Marketing automation won’t save you

We’ve talked about marketing automation on and off over the years. On any number of occasions, I’ve suggested that you use these tools because they can help you get things done that most businesses simply can’t (or won’t) get done any other way. That’s still true. Even so, it’s important to understand that buying and deploying marketing automation isn’t a cure-all. 

Adjusting expectations

Marketing automation firm ads like to imply that their tools are the reason that a company’s revenue, lead volume, etc are growing like crazy. One look at these lofty figures tempts you to dive right in, assuming that the automation is going to save your bacon. It won’t.

Some assert that their clients’ revenue has grown by xx percent and try to leave the impression that this happened simply because they turned on their software. Not quite. 

You need to understand why I say “It won’t” and “Not quite”, so let’s talk about what marketing automation can do, and what it won’t do. Having proper expectations is crucial. 

Marketing automation can and won’t…

Marketing automation is a great thing – particularly when used well. In my mind, the two best reasons to automate your marketing are to improve the consistency of delivery of your marketing message, and to learn what’s working.

It’s easy for a business owner to forget to send a sales email,  newsletter, postcard, or follow up email. If you use any sort of customer service software, you know exactly what I mean. Customer service software helps you stay on top of service requests. Result: customers and their needs don’t get forgotten in the chaos of a busy day. Ever gotten sidetracked and forgotten to email a particular group about an upcoming event or sale? The wrong time to figure out that you forgot to send email invites is when you see a small turnout at an event. Improved consistency of delivery makes a big difference.

If a vending machine takes your money and gives you nothing, you wouldn’t put another dollar in it. When you start receiving data proving that certain advertising gives you nothing in return… your decision is similar. You fix it, or you stop using it. Learning what works changes everything. It tells you where to spend and where not to spend. Marketing automation software is pretty good at making that easier.

Marketing automation won’t write emails for you. It won’t make your emails better (sort of – more on that later). It won’t put your marketing on autopilot. Autopilot implies “push one button, take a nap until it’s time to land the plane“. You DO have to set it up and regularly attend to it. However, it won’t make you manually sort through user lists, or deal with a number of manual tasks that none of us have time for. While it can automatically take action based on an event, you have to set that up. 

Do something. 

One of the benefits of marketing automation software is that it requires you to DO SOMETHING. When you spend money on something that can send emails at just the right moment, you have to have written and queued these emails. That’s not the same as looking at a fast approaching payroll date and semi-randomly rushing out a marketing email or calling someone to buy an ad (yes, it happens).

Likewise, while these tools can post to social media for you on a day when you’re too busy to do it, you have to have already written and queued that post.

In the presence of automation something interesting happens: we have to be better prepared. The power these tools provide “obligates” you to develop some marketing discipline. That’s what I meant earlier when I said marketing automation tools won’t improve your emails “sort of”. With advance prep and consideration, your email and other messages are certain to become more effective.

Circling back to the “credit” that marketing automation firms claim, well, some of that goes to you. “Accidental” marketing rarely works well, so a portion of the gains from automated marketing are due to better preparation.

Marketing automation won’t save you by itself, yet it’s quite likely to improve results if you prepare well, use the tools, & take action on the data produced. Combined with what’s in your head, these tools will help you find more of the people who need the solutions you offer.

What’s your growth plan?

Last week, we talked about the mechanics of growth, focusing on the important of renewals / repeat business to your growth. We skipped over one of the more important aspects of figuring out how to grow: what you want your business’ growth destination to be.

Are you the “doer”, the “p and p’er” or both?

Figuring out your preferred role is critical. It drives how you feel about growth. Few people like both roles, but they do exist.

Some people are doers. They love the work. Whether it’s drywalling, programming, operating heavy equipment, or defending clients in court, they love the work. Some doers don’t even want to think about stepping away from the work to deal with employees & other trappings of growth.

Some doers decide not to grow their business (or grow it beyond themselves) because they’re seriously allergic to the “people & paperwork” aspects of business. They know that growing the business is all but guaranteed to pull them away from the work they love.

The “people and paperwork” role I’m speaking of is “the back office”. We’re talking about sales, operations, marketing, hiring, people and project management, etc. Unlike the doer, there are some folks who love the “people and paperwork” thing. They’d be happy to let people who love the work of the business actually do that work while they take care of the p & p duties.

Few people relish both roles, but they do exist. No matter which of these roles is your favorite, you need to figure out where you want the business to end up. Once you figure that out, the path to growing it (or not) will be far more clear.

Thinking about growth

At this point, you might be wondering what your options are. Only you know which one’s right for you, but you’ve got to figure it out. Really, it’s about where you want the business to go combined with where you want to go.

Some would like to do the work until they retire, close it down and walk away. Some would like to grow the business and sell it. Others might want to grow it and pass (or sell) it to their family. You might be looking at some combination of those things.

One thing I like to ask owners is to describe how they see their life 10 or 20 years down the road. Does the business need you around at least a few days a week? How does your team (and your customers) feel if you disappear for months? Does the business disappear if you disappear? Does it not even skip a beat? Is there work that you do now that you’d rather not do because it takes you away from work you love?

It helps to have an idea which of these scenarios you want to live because the scenario drives what your growth plan looks like and what you as an owner and manager need to focus on.

Getting out

If you want to be the person who disappears for months and has a business at home that never misses you, then your growth plan needs to include (if not focus on) replacing each of your roles. Most of you wear multiple hats. Start by giving away the hats you can delegate easily. Automate a hat or two if you can.

The big job is replacing you. While there are people qualified to run your business, they probably don’t have the “you” brain. They’ll make decisions based on their experience, values, ethics, etc. If that’s OK, then you’re in great shape once you find and train that person.

However, most small business owners aren’t OK with that, no matter how great their hire. Why? They want the decisions to be made the way they would make them. Be patient selecting and training this person so you can sleep easy later.

Staying in

If you want to stay, do the “real work” & avoid the p and p tasks, it’s time to find someone you can build trust in so that they can take on all those operational tasks. Focus on what allows you to step away from the things that annoy and frustrate you and the things you put off. Procrastination is a great way to identify what you hate to do. This person may need to take on partner status, which is OK for the right person.

 

Photo by Atli Harðarson

What’s important when getting started?

A young man I know is getting started in business. He provides handyman services for homeowners. In a display of wisdom beyond his years, he asked his Facebook connections for things to read and people to talk to re: business advice.

Getting started means wearing several hats

Running a business on your own means you get to do all the jobs, including:

  1. Getting organized.
  2. Deciding who you are best suited to work with.
  3. Deciding who you shouldn’t work for even if they’re throwing $1000 bills at you. Almost everyone does this at least once because we start out under the illusion that everyone can be our customer.
  4. Letting people know that you’re available to help them. This includes discussing what you’re really good at and staying away from everything else (ie: learning to say no).
  5. Pricing your work.
  6. Selling / reaching an agreement to perform work.
  7. Doing the work.
  8. Following up.

The hard work

When getting started in your own business, there’s some “hard work” that has nothing to do with your service. I say “hard work” because they’re often things you don’t want to do, don’t have the time or money for, or don’t see the purpose of.

This includes “Getting organized”, which include making sure your bookkeeping is under control, getting all the permits and licenses that you need, doing whatever is necessary to make sure you are operating legally wherever you live, and getting the proper bonding (if needed) and (definitely needed) insurance to protect you and your customers so that if and when you make a mistake, it doesn’t cost you everything you own now and ever will own.

These things will seem like a pain, but the reality is that the pain they cause is much smaller than the pain created by not taking care of them.

Marketing and sales

Items two through five may generate an “OMG, seriously?”

A few thoughts about them…

If your typical happy customer is married, lives in 59912, works outside the home, and has a spouse who travels, then you’ll want to focus on identifying and attracting those specific people to your services. Don’t waste time advertising to 100,000 people who don’t “fit the profile”.

Come up with a one page (both sides) piece of paper that tells EXACTLY what you are great at (and what you actually want to do). Include your contact info.

Get a box of your business cards made into fridge magnets. Old school, but people will leave them on the fridge forever once they trust you. Even if you’re in their phone contacts, that fridge magnet is in their face every day. Make sure the visible side has your name, phone number, name and what you do. It’s OK to make a special card for magnets.

Figure out what you need to make from each job, including the expenses you might not be thinking of, like insurance, fuel, uniforms, marketing, downtime, taxes, etc. If you do everything else right and mess up your pricing, you won’t be happy.

Be humble, but don’t be shy. If you’re great at something, simply tell people you love to do that work.

As you prepare to leave the customer’s home, ask for more work. Say “Is there anything else that you’ve been meaning to get fixed?“, then let them think long enough so they’re the next one to speak. If they say no, say “OK, I’ll be happy to come back if you something comes up.

Ask your mom, your grandma, and the moms of a few of your friends these questions:

  • “What frustrates you about repair guys that you’ve had in the house?”
  • “Who is your favorite repair company?”
  • “Why are they your favorite? What makes them so special?”

I can predict the answers, but I want you to ask anyway. YOU need to hear these words coming from folks who resemble your customers. These conversations will help you prepare to sell to the customers you want. It isn’t about convincing them to do the work. It’s about showing them you’re the right guy for them.

Do the work, follow up

I’m not going to tell you how to do the work, but I will suggest how things work while you’re at the customer’s home.

Show up in a clean truck.

In Montana, this isn’t always easy, but do the best you can. Your rig sets a first impression when you arrive. It doesn’t have to be a $60,000 diesel rig. It just needs to be clean.

Park on the street.

You don’t want to park in the customer’s driveway and drop a bunch of mud, gravel and whatever else you’ve been driving through that day. You also don’t want to be in the way when someone gets home, someone needs to leave, etc.

Show up in a clean shirt that tucks in.

This means buying at least 3-4 uniform shirts. Get your company name, your name, and your logo sewn onto them (if you have a logo). If you want to go a little crazy, put a big logo, phone number and website address on the back. No matter what, make sure your company’s name is visible through the window of someone’s front door. You want the shirt to tuck in because repeat customers don’t call you because they like seeing your rear hanging out under an untucked shirt. Enough said.

If a job trashes a shirt for the day, change into a clean shirt before arriving at your next job. Yep, you might have to carry several clean shirts with you. Pro athletes don’t take the field in dirty uniforms and neither should you. Show up looking like a pro every time. Meanwhile, you’re a walking billboard.

Buy a box of those silly little shoe booties.

If you walk into someone’s home leaving a trail of muddy, snowy footprints, I guarantee you won’t be asked to come back. Yes, it’s a bit of a hassle to pull them on and pull them off repeatedly, but it beats losing a customer you worked hard to get. You want to be the service they choose first. When some other handyman asks for their business, you want them thinking “Nope, never using anyone but (that guy).

Make it like you were never there.

After you’ve left a customer’s home, you don’t want them to find any evidence you were there except for the repaired item, a receipt, and a business card. If you made a mess, clean it up. If you tracked something in or the job generate a mess, be sure you have the stuff needed to clean it up. If someone has to clean up after you, they’ll never ask you to come back.

Sign up for Square

… or a similar service that lets you get paid via card using your phone. Many competitors will take credit / debit cards. Yes, it will cost you a few percent of your sales, but it will get you sales as well. Be sure to put the card logos on your business card and one page brochure.

Find customers that can help you during lean times

One of the frustrating aspects of managing rentals is dealing with maintenance. Become the dependable guy for people who own rentals, or rental management firms and you’ll have business that keeps feeding you when you aren’t sure where your next gig will come from. Think about other opportunities similar to this.

Follow up

Call or text the customer the next day and ask them if everything is ok. Leave a voice mail if they don’t answer. Almost NO ONE does this. You will stand out by doing so. 1000 handyman services might read this and STILL, few of them that don’t already do it will start doing it habitually. If things went well, it’s a natural time to thank them and remind them that your business depends on referrals from satisfied customers. If they didn’t go well, it’s a chance to save that customer. Sure, you have to hustle a little, but people refer vendors who took great care of them.

Get some help with Facebook marketing

Your business is ideal for marketing to people on Facebook. Despite all the noise about Facebook data in the news, it’s important to know two things:

  • Most data was given with implicit permission that was granted when someone took a poll on Facebook.
  • This data has been collected for 100 years. Facebook’s is a bit easier to use.

For example, you can ask Facebook to put your ad in front of homeowners who live in the 59912 zip code who have a household income of $xx,xxx. You can optionally have them echo the ads to Instagram. You can have them eliminate homeowners who aren’t married and otherwise filter out people who don’t fit your ideal customer profile.

Few other advertising mechanisms can put your smiling face in front of *exactly* the right people, much less charge you only for the ones who click on your ad.

 Photo by Wonderlane

One thing for the new year: Focus

It’s the time of year when many people are trying to figure out how to make the new year better than the last one. “Better” means many things to many people, so just focus on what it means to you. If you aren’t sure, that’s a good place to start: Decide how you’d like to improve the new year as compared to last year.

If you’re looking for an idea to get the process started, start with focus, triage, and simplify.

Focus

Have you ever used noise-eliminating headphones on a flight?

If not, ask someone who uses them what’s different about flying while wearing them. More than likely, they will tell you that they arrive less tired or less mentally worn out than they used to. That low, almost inaudible engine thrum wears you down, but you don’t realize it’s happening until you eliminate it.

Having too much going on & too little focus has the same impact.

Solo business owners wear all the hats. We know we have to do everything, but we can’t focus on anything long enough to do it really well. You feel like you’re running around the room to catch the next spinning plate that lost its momentum and is about to fall off the stick.

I describe this as “doing 100 jobs poorly” because that’s how it feels when you’re doing too much, trying to fit everything in, de-prioritizing nothing. Result: You’re giving nothing what it deserves.

In order to focus on something, a decision must be made: What will you stop focusing on?

Sometimes figuring out what to discard or delay is harder than actually focusing, because we think we want it all.  Once we get it (or think we do), then we wonder what in the world we were thinking when we decided that we wanted it all.

Making the decision to do away with (or delegate) a task requires triage.

Triage

Before we can focus on something, we need to put the “sorting hat” on and determine what our attention will be zeroed in on. Allowing ourselves the freedom to not do something requires that we deal with that item, or it will feel like that thrum that wears us out.

Two weeks ago, we talked about eliminate, delegate, automate. You should already have a list from that exercise, but if you don’t – this is a good time to handle that.

I’ll ask the question again: What can you teach an employee to do in 30 minutes or less today?

If you don’t have any employees and you’d like to keep it that way, consider a virtual assistant (VA). They don’t have to be in a third world country. There are people in your town who do this work. Look on Craigslist and NextDoor. Ask your friends. Put the word out at Rotary, Kiwanis, Elks, and the Chamber, etc. Ask your customers who own a business.

*Someone* will know of one, or will be one.

You can find them online, but I suggest starting local. Solo business people seem to latch onto the benefits of VAs. Before long, a VA could be running errands for you that used to syphon the life out of your day. It’s more than just getting time back. It’s getting the mental load off your shoulders and giving you the headroom to focus on what’s left and do it better. Remember “better”? We started this conversation with that in mind.

Don’t worry about finding the perfect VA the first time. Budget two or three hours a week with them. Let them build your trust in their ability to make things happen.

Simplify

Making a complex thing simple is hard. Sometimes simplifying a task is as simple as documenting it. Once a task is documented, others can often handle it for you.

There are things on your list that only you can do (at least for now). That’s why we’re eliminating other tasks.

Simplification and focus is also about reducing interruptions. How many times a day does your phone ding at you with an inane notification from Facebook (etc)? Are any of those notifications and the interruptions they create more important than your biggest challenge this week?

Not likely.

Disable the notifications from your “noisiest” app for a week and see how it changes your work day.

Photo by crudmucosa

Independence Day for CFalls

Last week, we talked about the plant closing in Columbia Falls, MT.

This week, I’d like to talk a little more about this part:

Even though we’ve been here before, that doesn’t make it any less scary, worrisome, or frustrating. The pressure to produce cash flow to feed the family and pay the bills is on everyone’s mind.

If you’re targeted for layoff, I’ll bet you have skills, experience and knowledge that you’ve taken for granted for years. They’ve become second nature to you. I could wake you up at 2:00 am and ask you something related to whatever you do or know and without having to think about it, you’d rattle off great advice about how to deal with it, fix it and/or do it.

This is an opportunity to take control, even though you probably don’t feel you have much of that right now. You might have a dream that was always delayed by the “golden handcuffs” of a long-term job. Can you pursue it now?

There is no better time than now to start your own business. There is no better motivation than to create some control over your family’s economic future. It won’t be easy, but it’ll be yours.

It won’t be easy for you…

That paragraph of words is easy to say, but make no mistake about it: It isn’t easy to implement. Something that might make it easier to stick with it during the toughest moments: Never having to face this again – or at least, never having it be someone else’s decision.

The easy part is having the skills. In fact, it’s an advantage over many who want to start a business but aren’t sure what they want to do. If you’re struggling with this despite having marketable skills, don’t let it stop you in your tracks. The business you start today doesn’t have to be the business you’re in next year. Don’t get stuck thinking that whatever you do must be what you do forever.

Who will your clientele be? Even if you pivot (ie: change what your business does) multiple times, the thing you must have a laser beam focus on is “Who is my customer and why do they pay for what I do?” Far too many businesses seem to be a little lost on this. Knowing them, knowing their needs, knowing what keeps them up at night, knowing what they worry about during the day and what relieves them – all of this is critical. The better you know them, the more likely you are to be able to create a marketing and sales message that gets them nodding their heads and opening their wallets.

You might be tempted to have the best price around. Be careful with this. You probably wouldn’t try to start a business based on competing with Wal-Mart on the price of generic motor oil. Discounts come out of your profit – your pocket. If you can’t make a profit on what you do, you do your clients the disservice of creating a business that they need, but that probably won’t survive. Never forget to show your clients a ladder – a series of steps (good, better, best) that allows them to get more from you, get better this or that, and take even more advantage of what you do.

…but make it easy for them

If you’ve ever struggled to do business with a company, you know where I’m coming from. Some businesses seem determined to make it hard to give them your money. Don’t be one of them. Make it easy to do business with you. Easy to pay. Easy to get what was purchased. Easy to get service. If you don’t make it easy, they will eventually find someone who IS easier to deal with.

Easy to pay is an interesting one. Some clients will prefer a credit or debit card, some a check. Some businesses may want 30, 60 or even 90 day terms and will use that as leverage when closing the deal. Be very careful with these, as some of them like to use small businesses as a free bank. Not a good thing.

Create your own Independence Day

If you do, a decade from now, I promise you that you’ll remember the day you made the decision to take control – no matter how hard you had to work to get there.

Columbia Falls is not a redundant facility

We’ve been here before.

We’ve listened to a major employer who for decades said one thing and often did another. We’ve heard whispers and listened to double talk about what’s in the ground (or isn’t) and about plans to reopen and what the future holds. Our future is not our past.

We’ve seen Plum Creek as a solid community supporter and employer for a long time. Yes, there have been layoffs and temporary closures, but the company continued to support local causes and invest in CFalls – such as the MDF plant and technology infrastructure.

Yet buyouts change things.

We’ve been here before.

No matter what a company says they’ll do after the buyout, companies have a fiduciary obligation to shareholders. No matter what they feel obligated to say, redundant facilities are ALWAYS on the short list for elimination. It’s common sense.

It’s unrealistic, if not wishful thinking to believe that a company says that “closure of (your local) facilities isn’t planned” after buying out a massive competitor.

Columbia Falls knew better. We understand companies have to say those things. The officers have a responsibility to protect the company. That includes not inciting panic, drama or worse by telling staff in that area that “closures are possible but we don’t anticipate closing anything here”.

In this situation, a company’s thought process has to include something like “If we tell them what’s planned (or what we think will happen), people will leave (including some we want to stay), and those who stay will be distracted (or worse). The speculation will negatively impact the attitude and performance of the CFalls team.

When buyouts happen, people worry about feeding their family, much less being able to take care of a house payment, the bills, college expenses, etc. You expect that. Professionals take care of business, even when worried about their families – no matter what the press release said.

I’m losing my job, now what?

Even though we’ve been here before, that doesn’t make it any less scary, worrisome, or frustrating. The pressure to produce cash flow to feed the family and pay the bills is on everyone’s mind.

If you’re targeted for layoff, I’ll bet you have skills, experience and knowledge that you’ve taken for granted for years. They’ve become second nature to you. I could wake you up at 2:00 am and ask you something related to whatever you do or know and without having to think about it, you’d rattle off great advice about how to deal with it, fix it and/or do it.

This is an opportunity to take control, even though you probably don’t feel you have much of that right now. You might have a dream that was always delayed by the “golden handcuffs” of a long-term job. Can you pursue it now?

There is no better time than now to start your own business. There is no better motivation than to create some control over your family’s economic future. It won’t be easy, but it’ll be yours.

Redundant Facilities?

It’s easy to say the phrase “redundant facilities“, isn’t it? Who would want such a thing? Sounds wasteful.

When you say “redundant facilities“, you don’t have to think about 200 families who are wondering how they’ll pay their bills. It lets you sidestep the economic effect the job losses could have on the community. Say it, and you don’t have to wonder about the impact of families who leave the valley in order to meet their employment / financial needs. Saying “redundant facilities” allows you to ignore the impact on the CFalls real estate market, schools, charities and businesses.

If you’re wondering who will come riding into town on a white horse and rescue Columbia Falls, don’t. We know that no one will do that, and that’s OK. Columbia Falls doesn’t need someone to rescue it.

Columbia Falls is not a redundant facility.

As always, the people of Columbia Falls will make do, find or create new careers, recognize market opportunities, and find a way to manage the economic risks we all face. When you see a new business pop up in town, take a chance on them – and keep visiting our existing businesses. They feed Montana families right here in town.

Columbia Falls is open for business. It’s a great community with awesome, welcoming, kind people and to me, the only place that feels like home. Come see us.

Are you battling complacency?

One of the most serious challenges that a company can face is complacency. Whether it takes root among the leadership, the team or even their clientele, it can create permanent damage.

Complacency in leadership

You may have heard comments like these if your company’s leaders have become complacent:

  • We’re doing ok. I don’t see any need to change anything.
  • Our competition will never catch us.
  • We don’t need to invest in new tooling.
  • That new startup in our market is doomed. I’m not worried about them.
  • Our staff doesn’t need training.

Complacent leadership can produce fear, a lack of confidence and complacency among the staff. Fixing your company’s leadership, including their complacency, is part of your job as a business owner – and that includes your own leadership.

Complacency among the staff

There are at least two kinds of complacency that can creep in here: career complacency and job complacency. They’re often interconnected since someone complacent about the job may also all but given up on career growth. Not everyone has big plans for their career, so don’t assume that someone who isn’t pushing, pushing, pushing isn’t doing a good job – they may simply lack the drive, ambition or need to be your next senior leader.

If someone used to have that drive and ambition and no longer seems to, it’s possible that they’ve checked out and have succumbed to job complacency, which has more context with performance, much less with going the extra mile.

Job complacency, as noted previously, may relate back to leadership, but it may also be the person’s day to day mindset and overall quality of life will affect these things. The conditions of their life and lifestyle affect how they view life, how they work and the nature of their career aspirations. Your staff don’t become new people when they walk in the door.

Anything you can do to help them restore confidence in themselves will impact their job performance. Likewise, fixing things related to their job duties, environment, accountability and responsibility is likely to raise their self-worth outside your walls, not just inside them.

Many people take their jobs quite personally. When they’re in a situation where they don’t have the authority to do their job, or the environment works against them, it can infect their entire lives – enough to make them feel the need to move on, even though the thing you can fix seems trivial.

Complacent service

We’ve all seen it. Someone waiting on you, helping you in a store, helping you over the phone, or even on Twitter. They’re going through the motions. “Your call is important to us“, right?

What creates the complacency that gets a customer support team to that point? Their leadership, certainly. What’s the focus of the customer support manager? What metrics are important? What tools and authority to “make things right” does the team have? These are the things that make a support team vested in the solutions they provide.

A lack of these things can create a seed of cynicism, doubt or negativity that complacency can grab onto. In your service department, you simply can’t afford that.

Complacent products

It’s impossible for a product to be complacent – it doesn’t have a soul of its own.

That said, if those who design and build your products are infected with complacency, your products are quite likely to have it designed and/or built in.

This can happen whether they are “knowledge workers” or the folks in your wood or metal shop. What they design and create isn’t the point – that they have a customer-centric, long-term viability mindset when designing and building things is the key.

Leadership can affect this as well, since products might be designed and built with a strategic goal as well as a revenue goal. Cash flow and sales are important, but does that new product target a new market, a new lead source or does it increase your conversion rate? Does it serve a new tier of customers? Does it encourage the sale of services or increase the lifetime investment of the client?

Products that are not conceived, designed and built with a strategic purpose can create complacency if those who design and build them wonder “Why are we doing this?

As a leader, your job is to root out complacency at all levels.

Senate may drop the soap (maker)

About six years ago, there was a big fuss about the CPSIA, a law that was written to sharply reduce lead in clothing, toys and other items made for children under 12. Why lead? Lead poisoning causes developmental and neurological damage in young children, including by breathing dust from peeling lead paint.

I made some noise about the law as originally passed because it would force the makers of handmade childrens’ items out of business – and a lot of those businesses exist here in Montana. It wouldn’t have put them out of business because their products contained lead, but because of the costs of per-batch independent lab testing to prove they were lead-free.

The law passed unanimously. Imagine that happening today.

It passed in response to the recall of millions of lead-tainted toys in 2007-2008. However, there was an uproar from makers of small motorcycles and bikes. Lead appears in tire valve stems and other unlikely contact areas, which left them subject to the law.

The publicity resulted in a number of public forums with elected officials. In a response to my question during the Kalispell MT forum, my U.S. Representative lied to my face that he didn’t vote for the bill (the link shows otherwise). He then took the side of the youth motorcycle manufacturers (rightly so, I think) and said he’d fix the poorly-written law he’d voted for.

The law eventually got fixed, mostly, via an amendment exempting both small volume (often handmade) manufacturers – the ones who couldn’t possibly afford the testing requirements of the original law – and those reselling items they didn’t manufacture. While it didn’t save thousands of small handmade manufacturers from their losses prior to this amendment, it did stop the bleeding.

I say “fixed, mostly” because the law was amended to allow Mattel to perform their own lead testing rather than use independent labs other manufacturers must use by law. The irony? The slew of lead problems that provoked Congress to act involved millions of toys manufactured by Mattel and their subsidiaries.

What’s this got to do with soap?

I share all of that for a couple of reasons.

One, there are parallels in the CPSIA story to a new bill that could affect manufacturers of handmade soaps, lotions and the like, Senate Bill S.1014, the Personal Care Products Safety Act.

Two, there are a large number of handmade manufacturers of soap, lotions, creams, lip balms and scrubs in Montana, including my wife’s business.

Three, when the press microphones are on, there’s a high likelihood of horse biscuits along the lines of “I voted for it before I voted against it” or “My vote was a shot across the bow“, so have your biscuit filter ready.

S1014 is on the agenda of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, which is full of high-profile personalities, including two Presidential candidates. The needs of your small business or your employer may not mean squat in the context of Presidential candidate image makers advising these people.

Handmade manufacturers on alert

As in the CPSIA situation, an industry group has worked to provide exemptions for small handmade manufacturers. The Handmade Cosmetic Alliance (HCA) has for months tried to educate and reason with the bill’s authors and suggest that they include small manufacturer exemptions like those found in the 2011 Food Modernization Safety Act (FSMA). Despite that, these small handmade soap, lotion and cosmetic manufacturers will be held to the same standards that makers of prescription drugs and medical devices meet.

Most of these 300,000 (!) small manufacturers use food ingredients found in grocery stores, even though customers don’t eat them or use them to treat a medical condition. We’re talking about olive oil, oatmeal, sugar, coconut oil, etc. My wife buys olive oil for her creams off the shelf at Costco.

This law will force them to pay user fees that will result in higher consumer prices, plus it will add more paperwork burden by requiring them to file per-batch (10-50 units) reports. For the more successful homemade product makers, this could result in 100 or more FDA filings per month. Everyone has time to do that, right?

It’s almost tourist season. Many of the products tourists buy and take home are made and sold locally, and thus feed local families in your area. Speak now or …

You aren’t the business owner you need to be

A while back, I had a conversation with the CEO of a $60 million software company that hit me pretty hard – and the lesson is one that all business owners need to keep in mind.

This CEO was talking about how he feels constant pressure to improve himself so that he can be ready to run the company that will be waiting for him in six months or so. Given their growth rate, he fully expects the business to be 20 to 30 million larger a year from now.

Despite the proven skills he’s demonstrated for years – and used to get his company to where it is today, he still feels intense pressure to be ready to run the company his company will soon become.

What hit me hard is that despite the fact that I regularly invest a fair amount of time and cash to expand my education, I was talking with a guy who also spends a lot of time and money improving his skills and education – and he still doesn’t feel ready.

Are you ready?

Think about that for a minute. Are you preparing yourself so that you’re ready to lead the company your business will be in six, nine or 12 months? Are you learning enough to be ready to manage your own company’s needs?

This isn’t just about software companies and it isn’t limited to companies with double-digit millions in revenue. Every business owner will face this challenge. Every business will push us to improve or it (and we) will pay a dear price for that.

Imagine how your staff, family and others will react if your company is being run by someone who doesn’t have the skills to run it. It’ll be patently obvious – even if you own every single penny of it.

What would happen if you weren’t ready?

It’s particularly serious for companies experiencing serious growth, or for those whose growth suddenly stopped, regardless of the reason.

Our businesses change rapidly. Other people, our own people, the market, clients, competitors and our own growth (or lack of it) all have a way of “moving our cheese“.

Be there to meet the cheese

Years ago, Wayne Gretzky was asked about the difference between a good hockey player and a great one. He replied that “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.

Somehow or another, Gretzky would often be where the puck was going to be, ready to do something others could only observe. Some may never have figured out that Gretzky was like a great chess player who visualized the next umpteen moves in his head and as such, knew where to be on the ice.

Running a business isn’t much different. If you aren’t ready for your business when it arrives at that future spot, it could slide right by – just like opportunities (and the puck).

What areas need attention?

You may have run your small business for years, nurturing it from the time when you did everything with nothing and slowly built it to the stable, if not growing, situation you enjoy (I hope) today.

So what do you change to be ready for the company yours will become next year? What do you learn? What do you need help with?

For large companies like the one discussed earlier, finance is where the learning usually needs to occur. But not everyone is looking to create a business that large.

What if you’re not planning to be that big?

The things I see that hold businesses back, or keep them from being able to take advantage of opportunities zipping by are the ones I frequently talk about here: sales, marketing and operations – and things that cause big, sudden changes in any one of those.

Do you have a sales staff? If so, do they have a process for working leads? How would your process hold up to a 20% increase in leads? How about a 20% decrease?

Is your marketing planned, consistent and strategically thought out or does it happen at random?

Are your operations ready for a 20% change in volume? If your best salesperson got a massive multiple location deal tomorrow, how would that affect your ability to deliver?

These are the things a business owner needs to be ready for.

 

 

X-Ray glasses and other fundamental secret weapons

When I’m working with people, it’s not unusual to get a fair number of questions from people asking me about tools, techniques and ‘where I got or learned about <whatever>’.

5 things/people jump out at me, in no particular order:

Mindmapping (I use MindManager from MindJet.)
Great for organizing a wide range of seemingly unrelated information, and more importantly, for brainstorming during the design phases of a project.

I listen to Jim Rohn’s advice.
Don’t be fooled by the “Man, he’s old. He could be John McCain’s brother” thing. Rohn calls himself “America’s Business Philosopher” (and he is), and is in the same league with Zig Ziglar. It’s not just about business or sales with Jim. It’s about all aspects of your life, including your business. His One Year plan is a great framework for getting your act together, 360 degrees-wise.

I listen to Dan Kennedy’s advice.
Absorbing Dan’s stuff is like getting a pair of X-Ray Business Goggles. So much of the crap that you’ve been taught, or that you might have learned the wrong way, gets fixed with a pair of Planet Dan X-Ray glasses. I know, sounds kinda stupid, maybe even pegs your hype-o-meter. When it comes to direct mail, direct response marketing, strategic thinking and seeing what others aren’t seeing, Dan has a unique way of getting inside your head.

I listen to KenMcCarthy’s advice. 
Who listens to an older (than me<g>) balding guy about business on the internet? I do. Success leaves clues, as Dan says. If you are a newbie at doing business on the internet (Its ok if you are) and don’t know the techno stuff – Ken’s Smart Beginners program is really well done. No assumptions about what you do and don’t know. Even if you don’t want to be the geek, Smart Beginners teaches you enough to be coherent when you to go get help from a contract programmer or webmaster. Few people can pull off a “101” class, but Ken does. If you’re more advanced, there’s plenty more. Ever heard of Yanik Silver or Perry Marshall? Both of them started off as Ken’s students, and those are just 2 examples.

The School of Hard Knocks.
Master’s degree, working on my Doctorate 🙂 The prior 2 links have made that road substantially shorter, but you still have to take it to some extent. Don’t take the long road, it’s got ruts.

How this might apply to you
One thought about the names I noted above. Jim, Dan and Ken are a powerful combination, and yeah, they aren’t 20 something. Don’t underestimate them. Jim’s an older guy. Dan’s style isn’t for everyone. Ken’s a bit soft spoken. 20-somethings may not be able to relate to Jim – though I think that’s a pre-conceived blindness issue. Dan can come off as a bit abrasive or edgy or something. Ken is so soft-spoken and so different than most “internet experts” that some might dismiss him. That’d be a mistake.

Your names might be different and that’s ok. Finding the ones that make sense for you is what is important,  but not as important as implementing instead of sitting around on your hands fretting about “What if”.