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Business culture Business model Community Economic Development Small Business

Why startups matter

Open this page: 
http://nytm.org/made-in-nyc/

It lists internet startups that are making everything they make in NYC.

Look for the words “hiring”.

What is your community waiting for?

 

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affluence attitude Business culture Community Consumer Advocacy Customer relationships Direct Marketing Entrepreneurs Getting new customers Internet marketing

The value of trust

In this TED talk, Amanda Palmer explains “Business is Personal” in the context of her music and art businesses.

It’s obvious that her connection with fans and followers is personal and immensely important to her.

From a business perspective, not having that connection would mean she’d have to act like most other musicians. IE: Sign with a label, obey the label’s rules, accept their limitations and perhaps tolerate their tweaks to her music.

Making this connection means getting a new fan – and connected fans are where the feedback, revenue and a surfable couch come from.

This personal connection is everything for her – and it can be for you.

Depending on which acts you’ve seen lately, you may or may not have experienced after-concert meet-and-greet sessions like the ones Palmer described. I saw this for the first time at a Heart concert last summer and was pretty impressed. After their set, the opening act (which I’d never heard of) came out into the large grassy seating area. People lined up to connect with them, talk, take photos and get autographs.

Think about it…isn’t this the kind of interaction you’ve like to have after seeing a speaker, musical act or similar performance? Yet so few do, probably due to a fear all too similar to the fear-of-asking that Palmer talked about.

Lessons

Two of Amanda’s comments stand out for those seeking connections with the people in their market:

  • “Celebrity is about a lot of people loving you from a distance, but the internet… [is] about a few people loving you up close and about those people being enough.”
  • “I trust you this much. Should I? Show me.”

The first one speaks to the personal nature of your business that we talk about regularly: the effort you make to establish trust and connect with KK’s 1000 true fans. The second one is even more personal. You’re asking for some of the most frank feedback you can get. Are you strong enough to ask for it in that way?

Important for entrepreneurs: Amanda talks a little about the trouble with her label. She defines what success means to her, rather than letting her label define it. A huge “discovery” for many entrepreneurs.

Hat tip to Gayle Valeriote for the passing Amanda’s vid to me.

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attitude coaching Community Economic Development Employees Entrepreneurs Leadership Small Business

Take advantage. Leave your small town.

Does your community talk about the flight of youth?

The shrinkage and simultaneous aging of communities is a critical issue for rural places.

Young people graduate and move away for good jobs or for college and they may not come back for a decade or more, if at all.

Recently, a high-achieving, hard-working college student told a just-laid-off friend to take advantage of the layoff and use it as an opportunity to leave our rural community. No question – job loss is a great time to take advantage of opportunities that might’ve been out of reach because you had a full time job – but it’s still disconcerting to hear one of the smartest, hardest working college kids I know advising a friend to “get out of Dodge“.

It illustrates how much is left to accomplish in order to strengthen the relationship between communities, employers, schools, colleges and the youth that local people say they want to retain in (or attract back to) their communities.

It’s not a simple thing to fix. Is it something that can/should be “fixed”? Or is it simply a reflection of market forces that rural communities must recognize and address?

Addressing the gap

Programs to bridge the gap between where youth are and where employers need them aren’t just about the job, but that’s usually the focus.

You’ll find internships, vocational-technical education (which changes the person, not the job or the employer) and many other programs that try to get younger workers to develop a passion for something that will enable them to earn more than what’s available via traditional service sector jobs.

High school graduates who have college aspirations sometimes don’t go right out of high school because they just aren’t sure what they want to do. Internships are one way to offer a look-see at different careers. Employers and colleges of all kinds could do more to offer a look-see of their own.

But it isn’t easy.

Challenges at every turn

Many high school students care pressed for time given that they’re in school from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm or longer, with before and after school activities like “zero period classes”, sports, work, band, etc.

While some think that this younger generation is afraid of work, I think those who claim that are simply more aware of the less-motivated than they were in the past. It’s repeatedly been shown that most rural youth have a strong work ethic because of responsibilities they had while being raised.

Despite a good work ethic, someone still has to manage/mentor an intern. Who does it? When does it happen?

Most employees will expect to be paid for giving up weekend/evening/family time and management may not have the funds for that. College students and high school graduates with jobs might have time for internships during the mentoring business’s “normal” work day, but this still requires employee time for mentoring/training.

In order to work past these challenges, motivation might come from looking at the outcome of succeeding at these programs. Imagine your community with a substantial, community-involved 18-35 year old workforce. What community wouldn’t like that?

Figuring out how to get there won’t be an accidental process, but this visualization could provide the motivation to plan how your community will make it happen.

Making it happen

Some rural communities, including mine, have been growing lately, but the influx is primarily “empty nesters” rather than 18-35 year olds and young families. Research has repeatedly shown that communities must have more to offer than “just jobs” to attract the latter.

Culture, recreation and work flexibility, aka “powder days”, are growing in importance, even while school quality, cost of living and more traditional requirements remain critical.

Culture is more than just art, music and theater. It’s vision too. An attractive community will likely be moving toward achieving a vision (whatever that might be) that’s intertwined with the causes and values attractive/important to a young workforce/young families. Quite often, these will be the things they learned to value while growing up in your town.

What does your community do to attract young workers and young families? What should they do? If these things work, is your community ready for an influx of young families and the leaders among them? If not, is your community ready for the alternative?

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Community Customer relationships Employees Leadership Politics Restaurants Small Business Social Media

The Price of A Hug

Recently, a small business owner hugged the President.

He wasn’t tackled by the Secret Service, or cuffed and taken to jail.

Instead, his business’ Yelp page was inundated with fake reviews from political loyalists from sides of the aisle.

Yelp is a social media business rating/review websites. The timely, personal reviews on this site, like those at UrbanSpoon and TripAdvisor, are highly influential because they come from real customers who post reviews during or immediately after visiting a business.

The mass of reviews weren’t just from those against the hug. Supporters reacted too. Likewise, those reacting to the prior two groups. And those urged on by pot stirrers on both sides.

Thousands of people descended on the review page for this man’s family business, and as is played out every day on newspaper comment sites and blogs all over the world – a “flame war” erupted. The reviews weren’t about the service or the pizza and they weren’t from people who had actually visited the restaurant.

They were about red and blue. Good and evil, evil and good.

The irony of it all: when the business owner was asked about his business, his politics and his impression of the President’s small business policies, he said “My business is stronger than it was four years ago, and that’s because I take accountability for my business,” he said. “I personally run and operate my business, and I don’t depend on the government to help me.

Somehow I suspect neither group of fake reviewers would have expected that.

This is our best?

I struggle with the possible damage inflicted on this business, despite my repeated assertion to business owners that “Anything you do is everything you do.” Usually, that’s about service, marketing and product quality. Today, it includes politics.

Business owners have to be careful about their “public facing persona” because everything they do is on the public’s radar. Whatever you do and say, not only in your business but in public actions and comments, will be evaluated. If you rub the wrong group the wrong way, that group will be quick to dogpile your business. Their efforts could go beyond actions taken from the safety and anonymity of a keyboard.

In the “good old days”, political reactions included lynchings, burning churches and shooting people at medical facilities. Today, reactions could include a “church” members picketing Veterans’ funerals or drive-by shootings. Is the next step is torching pizza joints?

It should make you think before you act/speak.

A choice

What should business owners do about publicly stating political opinions? It’s bigger than a national corporation being boycotted until their issue is pushed off the public’s radar by the latest reality star’s escapades. “Will they burn my building?” or “Will they come after me, my family or my employees?” is a real possibility – as is no reaction at all.

Do you choose to alienate half of your customers by saying something, or say/do nothing publicly in an attempt to avoid angering a cause’s most volatile followers? Does it matter?

For me, these conversations usually have little substance and rarely change minds. In some cases, they serve only to isolate, anger and create divides among people who had no idea they needed to argue about something. My political opinions are no one else’s business until I decide to share them. So far, I see no benefit to the listener for me to share them.

But not everyone agrees with that. Some feel they deserve to know your stance – and that’s their choice, not yours.

Silence has its risks

Silence is often interpreted as tacit approval of a situation or cause. If I don’t publicly react against something, it implies to some that I’m for it.

Make sure everyone understands that the off-hours behavior of management, owners and staff can impact your business. While you can’t regulate their political activity outside of work, it still reflects upon your business and could create conflict at the office – something you have to manage.

Whatever you do, be sure of yourself, your opinions and your actions, and be willing to accept the public’s response, because the one thing you can’t control is the public’s reaction to a hug.

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attitude Business Resources Community Economic Development Entrepreneurs Leadership Small Business

Do you love your local business environment? They do.

This video is a stunning demonstration of creativity with the iPad, but also a strong testimonial for the city of Stockholm’s business environment.

The business environment where you live might be like potting soil. Or not. Regardless, it’s your garden. You decide what to plant and where.

If the local business environment isn’t as enriching as Miracle-Gro, what can you do to improve it? Your business community needs leadership as much as your business does.

If making that sort of change isn’t your thing, supporting the folks in those roles and encouraging the right people to step up, invest and lead might be your focus.

If all else fails, there are these things called “roads” in your town. You decide how to use them, as a foundation for your business or as a route to a better place. No regrets regardless of your choice.

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Amazon Business model coaching coffee Community E-myth event marketing Personal development Regulation Scouting Setting Expectations

Out of Stock

Quais de Seine, Paris
Creative Commons License photo credit: Zigar

When your store is out of stock on an item…what does your staff do and say?

When I was out of state not long ago, I looked around for a pair of light hikers for everyday wear. I knew exactly what I wanted right down to the model name.

I visited a locally owned store, but they didn’t have my size in stock. A few days later, I visited a box store. They had the shoe on the wall (which is never my size), but they didn’t have any others. They didn’t even have the match to the one on the wall.

As I got into the car in the box store parking lot, I called the locally owned store again just in case they had some new arrivals. Nope.

They offered to order a pair for me, but I told them I was visiting from elsewhere and wouldn’t be around when they arrived.

At this point, they had choices:  Focus on the sale, focus on the customer or try harder.

What’s your focus?

If your sales people are trained to focus on the sale, they might say “Nope, we don’t have any” and be disappointed that they didn’t get a sale. If that’s the end of the conversation, your customer might go elsewhere – losing the sale and the customer.

If your sales people are trained to focus on the customer, they might say “Nope, we don’t have any. Have you looked at (competitor number one) or (competitor number two)? They both carry that brand.

If your sales people are trained to focus on keeping your customers happy, they might say “Nope, we don’t have any. If you come by and let us fit you in a similar shoe in that brand, I can order that model in your size and have it shipped to you. If it doesn’t fit like you want, we’ll take care of you until you’re happy or we’ll give your money back.

What they did was refer me to two of their competitors (one was the store whose parking lot I was in). The second one had my size in stock, so 20 minutes later, I had my shoes and was heading for the in-laws place.

The “try harder” choice might not have been what I wanted, but I wasn’t given a choice. Keep in mind that you can always fall back from the “try harder” position if the customer isn’t interested in or cannot use that kind of help.

The important thing

You might think that the locally owned retailer lost a sale, but that isn’t as important as keeping the customer over the long term.

While I wasn’t able to buy the shoes from the place I wanted, they were able to help me find them.

They could’ve run me off quickly by saying “We don’t have that size.”

They didn’t do that. I suspect their handling of the call was the result of training driven by a management decision.

I wasn’t a familiar voice calling them on the phone. While I’ve bought from their store on and off for 20 years, they don’t know that because they keep paper sales tickets. I’m not there often enough to be a familiar face / voice and had not been in their town for two years.

Yet they treated me like someone they want to come back.

Do you treat your customers that way? Do your online competitors?

Competition from tomorrow?

Sometimes business owners complain about online competition.

Yet online stores can rarely provide instant gratification. It’s difficult for them to help you buy something you need today for a meal, event, dinner, date, meeting or presentation happening later today.

They can rarely deliver the kind of service a local, customer-focused business can offer.

Online often gets a foothold when local service and/or selection are poor and focused on the wrong thing. Even with online pricing, a product isn’t delivered until tomorrow.

When you aren’t competing strongly against tomorrow, you really aren’t even competing against today.

Focus on helping them get what they want and need. Whether they are local or remote, customers just want to be well taken care of and get what they came for.

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Blogging Business model Community Competition Consumer Advocacy Customer relationships customer retention Facebook Feedback Getting new customers Marketing marketing to the affluent Marketing to women Setting Expectations Small Business Word of mouth marketing

The ROI of Social Media is…

Two minutes and change that hit some of “the what and the why” discussed during my Social Media – A Roadmap for Small Businesses talk this week.

The ROI of social media is that your business is still here in five years.

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Community Competition Corporate America Creativity Economic Development Entrepreneurs Leadership Positioning Small Business Software business strategic planning Technology

Not a nerd? Not a problem.


Creative Commons License photo credit: f_mafra

If you’ve been reading what’s going on in the economy, it seems like a fair percentage of the new jobs that are still out there are going to technical people.

Even today in Silicon Valley, the number of applicants in the job pool for a specific skill are roughly equal to the number of open jobs in that niche.

Meanwhile, local employers here in Montana are telling me they get 100-300 resumes/applications for every open job they post – which isn’t too many right now.

Every day, more and more jobs involve technical knowledge. Even tattoos are technical these days, as evidenced by the ink on this girl’s neck.

It’s html, the language used to create web pages.

Technical people

When I say “technical people”, I mean programmers, engineers and similar folks.

While some of the work these folks do can be outsourced, the work that isn’t tends to require local cultural context that isn’t often available to the technical person in another country.

Cultural context means a knowledge of the culture of the target market for the product you’re designing. Some products require it, some do not.

For example, an electrical engineer in almost any country or region of the world can design a cell phone component because “everyone” knows what a cell phone is and how it’s used.

The same isn’t always true when the design target is something in the cultural context of a particular area.

If you are in the U.S. or Canada, would you know the important aspects of designing a motorized trike designed for the streets of Delhi or Shanghai? Probably not, unless you have traveled extensively and spent time in those places.

That doesn’t mean you can’t learn those critical design points or someone from that region can’t learn those specific to work in the U.S. and Canada, but there is a learning curve.

Not all jobs require that context. Quite often, when you look at the jobs that have been outsourced, you’ll find that those jobs were lost because those jobs *can* be outsourced.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t technical. It simply means that they are technical but anyone with the skills can perform them – no matter what culture they grew up in.

Lots of people get really angry about that, just like they got angry at steam engines, the cotton gin and other advances that changed how our economy works. Meanwhile, that outsourced job went to some guy in somewhere who’s trying to feed his kids like everyone else. He might be making $1.10 a day doing that work, but it could be twice his previous pay.

Regardless of what the pay is, that’s a job that COULD be outsourced. Technical or not, it’s too general.

I received this (redacted) email from a friend today who has forgotten more enterprise network stuff than I’ll ever know.

So now I have another big contract.

These guys build big infrastructure for municipalities and large facilities. Perfect shovel ready stuff for millions of dollars and several years putting America back to work.

My job …. getting a working solution that allows them to move the technical work to a big city outside the US. Seems those folk need the work a LOT more than their counterparts who happen to be in, of all places, a city here in the US).

This is not the first time I have had a project where the purpose was to move American jobs overseas but it sucks more and more each time.

Add the that the fact that the Sr. Management team for this company is amazingly draconian with amazing bad morale and it proves that some people truly have just about sold out to the highest bidder.

The technical work being outsourced here is highly technical, but it is also generalized. It has no local context that matters, has nothing substantial to differentiate it, nothing to keep the work from being done elsewhere, whether elsewhere is Kansas or Kazakhstan.

Not a nerd

What if you aren’t “technical” in the context I’ve described here? Let’s say you’re a cabinet maker (which to me seems very technical).

Have you made the effort to determine what needs these specialized businesses have? Their success and their specialized needs might fuel yours.

Just an example, but worth some thought and perhaps, some effort.

Not being outsourced is as much your responsibility as anyone’s. Make the effort.

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Business culture Buy Local Community Customer relationships customer retention Entrepreneurs Marketing Positioning Retail service Setting Expectations Small Business Word of mouth marketing

Your story says why you care

One of the things I help business owners understand is how to tell their story (and why they should bother).

Sometimes, business owners don’t have a story, or at least, they think they don’t. Yet when you ask them, it’s a rare person who doesn’t have a tale that answers “How’d you get into this business?”

Many times, the work people do is a means to an end, or at least it seems that way on the surface because they just haven’t thought about it as their story.

Sometimes they got there by happenstance or by being in the right place at the right time. A family tradition leads others into a line of work after a parent sells or leaves them a business they didn’t even consider being in. Some folks “grow up” in the business and follow in their parents’ footsteps – even if that requires years of college.

For others, a business might have come out of something they’d done forever and decided to turn that activity into their way of making a living – say, a serious fly fisher starting a fly shop or a fishing guide service business.

More often than not the story is rooted in their passion for the work, for solving the problem their business solves, or the people they work with while doing so.

Your story is what sets the stage for a well-worn quote: “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.“  (Attributed to everyone from FDR to a soccer coach from UNC to John Maxwell)

It does that because how you got to where you are today says a lot of about the “how much you care” thing.

But sometimes, the answer isn’t so exciting. Or so it seems.

At Our Company, we strive to stay current with the latest products and techniques. We consider ourselves experts in our field and we invite you to take advantage of our expertise so that you can be assured to have the equipment, accessories and service that meets your needs.

Please take a look around our website. Youâ??ll find information about the comprehensive line of cycling products and services we offer to maximize the fun factor in your outdoor activities. And be sure to check out our Resources & Links page where you can access all sorts of valuable information for cycling enthusiasts.

Stop by and visit us at Our Company â?¦ weâ??d love to get to know you better.

Check out Our Company online and add your â??Likeâ?? on facebook.com/ourcompany

Only 2 things in all of that give you any idea what they do: “cycling” and “outdoor activities”.

Why you?

I can buy cycling gear in a lot of places, including WalMart and Amazon.

I buy it from locally-owned stores for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is that I want access to someone who can do more than just hand me the bag with my stuff in it. I want access to an expert who will base their answers to my newbie questions on their 27,438 miles of riding.

I have a lot of wants, just like people who play Warcraft, brew their own beer, restore mid-1950 Chevys or manicure Bonsai trees.

People who do those things don’t want to buy stuff from someone who doesn’t know anything about those things – and they sure don’t want to buy them from someone who doesn’t care about those things.

Something like this (which I just tossed together) tells people why you care:

We’re cyclists. The finest moments of our lives are memories of eating dust on single tracks only we and the bears know about, getting air at BMX events, leading the Tour de Hometown (even if only for a moment), riding in the kiddie seat on the back of our parents’ bikes during a trip to France and sharing the same memory with our kids right here at home.

Every bike, component, accessory gear and clothing in our shop is tested and personally approved by our staff. We don’t just hire salespeople or mechanics. We hire cyclists. We know you want help from someone who’s been where you’re going – or wants to ride along.

When we aren’t on our bikes, we love to use our combined 74 years of road racing, BMX, trail riding and cross-country touring experience to help you get the most out of your ride. We can’t wait to meet you and talk bikes.

If they know your story, they’ll know why you care.

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Business model Buy Local Community Competition Economic Development Management Manufacturing Montana Positioning President-proof Small Business strategic planning Strategy Technology

Lucy and the Aluminum Football

World's Favorite Sport
Creative Commons License photo credit: vramak

Lately, there has been a lot of talk in the news and around the Flathead Valley about the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) offering a four year power supply deal to Columbia Falls Aluminum Company (CFAC).

The deal is subject to environmental review and other what-ifs, so it isn’t a done deal quite yet.

Given the economic struggles facing Columbia Falls, any news of new jobs is good news. Really good news, in fact.

The topic of CFAC concerns me – it always has. Folks who have lived in Columbia Falls far longer than I know the history of CFAC first hand. To summarize for everyone else: It opens. It lays off / closes. It changes hands. It opens. It lays off / closes. And so on.

Again, Lucy pulls it away
CFAC has at times been our employment Lucy (from the “Peanuts” comic strip). Just as Charlie Brown approaches to kick the football, Lucy pulls it away and Charlie goes flying through the air, screaming and lands flat on his back. Imagine having that done to your career and family -  several times.

No matter how good things are when CFAC is rocking, a shutdown ripples through the financial well-being of our fair town’s families and the businesses that serve them. The impact of the historical ups-and-downs of CFAC on those families is unimaginable.

To their credit, CFAC’s troubles haven’t always been bad news for the valley.

In at least one case, their troubles have generated substantial benefits. Several years back, CFAC paid their people to do what amounted to volunteer work for a number of groups that couldn’t have otherwise afforded the labor. Many organizations benefited big time from the hard work their employees provided back then – and continue to benefit from the work done back then.

Don’t be a commodity
It isn’t as if these troubles were created on purpose (feel free to argue about that in the comments).

While it may not have started that way in the 1950s, the CFAC of modern times is incredibly sensitive to the whims of commodity prices. Many businesses deal with commodity prices somehow affecting some part of their business. CFAC’s business has it as part of their raw materials supply, energy supply and their finished product. As things sit today, it’s a tough, tough business they’re in.

Imagine having someone else setting the prices of every major component of your business. Now imagine that the ingots you ship are not substantially different (speaking very generally here) from those shipped by a Chinese firm using labor that works for $10 a day, ore that’s mined locally by workers paid similarly, and so on.

Advice to everyone else – do whatever you can to avoid getting yourself into a commodity market. If you’re in one, work on your business model to get out of it.

In fact, that’s my advice to CFAC, though they didn’t ask. Let’s call it a wish for the betterment of Columbia Falls and the entire valley.

The Whole Valley
Wait a minute…the whole valley? Absolutely. It’s about airline seats, hotel rooms and rental cars. It’s about cafes and catering. It’s about grocery and clothing stores. It’s about car dealers and construction work. It’s about the schools that get property taxes from an active thriving business instead of the waiver-level taxes of a dead one.

My wish is that in four years no one cares what electricity costs CFAC. Not because they are gone, but because whatever they sell has so much value that people will pay whatever it takes to get it. It worries me deeply that in four years we’ll be right back where we are now.

What I’d like to see is for CFAC to add a ton of value to the aluminum they produce, *before* it hits the rails. I’m told CFAC had some of the best millwrights anywhere who could create “anything”.

I wonder
I wonder what CFAC could make that would allow them to sell a product that doesn’t get sold on commodity markets based on someone else’s price control. I wonder what they can manufacture with the skills and backgrounds of the people who worked there for the last 20-30-40 years.

I wonder what would happen to a community manufacturing valuable products for today’s economy, rather than commodities from my grandfather’s economy.

I wonder what would happen if Charlie got to kick the ball.