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The Retail Doctor’s newest book helps you diagnose, treat, cure

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Bob Phibbs’ staff recently sent me a review copy of The Retail Doctor’s Guide to Growing Your Business, his newest book for the retailer looking to improve their business’ performance.

Or to go from wondering about survival to reaching a state of “thrival”.

The Guide’s subtitle, “A step-by-step approach to quickly diagnose, treat, and cure”, gives away the structure of the book. It’s organized by areas you need to address, such financials, training, hiring, retail presentation (merchandising, sort of), the internet, sales and finally, what to do after you’ve read the book.

When you have a business and you buy a book in hopes of solving its problems, one of the things that sometimes makes it difficult to take the first (and next) step is gleaning what to do from all those good ideas. Bob solves this with sections called “Stat” (medical-ese for “Do it now”) at the end of every chapter. Stat lists a half-dozen things to do RIGHT NOW based on that chapter’s teachings.

The Stat summary is a clever tool for the busy business owner because it not only tells you where to start, but with those things behind you, their success will encourage you to go back and look for more things to do.

As a whole, the Guide to Growing Your Business could become the roots of the operations manual you’ve never gotten around to creating. It’s rich in the what and why of fixing things rooted in common (yet incorrect) maxims of retail businesses, such as “if there’s enough gross, there has to be some net around here somewhere” (a Dan Kennedy quote).

About that operations manual thing – I know that you might think your business doesn’t really need one. However, since Bob has done much of the work for the core of it – why not take that and run with it? As he states in the hiring chapter’s discussion on job descriptions, every job needs a complete description. Likewise, every retail business needs an operations guide, which is simply a consistent rules-of-the-road document for how to run the place.

If it (it being an operations manual) is good enough to get 16 year olds to competently run a profitable franchise store, it’s probably good enough for you.

Even if your business isn’t struggling, each chapter of the Guide is bound to reveal at least one nugget, strategy, technique or “Stat” item that you should be doing. There’s bound to be something that you’ve overlooked, forgotten or just didn’t think about. Take those things, implement them and continue your success.

I suggest you grab a copy. I suspect it’ll end up dogeared.

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Free, Seth, Malcolm and Reinvention

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If you haven’t gotten a free copy of Chris Anderson’s Free by now, you didn’t try hard enough.

The free ebook versions were pulled off the net recently, but a little Googling will still reward you if you look at the publisher’s site. Likewise, the free audiobook version of Free is still on iTunes (a 6 hour+ listen).

While I’m planning on commenting further about Free in future posts, reading what Seth said about the whole Free thing has provoked me to comment a little early about it.

In particular, his response to Malcolm Gladwell’s comments about Free got me going, especially given that I read it not long after posting last week’s Beacon column about the news business.

During the dustup between Malcolm, Chris and Seth, Seth says this: “People will not pay for yesterday’s news, driven to our house, delivered a day late, static, without connection or comments or relevance.”

When you describe a newspaper that way, it sure sounds quaint and outdated, if not irrelevant.

How can your business/product/service be described to make it sound like that?

While “people will not pay” might not be 100% true today, that day is rapidly approaching as my parent’s generation ages. Of course, people also might not pay for it online. Figuring out how to make it work is the premise of Free.

We’ll talk more about the strategy of Free (or not) in the coming weeks, so in the meantime, do your homework: take a listen (or read) Chris Anderson’s Free and consider how it might reinvent your business, or at least, impact it.

You may not be in the newspaper business, but the reinvention of your business is just as important to you and Free might help you figure it out.

Should you give it away?

If you have trouble with ideas on this, think about what would be most painful if your strongest competitor started giving it away. Likewise, what would pain that competitor the most if you gave it away? It’s a place to start the thought process and might even identify a new value proposition for your business.

All of this is less about free and more about finding a way to reinvent your business. Not necessarily because your business is broken, but because strategic reinvention before you need it beats the crud out of reinvention focused on survival.

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Someone keyed my Karma

Month before last during a coaching session, I had a pretty frank conversation with a client about freedom.

Not the Constitutional kind of freedom, but freedom from the ball and chain that a business can become. I don’t mean that in a bad way, just that it can become a restriction to your freedom.

Not only that, but it’s common for small family-owned businesses to almost not be a business if the family isn’t there. If you aren’t there. Needless to say, this isn’t an ideal situation when unexpected events occur.

During that conversation, we talked about configuring the business so that it could stand an unexpected, required trip out of town for a month (or 3).

A month went by.

In last month’s session, we were talking about their retail business and once again, we talked (among other things) about how I felt they needed to spend some serious effort on figuring out how to grow and insulate the business from unexpected turns in life.

I gave them a few examples of things to work on, knowing that we’d need to revisit it and fine tune the strategy as we move forward.

And here comes Al.

Then I mentioned that I was getting to take my own advice, as I had just discovered that an immediate family member has been diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

Result: Recent efforts to move a portion of my client base a little closer to home were going to have to be reversed.

My business is going to be changing because – as I advised my client – I don’t know when I will need to disappear for a few months. Not completely disappear or be disconnected from the net, but just not be home for an unknown period of time.

A few weeks went by, and I was hoping that the owner’s thought and effort was going into that project. I’m sure it is, but it’s not an immediate change to do this to your business – particularly if you are in retail, restaurant or hospitality (ie: hotel, motel, b&b).

Another month goes by.

Last week, we talked again to schedule our next call and it turned out that the very thing I had advised preparing for was happening.

Family responsibilities requiring out of town travel on little notice for an unknown period of time. Really sad.

Meanwhile, I look in the mirror and remind myself that my business is changing for the same reasons and that I need to accelerate the pace.

Are you prepared for that sort of thing? Depending on your age and your parents age, it might be more apparent to you – but it can happen to you even if you are a 26 year old entrepreneur.

If you don’t ask for help, you aren’t likely to get it.

In 70% of small business failures, a key factor was the owner not recognizing or ignoring weaknesses, and then not seeking help.” – SCORE / US Bank survey of failed small businesses

Do you have someone in your corner who will ask you the tough questions?

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The Cure for “The Culture of Cant”

Droopy dog

It’s not unusual for small business owners to be involved in community organizations, so in that spirit I have something a little different from our every day discussion here – yet still completely applicable to your business – no matter what that business does.

Rather than Friday’s normal Hotseat Radio show, today I had the pleasure of interviewing Hildy Gottlieb, long time friend and author of the newly released book “The Pollyanna Principles“.

Hildy is a nationally-recognized consultant and President of the Community-Driven Institute in Tucson AZ, and has been called “the most innovative and practical thinker in our sector”.

That sector is what folks in Hildy’s business call “non-profit organizations” – which unfortunately describes exactly what those organizations are NOT.

One of Hildy’s missions is to change the mindset inside these organizations is to encourage them to call themselves “Community Benefit Organizations”, which describes what they are and do. The result of that subconsciously takes the “Droopy dog” attitude out of the picture.

You may feel that this is outside of the normal bounds of BIP, but in fact, it strikes at the core of it: business fundamentals, attitude and a number of the other things we talk about here on a regular basis.

You need to run it like a business

No doubt you’ve heard people say “non-profits need to run like a business” – and in fact we examine the pros and cons of that assertion, why it’s true, false and doesn’t necessarily mean what you might think.

After listening to my conversation with Hildy, I’m hoping you’ll grab a copy or 3 of her new book and provide them to the orgs that you support and believe in.

No matter what you do to encourage (convince, coerce, etc – you make the call) your favorite board member to read The Pollyanna Principles, the ultimate goal must be to make it happen. Hildy has created a great piece that organizations can use for motivation, strategy and like it or not, to arrive at the real long-term, more than a calendar quarter away, community-changing vision and a roadmap to get there.

Profit is evil? Horse Hockey.

The temptation by some in these organizations might be to ignore the great business books and their strategies, simply because they are supposedly all in the name of profit and thus not applicable to the charitable organization.

The fact of the matter is that neither assertion is true.

Still, if you prefer to stick to strategic books about the charitable sector rather than crossing over that supposedly evil profit line, then The Pollyanna Principles will be right up your alley because it was written just for you – because it’s all business. Your business.

Buy The Pollyanna Principles here

Please accept my apologies for the audio quality. We had some volume dropouts, an odd hum here and there, as well as some cool coffee shop environmental noise as I spoke with Hildy from a coffee shop in Missoula (Break Espresso, if you’re taking notes). Hildy and I have what appears to be several sessions left before we are “done” discussing her book, so I will make sure we have better infrastructure in place for those sessions.

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10 books list – actually includes a link now:)

Good thing I got off the 50+ mile canoe trip today. Turns out this morning’s guest post was missing the link to Yanik’s book list.

The original post has been updated, or you can go here now.

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10 books for successful entrepreneurs, as recommended by Yanik Silver

Today’s guest post comes from self-proclaimed fun guy and entrepreneur Yanik Silver.

Yanik lists his top 10 recommended books (OK, it’s really 12) for reading by entrepreneurs and business owners, and all of them except for 11 and 12 are definitely good stuff for all parts of the business owner’s mind (much less mindset).

I haven’t read the #11 and #12 books on the list, but the rest are right here and you can’t have them. Buy your own copy:)

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Hiring staff to help with marketing? Start them off with these business books.

Over the weekend, one of my readers emailed and asked this very smart question:

We are hiring someone “green” to do marketing for us in about a month. I thought that starting someone from the ground up would be a good way to build someone’s skills for our business and not have to pay a small fortune at the same time. Do you have a couple of books that you would recommend for this person? I’m looking for books on both general marketing theory and on the nuts-and-bolts.

Still Life with Plato
photo credit: chefranden

So that you don’t overwhelm them on that first day, let’s go with 6 books.

That’ll start them off with a good baseline so they won’t spend a huge pile of your money and have no idea whether it was well spent or not – plus it may avoid scaring them to death:)

It’s hard to come up with a list that short until these 2 questions came to mind:

  • What books would I least want to give up if I found out they were the last copies ever?
  • What books would I want someone to have if they were going to spend a lot of my money on marketing without my oversight?

With those thoughts in mind, it was easy:)

Number 1 – your business procedures manual. (no, not the HR policy manual, ugh)
I’m sure you have one, right? I mean, we’ve ALL read Michael Gerber’s E-Myth (that was sneaky wasn’t it?), so we know how important that procedures manual is. I’m talking about the manual that your newbie assistant manager would use to run the place while you are off on that romantic cruise that you promised someone about 15 years ago. It has all the vendor contact info, how to turn off the alarm, how to lock up for the night, how to Z out the cash register (and when), how to do all the things that someone has to be trained for – step by step, so you don’t have to be a dozen places at once, or interrupted 72 times per day.

Number 2 – Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini. Doesn’t seem like a marketing book from the title, but it’s critical path brain food for someone who will be coming up with copy, headlines, emails and so on. Both practical and theory, this one is a keeper.

Number 3 – The Ultimate Marketing Plan by Dan Kennedy. Mostly practical. Dan isn’t much on theory, instead he relies on results. Not very thick, not very expensive, but worth a ton.

Number 4 – The Secrets of Successful Direct Mail by Dick Benson. Not just about direct mail, if you look closely. Definitely a must have for anyone who sticks an envelope in the mail. The list at the front is worth the price of the book.

Number 5 – My Life in Advertising and Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins. These come in 1 volume, so I counted them as one. So there. Claude was marketing like a master before your parents were born, or most likely so. Even this many years later, something to have on your marketing nightstand.

Number 6 – Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples. That’s Caples as in Ogilvy, Caples and other world-class folks from last century.

Total expenditure: About $94 or so new, even less if bought used.

PS: Being the shy person I am, I would have recommended a 7th one: Business is Personal – The book, but it isn’t out yet…

In fact, it was a little hard not to include a handful of others on this list, but this will get you started. Next time, perhaps I’ll limit it to books written in this century:) And besides, I don’t think Gary Bencivenga has a book:)

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The Monk and the Riddle

You may notice that I’ve changed the “DogEars” category to something a little more boring: “Book Reviews”. I really hated to do it, but it had to be done. You may have noticed similar changes to other categories over the last few months.

Be the first to guess why I did that, and I’ll send my copy of Randy Komisar’s The Monk and the Riddle to you.

The Monk and the Riddle (Harvard Business Press) is a “make you think about your life’s work” book by attorney turned Silicon Valley virtual CEO Randy Komisar.

Randy’s been around the best, and the worst. After a time as an attorney for Apple Corp, he moved on to be CEO at LucasArts, co-founder of Claris, and CFO of Go Corp. He was also helped build Web TV and Tivo, among others. These days he’s a virtual CEO for startups who need a hand.

A lot of what Randy talks about in the book is stuff you’ve heard before. “Do what you love and the money will come”, with a twist.

He talks about it in a different light, however. Not about the money, but about the time. Is what you’re doing now really what you want to do for the rest of your life? Do you want to look back on THIS, or will you regret living what he calls the “Deferred Life Plan”, a life lived after you take care of business and make your fortune. Sometimes, that’s a life you never get a chance to lead.

Something else stuck out about this book, well after he’d taken many opportunities to hammer home his primary thought.

Here’s what I tell the founders in the companies I work with about business risk and success, and what Lenny needs to understand: If you’re brilliant, 15 to 20 percent of the risk is removed. If you work 24 hours a day, another 15 to 20 percent is removed. The remaining 60 to 70 percent of business risk will be completely out of your control.

“Lenny” is a character in the story he tells throughout the book. A guy focused on the buzz, the conquest and the money, not on the time or on the big picture of his life.

That quote made for an interesting reflection on some of the business ventures I’ve been involved in.

The Monk and the Riddle is a worthwhile read. If you don’t win my copy, slide on over to Amazon or your local independent book store and pick up a copy.

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Saying “No” so you can say “Yes” later

Seems like Jim Rohn was the first person I recall hearing it from, and it still stings when I catch myself hearing it again now and then: “Every time you say ‘Yes’ to someone, you’re saying ‘No’ to someone else.”

It’s about being able to deliver on promises that you’ve already made – including promises to yourself.

Saying “Yes” is a promise, after all. It’s a promise to deliver a product or service, or to spend time with someone – be it business or pleasure.

Jim talks about saying “No” to more things so that you can say “Yes” to the really important things. Regardless of what those things are, that’s likely what most people want.

It’s something I’ve struggled with on and off for some time. The cures come incrementally. Occasionally, the stumbles are large, but they always come with a lesson, kinda like a face plant teaches you a little about skiing:) Other times, they cost me a few hours of sleep with little or no harm done.

I think it always comes down to focus. When focus is lost – or on the way to being lost, too many Yes’s come out. When that happens, focus can become even harder to rein in.

It’s one of the reasons I recommend a regular (quarterly) reading of The Power of Focus: How to Hit Your Business, Personal and Financial Targets with Absolute Certainty.

Read it, dog ear the crud out of it and follow the processes it defines. Get over the fact that the Chicken Soup guys were part of the project. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater on this one.

If it helps you 1/10th of the way it does me, it’ll do you good.

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Dangerous boys vs play dates

As some of you know, I am the Scoutmaster for a Boy Scout troop here in Columbia Falls. Others of you know that I used to be on the Montana board for Scouts, but that’s a story for another day. A friend referred me to this book, and noted that it speaks of many of the things we 30-40-50 somethings did as kids that it seems more and more kids aren’t exposed to these days.

In a world of play dates and kids who don’t even know what stitches are, our Scouts still go out in the woods on 100 mile treks into the Bob Marshall Wilderness, float for a week in a canoe following Lewis and Clark’s trek down the Missouri River and find excitement in similar adventures. A group of Scouts from California are planning to climb Mount Kilimanjaro during the summer of 2008 and have invited our troop along for the adventure. How many kids get a chance to do stuff like that?

This book can give your kid a taste of the harsh, rough, adventurous, awesome times we had as boys in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Let em at it, a couple of stitches never really hurt anyone. You turned out fine, didn’t you?

What does this have to do with business? Everything.

Think about how homogenized business has become, generally speaking. If you’re a franchise, that’s exactly what you want, because part of the attraction of a franchise is that you can depend on the same experience in Pottawatomie as you can in Anchorage or Lafayette Louisiana.

If you aren’t a franchise, it’s a great thing to be up against – someone else’s homogenization.

Those boring franchises and big box stores that you’re up against are just like a play date. Not even comparable to a trip to the Bob Marshall Wilderness or a week on the Missouri River. Your big weapon against the big boxes and franchises is differentiation – something most of them arent even allowed to try.