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A gift for Bobby?

Yesterday, I was reading a comment from Bobby Rich about this small business (whaaaaa?) post on Hildy’s blog.

Bobby took Hildy’s idea, smooshed it around a little and decided to see if it would work for his business.

I like the idea, but I think we can put a cherry on top of that smooshed idea.

No doubt, it’s a nice giveback to the community to promote these local businesses.

In partnership with the local Chamber of Commerce, regional marketing co-op, etc; it might also be a way to promote that group and its members, introduce new members’ businesses, and maybe urge new businesses to join that group.

Even better for Bobby, I’m thinking it’d be a simple way to demonstrate to a small business owner how well radio/tv ads for that business would work on his stations, particularly the small local businesses who might not even consider advertising on radio/tv.

Imagine the reaction of a small business owner who previously balked at the investment of a radio ad, only to find that a free ad ended up generating 100 new customers in a few week’s time – especially if the ad was designed to make the results obvious and trackable to the ad.

Kinda makes a guy wonder…

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Arriving late?

Today’s guest post is for those business owners arriving late at the “social media party”.

For those making an entrance, business-wise, here’s a nice social media startup guide from the NYTimes’ “You’re The Boss” blog.

It talks about restaurants specifically, but the advice is sound regardless of what your business does.

As usual, salt to taste.

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One way to create sustainable jobs

Recently, the Flathead Beacon published a story about a global tech-oriented business that continues to grow right here in rural Montana.

This business started from scratch and achieved critical mass…

  • Without tax breaks that often encourage unsustainable business models.
  • Without specially crafted laws that treat their industry or part of their industry “more fairly” than others. Rhetorical sidebar: What exactly is “more fairly”?
  • Without the work of half a dozen lobbyists in Helena or Washington.

In other words, they started just like your business likely did, probably using the same methods most small business owners use – the same thing that I suggested when we talked about the fitness center just a few days ago.

They found a need and they filled it.

Several years back, I remember sitting in a coffee shop next to someone interviewing a candidate for a job with what was then the startup roots of the company discussed in the article.

The discussion and the numbers I overheard told me they were serious, sustainable and positioned well. I’m really glad to see this business continue to grow.

In good economies and bad, your business model has to make sense on its own, no matter what’s going on in the state capitol and DC, and no matter who is in the White House.

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Making it personal at BusyMac

World's Favorite Sport

If you live in Northwest Montana, you know that one of the things we “cling to” is high school sports.

I live in Columbia Falls, a town of about 4500 people. Our arch rival is Whitefish, a town of about 6000 people.

While our towns are changing, Columbia Falls has historically been the blue collar industrial hub of Northwest Montana, with several lumber mills and a large aluminum plant (now closed). Whitefish, on the other hand, started off as a lumber and railroad town and transformed itself over the last 70 years into a ski resort town that has become known for the ski mountain, palatial lake homes – as well as the railroad depot.

Both towns are changing as the economy (and our country) has changed over the last 20 years. Today, both towns are homes to technology, public relations, marketing and/or internet-related firms with national and/or international markets.

But one thing hasn’t changed. The rivalry between the high school teams.

Making a connection

All of this sets up the story for an email I received yesterday.

Due to a setting in Google Calendar, I was having a problem with syncing Google calendars with calendar software on my Mac, which is called “BusyCal”.

I emailed the company and thanks to a handy option in the software they provide, some diagnostic info about my calendar was sent to their support staff.

A short time later, I received an email with instructions to check a few things.

The email closed with this comment:

It could also be that you are from Columbia Falls and we’ve designed the product to specifically notice that and cause issues. Moving to Whitefish will solve all your problems… (Whitefish, Class of ’83…)

Regards,

-Kirk
support@busymac.com

With this brief comment at the end of an already helpful email, Kirk has taken our connection from a brief, distant tech support relationship to a friendly rivalry.

It’s a great illustration of how simple it is to create a real connection with a client.

Business is Personal.

Think about how you and your staff can create personal connections with your clients.

UPDATE: 3 days after posting this column, the Columbia Falls Wildcats won their 4th state boys basketball title in 9 years. A month earlier, the Columbia Falls Wildcat Speech/Debate team won their 11th state title since 1991 and their 6th in a row. While it’s “only sports”, there are important lessons being learned in Columbia Falls about what it takes to succeed – even outside the classroom.

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Moving to where the jobs are

Formation Flying
Creative Commons License photo credit: Koshyk

In today’s guest post from Forbes, an interactive map showing where people are moving to and from, county by county across the US.

Thanks to @BeckyMcCray for sharing it with me.

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Facebook you…because?

As I drive around the area, I see lots of businesses who are trying to reap the potential rewards of local marketing on Facebook.

One sign: they have “Facebook us” or “Find us on Facebook” or similar on their roadside signs.

The idea is for you to click the “Like” button or become a fan of their business on Facebook, which will appear in your Facebook feed.

Because it appears in your Facebook feed, friends will see it as well and presumably some of them will check it out.

And that’s where it ends for many businesses. One time.

The smart ones talk with their fans/clients regularly via Facebook, even if they have a blog or other web presence.

People made the effort to friend, like or become a fan on Facebook.

What are you doing on Facebook to keep them paying attention?

Attention span

What are you doing to stand out amid the ever-present flood of game-related posts, surveys and other stuff on Facebook (note: you can hide that stuff without hiding the friend by clicking on the X at the right side of items of the type you don’t want to see – something you may want to share with your friends).

Does your restaurant have a Facebook fan special? A night where fans of the restaurant all get together IN PERSON (how’s that for frightening?)

Do you communicate daily or weekly with your fans to let them know what you’re up to? I don’t mean unnecessarily, but in cases where it makes sense.

Morning Glory Coffee and Tea in West Yellowstone, Montana does a great job of this and should give you some ideas, even if you don’t run a restaurant.

Ideas

What are people unaware of about your business? What knowledge would you like new (or existing) customers to know / have immediate access to?

What would they ask you in casual conversation about your business? What reason would people have to continue to visit your Facebook fan page?

Do some thinking about it – and act on it.

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Taken For Granted

This photo wasn’t taken in Chernobyl or in some abandoned ghost town.

It’s in downtown Detroit, a few blocks from shining skyscrapers.

Every mayor and business owner in the US should look at photos like the one above and imagine what this place once was.

The meltdown of the US economy has many looks.

Is industry/business/culture in your area taken for granted? Have you thought about the risks your business, your local economy faces?

Here at home

In my area, the collapse of real estate cascaded into the construction trades and to those who supply the tradesmen with raw materials like lumber.

Those troubles spread to truckers, accountants and others. The interconnections were no longer subtle as the economic virus spread.

Regardless of cause, one market’s problem cascaded through numerous business sectors.

It’s easy to look back now and ask why construction and real estate folks didn’t work toward additional revenue streams in businesses that were a bit more state of the economy proof.

It’s also easy to ask the truckers, accountants and others from all walks of life if their customers were too concentrated in one line of work, leaving them too open to a single market’s collapse.

The Hard Question

The question you should be asking yourself is “What did you learn from that and what are you doing to prevent a reoccurrence?”

We talked last week about some inexpensive little things that can damage a reputation and cause the loss of a customer.

In comments I got from that story, folks asked if I spoke to the owner or the manager. My visit was not irrelevant to me, but what I did that night is irrelevant in the big picture because it ignores the way most people deal with bad customer experiences.

Unless the problem is dangerous, blatant or just over the top terrible, most people will pay their bill without saying a word.

They’ll just leave.

Starting a conflict with a business’ manager while their family is there isn’t on their agenda. It’s easier to just leave.

And never return.

Whether they come back or not, they’ll relay their experience to others. Studies have repeatedly shown that people will tell three to five others when they have a great experience and ten or more when they have a poor one.

Even if those numbers are off by a factor of two, how many customers can you afford to lose this week?

Guaranteed

There’s a small town in Pennsylvania that has been fighting for its life. It’s an old steel mill town called Braddock.

There’s no good reason for that town to be fighting for its life – except that it depended too much on a single business. The steel business.

There’s nothing wrong with the steel business or any other distressed industry until business owners, government officials and employees take the status quo for granted.

“No one” ever thought that the steel business would change.

Prior to Henry Ford, “no one” thought the car business would ever change. Robotics fixed that.

After robotics, surely the car business wouldn’t change AGAIN. But it did.

Programmers felt the same way, multiple times. The end of the (widespread) mainframe era, the dot com boom (and bust) years of the internet, the expansion of open source, the rise of India, and the iPhone. Change.

Then China and other countries started taking jobs from India, and so on.

Change is guaranteed.

What could change in your market and weaken – or destroy – your ability to retain your current market position?

And what are you doing to protect yourself if that happens?

Think back 10, 20 or 30 years…or even as recently as the boom times of 2006.

As GM goes

People once said “As GM goes, so goes the United States.”

Every business owner, every mayor, every county commissioner who takes the current situation for granted – no matter how good or bad – risks making a mistake that creates their own version of Detroit.

Look at these photos of Detroit. Beautiful, yet haunting.

Take nothing for granted.

Not a tax break. Not a government contract. Not a sweet 10 year deal. Not the supply of electricity, water, lumber, or programmers. Not a single customer.

And certainly not the next interaction you have with a customer.

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Groping for opportunity – a gift from the #TSA

Russet
Creative Commons License photo credit: Nicholas_T

Much noise has been made of the mess that has become airport security.

The recent introduction of TSA’s high resolution body scanners and the “pat downs” (formerly known as “getting to second base”) have stirred up a hornet’s nest of grass roots discontent.

As you might expect, there has been much hand-wringing in political circles over the issue.

Attempts have been made to position the changes as part of the political agenda of both parties, but anyone with a brain has watched these changes develop during the recent domain of each.

Flathead Beacon editor Kellyn Brown noted earlier this week that a recent New Yorker blog post revealing editorial cartoons dating back to the 1930’s predicted exactly what we’re seeing today.

You’ll find people on both sides of the aisle that aren’t too happy about the situation…but today’s post isn’t about politics.

It’s about opportunity.

Opportunity? What opportunity?

It’s a chance to say “look at me!” for the thousands of communities that you can visit and have a great time in with your family and/or friends – without getting groped by someone who has worn the same pair of gloves to check the last 42 people through the line.

I’m talking about every town whose hub airport doesn’t have the full body scanners and therefore doesn’t (currently) have the “pat down”.

It’s a silly little thing in some ways, but it’s at the top of the news these days – which is why I bring it up as a tool for your use.

Whether we’re talking about parents with young kids and/or teenagers, or those who aren’t so sure about the conflicting claims of doctors and Federal agencies regarding the radiation the scanners utilize, it’s a sticking point for a lot of folks.

If you want your beds filled, your restaurant tables turning twice as often, or your attraction filled to the gills, how you feel about the scanners and pat downs isn’t nearly as important as how your potential customers feel about them.

Yes, that goes for most things, but in this case, it’s an angle that big city tourism cannot use.

Getting started

So…open a map and a browser and a few airline and train schedules and make a list of the communities that can get to and from your place without encountering the latex glove – and without umpteen changes of planes and airlines.

Just because they can get there with planes, trains and automobiles doesn’t mean they want that kind of hassle.

Next, and this is the part a lot of folks will skip, look at your existing visitor history. I hope you already know this, but if you don’t, you should still have the data.

What are the top three, five, ten (whatever) most-visitors-from cities in your visitor history that are *also* on the list of “no-scan, no-grope” communities?

Do unto others

It’s becoming obvious now: Some cooperative advertising is in the cards.

Can your small town (or not) Chamber and/or tourism board contact theirs? You could do it on your own.

Trade out some tit-for-tat advertising.

For example, their chamber can send an email blast to their members and include an insert in their print newsletter about the fun stuff that you can do in your beautiful area. Your chamber can return the favor.

I hear the objections already. But they won’t cooperate. Or they have fewer members than we do so it isn’t fair.

Horse biscuits.

Chase down those dozen communities, even if you have to approach similar competition in those areas. Each of you have something to gain from adventures such as these.

Who knows, you might even find some synergy that outlasts the TSA ridiculousness and allows you to create an annual program for cross promotion.

It isn’t about egos. It’s about visitors.

Money loves speed

It’s also about speed. You can’t wait 90 days to make this happen.

TSA is top of the news now and on peoples’ minds now, so you must grab the train as it goes by and climb aboard.

Next month or next week, there might be something else you can latch onto. Perhaps what you learn from this exercise will make that effort even more successful.

Finally, you don’t need to wait for someone to make news. You can create your own, but it still requires lots of coordination and low egos to benefit.

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Meating expectations

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

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

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

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

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

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Profitable creativity or touchy-feely crap?

Jobs.

Politicians talk about them.

Some own businesses that have created jobs.

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

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

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

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

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

And those service jobs?

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

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

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

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

Who’s rocking?

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

Have you ASKED?

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, they might exhibit…

Habits

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

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

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

What works for the rockers?

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

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

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

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

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