Scoble, Secretariat and Mister Ed

A while back, Robert Scoble wrote a terrific post on Scobleizer about the worst things that startups do.

I suggest you hop over there and check it out even if you aren’t in the technology business. When you’re done, come back so we can apply Robert’s comments to your not-a-startup small business. (Psst…While you’re over there, I suggest you subscribe to his blog, even if you aren’t in the tech world. You’ll be glad you did.)

Now that you’re back, let’s look a little closer at Robert’s list because it isnt just startups that make these mistakes. Here’s a small business angle on his list of mistakes:

1. Have plush offices in the most expensive part of town.

I haven’t managed to make this mistake as yet. Haven’t used someone else’s money for a startup though, maybe that’s why.

On the other hand, there have been times when I should’ve kept my office at home and didn’t. Sometimes it’s right, sometimes not. Think hard about the reasons why. Cash flow is always a concern, and more often than not, a critical strategic piece.

2. You canâ??t tell me what you do in a single Tweet.

For those who don’t use Twitter, that means: “Describe your business in 140 characters.”

For me, the Twitter version is “I help small businesses get more customers, become more productive and make more profit. Guaranteed.”

I find myself tinkering with that now and then, but it always seems to come back to the basics. If you aren’t interested in getting / keeping more customers, becoming more productive and more profitable, we don’t have a lot in common to build to a business relationship on.

3. If I look around and donâ??t see programmers.

Scoble’s talking about tech startups, but his point hits home for you as well – no matter what you do.

In a tech startup, programmers mean product and service creation. Someone’s creating something. In your business, product and service creation are equally important.

For me, if I’m not marketing, creating products and services, or delivering them…you could say I’m wasting time.

4. You hire a PR firm. (4b: you donâ??t have a blog and a Twitter account)

Hilary will probably beat me up a little about this – but note Scoble’s criteria – *startups*. If you don’t have a product or service for sale yet, most companies don’t need a PR firm. There are exceptions, but your business likely isn’t one of them.

If you’re open for business, this one isn’t a mistake unless you’re doing it really badly.

Example mistake: Referring anyone and everyone with questions to sales or PR (or someone else) because they aren’t allowed to talk to the public, or the press, and so on.

I don’t mean questions about your top secret process, chemistry, electronics or whatever. I don’t want to know the “I could tell you but I’d have to kill you” stuff.

We want to know why we should care…and despite the secret sauce stuff that you can’t tell us, we also want to know why *you* care.

Every single person on your staff had better be able to tell your company’s story with passion (at least their part of it).

No one, including me, wants to be bored by you reading the 9 paragraph mission statement that no one – including the CEO – remembers.

Infect us with your enthusiasm for what you do, even if you’re a divorce or bankruptcy lawyer. Think about that for a minute.

I can tell you one thing – if you step into the room sometime when I’m speaking to a group, you’ll damned sure get infected with the idea that you can do better. Lots better.

5. They spend money on the wrong things.

In the programmer world, the bad chairs and lousy monitors Scoble talks about are right on the money. If you’re a programmer and you don’t have dual monitors (or more) on the computer where you write programs, you’re working with a dull axe.

In every business I’ve ever seen, there are resources that make people more productive, that make them feel valued, that make them happier to work harder.

No one likes being unproductive. Watching either the Windows hourglass or the little multicolored Mac spinning thing is *the most annoying thing in the world* to a computer user. How much of your staff’s day is spent doing that?

How’s that make them feel about the value and importance of their work?

Beyond that, what’s that time costing you?

6.  They donâ??t fire fast enough.

At almost every business, some of the best people leave because they aren’t being challenged or because others aren’t pulling their weight.

Just like Scoble said and it isn’t just startups.

Your best performers have little tolerance for those who aren’t performing, much less for poor tools. The situations that businesses put them in often are what force them to go out on their own. If you’d like to avoid competing against your best performer(s), provide your racehorses with the best possible environment and when you hire – hire the best possible folks to accompany them.

Don’t make Secretariat share a stall with Mister Ed, (no matter how cool he was).

7. You picked the wrong infrastructure.

Most of us have hitched our wagon to the wrong horse at one time or another.

Next time, choose better. Choose for the right reasons.

Is your web host critical? Is a steady supply of large amounts of electricity critical? If you start to grow, are there enough skilled employees available in the area?

We got lucky on this one – there was a call center nearby with *excellent*, well-trained people – and we hired some of the best folks in the valley.

8. You let VCs control your management team and strategy too early.

Most of you won’t ever deal with a venture capitalist, but the same kind of issues can hamper your growth and stability.

Does your ability to access capital control your strategy? Does the size of your American Express bill?

Cash flow is as strategic as any other aspect of your business, sometimes more so.

9. You have a too cool name and logo.

There’s nothing wrong with a great name and logo, but there had better be some meat on the bone.

10. You say yes too often, particularly in engineering decisions.

This is the one that used to get me, and it was a hard lesson to learn. One of my business partners used to ride me now and then about “building end tables when we needed coffee tables”.

In other words, “Give me the big stuff, the little stuff can wait”.

I’ll quote Jim Rohn as usual on this topic: “Saying no means you can say yes to something more important.”

This isn’t just about software. Everyone has decisions to make about what to do, not to do, whether you’re an attorney, a programmer, a car wash or a restaurant.

11. Startups pick old technology because itâ??s familiar.

In his post, Scoble said “…going with the same stuff your dadâ??s company used?”

Technology can be as strategically important as (almost) every hire you make.

Maybe not your choice of operating system or spreadsheet, but how you use technology to gain edge after edge.

This is one of the reasons why I bought a Mac last year. Most of my tech-related work is still on Windows, but for me to help myself and clients reach even higher, I needed to be able to explore custom iPhone/iTouch apps. That requires a Mac.

How have you stretched your technology-related capabilities lately?

12. You donâ??t change direction fast enough.

You’re either setting the tone or singing along.

If you’re echoing the moves of someone else, you’ll always be behind unless they misstep badly, not to mention that it’s pretty hard to lead a market in wait and see.

If that new thing is *the* next big thing or the next big flop, wouldn’t you rather know before everyone else? Wouldn’t you want to be the one taking your clients that direction first – or knowing first not to take your clients there?

Going to the moon isn’t about planting a flag and taking a picture. It’s about the challenges you face and the lessons you learn on the way to liftoff.

Think about Robert’s list. Where can you improve?

3 thoughts on “Scoble, Secretariat and Mister Ed”

  1. As with so many new businesses, the primary reason in our area fail is lack of capitalization.

    A new business often takes several years to support itself, even if it is offering a much needed product or service.

    And, the second reason, at least in California is the expense and interference of government with small businesses.

    The State thinks nothing of piling on thousands of dollars in expense on the brand new business, making it very clear that whether the business person is making a profit of not is not the point.

    It may be what appear on the surface small regulations, all administered by separate offices.

    Two examples:

    1) Fire marshall entering a small retail store and insisting that the brand new fire extinguishers (both of them) be certified by vendors of which his office approves. That is, a brand new fire extinguisher, fully loaded will have to be carted to a vendor’s location and receive a ticket verifying that they are new and work. Cost: $200.

    2) The use tax. A new business has opened using counters that are decades old, and receives a telephone call from the Tax Board to send them several hundred dollars for the privilege of using the counters and cash register to make money (of course money is not coming in at that point). When the store owner objects that there is no profit from which to pay the tax, the response is, “Well, I’ve never heard of someone not paying a use tax because they weren’t making a profit. We’ll be expecting your check.” And, on and on.

    In the meantime, legislators in Sacramento wrestle with whether another fifty million needs to be given to the failing public schools.

    So, although, I know what you are saying here is true in many ways, the big stumbling block for most small businesses is staying in business long enough to see a profit. Four out of five businesses here don’t make it.

    In terms of internet businesses, capitalization again is a problem, combined with lack of deep knowledge or skill in an area the public needs and wants.

    If a person spends his or her days in an internet community, he or she had better have spent the years developing expertise or skill that the public wants.

    To simply expect the public to purchase something that is available in thousands of other places in enough quantity to provide the individual a living is a bit of a stretch. Even folks with as many as 100,000 unique visits per month have trouble selling enough advertising space to make a dependable living.

    Often our students incorrectly believe that simply understanding SEO, and internet marketing is enough. Normally it isn’t.

    Self styled consultants, like new attorneys have to earn a reputation for excellence. That doesn’t happen overnight.

    And, if one needs to support a family, and provide food and shelter for them, time is not on his or her side.

    With 15 million people currently unemployed in the US, and the Country needing 100,000 jobs per month JUST to stay even with NEW entrants into the job market, America is in a world of hurt.

    The only people who are really secure are trust fund babies. These are children born of the upper five percent of the US population;
    the same families that own 95% of all stock on Wall Street, and 40% of all land in America.

    Dr. Ann

    We are grateful to ToysPeriod which has paid the tuitions of several students attending Linda Christas College who are studying for their bachelors degree in business with an emphasis in environmental sustainability. ToysPeriod is a leading online shop specializing in lego sets and model railroad equipment.

  2. Very interesting article.

    The one thing that I note is that many consultants suggest that the url name is very important.

    For example, a name like toys.com just sold to Toys R Us for six million dollars.

    And, Lego has purchases something like 400 names that conceivably could be mistaken for that company.

    So, someone out there thinks url names are really really important.

    I like the name of this site: rescue marketing. Way to go!

  3. Sometimes people tend to spend much on things that is not important to the business. If you are a startup, you need to check first before spending.

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