Sunshine marketing is self defense

Have you ever signed a non-compete, non-disclosure clause as a condition of employment? Do you make your employees and / or contractors sign one?

I’ve used/signed a few over the years. Companies can’t risk serious insider knowledge of their business by having employees pass it to their competition. Non-competes provide a mechanism to protect yourself but their scope should make sense. Historically, judges aren’t inclined to prevent people from earning a living, as long as they haven’t stolen their former employers’ intellectual or competitive assets.

Non-compete, non-disclosures make sense

General Motors wouldn’t want a senior executive to jump to Ford after absorbing a substantial amount of internal GM intelligence. Asking that exec to sign a non-compete, non-disclosure with reasonable scope makes sense.

However, there’s a new class of non-compete clause users: companies in low wage service industries. We’re talking about clauses that limit job mobility for people who make sandwiches, deliver food and bus tables. These broad non-competition clauses prevent entry-level employees from working for another business within a distance of two miles.

These clauses are gaining scrutiny because of the conditions they create for the employee. Rather than risk the perception of being sued or being unable to change jobs, they may stay in an unpleasant job for fear of repercussions. Not all employees will care about this, but some will.

Sunshine solves a lot of problems

While I doubt you’ve ever worried about not being able to hire a new employee because they might have worked at a certain franchise sandwich shop in the last two years, it’s bigger than that. They’re limiting your potential employee pool.

What if your next amazing employee didn’t fit in at that shop but fears that working in your pizza joint might land them in court? From the employee’s perspective, there are a number of unpleasant scenarios that a fear-mongering boss could wield over those who signed one of these broad non-competes. These concerns could keep someone in an unpleasant, dangerous, illegal or unfavorable position – or they may leave the restaurant business forever, even if they love it.

The answer is sunshine.

When you come into a room and turn on the lights, cockroaches head for crevices. When you pull a tarp off of a pile of lumber in the spring, the critters hiding inside scatter for cover.

Likewise, you need sunshine marketing to shine a light on situations like this.

“Worried about your non-compete? We gladly hire former employees of X-Y-Z. We’ve got your back.”

“Our employees have the freedom to come or go as their needs change. We hope they’ll stay and grow with us, but if they move on, we aren’t going to chase them with lawyers.”

“Our team is happy to serve you because we pay a good wage and provide a fun place to work. The secret to our success is our focus on providing great food (or whatever), great people and great service, not shackling our team to a non-compete agreement.”

You get the idea.

Sunshine marketing to the rescue

Why would I suggest provoking a local franchise owner and their corporate parent? Because they’ve already declared war against your business. As a condition of employment, applicants (regardless of job role) must sign a non-compete agreement preventing them from working at any business within two miles if 10% or more of the business’ revenue comes from sandwiches – including yours.

In other words, everyone they hire must sign paperwork saying they can’t work for you. Are you going to take that?

What will happen if you hire one of their former employees? Most likely, nothing. Do franchise owners have nothing better to do than visit competitors to check for the presence of former employees? If their former employee works for you, will they file suit? Can they afford the cost of dragging you into court for something this frivolous?

If so, let them.

The court of public opinion will crucify them and it will be your responsibility to hand the cross and nails to the local and national media. Even if the corporate parent supplies the franchise with free legal support (doubtful), you’ll have the kind of PR that dreams are made of: a corporate parent threatening your locally-owned business with legal action because you hired a (probably) minimum wage employee trying to support their family or pay their way through college.

Are you going to let that slide?

Leaders honor their words

Recently, someone in a position of trust and honor was found to have published someone else’s work without attribution.

The situation was made worse by their affiliation with an organization whose reputation for trust and honor is sacrosanct.

Plagiarism and/or unattributed quotes happen. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances, sometimes not. Sometimes, there are excuses and denial.

Coming clean about our mistakes

We’re not perfect beings. All of us make mistakes, no matter what our handlers, customer support people, PR representatives and spokespeople say.

When we make mistakes, the reasons are fairly consistent. We’re under deadline pressure and/or circumstances distract us and alter our behavior, even if for a short while – and it often seems like those circumstances, distractions and pressures occur at the worst possible time.

In response, our fight or flight kicks in, and we buckle down and crank out the email, document, work product or service.

Yesterday, one of these situations happened to me. After four days of intense meetings and business travel in the middle of a family move, followed by a hectic morning of back to back appointments, I had to lead a conference call. I was not as prepared for it as I would have liked. While the call went OK, I knew that it could have been better.

While this probably didn’t break the trust of those involved, it could have even though the parts where I was less prepared than I wanted to be might only have been detected by a few of those involved. The problem is that this could have created a small crack in their trust in my ability to deliver.

At this point, I had a choice. Pretend nothing happened or acknowledge it and make amends by putting some space in my calendar for prep before the next meeting so that it doesn’t happen again. Choose your solution carefully.

Commitment vs. Ego

When we’re “caught” in a situation like this, the cause may no longer exist, whether it was legitimate or an excuse. By the time the mistake goes public, the cause might not make any sense at all.

This is why your ego has to take a back seat and let your commitment to the people involved take over. Our egos are frequently the cause of conflicts, whitewashes and “cover ups”.

Ego spawns thoughts like “They cant be right because that means I’m wrong.”

Commitment must ALWAYS take precedence over ego.

If you’re a comrade of someone in an organization based on trust and honor and they choose themselves over the organization in a matter of trust and honor, how does that make you feel?

While it may be politically unsound for an elected official to admit a mistake, explain the situation and take steps to make amends, it’s equally ignorant to pretend nothing happened.

This isn’t pleading not guilty to something you didn’t do. It’s lying about something that happened long ago when you were perhaps young(er), less than 100% (even temporarily) and/or affected by then current circumstances. We like to pretend that circumstances don’t matter and that we’re perfect. They matter and we aren’t. We’re human.

When someone spins your mistake, it’s their lie. It becomes yours when you fail to call out their lie. It’s as easy as “Wait a minute, that’s not what’s going on here. Let me explain.

Why this matters to business leaders

Consider the question that a failure to “Let me explain” provokes about your decision making ability, regardless of anything you’ve done in the past.

The damage occurs when you choose ego over commitment because it tells everyone that your commitment as a leader to them and the organization is less important than your individual wants and needs.

It tells everyone that you can’t be trusted. Ever tried to regain trust of family? Constituents? Employees? Clients? The public? It’s terribly difficult.

When the lie is about the tiniest little thing, it sends a message: It tells your staff you’ll lie about anything. Trust is fragile. Your staff needs to be able to trust and believe in you, and you need this of them.

Put yourself in their place: How hard would you work for someone you can’t trust?

Never forget you’re a leader first (commitment) and an individual second (ego).

Help Them Buy Better

Nap @ Västra hamnen
Creative Commons License photo credit: bjaglin

A few days ago, Seth Godin asked why ethical marketers wouldn’t be “eager to have aggressive, clear and well-defined regulations” (about marketing).

He set the context by talking about the lies used to sell sunscreen, noting that lobbyists kindly helped the FDA water down proposed sunscreen regulations.

To quote Seth:

Why aren’t ethical marketers (of any product) eager to have clear and well-defined regulations, creating a set of honest definitions so that they can actually do what they set out to do–make a difference and make a living at the same time? If you’re busy competing against people willing to cut corners, I’d think you’d want the rules to be really aggressive, clear and obvious.

Yes, clear and obvious regulations would be great, but the assertion that we need more regulations to deal with them requires that I call BullSeth.

Enforcement and Influence

The enforcement of existing regulations in a fair and consistent manner is the primary issue.

Selective enforcement of these regulations is sometimes used to send a political message to some industries while others are left to their own honor or lack thereof.

At times, the agencies responsible for enforcement find themselves taking direction from elected officials who often take direction in the form of campaign contributions. At other times, these agencies do whatever they like, regardless of regulatory boundaries created to manage their work.

Before the everything-is-one-party’s-fault types weigh in, keep in mind that this ISN’T a (R) problem or a (D) problem. It’s universal regardless of the animal you represent.

A healthy business / consumer / economic environment doesn’t require oppressive business marketing/advertising regulations like Germany’s, we need those who represent us to use the existing regulations in a fair and consistent manner AND continue to improve them.

Smart businesses can’t sit around and wait for that to happen.

Don’t Wait, Educate.

Waiting for these changes isn’t going to cut it. Smart businesses educate prospects and customers about the quality choices they have.

That doesn’t mean your marketing has to be boring (far from it). It doesn’t mean your marketing can’t be compelling, entertaining, motivational and most importantly, effective – but it can be all those things without breaking existing laws, much less new ones.

In the meantime, we have to do our part to eliminate the slimeballs. Yes, I absolutely mean put them out of business, even if it means a game of Whack-a-Mole as they close one and start another.

Ethical business people don’t do enough to call out the slimy behavior of their competitors. Neither do consumers.

Buy Better

Meanwhile, people continue to take it from the cretins Seth referred to, rewarding these “businesses” for their behavior.

If folks keep buying from them and media outlets keep accepting their advertising, do you really think they are going to change?

Have you ever contacted a media outlet about the advertising they accepted from vendors advertising one thing and delivering another? Sure, it’s your word against the vendor’s. And yes, the media outlet will likely claim they have no responsibility for what appears in their paper, on their station or on their website.

I think you’re smarter than that.

The power of the customer to deal with these vendors comes simply: STOP BUYING FROM THESE IDIOTS.

It’s Just Word of Mouth

Businesses can help them do that.

Customers have lots of resources that enable them to take control, including Yelp, Urbanspoon, Angie’s List, Trip Advisor, etc. These services help people find businesses that deliver what they say and avoid the ones who don’t.

In a perfect world, we shouldn’t need any of them. Until we get there, we all have to help each other by calling BS when it’s warranted and giving kudos as well.

Too few businesses pay attention to those services. If you think no one is using them to make daily purchasing choices in your little town, you’re dead wrong – particularly if your area is frequented by tourists. You need to be monitoring them, addressing issues, “claiming” your business so people can find you, and encouraging consumers to share their thoughts there.

Encourage your customers to use tools that help them buy better. Provide them when you can. Help them stop buying from the wrong people.

Never underestimate the “little nobodies”

Today’s guest post comes from Amber Karnes, who did a great job of analyzing the rise and fall of Urban Outfitters most recent product thievery and how social media played a role in the fall.

One of the messages small businesses should get from this is buried deep within this quote from Amber:

When I worked as the webmaster (and often-shouted-down social media champion) at Fortune 500 railroad Norfolk Southern, I had a hard time explaining this concept. Their PR heads would say, â??Why should a big corporation worry about cultivating a relationship with some railfan who only has 600 followers? Shouldnâ??t we go after the big ones? These little nobodies canâ??t do us any damage.â? Well, today proved the opposite.

Take care of your fans and they will take care of you.

Need evidence? There is now a 3 or 4 week backlog at the Etsy store of the business that UO ripped off.

PS: Thanks for the heads up, AG.

Follow up: “Nobodies as Influencers”

Literacy of a different sort

One of the things I’m always pushing clients to do is expand their education.

Naturally, that includes the education of their staff, if they have one.

This education expands well beyond your line of business, because there are valuable lessons from every industry.

Likewise, there are processes in almost every industry that you can learn from, modify to fit your needs and thus use in a completely unrelated business.

What I seldom mention is that you can’t let yourself think you’re so smart that you let your guard down.

While it was more than a decade ago, we’ve seen the same sort of situation lately.

While the Fool has a point, neither they nor I would suggest that literacy on any topic is a bad idea. Financial literacy is their reason to exist.

The bad stuff occurs when you stop doing what got you to the point of being literacy, or even highly literate.

Dancing with “who brung ya”

Another thing to watch out for as you educate yourself is that deciding (or just “forgetting”) to stop doing the stuff to communicate, support and enthrall customers.

No matter how smart you think you are, or really become, you still have to take care of customers. No matter how far ahead of the second place player you are, you still have to follow up and do the other things that got you to number one.

If you aren’t yet number one, you’ve gotta keep doing the things that keep you climbing, much less the things that the current number one is too lazy or sleepy to do.

Lazy? Sleepy? “Too smart?”

We’ve talked about lazy and sleepy plenty of times. I won’t belabor them.

When you get too smart… correction, when you THINK you’ve become too smart, bad things are almost certain to start happening. Even worse, if you really think you’re that smart, you might ignore a failure as an aberration rather than you losing your business mojo.

You make assumptions rather than testing the market, your software, your marketing, or that formula for Flubber.

You think that you’re “Too big to fail”.

Getting better

Focus on getting smarter, but also on getting better.

It’s not worth the time to get smarter if you don’t use what you learn. Think back over your year.

How many things have you done to make your business better? To make yourself better?

Not just reading what will make you better, but DOING it…

Look, even Tom Peters and Dan Kennedy have their bad days. Just the other day, Dan commented in his newsletter (hint…) that he had a bad day because he “only completed 11 of the 12 tasks he’d scheduled for the day.”

He called his day “Unsatisfactory.”

I hold myself to a pretty high standard, and like you, Tom and Dan, I fail myself as well.

The difference between most people and Dan is that 11 of 12 is a great day for most people. For that matter, 6 of 12 is probably a great day for most.

Looking at 11 of 12 as unsatisfactory from a “this was my plan, but this is what happened” point of view is what keeps someone as amazingly smart as Dan from getting sleepy about his business.

Overconfidence

The gist of the Motley Fool article is this, and I quote:

“In 1998, the hedge fund Long Term Capital Management, staffed thick with Ph.D.s and two Nobel laureates, exploded amid an almost incomprehensible amount of leverage. Behind the failure was raging overconfidence. “The young geniuses from academe felt they could do no wrong,” wrote Roger Lowenstein in the book When Genius Failed.”

Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett said this about the firm profiled in the Motley Fool article:

“They probably have as high an average IQ as any sixteen people working together in one business in the country … just an incredible amount of intellect in that group. Now you combine that with the fact that those sixteen had extensive experience in the field they were operating in … in aggregate, the sixteen probably had 350 or 400 years of experience doing exactly what they were doing. And then you throw in the third factor: that most of them had virtually all of their very substantial net worths in the business … And essentially they went broke. That to me is absolutely fascinating.”

The EASY thing to do would be to dismiss anyone who is smart, or trying to get smarter, simply because this group of people royally screwed up. Of course, if you’re the type to think that way, you probably aren’t reading this.

I suggest you re-read that Buffett commet.

A final quote from the Fool article:

“LTCM is an example of financial education being overridden by a swamp of overconfidence, hubris, and a lack of common sense. Wall Street in general is another. The folks who ran Citigroup (NYSE: C) and AIG (NYSE: AIG) had plenty of financial education. But in general, they lacked the humility to realize the danger of what they were doing. One has to assume their top-notch pedigrees and financial educations contributed to that lack of humility.”

Like I said when we got started here…continue to educate yourself.

That *always* includes learning from someone else’s mistakes.

Bad Haircuts and Big Box Ethics

Today’s guest post from Scott McKain shows us a how Office Depot stole copyrighted material from a friend of his and used it in a national ad campaign.

One more reason to do your own marketing and shop locally owned businesses.

All that aside, take a good long look at the pricing lesson in Mr. Slutsky’s video.

Worth every second and a lot more.

Choices are more important than talent

Our local swim team’s coach has a saying: “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”

He’s telling the kids to make a choice to work hard to improve themselves rather than just assuming those Eastern Montana farm kids are going to swim faster by default. They still might not beat that incredibly talented swimmer, but they will swim better – and perhaps their very best – if they put in the effort to improve.

Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos has similar comments in his Princeton commencement speech. Have a listen. In particular, check out the 4.5 minute anecdote about his grandmother that starts at 6:29 into his talk.

The *Next* Greatest Generation

Misty Fall Baseball
Creative Commons License photo credit: Sister72

This weekend, several thousand seniors will graduate from Flathead Valley high schools.

It’s a bittersweet time for parents, and I think it’s fitting that it occurs soon after Memorial Day.

Confused? Bear with me for a bit.

Last weekend, I strolled alone through Columbia Falls’ Veterans Cemetery on a rainy Monday afternoon. I’m not into the big displays, parades and such. Visits to honor these folks is something I prefer to do privately.

The Greatest Generation

During my brief walk, I discovered the headstones of men & women who served their country at least as far back as the Spanish-American War. That takes us back to 1898 for those who – like me – have forgotten those dates from high school history (sorry, Mrs. Maggard).

In one area of that hallowed ground, I found myself surrounded by the resting places of men and women from the group Tom Brokaw calls “The Greatest Generation”.

As I stood there, I wondered what they would think of the job their grandkids have done. Their grandkids – a generation I belong to – have most certainly done a lot of good.

Sadly, we can also hang a lot of unfortunate things on the same group: Enron, our national financial situation, the Gulf spill and other stuff I need not remind you of.

One of the universal goals of parenthood is for your kids to do better than you. As I walked among the headstones on Memorial Day, it hit me that we aren’t doing enough to honor the sacrifices they made.

I don’t mean parades and fancy statues, nor do I mean flowery speeches in the park.

I mean actions.

We honor them by our actions, taken by virtue of the freedom they worked and died to obtain for us.

Stepping up to the plate

Just today, a grandmother related the story of a baseball coach in CFalls screaming obscenities at the elementary-aged boys on his team and following that up by calling them names.

As the drama played out in front of the entire team and all the parents and grandparents watching practice, no one said a thing.

I am embarrassed to say it, but I get the idea from the event as related to me that those in attendance felt that was acceptable behavior for a coach teaching young men how to play ball and how to react when you don’t get exactly what you want.

The boy’s mom noted that it was too late to say anything about it.

I think she meant it was too late in the day by the time she heard about it from her mom, but regardless my comment to her was that it is never too late to say something that really matters. (For my part, I’ll be passing the story on to the league’s board)

In the absence of feedback to contrary, people like this will continue to act like jerks. Call them on it. If you’re that coach, expect to be held accountable. In the future, consider being a little more like Armando Gallaraga.

Unusual class

In the history of professional baseball, there have only been *twenty* perfect games (amazingly, two of them this season).

On what was presumably the last out of Gallaraga’s perfect game, umpire Jim Joyce made a bad call on a routine play, saying the baserunner was safe. Instant replays showed him to be out, and even Joyce later said it was the wrong call.

No perfect game for Gallaraga.

To Gallaraga’s credit, he SMILED when he saw the umpire’s call of “Safe!” and to this day has been nothing but graceful. A professional baseball player who lives up to his name in attitude as well as performance.

The Class of 2010

There was a bright spot in the swearing baseball coach episode in CFalls.

One young man on the team left the field and walked over to his grandmother. He told her that he wasn’t going to play for that team anymore and would be returning to his old team.

Like Gallaraga, he knew what was right and wrong and ACTED accordingly.

Accountability and action from a TEN YEAR OLD. Outstanding.

Speaking of action and accountability, I have high expectations for the class of 2010. I know quite a few of these young people and can’t wait to see what they achieve.

Based on the performance and actions of the ones I know, I expect them to not only be accountable for their behavior, but to be unapologetic about expecting the same from their parents’ generation.

That and a healthy dose of tenacity is what will make the Class of 2010 the next “Greatest Generation”.

Is your business ready to employ and challenge these folks? Is it ready to channel their enthusiasm? Is it ready to teach them the lessons they’ll need to take their next step in the business world?

It had better be. They join the workforce on Saturday morning.

Situational Ethics: Don’t go there

She sells seashells: the extended inventory
Creative Commons License photo credit: quinn.anya

The probably not-so-old joke goes something like this: “There are two kinds of people: those who break people into two groups and those who don’t.”

When it comes to business ethics, there’s usually a pretty clear definition of the line between these two groups: the unethical and the accidentally unethical.

The accidentally unethical will stumble now and then and make a mistake that, in many cases, they didn’t even realize was a problem.

These folks are the reason why even the most jaded person needs to start by giving these situations a second look or a benefit of the doubt prior to dropping the hammer. Sometimes, you’ll find that easing into these situations will work to your advantage. You can always get serious about things after you gather more information.

The Wild West

I had just that situation occur a few years ago. Back in the wild west days of the internet, I found out that a competitor was using my product name in his web site’s keywords – something that no ethical website designer or business owner would do.

This is a problem for the same reason that I can’t put “Goodyear tires” on a sign in front of my tire business if I don’t sell Goodyear tires. It’s misleading and it uses someone else’s trade names to attract business to my business. Not only is this unethical / wrong / slimy, but in most cases it’s illegal.

Plus it really ticks off customers who pull in wanting a pair of Goodyear Eagle GTs only to find that you sell nothing but Chinese-made retreads.

Back to the story. When I first found this website, I was angry about it. This was back in the days when website keywords mattered a lot more than they do now and I was in the middle of the “climbing to altitude” phase of my business – fighting for every inch and not interested in giving any of it back to a thief.

But…something inside told me to tread softly, so I called the guy in Michigan and explained the situation. He sounded sincere when he explained that he didn’t know that it was illegal to use my business name and product name in his website keywords.

Note: In most countries, it’s ok to use a competitor’s brand and name when comparing your product / service to theirs. It’s not cool to use them in ways to “game the system”. We’ll skip the details and geeky stuff for now.

The twist

As I explained the problem to the guy using my trade names, he got it and agreed to remove the terms from his website…and then a funny thing happened.

He offered to sell his business to me.

At the time, he was my biggest competitor. If we lost a sale to someone at that time, more often than not, it was to this guy.

And yes, of course I jumped on it. Not only was it a chance to take over a sizable chunk of the market, it made us that much stronger.

The gravy: the guy was well-liked in the business, so his enthusiasm about getting out of the business and selling it to someone who would treat his customers properly gave us a nice word-of-mouth boost.

The other kind

I don’t mind competitors. You shouldn’t either – they make us all better.

In fact, several of the local ones are friends and we refer business to each other.

Unfortunately, a couple of them – and one in particular – has shown that he is the other sort of unethical person. The kind that knows it and doesn’t care if you catch them at it.

More recently, I came across someone locally who was using the byline of this blog to advertise his marketing business.

When I called him on the fact that it was uncool to use my byline (he’s copied my business slogan to promote his business), he was unapologetic and refused to stop, claiming he somehow randomly arrived at the same slogan despite never seeing my blog or hearing of me.

Yeah. I got that same story from the Easter bunny and Santa too.

Kinda makes you wonder how he treats his customers, doesn’t it?

The Genie

You find these situations in business, politics and your personal life – and they seem to become more prevalent as a situation becomes more challenging / desperate (like the tough economy many are experiencing now). Almost without exception they will come back to bite you. Don’t let tough times tempt you into doing something like this.

A friend of mine has a saying that fits these situations well: “When you move on, the only thing you leave behind is your reputation.”

That’s a genie that you can’t get back into the bottle.

Two young ladies: A contrast in character and leadership

Year after year, I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to watch young men turn from “typical 5th graders” into amazing young adult leaders. Because of that, examples of youth leadership in the news tend to get my attention.

Here’s a study in contrasts of leadership and character from two young ladies:

Got a reputation?

Earlier this week, actress Lindsay Lohan decided to sue E-Trade because they had the nerve to name a character with the same first name as hers in one of their baby commercials – and the baby just happened to be a “milkaholic”.

Lohan claims that the “milkaholic” baby was a jab at her substance abuse problems. Maybe it was and maybe there’s a lesson there about public figures, leadership, role models and so on. Just maybe.

An enterprising person or their agent might have contacted the California Milk Processor Board in order to leverage the alleged characterization into a fun, and probably popular, commercial for their “Got Milk?” campaign. But that didn’t happen. Too busy calling the lawyers to see a good opportunity, perhaps.

The shiny side of the coin

Later in the week, a client sent me a link to a leadership post about Megan, who convinced her big-time CEO dad that he needed to keep a commitment to run in a half-marathon, despite having a seriously overscheduled, busy executroid week.

Megan’s clearly a fine example of the ability of young people to lead. Her email was classic, post-on-the-wall stuff that every leader should read, file away and pull out once a month to review – just in case.

Now…think about your day. What example are you setting for the people around you?