frequent, regular boosts. Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker says the findings lead to a really simple conclusion: The things that make you happy? Do them more often. “Focus on increasing the amount of good stuff in your life vs. reducing the amount of bad stuff,” she says.

7. Hire for a positive attitude

The “war for talent” is a myth, says marketing guru Seth Godin. It’s actually a war for attitude. “There are a few jobs where straight up skills are all we ask for. But in fact, even there, what actually separates winners from losers isn’t talent, it’s attitude,” he writes on his widely followed blog. And Achor’s research backs this up. “Seventy-five percent of long-term job success is predicted not by intelligence and technical skills, which is normally how we hire,” Achor says. Instead, it’s predicted by three categories: optimism, social connections, and the way people handle stress. In The Happiness Advantage, he recounts an experiment he ran with MET Life to hire people based on optimism. The optimistic group outsold their more pessimistic counterparts by 19 percent in year one and 57 percent in year two. They were also much less likely to quit.

8. Focus on strengths

Workers gain a boost in positive emotions the more they use their signature strengths — those qualities they are uniquely best at. “The more hours per day adults believe they use their strengths, the more likely they are to report having ample energy, feeling well-rested, being happy, smiling or laughing a lot, learning something interesting, and being treated with respect,” write the Gallup Organization’s Brandon Rigoni and Jim Asplund in a blog. As their manager, you’re probably aware who does what well. But UPenn happiness expert Martin Seligman says you should ask them anyway. “Identify their signature strengths and then make room to allow them to use their strengths more often,” he writes in Authentic Happiness. For workers, there is intrinsic satisfaction. For employers, a much higher state of performance.

9. Savor the Good Stuff

Old clichés like “stopping to smell the roses” and “it’s the little things in life” are actually profound and effective. Happiness researchers call such strategies “savoring” and have even put a hard figure on it — people who regularly take notice of things that are positive were 12 percent more likely to say they were satisfied with their lives. The point, says behavioral scientist Winifred Gallagher in her book RAPT, is that “you see what you look for. And you can train yourself to attend to the joy out there waiting to be had, instead of passively waiting for it to come to you.”

10. Hold happy meetings

Most managers are wary of allowing too much good cheer in meetings, apparently out of fear it will derail the agenda or distract the participants. But according to a study by psychologists from VU University Amsterdam and the University of Nebraska, humor can greatly boost the effectiveness of meetings, leading to long-term productivity gains. “Humor patterns triggered problem-solving behaviors (e.g., what do you think about this approach?), procedural suggestions (e.g., let’s talk about our next step), and goal orientation (e.g., we should target this issue),” reports Scientific American. “Humor patterns also promoted supportive behaviors like praise and encouragement, and led to new ideas and solutions.” Such humor works best when it is positive, as opposed to sarcastic, when it supports group rapport (joke, laughter, another joke) and when the workers have a certain level of job security. Jessica Brundidge at Clarity Vision in Clayton, NC, adds levity to their weekly meetings with “shout outs” and memes. “We do a weekly “shout out” that is a positive reinforcement to our staff. We go over any new items that may need to be discussed or reviewed and if a patient or another co-worker has complimented an employee we like to “shout it out,’” she says. “We also make some personal things in there such as a birthday or work anniversary etc. and then we always end the shout out with a funny meme of some sort.”

11. Encourage ‘me’ time

Allow workers to really clock off. Their weekends and evenings should enable them to recharge. And besides, people focused on nothing but work tend to be boring and lack common ground with customers.

12. Set them free

Why do business owners outrank just about every other occupation in overall well-being despite working longer hours and earning slightly less, on average, than many professionals? A lot of it has to do with autonomy. People are happier when they aren’t being told what to do. “Once employees have been trained, allow them, whenever possible, to manage people and execute projects in their own way,” says Paul Zak, a neuroeconomist at San Diego State University. In an article in the Harvard Business Review, he cites a 2014 Citigroup and LinkedIn survey that found nearly half of employees would give up a 20 percent raise for greater control over how they work. “Autonomy also promotes innovation, because different people try different approaches. Often, younger or less experienced employees — those you trust the least — will be your chief innovators, because they’re less constrained by what ‘usually’ works,” Zak says.

13. Create a fun environment

The traditional business environment isn’t often conducive to good cheer. Don Gibson, dean of management at Fairfield University’s Dolan School of Business, found that working professionals from multiple organizations felt more comfortable expressing anger than joy on the job (they reported expressing anger three times as often). Office décor and furnishings, too, may suggest what’s expected emotionally. Signs with lists of rules and consequences for breaking them reflect a culture of fear. Photos of employees laughing at social events or action figures perched on cubicle walls, Kleenexes stapled to potentially stressful memos, or chocolate kisses taped to boring ones signal a culture of joy.

14. Be a model

A long line of research on emotional contagion shows that people in groups “catch” feelings from others through behavioral mimicry and subsequent changes in brain function. “If you regularly walk into a room smiling with high energy, you’re much more likely to create a culture of joy than if you wear a neutral expression. Your employees will smile back and start to mean it. So consciously model the emotions you want to cultivate in your company,” says the HBR’s guide to Everyday Emotional Intelligence.

15. Celebrate with rituals

Sharing and celebrating successes is a time-honored way to drive performance, define best practice, boost team solidarity — and elevate pleasant emotions. Recognition has the largest effect on emotion when it occurs immediately after a goal has been met, when it comes from peers, and when it’s tangible, unexpected, personal, and public, says Zak. Be sure to celebrate small wins with almost the same fervor as the big accomplishments. Visionelle Eyecare in Zionsville, IN, does that with little competitions. “My squad loves competition so I will have a small competition once a month to see who can get the most reviews, or sell a second pair and they win a small prize like a gift card or movie tickets. We also have a daily and monthly goal,” says owner Nytarsha Thomas, OD. “We have a tradition of doing a happy dance at the end of the day when we make our daily goal and if we make our monthly goal, we’ll treat them to something more sought after like a massage or nice dinner.”

16. Ask for help

Realize that you can’t and shouldn’t be Superman. In fact, a boss willing to show vulnerability makes for a happier workplace. “My research team has found that this stimulates oxytocin production in others, increasing their trust and cooperation. Asking for help is a sign of a secure leader—one who engages everyone to reach goals,” says Zak.

17. Find meaning

Experiments show that having a sense of higher purpose — a sense that your work has meaning and is helping someone — stimulates production of oxytocin, the “hug hormone.” Meaning can be as simple as making a useful and high-quality product for a customer or providing a genuine service for the local community. It can be supporting a colleague or boosting an organization’s profits by reducing inefficiencies in a production process. It’s not hard for managers to infuse meaning into the work of their employees’ lives, but it’s also incredibly easy for them to undermine it. For example, Duke psychology professor Dan Ariely and colleagues conducted a study in which participants were paid to build Lego models, some of which were dismantled in front of them upon completion. People whose creations were preserved made, on average, 50 percent more Lego models than those whose models were destroyed, despite identical monetary incentives. Trust and purpose are as fragile as they are important.

18. Manage in micromoments

A mission statement is one thing; day-to-day work life is another. “It’s not enough to codify emotional culture; it must also be managed and enacted in the ‘micromoments’ of daily organizational life,” writes Andy Westmoreland on the productivity blog Elevator Up. “Small gestures rather than bold declarations of feeling; little acts of kindness and support adding up to an emotional culture characterized by caring and compassion,” he says.

19. Hug more

In the post-Harvey Weinstein era, this may be dangerous advice, but try to touch your workers more (handshakes and back pats work just fine). Research shows getting five hugs a day for four weeks “increases happiness big time,” says Barker. “Touching is incredibly powerful. We just don’t give it enough credit. It makes you more persuasive, increases team performance, improves your flirting … heck, it even boosts math skills,” he writes on his blog. Don’t want to risk it? Offer a massage as a spiff for good work. According to a review of studies by the University of Miami School of Medicine, massage appears to increase your brain and body’s levels of serotonin.

20. Get a light box

If you live in the north of the continent, get a light box. According to research from UBC Hospital in Vancouver, Canada, light therapy — it provides the kind of bright rays that elevate levels of happiness-boosting serotonin in your brain — is effective at combating seasonal affective disorder. If you live in other parts of the country, be sure your employees get outside regularly. A study from McGill University in Montreal has shown that by spending at least 30 minutes a day outdoors should be enough to offset your seasonal drops in serotonin.

21. Stress people the right way

People are happier when they are active. Don’t be afraid to push your people hard. “Frankly, a little bit of stress is a good thing. It pushes us to be innovative and to do things differently and to push harder,” says Annie McKee, director of the PennCLO Executive Doctoral Program and a co-author of PRIMAL LEADERSHIP. One of the most famous longevity studies conducted, the ongoing Terman Study, found those who work hard are healthier and happier.

22. Tough guys finish last

Gen. George S. Patton more your idea of an effective leader? Consider this: researchers found annual prizes for efficiency and preparedness in the US Navy are far more frequently awarded to units whose commanding officers are openly encouraging. On the other hand, the squadrons receiving the lowest marks in performance are generally led by commanders with a negative, controlling, and aloof demeanor. Psychologist Barbara Frederickson says her research into fostering a state of flow in workers has shown a critical three-to-one ratio is required; we need to have three positive interactions for every negative one in order to thrive.

23. Foster friendships

The brain networks that light up in response to social contact are evolutionarily old, implying that such behavior is deeply embedded in our nature. Yet at work, we often get the message that we should focus on completing tasks, not on making friends, even though science has shown repeatedly that when employees intentionally build social ties, their performance improves. People who care for one another give generously of time, talent, and resources. Gallup found that close work relationships boost employee satisfaction by 50 percent and that people with a best friend at work are seven times as likely as others to engage fully in their work. You can help people build social connections by sponsoring lunches, after-work parties, and team-building activities. It may sound like forced fun, but when people care about one another, they perform better because they don’t want to let their teammates down. “We love to blow off steam late in the day, that’s why our fridge is always well stocked,” says Jim Williams, owner of Eye to Eye in Mexico, MO. “On a recent Tuesday, we hung a sign in the window, and announced on Facebook that we had an ‘offsite staff meeting.’ We rented a big pontoon boat and spent the day on the lake with food drinks and fun. A day well spent!!”

24. Encourage staff to leave

Allow workers to really clock off. Their weekends and evenings should enable them to recharge. And besides, people focused on nothing but work tend to be boring and share no common ground with customers.

25. Remove hassles

While it’s true happiness comes from the small pleasures in life, it’s also the little hassles that are most apt to get people down. The same is true in the workplace where little hassles are a reliable predictor of job satisfaction. Make it a habit to ask your staff for tweaks than can be made to the way things are done around the store.

26. Set goals

Have staff set written goals. Writing about goals makes people happier and more likely to follow through with them.

27. Institutionalize fun

According to a case study of Vail Resorts in HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW, the culture of joy has been incorporated into the annual review, which indicates how well each employee integrates fun into the work environment and rates everyone on supporting behaviors, such as being inclusive, welcoming, approachable and positive. Management tactics, special outings, celebrations and rewards all support the emotional culture. Rather than asking people to follow standardized customer service scripts, they tell everyone to “go out there and have fun.” Resort managers consistently model joy and prescribe it for their teams. At an annual ceremony, a Have Fun award goes to whoever led that year’s best initiative promoting fun at work.

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Cover Stories

An Eyecare Pro’s Visual Guide to Making Better Choices in 5 Critical Categories

Making decisions is hard, we’ve made it easy.

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RUNNING OR MANAGING a business means you are constantly making decisions. Some are easy, many are hard, and others are just plain messy. We thought we’d help you take a little bit of the work and stress out of it by creating some very scientific* decision trees for a few of the most common questions you may face running an optical business. By INVISION Staff

* By “scientific” we mean not scientific at all.

 

 

 

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