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Do you encourage your fans?

Linkin Park clearly understands their fans.

Some bands (or their “record” companies) would complain to YouTube or Flickr if a fan posted concert footage or photos. They’d ask to have them removed.

Not these guys. They post links on their official site that point to Flickr and YouTube videos taken by fans.

But it doesn’t end there.

From the LinkinPark website: “Each ticket purchased for the 2011 North American tour comes with an audio download of that night’s show.”

What are you doing to encourage your fans to become even more devoted?

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Your customer’s lowest low. Washed away.

In the case of Portland Oregon’s Plaza Dry Cleaners, a picture really is worth 1000 words.

I’m guessing Plaza owner Steve Young knows at least one thing that’s on his customers’ minds – particularly those who might not be able to afford his service at a time when they most need it.

Imagine the loyalty this builds in someone who is dealing with the fear, humiliation and anything else that goes with being unemployed. It’s such a kind act for people in his neighborhood.

Are you entering the conversation already going on in your customers’ minds? Steve did.

Outstanding.

News story from the Oregonian

Visiting Portland? Live there? Get your stuff cleaned at Plaza

Plaza Dry Cleaners
909 NW Everett
Portland OR 97209
(503)241-5417

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Automation Creativity Direct Mail Direct Marketing Email marketing Internet marketing Positioning Small Business Social Media Strategy

A Letter from Georgia

We almost didn’t open it, thinking it was junk mail.

Why would the University of Georgia send us mail way out here in Montana?

We aren’t alumni. Our kids don’t go there, nor do we have prospective students considering the school.

The letter was addressed to “The Riffey Family” (printed, not hand-addressed), which may have subconsciously given it a chance it normally wouldn’t have received.

The postage applied was pre-sorted metering like that from a postage machine. Result: It looked like any other junk mail with the exception of the “family” thing.

The letter made it home from the Post Office only because I thought it might be something related to my wife’s doctoral studies, even though she had never mentioned UGA to me.

Blondie

Months ago, we had to put Blondie (our 11 year old Golden Retriever mix) to sleep.

She was suffering from painful arthritis and surgery to repair tendons hadn’t helped her escape a life that had become much like walking on broken glass. Our oldest son came home for the weekend because he wanted to be with her. They hadn’t even charged us for the euthanasia, probably because we’d spent so much on Blondie’s care with them.

The letter was about Blondie. It came from the development (fundraising) office at the University of Georgia Veterinary School.

A letter that almost didn’t make it home. A letter that almost didn’t get opened.

A letter said that our vet, Dr. Mark Lawson from Glacier Animal Hospital, had made a donation to the vet school in Blondie’s memory.

Think hard about your mail

Imagine if we hadn’t known that our vet had made that donation…all because the envelope carrying that notification letter looked “too junky”.

Think hard about your mail.

It does no good to spend time and money sending mail if it never makes it home from the post office. It isn’t just about paper costs, printing, postage costs and the speed of slapping on pre-printed labels.

Everything ON the envelope requires thought because someone, somewhere HAS to decide to open it…and if they don’t, you just wasted time, money and an opportunity. Perhaps more.

Everything IN the envelope requires thought. You might have one shot to make an impression and/or provoke an action.

If you don’t send mail to people, keep in mind that the same considerations apply to anything else you put in front of customers and prospects. If it looks like junk, it might get treated that way.

P.S.

Would you take your dogs anywhere else? What a nice gesture. Wow.

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attitude Business culture Competition Creativity customer retention Ideas Improvement Small Business

Do you know what you’re missing?

On NPR not long ago, the Postmaster General spoke about the US Postal Service’s financial situation.

At the close of the interview, the Postmaster made a point of saying that he doesn’t pay any bills online, noting that it wouldn’t be right for him to do so. I suspect he probably feels that it wouldn’t be right if he used FedEx or UPS.

In fact, the truth is just the opposite.

Using these services would help him understand his competition’s offerings from a consumer perspective, and see where his agency is lacking, both in service and in their offerings.

If you aren’t at least familiar with the customer experience of a product/service that is taking you to the cleaners, you’re unlikely to understand what the attraction is much less the weaknesses and potential new opportunity ideas they might give you.

Even if you plan to stick with your current product, it will help you see new competitive angles, perhaps even new markets.

You aren’t likely to find all innovation within yourself. You also won’t find it all by studying your competition’s offerings, but it is worth the time to study the things customers have left you for – if you expect to get your mojo back.

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attitude Business model Competition Creativity customer retention Employees Entrepreneurs Leadership Management Manufacturing Positioning Productivity Small Business strategic planning

The Right Kind of Work

SUPERSEDED
Creative Commons License photo credit: m.a.x

 

Productivity is pretty important, but it had better apply to the right sort of work.

Even if your employees are incredibly efficient at whatever they do, if their work no longer brings substantial value to the table, your business could evaporate.

The failure to automate the work that can and should be automated will eventually push your costs out of line with the competition. If some of the work you do now could be automated without losing quality, you have to take an honest look at it.

Remember…If you don’t address this issue, the marketplace will do it for you.

If you’ve ever had to lay someone off, you know it isn’t fun. When they walk out for the last time, they have to go home and tell their family and they have to figure out what’s next. It won’t feel any better that it happened because you weren’t paying attention – and it certainly won’t help you to be understaffed.

In order to avoid this, you have to look for places to become more efficient. It has to be done without losing quality, distinction or value. It’s possible that your choice becomes your new edge and that the staffer who was doing the low value work ends up managing the process that replaced their labor.

Are you still doing the right things?

Sometimes, automation isn’t enough. You realize (or the market tells you) that you’re doing the wrong work.

Every month, you have to ask yourself about your business and about your people, “Am I doing the right sort of work? If not, am I ready to? If not, what do I have to do to get there?”

If your work can be outsourced easily, you’re living on borrowed time.

If you’re a middleman adding zero value, you’re living on borrowed time.

You already know this if you’re paying attention and being honest with yourself. Even so, it’s nothing to be ashamed of unless you ignore it. Everyone faces market challenges but we don’t have to seek them out and invite them in for dinner.

There’s nothing that says you have to do what you do now, that your people can’t learn a new skill that someone places a high value these days or that your business can’t start making something that people will line up to buy.

The kind of work you should be seeking is the kind of work that produces real value and/or requires taking real responsibility for what you deliver.

Think about the vendors who serve your business. How many of them take real responsibility for the products and services they provide? Now consider the vendor you’d NEVER fire. You know why. They care as much as you do.

What if you don’t want to change?

“Boy, the way Glenn Miller played”…

Edith and Archie sang that song in the 70s about music from decades earlier, looking back upon what they saw as their golden years.

No matter how wonderful those golden years were, no matter what decade they were in, now isn’t then. Even in 1939, the handwriting was on the wall for Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel.

If you warmly recall that time two, three or even four decades ago when your area had low unemployment, the best jobs, more work than you could do and close to the highest per capita wages in the country.

Those decades are long gone. So are many of the high-paying jobs that were valued back then. Just like that steam shovel.

Everyone deals with it.

Many “middle class” jobs of a century ago (like coal and ice delivery) were steady jobs. They’re gone. It’s not much different with many of the jobs from 20-30-40 years ago.

If this describes your business, understand that I’m not trying to make light of that. I was trained as a programmer. 20 years later, tens of millions of people in India, the Ukraine, China and elsewhere can do what most “first world” programmers do for $10-20 an hour. I understand the competitive pressures.

If your work can be outsourced at $10-20 an hour, you have to ask yourself…”How much value do I really deliver?”

Take charge. Do the right work.

 

 

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URL the Cat

Oh Happy me !!
Creative Commons License photo credit: rainy city

Last weekend I spent some time visiting my youngest son at college in Western Oregon.

While there, we visited the Portland Saturday Market, which is full of homemade goods from art to clothing to food.

While many of the booths offered business cards that had a website on them, a very small percentage of the booths displayed a website address.

I didn’t see a single QR code.

Extending your reach

After talking to several of the booth owners, I got the impression that many were showing up every Saturday or Sunday at the market and “letting business happen to them”. That’s why I mentioned the booths not displaying a website address or a QR code.

It’s right to be focused on making sales that day, but you want to make it as easy as possible to remember your site, share it and come back for more – even if you can’t make it to Saturday Market.

Lots of tourists visit the market, so it’s important to engage them once they’ve gone home rather than limiting your market reach to “people in downtown Portland on any random Saturday”.

None of the businesses we bought items from asked for contact information so that they could keep us informed about new products and the like.  No question, it would have to be asked in the right way given people’s dislike of spam but that CAN be done.

A motel in Eastern Oregon once asked me, “Can I get your email address so that we can contact you if you leave an item in your room?” Who *hasn’t* left something in a hotel room? It strikes dead center on the “well, of course, I don’t want to lose my stuff” nerve. Simple and smart.

Purrrrr

There was a bright spot at the market in addition to some really great art and hand-made products: the booth for “The Spoiled Cat”, where a woman and her daughter were selling catnip pillows,

The sides and back wall of her booth were plastered with laminated 8″ x 10″ photos that her customers had sent in. Each photo was of a cat mauling, loving, hugging and/or generally having a ball jonesing on their catnip pillows.

Some of the photos were hilarious. That booth stood out to anyone in her target market – cat owners and friends/family of cat owners.

Exactly what it should have done.

Is that what your booth does?

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A generic conversation about being specific

MISTY MORNING
Creative Commons License photo credit: kelp1966

One of the things you have to be careful about is making your business too generic.

The conversation…

Them: Could I get you to comment on a booth graphic for my company?  We are pretty simple here and need a banner for a trade show booth. Wondering if the fonts are ‘old’.

Them: (Sends booth graphic, which says the company name, what they do and “Manufactured in Montana USA”)

Me:  The “Manufactured in Montana USA” line should stay no matter what else you do. It’s fascinating how much “Manufactured in Montana USA” improves response vs. “Made in Montana”.

Lesson: Test *everything*.

Me:  This banner tells what you do but it doesn’t say why I should talk to you instead of everyone else who does what you do. What separates you from the others who do what you do?

Them:  We have a large variety of in stock materials, very fast turnaround on materials and parts,  specialize in small run orders.

Me:  Probably too much to put on a banner. Is small run unusual in your business?

Them:  It is in our particular niche.  It separates us from a couple of bigger competitors.  They refer to us when someone wants a small quantity.

Them: It’s also an attraction for the government contracted items as they will only need 32 of something so a lot of competitors won’t take the work.

Lesson: Know what makes you special.

Me: Think about these:

“We specialize in small run orders” vs “We specialize in small run orders. We’ll make 32 of them, if that’s what you need.” (Specific vs. generic)

“Very fast turnaround” vs “Three day turnaround” (“Very fast” has many meanings. What does it mean to you?)

“We stock 1000 square feet of 214 different materials so we can get your order out quickly without material delivery delays” vs “large variety of in-stock materials”.

Me:  Being specific (such as “three day”) provokes them to ask someone else exactly what their turnaround is (for example), without you saying a word about your competitor.

Them:  We’d be on the offensive for once!   This sales stuff is not in our DNA (it was the grandfather’s gift, no one since then)

Me:  Is he the business’ namesake? If so,  I’d be tempted to incorporate a good head shot photo of him (in context of the business) into your signage but thatll greatly change the banner price if the timing and cost make sense.

Them:  Interesting .. to make it more personal?

Me:  Exactly.

Me:  I do have another suggestion for a change for the banner. If you only want to buy it once… “Since 1961”

Me:  If you want to buy the banner more than once, this is the year to say “Fifty years…” or “Our 50th year” etc.

Lesson: State your strengths in strong specifics, no matter how obvious.

Me:  Since its a family affair, you may want to work in “Three generations” and a progression of pics of you, dad, grandpa.

Them:  That’s a really great idea.  Helps with that story you want people to get into.

Me:  Exactly. The question everyone enjoys answering: “So, how’d you get into this business?”

Lesson: Business is Personal.

Me:  Do you guys have booth giveaways?

Them:  Notepads was the plan. We are working up materials and sample parts to display on our table.   Stuff to show off our capabilities.

Me: How do notepads provoke people to think about your product? Alternative: What would it cost to make a 4″ rounds of a mildly heat resistant and hopefully liquid resistant material you use in production?

Them: I think we could make that happen.

Me:  I’m thinking coasters with your company/logo/URL/phone # embossed on them. Put your work in front of them all day, every day. A notepad will get left on a plane or in a hotel room. These won’t be.

Them: We would have to figure out a way to put the printing on there but its a great idea.

Me:  I figured you might have a means of embossing, but I wasn’t sure.

Them:  We are a crafty bunch so now that you’ve given me the idea…

Them:  I really appreciate the help.   This is a new world to me.

Lesson: Use congruent tools to get them thinking and talking about you.

 

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attitude Business culture Competition Creativity Customer relationships customer retention Customer service Entrepreneurs Management Marketing Small Business strategic planning The Slight Edge

Be a hassle-free zone

Ever walked out of a store, or ended a phone call with a business and thought “Man, what a hassle. Why do they make it so hard for me to give them my money?”

For example, I mostly read the news online but I like an old school Sunday paper. Problem is, I can’t get the Sunday paper delivered locally because the company that publishes it won’t sell Sunday-only subscriptions – not even at a premium.

To be sure, that’s a choice they have the right to make, but… it’s a hassle.

As a result, I either:

1) Stumble out the door in my robe at 6 am, shuffle to the end of the driveway, grab the Sunday paper, walk back inside and park myself in the recliner to enjoy a hot cuppa Joe and read the paper. Except that my house isn’t on a route that gets a paper by 6am, at least not the last time I subscribed. I mean, the paper guy doesn’t beam them to me, so *someone* has to be at 6am and someone else has to be at 6:05am so that really isn’t a complaint. Oh and I have to subscribe to everyday delivery to do that, even though I just want the paper on Sunday.

or

2) Get dressed (which would probably make the neighbors happier), warm up the car, drive to a convenience store, get some change at the register, go outside to the machine to grab a paper, drive home and *then* park myself in the recliner, etc.

As I said, it’s a hassle. So much so that I lose the habit of doing it.

Thought to avoid: I suspect their sales department thinks this situation will somehow encourage me to include “Subscribe seven days a week” as my third choice, but it really doesn’t. Instead, the hassle breaks the habit. I also don’t want to create a big pile of paper to recycle. It’s a hassle.

Picky? Me?

Like many of yours, I can be a picky customer. This isn’t a rant against a newspaper – that would be rather ironic given that a version of this blog is published in a, uh, newspaper. I’m just setting the context so you have an idea what you need to watch out for.

Hassles are what causes great businesses to be started. It’s why Blockbuster started. Ironically enough, hassle is what also killed Blockbuster (because Netflix cured those hassles). Of course, recently Netflix created their own hassles. It’s the circle of life, I guess.

The other day I read a tweet that said “when you focus on the numbers, you forget the customer.”  That’s a little extreme, but if you know the context, it’s right on. Take care of the customer and they’ll take care of you.

What about you?

I’ve mentioned here before that one of my local banks years ago eliminated a long-standing hassle – that deposits made today but after some arbitrary now-irrelevant time (like 3:00 pm) are not credited till the next day. Thatâ??s a change that makes it obvious they understand at least one of the challenges business owners face. Itâ??s a bank you *want* to do business with.

Now you can check the mail, grab the checks and head to the bank at the end of the day, not at mid-afternoon prime work time. That’s how you get rid of a hassle.

If you look around, you may find that you create a few hassles for your customers. Rather than waste a lot of time staring at things – you could just ask them.

“Is it a hassle doing business with us?”, “If it ever a pain to deal with us? When?”, “What’s more trouble than it’s worth when it comes to working with us?” or something like that is all it will take.

Hassles mean lost sales

Before long I’ll have to get the wood stove and snowblower serviced. If the guys who do that work really wanted to remove a hassle, they’d send me a postcard, an email or call me to schedule that work. In the case of the snowblower, maybe even offer to pick it up for an extra $15 or so.

Some customers might not have trailers, or would be happy to borrow one just long enough to run home, grab the machine and bring it back. No worries about getting it there and back = One less hassle. Or maybe two.

How can you make it easier for them to give you their money?

For that matter, how can you make everything easier?

 

 

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Business model Competition Creativity Improvement Leadership planning Positioning Small Business Software business strategic planning

What would happen if yours was perfect?

bzzzzzzz
Creative Commons License photo credit: ruurmo

If your software business was â??perfectâ?, what would it look like?

What do I mean? Here are a few ideas to get you startedâ?¦

  • Whatâ??s your product line look like?
  • What services do you offer?
  • How big (or little) is your staff?
  • What benefits do you offer?
  • How much vacation do you enjoy per year?
  • What would your customers say about your company?
  • How many customers would you have?
  • What trade shows do you exhibit at?
  • Whatâ??s your position in the market?
  • What would happen when a support call came in?
  • What would happen when a bug was found?

Not in the software business? So what. Replace “software business” with whatever you do. Alter the question list to fit your business.

You might be thinking none of this could ever happen.

Or you could start with your answers and work backwards to figure out what it will take to get there. Take one step, then another.

If you don’t ask yourself the hard questions…who will?

PS: Are you really in the <whatever> business? A drill bit manufacturer doesn’t sell drill bits. Ultimately, they sell holes. A coffee shop sells comfort, even to take out customers. What do you really sell?

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Not a nerd? Not a problem.


Creative Commons License photo credit: f_mafra

If you’ve been reading what’s going on in the economy, it seems like a fair percentage of the new jobs that are still out there are going to technical people.

Even today in Silicon Valley, the number of applicants in the job pool for a specific skill are roughly equal to the number of open jobs in that niche.

Meanwhile, local employers here in Montana are telling me they get 100-300 resumes/applications for every open job they post – which isn’t too many right now.

Every day, more and more jobs involve technical knowledge. Even tattoos are technical these days, as evidenced by the ink on this girl’s neck.

It’s html, the language used to create web pages.

Technical people

When I say “technical people”, I mean programmers, engineers and similar folks.

While some of the work these folks do can be outsourced, the work that isn’t tends to require local cultural context that isn’t often available to the technical person in another country.

Cultural context means a knowledge of the culture of the target market for the product you’re designing. Some products require it, some do not.

For example, an electrical engineer in almost any country or region of the world can design a cell phone component because “everyone” knows what a cell phone is and how it’s used.

The same isn’t always true when the design target is something in the cultural context of a particular area.

If you are in the U.S. or Canada, would you know the important aspects of designing a motorized trike designed for the streets of Delhi or Shanghai? Probably not, unless you have traveled extensively and spent time in those places.

That doesn’t mean you can’t learn those critical design points or someone from that region can’t learn those specific to work in the U.S. and Canada, but there is a learning curve.

Not all jobs require that context. Quite often, when you look at the jobs that have been outsourced, you’ll find that those jobs were lost because those jobs *can* be outsourced.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t technical. It simply means that they are technical but anyone with the skills can perform them – no matter what culture they grew up in.

Lots of people get really angry about that, just like they got angry at steam engines, the cotton gin and other advances that changed how our economy works. Meanwhile, that outsourced job went to some guy in somewhere who’s trying to feed his kids like everyone else. He might be making $1.10 a day doing that work, but it could be twice his previous pay.

Regardless of what the pay is, that’s a job that COULD be outsourced. Technical or not, it’s too general.

I received this (redacted) email from a friend today who has forgotten more enterprise network stuff than I’ll ever know.

So now I have another big contract.

These guys build big infrastructure for municipalities and large facilities. Perfect shovel ready stuff for millions of dollars and several years putting America back to work.

My job …. getting a working solution that allows them to move the technical work to a big city outside the US. Seems those folk need the work a LOT more than their counterparts who happen to be in, of all places, a city here in the US).

This is not the first time I have had a project where the purpose was to move American jobs overseas but it sucks more and more each time.

Add the that the fact that the Sr. Management team for this company is amazingly draconian with amazing bad morale and it proves that some people truly have just about sold out to the highest bidder.

The technical work being outsourced here is highly technical, but it is also generalized. It has no local context that matters, has nothing substantial to differentiate it, nothing to keep the work from being done elsewhere, whether elsewhere is Kansas or Kazakhstan.

Not a nerd

What if you aren’t “technical” in the context I’ve described here? Let’s say you’re a cabinet maker (which to me seems very technical).

Have you made the effort to determine what needs these specialized businesses have? Their success and their specialized needs might fuel yours.

Just an example, but worth some thought and perhaps, some effort.

Not being outsourced is as much your responsibility as anyone’s. Make the effort.