If I owned a fitness center

In the process of elliptical-ing across some wide open (virtual) spaces recently, I thought to myself, “What would I change if I owned this place?”

I might warm up the pool a couple of degrees, but that really isn’t the kind of change I meant.

The things that came to mind were in the spirit of “Be indispensable“.

So what would make that place the ONLY place to be a member?

When I have these conversations with a client, the first thing we often talk about are their clients.

We start simple. Who are they? What do they need?

A Day in the Life

To answer the “Who are they?” question, let’s look around at a day in the life of a fitness center and see how we can segment the members (customers) into groups based on gender, age, level of fitness, “Why they are there”, and so on.

I don’t mean a group like “People who need/want to work out.” Obviously, most people who join qualify for either need to or want to.

I’m thinking about a list like this, and I’m sure it’s far from complete:

  • Professional or semi-pro athletes, such as people who regularly marathon, triathlon and/or Ironman. You might include players for the local semi-pro teams. Around here, the Glacier Twins and/or Glacier Knights would be included.
  • Bodybuilders.
  • Post-partum moms who want to get their “pre-pregnancy body” back.
  • Pregnant women.
  • Men recovering from heart surgery.
  • Anyone newly diagnosed with diabetes.
  • People who are new to working out.
  • “Formerly disciplined workout people” who haven’t worked out in five, ten or more years.
  • People recovering from an injury, possibly under the direction of a physical therapist.

Within these groups, you’ll find breakdowns for gender and/or age group. Don’t underestimate those.

Everyone should be considering the sizable wave of Baby Boomers heading into their 60s-70s-80s might impact their business and what opportunities they suggest. Likewise, research has repeatedly shown that women control or influence 80% or more of household spending.

Is your business catering to these groups? If not, is your business even passingly friendly to these groups?

I Have Needs

The second question on my list was “What do they need?”

Until you create the list above, your needs list might be simpler than it should be because you might just be thinking “What do my members need?”.

Once we’ve gone through the customer (and prospect) identification and segmentation process, we’ll find more needs.

That’s why we go through this probably tedious, sometimes eye-rolling process that almost always helps you find new things that your customers need. The result should be obvious.

What do they need?

Now look back at that list of customer types from a “wants and needs” perspective. Consider the needs of body builders, post-partum moms, heart patients, and semi-pro athletes, for example. In some ways, they’re similar. In others, they have wildly different expectations.

They all need machines/weights, steam room, hot tub, pool, showers, restrooms and so on.

After that, the needs among the groups vary quite a bit:

  • Some would benefit most from instruction and/or working in groups.
  • Some prefer private facilities.
  • Some prefer gender-specific workout times/rooms.
  • Some prefer age-specific.
  • Some work evening or night shift.
  • Some would prefer to find a workout partner for motivation, spotting weights and/or accountability.
  • Some would like to be gently nagged if they don’t show up 3 times a week.

One example of many obvious ones: You wouldn’t necessarily have 20-somethings in a Yoga class with 60-somethings. Not because they can’t enjoy each other’s company, but because the instruction and goals for one group probably don’t parallel the other. That might drive you to have separate Yoga classes for singles, post-partums, “retirees”, physical therapy patients and so on. In each case, the instructor could be matched with attendees.

“What about me?”

If you don’t own a fitness center, you might be thinking this discussion isn’t much help.

Use what you can after adjusting it for your business. Can you take any idea here and make it work for you?

Finally, take a hard look at the thought process itself (“Who are my customers, what are their unique needs”) and see what you can come up with for your business. Even if you’ve done this five, ten or fifteen years back, I suggest doing it again. You might find yourself in new markets, focusing on a particular type of customer that you’d previously ignored, etc.

Don’t Listen to these Creativity Killers

Green Elephants Garden Sculptures
Creative Commons License photo credit: epSos.de

I‘ve been reading John Maxwell’s “How Successful People Think” recently.

This list of creativity killing comments from John’s book reminded me of so many things going on in the world these days that I simply had to make it a guest post.

How many times have you heard these comments when you shared an idea?

  • Follow the rules.
  • Don’t ask questions.
  • Don’t be different.
  • Stay within the lines.
  • There is only one way.
  • Don’t be foolish.
  • Be practical.
  • Be serious.
  • Think of your image.
  • That’s not logical.
  • It’s not practical.
  • It’s never been done.
  • It can’t be done.
  • It didn’t work for them.
  • We tried that before.
  • It’s too much work.
  • We can’t afford to make a mistake.
  • It will be too hard to administer.
  • We don’t have the time.
  • We don’t have the money.
  • Yes, but …
  • Failure is final.

While some of them might be worth a discussion somewhere down the road, they’re guaranteed to kill creative thought during idea formation.

This is just a sliver of the riches in this compact, valuable read: Buy and READ John’s book.

Execution, Ideas and why “I need a programmer”

Design Is
Creative Commons License photo credit: kasrak

Every programmer, much less anyone who does something that startups need, has had these discussions.

However, that isn’t why it’s today’s guest post.

The thought process from idea to creation. The value of execution.

That’s why it’s a worthwhile read.

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.

Innovation breeds profit? Who knew?

New corsair
Creative Commons License photo credit: psiaki

Profit is an evil word in many circles these days, but I used it anyway.

Are you the innovation leader in your market?

It seems to work for Apple.

Think back to your last real innovation. Yes, that one.

Remember that product or service that made customers and prospects flock to your office, store, website, trade show booth or reseller displays?

Once you got to that point, business sure did seem easy, didn’t it?

Think a little farther back. How’d you get there?

Follow the thought process that made you decide to reach out a bit more than normal.

Isn’t it worth being your market’s or even your industry’s thought leader again?

Sure makes those trips to the bank a lot more fun.

Meating expectations

When I first came across this meat vending machine, the comment I read introducing it was something along the lines of “Do we *really* need this?”

If this butcher has customers who do shift work – or anything that keeps them from visiting the shop during business hours- it’s worth a try.

Perhaps he had a lot of customer comments about his hours from shift workers and this was how he decided to serve them.

Perhaps it only serves custom pre-paid orders. You don’t really know, but if it works for the shopkeeper and their customers, who cares?

The real question is what can you borrow (and change to suit your needs) from another line of work in order to better serve your customers?

Profitable creativity or touchy-feely crap?

Jobs.

Politicians talk about them.

Some own businesses that have created jobs.

The trouble is, it’s not just any-old-job that needs creating.

According to author Richard Florida, 45% of US jobs today are service-sector jobs. In other words, often low-paying jobs as retail sales clerks, customer service staff, food prep workers, personal health aides, and so on.

If you think back a few years, these are the same jobs that Americans supposedly “didn’t want to do”.

Rhetoric aside, the problem with these jobs is that the prevailing wage requires 2 or 3 of them to support a single household, sometimes more.

This isn’t a blog about humanities and social science, so we won’t pursue the impacts of that problem.

And those service jobs?

Florida comments on his blog about a portion of the working population that he calls the “Creative Class”. He refers to expanding creativity well beyond this so-called “class” in this comment about nationwide jobs strategy:

At bottom, a jobs strategy needs to start from a fundamental principle: That each and every human being is creative and that we can only grow, develop, and prosper by harnessing the full creativity of each of us. For the first time in history, future economic development requires further human development. This means develop a strategy to nurture creativity across the board â?? on the farm, in the factory, and in offices, shops, non-profits, and a full gamut of service class work, as well as within the creative class. Our future depends on it.

It might be easy to discard this as a bunch of touchy-feely crap that’s of no use to anyone.

Before you do that, look around in your own community.

Who’s rocking?

Which employers are rocking, despite the average condition of businesses in today’s economy? Why do you think their situation is so different from everyone else’s?

Have you ASKED?

It’s easy to say “well, they aren’t in the construction, building materials or real estate business”, but that’s the lazy answer.

First off, they might very well be in those industries. If they are, they’re doing something differently than those who are not doing well.

They observed. They reacted. They planned. They strategized. And after all that, maybe they got a little lucky.

Are they also innovative? Creative? What processes are used to create new products, nurture new ideas and change their market, much less their business?

How’d they get that way? I suspect part of it comes from observing others and from experience on prior projects.  There might be a key employee who drives the entire company’s creative process, or transformed how they look forward and how fast they take action.

Finally, they might exhibit…

Habits

Australian Innovation, an innovation-focused group of representatives from the private sector as well as Australian Federal and State agencies, identified 7 key habits of innovative/creative organizations:

  1. A deep understanding of the customer and market needs: Engage with customers; Understand industry trends and competitive environment; Big picture perspectives
  2. A â??Cultureâ? of innovation: Vision; leadership; Executive support; Openness to new ideas; supportive/encouraging of innovation; commercial imperative to innovate; Flexibility.
  3. An Open Innovation model: Open collaboration model and having global partnerships
  4. An appropriate funding model for innovation activities: Willingness to invest in R&D activities; Balanced investment in future versus current needs.
  5. Ability to execute: Commitment of resources dedicated to innovation; Continuous development/improvement processes; Benchmarking; Clear goals/deadlines/strategy; Best practice evolves over time (dynamic); Flexible and quick to move.
  6. Human intellect/creativity: Development of skills; Knowledge base; Talented Educated individuals; Willingness to learn/change.
  7. Management of Intellectual Property: Ability to manage/protect IP that is generated through the innovation process in a practical manner.

If you let yourself get past the touchy-feely, can you develop these habits?

What works for the rockers?

Make a list of the rockin’ businesses in your community. Ask to meet their CEOs. Ask all of them to get together as a group and speak to your Chamber of Commerce or even an adhoc group of business owners.

Ask them what they do differently. Ask open-ended questions. Yes/No questions don’t often contribute to breakthroughs.

You might also look nationally to see who the creative employers are – no matter what kind of workers they employ.

The obvious in-our-face answers are Apple and Facebook, but not all creative employers are in the tech sector. In fact, they’d better not be limited to that sector.

Want to start simple? Ask yourself at least one question per day that confronts and challenges the status quo in your market.

Lost it all? Here’s how he came back


Today’s guest post is an interview with James Altucher, who had it all after selling his internet-based business.

Shortly thereafter, he lost it all during the dot com bust in 2001-2002.

The video above tells the story on what he did to turn his business fortunes around.

He used software as a means, but the key is the thought process. Worth a listen (6 minutes).

Attitude or Talent?

Opera House In Pink
Creative Commons License photo credit: judepics

Sometimes one can conquer the other.

One of the most difficult, but rewarding things I do is encourage people to kick butt and take names – despite all assurances that they  can’t do whatever, can’t reach that rung of the ladder.

There’s a lot of people out there who don’t believe they can do (whatever). Some of them might be right – and if they never try, they are surely right.

But sometimes you encounter someone who is simply off-the-charts amazing. And sometimes you can see it, but coaxing it out of them is crazy hard.

At times, it’s all you can do to get them to step up to the plate and take a swing. But once they do…look out.

One such example

Paul Potts was a not-so-confident cell phone salesperson.

He didn’t want to go, but his wife convinced him that he had to give it a shot. Even then, a flip of a coin almost kept him off the stage at Britain’s Got Talent.

On stage, you worry for him as soon as you see him. He looks nervous. He’s unsettled and not at all sure of himself.

When I saw the opening moments of this video, I wondered how he managed to be successful selling mobile phones.

Despite all that, he begrudgingly steps up to the plate and does this… (sorry, I can’t embed the video – but it’s definitely worth it).

Who is your Paul?

Who in your organization has a talent like this buried inside them? The talent could be anything – not just what Paul does. It could easily be something that you never expected them to be capable of.

I’ve definitely had tech staff come in-house only to find that they were amazing salespeople with an innate ability to create a relationship.  Not what you expect from a tech person.

What are you doing to seek out these talents?

What are you doing to make it easy to step out, step up and be amazing like Paul?

Does your business encourage such things? If a cultural change is needed to make it easier for folks to show a skill that the business could leverage, you have to step up and enable it.

What would it do for your company to find just one person with amazing skills that your company could leverage?

Look around. Enable their amazingness.

If you aren’t sure about the your business’ create-some-amazingness culture, think about how it accepts suggestions from employees and customers. Is that easy? Rewarding for the suggester? Is there a feedback loop? Or is there an abuse loop?

What environment do you need to create to make it as easy as possible for your Paul to step up?

What does your business potentially miss out on if you don’t enable/encourage your Pauls? What do your customers miss out on?

Transform the customer experience

schooling bannerfish school
Creative Commons License photo credit: jon hanson

Yesterday we talked about how Bone’s of Atlanta transformed their clientele’s wine buying experience by putting custom iPad-based wine selection tools in their hands.

Today, we’re talking about another iPad-impacted project, but this isn’t just about the iPad.

Instead, it’s about what steps you are willing to take to transform your customers’ experience with you.

For example, it might be hard to imagine that your school would put an iPad in every student’s hands – and allow (actually require) them to take them home at night, but that’s exactly what they did. Someone said “What if?” and followed it with action.

If you take a look at how Fraser Speiers says his school’s iPad project is going, you’ll find comments like “couldnt get them (young students) to stop working on math.”

He also comments that…

I simply can’t yet get to grips with everything that’s happening. Put simply, the iPad deployment has transformed our school. Not evenly and not everywhere yet, but it’s coming.

When’s the last time you heard someone say something “transformed” their school? (No Child Left Behind notwithstanding)

Perhaps a better question is this: When did you last transform the experience your customers receive?

It doesn’t require an iPad or 12 extra employees in most cases, just a little thought.