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Apple Competition Creativity Entrepreneurs Leadership Management Motivation Positioning Retail Small Business Strategy systems The Slight Edge Time management

The cause for being nimble

Dan Kennedy is often heard saying “Money loves speed”.

While that is likely true, it seems that money also despises a few other characters: the laggard, the do nothing and the shows up 5 years late.

One of the distinct advantages that small businesses have over the box stores and franchises is that it takes those two groups of businesses months, if not years to roll out a new program.

First they have a zillion meetings.

Then they prototype it, test it in-house and finally pilot it in a few locations, then they make adjustments and finally do what it takes to roll it out nationwide.

In their case, that’s often the way it has to be. When you have 4500 locations, you can’t easily make knee-jerk decisions. The changes in the logistics of delivery to your stores is enough to keep someone busy for a while, much less changes to their proprietary equipment, labeling, marketing, training programs and so on.

That’s a good thing – for you.

Why? Because you can move fast. You don’t have 4500 locations. You don’t have custom-built equipment in most cases, or if you do, it wont change because of a new product.

Moving faster than everyone else is a difference maker, often a big one.

The downsides of being first to market are few and far between.

You might get copied, in fact, you might get copied by someone with far more assets and ability to deliver than you have.

Your market might not understand what the heck your product is, much less why they need it. I’ve been there. Once successful in conquering that monster, once not.

You might just be years ahead of the market recognizing why your product is so revolutionary. If that happens, you have a marketing problem, but then again, would Steve Jobs have been able to sell the iPhone in 1972?

Maybe it would’ve been easy selling to Star Trek fans back then 🙂

Being nimble means being quick to market. One prominent example: Apple. They announce a product and it’s typically available 6 weeks later, if not immediately.

You, being the small business owner, can be even faster. Many of the things we talk about here can be implemented today – or at the least, the implementation can start today.

Sure, it’s tough adding one new product line a month, or adding a new product to an existing line each week, or implementing a new customer retention strategy every month.

It’s uphill all the way.

Be nimble and you’ll likely be the only one climbing that hill. Worst case, you’ll be climbing that hill faster than everyone else – particularly if you are using systems to streamline your operations.

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Competition Employees Leadership Management Motivation Personal development Positioning Small Business

Is your business more dangerous when injured?

An injured animal is typically a dangerous thing, especially if it’s a sizable creature.

It’s especially so as they age, as they are wiser and less likely to make a mistake that will cost them dearly.

This is especially so when the animal is Tiger Woods.

All day long, despite an injury, despite little stumbles here and there, Tiger kept getting back up, even as Rocco Mediate came at him again and again in the US Open playoff at Torrey Pines today.

Each time, he fell back to his strength. Each time, that fundamental thing, the thing he has worked so hard on, picked him up and kept him in the game.

For Tiger, you might think it’s his drives.

After all, on these long, tight US Open courses, if you leave the driver at home, you’re in big trouble.

Or perhaps it’s his putting. On the always hard, super slick US Open greens, putt well or you become a spectator faster than you can say “3-putt”.

Or maybe, it’s his ability to get up and down, which in golf lingo means “to scramble out of trouble with a shot that stops close to the hole and then drop a putt to avoid losing a stroke”.

I think it’s something else. Something fundamental to golf and to business.

There’s a reason that martial artists practice the same move tens of thousand of times. The same reason that Tiger, Rocco and others hit hundreds or thousands of drives, or chips, or a specific iron every practice day. Sure, muscle memory is a big part of that, but I’m speaking of a fundamental.

Mental toughness.

The ability to do what you do, at your expected level of performance, no matter what’s going on around you, whether you’re hurt or not.

You might be thinking, yeah, but what about the seagull on the 18th green?

After all that Tiger’s dad did to strengthen him mentally, do you really think that seagull bothered Tiger on the 18th green?

No way. I think he used it to make Mediate think about the situation just a little more. To make him think.

And maybe to take a second look at the putt, just in case:)

What can you, your staff and your business accomplish during the worst of times? The toughest situation? The fundamental core ability?

What do you come back with even after watching your strongest competitor hit a home run? Or make a sale you never thought they could close? Your strength.

91 holes after they started, Tiger came back with the ability to just get par, knowing that if anyone was going to be rattled after a classic day of golf, it wasn’t going to be him.

How about you? What builds that sort of strength in you? In your staff? What do you do that competitors know they can’t beat you at? Do you position your business using that capability?

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Competition Customer service Employees Leadership Management Marketing Small Business

Firing a client

I had dinner with a client night before last and that topic was one of the things we very much agree on – when to send a client along to another vendor.

His story was not unusual. You’ve all probably had it happen to you in one form or another.

A new client left voice mail and email asking about a new purchase before the new purchase was completed, and both messages were laced with F bombs and similar colorful language.

Result: That new client was advised to go elsewhere, which was a good choice in my mind. Clearly that client’s behavior was not likely to get nicer.

Back in my photo software days, we had a fairly standard license agreement that we asked people to sign.

One of the reasons we did this was to make sure they actually read it. The best surprise is no surprise, as Holiday Inn used to say.

The other reason was that we included another page with the legalese license agreement. That page set the expectations for their use of the software and for their relationship as a client with us.

It also set our expectations of their behavior.

For example, we required that they use a battery backup on their server. We also expected them to backup their data daily (and provided a free tool for that purpose). Both of these things were for their own good, so that they would have the best possible experience with software that ran their entire business.

We wanted to make this point up front, before bad things happened to their data because of lightning, theft etc – hopefully so those things would never be a business killer.

More importantly, we defined exactly what would happen if they called us, faxed us or emailed us. We defined what an emergency was from our perspective and told them exactly how to report one so that it would get treated like an emergency (and of course, not to treat everything that way).

One guy called up and refused to sign the agreements. He insisted that we ship him the software, which he had just paid for, and said that signing the agreements was a waste of his time.

During this process, he felt the need to scream at one of my staff members over the phone – about 2 signatures. As you might imagine, he had spent more time arguing about the signatures than it would take to simply read and sign the agreements and have someone fax them to us.

I got on the phone and told him that we would be refunding his payment immediately and that no software would be shipped. I then told him why this was happening. End of discussion. It didn’t matter if he told 100 people. Those people would already know he was a jerk, or they’d agree. Either way, it wasn’t going to cost us a dime.

More importantly, I wasn’t going to allow people to talk to my staff like that and I wanted my staff to know that there was a flip side to my extremely high expectations for their service and support work: That they’d only have to deal with an abusive jerk once.

They knew to transfer the call to me, or ask to continue the call later when they had calmed down. If that happened, I would call them back and discuss their inappropriate behavior with them.

Either they would call and apologize to my staff member (and every one of them did), or I would terminate the relationship and refund their $, no matter how long they had been a client. Never had to do that. Came close once and the guy chilled out when he figured out I was dead serious.

My staff was the bread and butter of the business. Without them, I’d be the bald, insane guy drooling on my keyboard at the end of a 75 phone call customer support day.

Life is too short to do business with abusive jerks. Those are great people to send to your competitors.

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Competition Corporate America Customer service Leadership Management Marketing Positioning Pricing Small Business

American Airlines tests the law of unintended consequences

American Airlines has had only a few advertising slogans over the last several decades.

  • We know why you fly. We’re American Airlines. (Uh, because it takes too long to drive?)
  • Something special in the air. (It was the dog, really!)
  • Doing What We Do Best (and that is?…)

That isn’t where the PR is coming from for AA these days.

Naturally, it’s coming from that “$15 to check a piece of luggage” thing.

To me, the $15 isn’t that big of a deal, *but* the likely possibility is that the law of unintended consequences will strike American and other airlines who follow suit.

Airline travel is already working hard to become an experience right up there with going to the dentist, getting a visit from your brother in law the insurance salesman (noting that my pretty cool brother in law sells insurance<g>), and having someone at your door asking if you need your carpet cleaned.

Making air travel even more annoying is not the answer.

What American might see when the law of unintended consequences comes to visit.

At check in:

  • Lines will become longer and slower because people behind the counter will have to take credit cards, make change and so on. Just wait till the person in front of you has a “Take the card” marker on their credit card account and the poor airline check-in clerk is forced to repo their card.
  • MORE education will have to take place during check-in because people will not have funds (trust me) to check bags that are too big to carry on. And of course, they will argue with someone that the bag is OK and has been carried on many times before. All of which will take more time, making the line longer and slower.

At security:

  • $15 per checked bag will mean more people will carry on even more crap. Meaning TSA will have more stuff to xray and the line at security will be even slower because people will forget that the 3 ounce rule applies to carryons and that 24 ounce native coconut shampoo bottle you bought in Tahiti will have to be poured out.

During boarding:

  • Bags that are too big will have to be checked, delaying departure, disrupting the boarding process and oh by the way, will the baggage handlers in the jetway have credit card scanners on them?
  • Everyone and their mom will be carrying on more stuff. It’s bad enough as it is, with people bringing everything they own to carry on – it will get worse when every checked bag is now $15.

During deplaning:

  • Slower, for the same reasons that boarding will be slower.

During an emergency:

  • More crap will be available to trip over as people have more stuff in their lap and stuffed under the seat. One more cabin fire is all it will take for a Congressional hearing on carry ons.

All of this is really not the point of the discussion. It’s simply conjecture.

The real point of this discussion is to motivate you not to let yourself get trapped into doing stupid things that will make it harder and less enjoyable to do business with you, all because you were dumb enough to allow your business to become a price-sensitive commodity.

When the only purchase decision point you give your clientèle is price, you leave yourself with little in the way of strategy.

Given today’s levels of airline service – what other decision points are there? Either that airline goes to your city, or it doesn’t. Everything else is schedule and price. Commodities.

Here’s what they won’t do – and their behavior over time proves it.

  • No domestic U.S. airline will raise the price of their tickets so that they can actually provide the level of service that most travelers appreciate.
  • No domestic U.S. airline will provide the level of service that makes them the only choice when it’s time to fly.
  • No domestic U.S. airline will focus on the most profitable travelers, pamper them so they’ll never leave, price their tickets accordingly and let everyone else fight over the price shoppers who will change airlines for $5 round trip savings.

Don’t fall into the cheap trap. It’s easy to do when the press says that the economy has slowed, even though you couldn’t tell based on how packed the Costco parking lot is.

Be better, not cheaper.

Update: Today, this article about US Air making more service changes in the wrong direction.

Related posts elsewhere on the net:

Church of the Customer’s take on the American Airlines situation.

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Competition Customer service Leadership Management Positioning Small Business Strategy

Money loves speed

Need for Speed
Creative Commons License photo credit: Amnemona

Dan Kennedy is one of the many well-known business experts who can often be found saying “Money loves speed”. What they mean is speed of implementation. IE: How fast do you take information and take action on it? The faster, the better, as far as your wallet is concerned.

For example, we talked yesterday about pet peeves.

A few hours later, Bruce Johnson was in the middle of his client base’s online community asking what their pet peeves were with his company.

Some business owners would have printed out the post, tossed it on a pile of todo notes and gotten around to it “someday”. That isn’t what Bruce did.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, someone emailed me and said that the blog looked like crap on Internet Explorer 6 under Windows XP. That long awaited move to WordPress 2.5 simply had to get done, so last night, Business is Personal moved to 2.5 and to a new look and feel (which isn’t quite where I want it…yet).

Every time you look closely at a very successful entrepreneur, you’ll find someone who takes action on information as quickly as possible.

It doesn’t mean they’re always in a hurry (though they might be), it means that they take action. Now. Today.

Not “someday” or “soon”.

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Competition Entrepreneurs Leadership Management Motivation Small Business

Is your business ready to boil?

Sometimes the edge between success and floundering is quite small.

At 211 degrees F, water doesn’t boil at sea level. At 212 degrees F, it does. It’s that way in business as well.

By now, you’ve heard the story about the Nobel Peace prize winner Muhammad Yunus, a former economics professor in Bangladesh. He provided microloans to entrepreneurs in Bangladesh. Doesnt sound like that big of a deal….UNTIL you know the details.

steam
photo credit: dsasso

In 1974, he was visiting a small native village and after talking to one of the villagers, discovered they made and sold bamboo stools for a living. Problem was, they had to borrow in order to buy their daily supply of bamboo.

The loan amount? About US$0.25. Yep, a quarter. Unfortunately, almost none of them had a quarter. With their small daily profit and tiny loan amounts, no bank would consider a loan to them.

Instead, they had to borrow from the US equivalent of “loan sharks”, who charged extremely high interest, resulting in debts the village businesspeople were unable to pay off.

With the debt the villagers were carrying, they were stuck in financial quicksand. Unable to make progress, and unable to borrow from normal sources in order to help themselves out of their situation.

Yunus started asking around and found that the total debt for the entire village was $27.

$27. Now *that’s* a slight edge.

Everyone reading this likely has $27 in their wallet or purse and thinks little of it. To these villagers, it may as well have been $27000 or 27 million – because they didn’t have it.

As you might have guessed, Yunus paid off their debt out of his pocket, enabling the entrepreneurs to turn their situation positive, generate a profit and pay him back.

That small act created microcredit…which was the basis of his Nobel Prize.

Little things do make a difference, and that’s the whole principle behind the slight edge.

What’s the little thing keeping your business from boiling?

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cerebral palsy Creativity Leadership Technology

TED: Music, technology, expression, engineering & Cerebral Palsy

Today’s guest post is a video from TED2008 and shows – among other things – why university students pursue what might typically appear to be “useless” work in their graduate studies.

Ricky
photo credit: kk+

The video starts to hit home at 12 minutes, so don’t get impatient and click away. If nothing else, fast forward to about 10 minutes so you can get the full impact of the rest of the video.

Think about the workplace. Coma patients. Eldercare. Automation. Industrial safety.

Joe Lazarus’ presentation at TED2008

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Competition Leadership Management Small Business Strategy

86 percent have no plan. Are you wandering in the desert with them?

img_0145
photo credit: cdibona

Prior to teaching an online internet business course, Jack Humphrey recently surveyed his class of almost 200 students from across the globe. He reported on the results a few days ago.

One of the things he asked his class is “Do you have a plan for your business?”

EIGHTY SIX percent said “No.”  14 percent said “Yes”.

I’m guessing that 12 percent might have stretched the truth a little bit. I’d be surprised if 2 percent had a plan, but that really isn’t the point.

Are you one of the 86 percent who doesn’t have a plan for your business?

A strategic, financial, marketing business growth plan?

If you are, spend some time this weekend putting one together. Don’t make your success an accident. Build a roadmap and then start following it.

Tempted to blow it off? Consider the likelihood that your competition is in the 14% who has a plan. Part of their plan is to put you out of business.

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coaching Competition Leadership Motivation Strategy

Fundamental excuses for Memphis and your business

air time
photo credit: *sean

Runner up Memphis Tigers lost last night’s NCAA men’s basketball championship game to Kansas, 75-68 in overtime.

Because of a single free throw.

All season long, Memphis head coach John Calipari has been making excuses about his team’s poor free throw shooting. All season long, Calipari appeared to discount, if not blow off, the importance of the fundamental flaw in the Tigers’ basketball weaponry, saying things like “We find other ways to win” and “We would always come through when the stakes were highest.”

But they didn’t.

Memphis’ performance in shooting free throws – what anyone would consider a fundamental basketball achievement of a good team, much less a championship team, ranked them 339th out of 341 NCAA teams by making only 59% of their free throws.

In that category they aren’t second in the nation. They are SECOND TO LAST in the nation.

And that’s why Kansas coach Bill Self had them foul the crud out of Memphis in the final two minutes – because he knew that their fundamental weakness was the ability to make free throws. Any coach in the same position would have done what Self did. Force the opponent to their weakest position.

After the loss in the championship final, Memphis’ star freshman guard Derrick Rose echoed his coach’s excuse, saying that if they had done other things prior to the end of the game, they would have won anyhow. Yet Rose’s team had done those things already – they had a 9 point lead with 2 minutes remaining.

Noting of course, that Rose’s missed free throw at the end of the game allowed Kansas’ Mario Chalmers to tie the game with 2 seconds left on a dramatic 3-pointer. Rose’s spectacular 2nd half performance is what had them up by 9 in the second half, but he clearly is drinking the coach’s Kool-Aid about the theory that free throw shooting isn’t important to them. He still doesn’t get it.

Free throws are one of those “other things” that champions do to win. Part of being in the top 2% of any group is doing the things that no one else does.

Fundamentals.

“It will probably hit me like a ton of bricks tomorrow, that we had it in our grasp,” Calipari said after the game.

What would hit your business like a ton of bricks?

What fundamentals do you discount? Where does your strongest competitor lack excellence in fundamentals? What fundamental skill can you pay more attention to and raise the performance of yourself and your company?

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Leadership Management Media Montana Small Business

Mopping up messes – What’s the best way?

radio.jpgRecently, a local AM radio station had a former employee charged by the Feds with misdirecting funds and buying more supplies than needed so that he could get prizes and cash as rewards for the large purchases.

Not big news. Not unusual news. Left untouched, it would have largely been forgotten about by the locals at least until the trial.

Enter misguided management.

The AM station’s morning guy reads the news and adds his own flavor to it. He has a huge listener base.  After fifty three years on the air, he IS the station to many listeners.

The morning guy gets into a discussion with the  station manager, who tells him “you’re gone if you read that story”. The story, of course, is the story about the Federal charges lodged against the radio station’s former employee.

So the morning guy quits after 53 years on the air, feeling that his journalistic integrity is being threatened.  Naturally, the obtuse manager refuses all calls on the matter, stirring up the other media outlets even more.

Rather than a non-issue that would have gone away shortly after it was read, this manager has now threatened the perception of the integrity of this station’s news and editorial policy, and has substantially raised awareness and interest in the issue (the morning guy’s departure is front page above the fold main headline news in every area paper).

At this point, it’s natural to start to ask questions about the station’s financial controls, editorial policy, management and a number of other issues.  Clearly, the station manager has burned his reputation in the area, and any relationships he may have had with other media people.

All because the morning guy wasn’t allowed to spend 15 seconds reading a story that had already been in the paper and on local TV.

Got a mess at the office? Don’t sweep it under the rug. It’ll come back to bite you when someone trips over that lump in the rug. Take your lumps, maybe even make a little fun of yourself, and move on. Everyone else will too.

Hide from the public and the media and they’ll be provoked to do the natural thing: Want to know what else you’re hiding and dig for it.