affluence attitude coaching Employees Entrepreneurs Leadership Montana Motivation Personal development planning Small Business startups

The new economics of entrepreneurship

Rink of Fire
Creative Commons License photo credit: C.P.Storm

Today’s guest post from Guy Kawasaki talks briefly about the current state of the economy and more importantly about the economics of starting your own business these days.

Guy’s post offers more reasons why I keep pestering local folks to start their own business – *especially* if they are currently laid off.

Business culture Competition Customer relationships customer retention Customer service Employees Management Marketing Montana Retail Sales service Small Business The Slight Edge Word of mouth marketing

Little things sell big things

Trailer, courtesy of Bill Ward
Trailer, courtesy of Bill Ward

Earlier this week, we talked about how a little thing like the delivery of a sippy cup at the end of a long, hot weekend could change an entire restaurant experience.

Two recent adventures further illustrate how little things could make a difference.

Unfortunately, they involve those gasoline-powered devices / vehicles that so love to toy with me.

Les to the rescue

First, there’s the youngest son’s car which needed tires rather badly. So badly that they were on my short list of stuff to deal with when I return from out of town. Of course, one of them decides to fail *while* I’m out of town.

Because I’m at Scout camp, there’s no way to catch me (no cell, no internet) and of course, my wife was unavailable at the time the tire failed as well.

So there is my 17 year old needing tires, without enough cash in his account to pay for them, temporarily with no access to mom and dad, and (of course), no credit card.

For whatever reason, Les Schwab Tires put tires on it, wrote up a bill and sent him on his way – and he was on time to work.

Maybe that would happen in a big city, maybe it wouldn’t, but the bottom line is that it happened and I appreciated it. Stuff like that is why I buy tires at Les Schwab – they do stuff that they don’t *have* to do.

Tow headed boy

This morning, I wake up after at least 3 cups of coffee (ahem, yes that it more than it usually takes) and realize that another vehicular issue needs to be dealt with.

My trailer light wiring got ripped out from under my Suburban on a leisurely off-road excursion a while back. Also on the “round tuit” list, they remained dysfunctional until this morning when I realize that I need working lights.

See, I have to tow the Montana Federation of Swimming’s Western division timing/scoring trailer back from Shelby MT in preparation for our Divisional swim meet here next week.

It’s a pretty sizable trailer and driving back with no trailer lights on a prime tourist route is a really bad idea for lots of reasons.


So I go to a RV sales and repair place on the way back from town and ask if they have the trailer light T-adapter that fits onto the lighting harness. Getting one of these means I just unhook the harness and plug the ends into the T-adapter and whammo, I’ve got lights.

I walk into the RV place and if we were in the South, you could’ve heard crickets. No one in sight. I look around and finally a few minutes later I find a guy walking out of the lunch room.

He proceeds to spend 20 minutes digging in a paper catalog to find a part number, but finds nothing and blames the guy who wrote the index.

Google is your friend

Meanwhile, there is a computer on the counter. I suppose I could have Googled trailer light adapter a little faster, but I thought I’d give the guy a break.

After all this, he gives me the catalog and starts opening a box of mail on the counter. I’m just a little stunned. I go back to the index, use the brand name that is on a similar adapter from the shelf (I brought it to the counter as an example of what I needed).

The brand name is indexed and one of the two entries lists the page where the exact item I need is shown.

He looks up the item and tells me the price ($21) and asks if I want it. Of course I do, as I have 30 minutes invested in it already.

He says (I suggest you sit down)…“We don’t stock these items, do you want me to order it?”

So 30 minutes later, I still don’t have wiring harness and he is just now sharing with me that these items aren’t stocked.

He says the one I found on the counter was mis-packaged and apparently came from the repair department as an ordering mistake. Meanwhile, I’m trying to figure out why we spent 30 minutes searching for something that they don’t even stock, despite my telling him I needed it today.

NAPA, take me away

Empty handed, I leave the RV place and head for Columbia Falls. I slide into NAPA and start looking around and less than 30 seconds have gone by when someone approaches me and asks if they can help me find something.

I tell him what I need and they go to the computer (wooo, aint that cool?) and find it.

He digs around for the wiring adapter in the back, then looks on the shelf and finds it. Note that this is different than what a typical store staffer elsewhere might have done. The expectation is that they will point toward the front of the store and say “They’re on aisle 8.”

Instead, in Nordstorm-like fashion, he took me there and found it.

All the time, he is smiling and friendly. The lady up front is also smiling and friendly.

Now to be fair, I should admit that I know the owners of this NAPA and they are more often than not (pretty much always) smiling and friendly. But these staffers don’t *know* that I know the owners. They don’t really know me from Andy Granatelli (I’m taller).

Yet I get service like that $19 purchase was the most important one I ever made. Oddly enough, it is – because you are only as good as your last transaction.

Get recommended

It’s unlikely that I will ever buy a monster RV and probably not even a camp trailer (that RV place sells everything from $10k trailers to $150k “Class A” RVs), but it is likely that sometime, somewhere, someone will ask me which RV place to go to or where to get auto parts or tires, and so on.

Which places do you think I’ll recommend?

Are your people doing what is necessary (or more) to motivate people to recommend your business? Psst: That’s just one form of marketing.

Business culture Creativity Customer relationships Customer service gift cards Marketing marketing to the affluent Marketing to women Montana Point of sale Restaurants Retail Sales Small Business Strategy

Let them show some appreciation

Sweet Child O Mine
Creative Commons License photo credit: ssh

How do you allow your customers to show their appreciation for friends, clients, family members or someone in the community who did something helpful?

For example, there’s this cool retired lady in my town who runs the Chamber of Commerce. Everyone calls her “the Chamber Mom”. I think you can visualize the nurturing role she plays for our Chamber just from that description.

You could show appreciation for her hard work or (for someone like her) by giving her lunch for two at a local restaurant, or even coffee for 2 at a local coffee shop.

So…exactly how easy is it for your customers to do just that?

Do you have a lunch for two gift card ready to sell, with no frustrating wait for swiping the card, adding value to it and so on? IE: an impulse buy when someone is thinking of someone they’d like to show appreciation for.

You’ve seen these before. Big retail uses them. Even phone cards come in “sizes”.

And why exactly haven’t you taken the gift (ie: the idea) these businesses have given you and turned it into your own?

I don’t know either.

Advertising Business culture coffee Competition Corporate America Customer relationships customer retention Customer service Management Marketing Marketing to women Montana Restaurants Retail Sales service Small Business Starbucks

Coffee: The new “Do you want fries with that?”

Mystical station
Creative Commons License photo credit: Jsome1

Anyone who has studied business or marketing for any period of time has looked at the impact that one sentence has had on McDonald’s.

It gets used in sales training every single day because almost everyone is familiar with that upsell. In some cases, it has become a punch line. The increment on each sales transaction was minor, but it adds up store-wide in a big hurry.

The “new black” in MickeyD upsells is moving people to a McCafe coffee drink. Bet on it to be HUGE financially for McDonald’s, even if it is primarily a get-it-and-go sale.

I suspect Ronald McDonald knows better than to think his stores are going to be the next “thirdplace”. Still, with a new upsell of $2.50 to $3.50 to their average transaction, there’s a big payoff.

Thirdplaces can relax, just a tiny little bit

I don’t expect it to hurt Starbucks and independent coffee shops all that much because they tend to be a thirdplace: a meeting place, an escape from the office, a hangout with friends, a place to meet clients and the like.

However, the new McCafe habit could easily impact the drive-up coffee kiosks that saturate street corners and unused parking lot areas nationwide – particularly if they don’t stand out with outstanding service and great coffee.

Having a good reason to drive past McDonald’s wouldn’t hurt their case.

For example, one of the coffee shops here stands out by having a cowgirl theme. The ladies in the kiosk dress like cowgirls (modern day, but still), their branding is Western cowgirl oriented and it flows nicely across their entire business – including their catering trailer. I know people who drive miles across town past 3 or 4 other kiosks just to get coffee from the cowgirl drive-ups.

That’s what standing out will do for you.

I was kidding about the relax thing. Relax? Are you nuts? 🙂

Starbucks just sells coffee.

Look closely at your business. Is there a complementary upsell that you can add to your line of products / services?

Maybe it won’t add 50% to an average transaction like a McCafe drink can, but you should still be looking for things that your customers SHOULD be buying when they buy what they came to the store to get.

Do you let them walk out the door with plywood or 2x4s without asking about nails, screws, liquid nails and other necessities?

Do you sell them a website without asking about other business services that complement their site?

I hear it coming: “Oh, but we just do websites.” Sure. And Starbucks just sells coffee.

If their website looks like it was built with Microsoft Front Page in 1995, it’s reasonable that other aspects of their business could use a refresh as well.

Chances are there will be all sorts of inconsistencies with their stationery, business cards, and in fact their entire marketing message. They may need other help as well. Once all this new stuff rolls out, will their sales staff need training? Will their delivery people or service staff need a reboot on how they do things? Probably.

The tough question: Are you selling them a pile of HTML and graphics or are you giving them the tools they need to take their business to the next level? No one wants to buy HTML. Everyone wants to buy the magic pill that transforms their business, even if that means buying HTML along with a few other things.

Even if you don’t want to, can’t or are not interested in doing those other things, you can always find someone you trust who *can* do them.

Save them from themselves

Remember, an upsell doesn’t have to be an extra. It might be what saves that customer an extra trip back to the store (or worse, to a competitor’s store). It might be what they REALLY TRULY NEED.

Save them money. Save them time. Make sure they have everything they need before they hit the road. I guarantee they’ll remember it if you start saving them return trips to the store, regardless of how much extra they spend during that first trip.

attitude Business culture Competition Creativity Entrepreneurs Feedback goals Ideas Improvement Leadership Montana Motivation Small Business

Dreaming not just OK, it’s essential.

Early in the movie “Dances with Wolves”, the Sioux tribe elders are discussing what to do about John Dunbar, Kevin Costner’s character in the movie.

Costner plays a lone Army scout at a remote outpost in the western plains.

The tribe had just discovered his presence earlier that day and the elders were discussing what to do around the chief’s fire.

After listening for some time, as chiefs tend to do, the chief talks about finding one man in the middle of the wilderness all by himself. He wonders if the man has “medicine” because he seems unafraid of being out in the plains in the middle of nowhere, despite being all alone.

When John Dunbar asked for this remote duty, he had no idea what he was in for and it just sounded interesting to him, so he did it. Kevin Costner’s character was an entrepreneur, in Army terms. A dreamer (but also a doer).

Dreaming is OK, really.

A while back, someone called me a dreamer. It almost felt derogatory, but I know it wasn’t intended that way.

What bothered me then and still bothers me to this very moment is that this person left me with the idea that they felt dreaming was a bad thing.

A thing to be avoided, or best case, a thing for children rather than entrepreneurs. I couldn’t disagree more.

I really donâ??t know what caused this person to lose that part of themselves, but I see a lot of that these days and it concerns me.

Recovery is in OUR hands

You see, I believe that the dreamers are the ones who fuel things like economic recovery.

Presidents donâ??t do it. Congressional Representatives donâ??t do it. Senators donâ??t do it.

Business people and their customers do it.

Dreaming isn’t enough

It takes more than a dreamer though. It takes a dreamer who is also a doer. Without action, a dream is not worth much.

A big thinker who does little more than think and doesn’t share their brilliance or find a doer to implement their great idea isnâ??t nearly as important (in my mind at least) as someone who isnâ??t quite so brilliant, but gets out of their chair every day and makes things happen.

It simply isnâ??t enough to sit here and think “What if?”

There HAS to be action.

Often, part of being an entrepreneur is not always knowing what’ll be there when you arrive.

attitude Competition Entrepreneurs Marketing Montana Motivation Personal development Sales Small Business

Wallflowers at the 7th grade dance

Trail Flowers
Creative Commons License photo credit: sburke2478

You’ve all been there.

The 7th grade dance. Girls on one side, boys on the other.

And if nothing happens, it isn’t long before the girls are dancing with each other.

Meanwhile the boys lean against the wall, looking down at their feet, glancing up at their favorite girl and then kicking themselves for not asking her to dance – all while continuing to stand there and not ask.

Sometimes, one brave boy steps out there and asks the prettiest girl in school to dance. Sometimes she does simply because someone finally asked her.

Wallflowers don’t get to dance

You say your name and your business name. And then, you look down almost as if you’re ashamed.

I guess I should paint a more complete picture before I get to the meat of the subject.

Sidebar: What do vegetarians say instead of “Get to the meat of the subject”?

The other day I was speaking on a panel about Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

The 4 of us had a nice big crowd of small business owners to interact with. Each of us are involved fully or partly in providing our clients with websites, technology or some such, so as a group we had the various bases covered pretty well and things were flowing nicely.

Late in the discussion, someone in the crowd asked a question or two and after a while, asked one last question after introducing themselves as a web designer.

Maybe it was the panel structure itself, but I really don’t think so. We’re all pretty regular, approachable folks. No suits or anything like that.

Something made this person seem a bit embarrassed to bring up the fact that they did web design and that they were looking for customers. Maybe they felt the context was wrong.

Thing is, solo entrepreneurs can’t afford to be embarrassed or shy.

Worst case, a “Hey, is it ok if I introduce myself?” would have worked.

Belt it out

Maybe it was because they felt like we owned the room, but that really isn’t the case. If half of the people in the room had walked up to the panel with a check in hand and a pile of work to do in short order, we’d all be scrambling:)

It really isn’t about us.

None of the folks on the panel cared about the introduction. In fact, I’ll bet every one of the panelists would be happy to see another good web designer in town that we can refer work to when the fit, budget or timeframe isn’t right for us.

Ideally, we would have heard their name clearly, with a phone number, web site address or a “Please see me afterwards”. But that didn’t happen.

I feel a little bad about it now, because I didn’t stop what we were doing and ask them to stand up, reintroduce themselves and give some solid contact info. I mean, the room was full of small business owners. It was the perfect opportunity (yeah, I’ll see if I can get them to introduce themselves next month).

But this is about you, not that person (I can fix that next month). It’s just a story to illustrate how easy it is to overlook something and cost yourself some business.

If you’ve got a shot, take it.

It’s no time to be a wallflower.

Get out on the floor and dance like no one’s watching – cuz unless you do, they won’t be watching and they wont have any idea that you can dance.

What a shame it would be if the best dancer on the floor never left the wall.

Blogging Creativity Direct Marketing Ideas Internet marketing Marketing Montana SEO Small Business Strategy The Slight Edge

Are you overlooking sales opportunities?


As I’ve mentioned here before, I write a business column for the Flathead Beacon, an online newspaper here in Northwest Montana.

When I have the time and inclination, I also cover sports and other stories about my community (Columbia Falls, Montana) that interest me.

So I take a photo of Rehberg and Montana Chamber of Commerce President / CEO Webb Brown (on the left in the photo above) at a Kalispell “listening session” a month or so ago and insert it into my brief article covering Rehberg’s session.

The next day, a communications specialist at the Montana Chamber of Commerce finds my Beacon article about Rehberg’s session and asks if they can use the photo (which includes their president/CEO)  in their monthly magazine / newsletter.

I was a bit surprised they wanted to use the photo since the microphone is obscuring some of Mr. Brown’s face, but it is what it is. I think they were simply glad to have his photo with Rep. Rehberg.

Good news, bad news

I say sure, they can use the photo in their publication if they include a photo credit that points to the blog and they agree. Good news for me, as state chamber members will be a very nicely targeted audience for Business is Personal.

So my mail arrives and what do you know, the photo not only appears in this month’s Montana Chamber of Commerce magazine called “Eye on Business”, but it appears *on the cover*.

Unfortunately, there is a typo in my photo credit’s URL.

It happens. In fact, it happens more often than you would expect, so you have to be prepared to react properly.

Some might flip out at this point, but think about it – I can’t change the magazine.

React strategically

The magazine is already printed and in the mail. Reacting strategically is the only viable solution.

Thankfully, I am fortunate enough that the typo’d website address is available, so I grab it and create a simple one-page website that acts as a landing page for Eye on Business readers who see the photo credit and are curious enough to read more.

But wait, there’s more. No one other than those readers know that site’s address. It’s only in the magazine and I have no good reason to use it elsewhere.

This means that a very high percentage of the people who see this page will do so because they are readers of Eye on Business. In fact, that means I have good reason NOT to use it elsewhere because of this situation.

Result: I can customize the message on the new site to Montana Chamber of Commerce members, making their first experience with me even more personal. That’s exactly what I did.

Yet another opportunity

I must admit that I thought it was a little odd that the contact with the Chamber was not also used as an opportunity to ask me what I know about the Chamber’s work, if I was a member, and if I would like to get an application form etc.

Nor was a brochure or application included in the package I received in the mail with the sample issues.  This was a missed opportunity to ask, much less just tell their story.

Are you missing out on opportunities like that? Keep your eyes open for them. Sales opportunities that are in context tend to be a lot more fruitful than those that are not.

attitude Competition Creativity Entrepreneurs Leadership Montana Motivation Personal development Small Business Strategy The Slight Edge

Is this why some artists (and others) are starving?

Family Values - Italian tragedy style
Creative Commons License photo credit: eliazar

Over at The Online Photographer, there’s an ongoing discussion about a photographer who is experimenting (good for him) with a mechanism to do what some artists never manage to do – trade their art for someone else’s cash and have both people happy with the exchange.

Because his experiment is a little unusual for the art world, it has generated a substantial discussion.

I was pleased to see that the experimenter had taken the time to do some research, consult with pricing experts and find out what impact minute changes in pricing might have on his results.

Many people wouldn’t likely have bothered with that level of effort.

What I didn’t find the least bit interesting or surprising about the ensuing discussion was the number of people with a litany of excuses (they called them ‘reasons’) why this experiment wouldn’t work.

If you are “leaning into the fear” (thanks to Perry Marshall for that gem) and trying something new, you can bet your bottom dollar that someone – probably someone who has NEVER leaned into their own fear – will find a page full of ‘reasons’ why your effort won’t work and why you should just go back to that job at Wally World and keep on doing that thing (whatever it is) as a hobby in your spare time.

You know, “Be realistic”.

Don’t roll your eyes

A little advice: Don’t roll your eyes. Don’t argue with them. Don’t try to justify your efforts to them.

Just say “Yeah, you’re probably right, I dunno what I was thinking” (or similar).

It’ll shut them up (since you appear to have acknowledged they’re right) or allow them to move on to their next topic, and you can move on with your project (and perhaps with the process of proving them dead wrong).

Feedback is valuable.

Unless it’s toxic (you should be able to tell the difference), it’s easy to discard. Sometimes you might even hear feedback that helps you toward your goal. A dime’s worth of serious value out of $5 worth of advice is still a dime you can spend to move a project forward, so long as you give them change with that “you might be right” comment.

Smoke em if you got em

Some time ago, it was suggested that my move to Montana would last no more than 6 months and that I’d soon be back in my old location with my tail between my legs.

That was 10 years ago. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Artist or otherwise, you can do that big, supposedly audacious thing too, whatever it might be.

CPSIA Homemade products Management Media Montana Press releases Retail Small Business

Do it yourself CPSIA Press Release

Tonight I wrote a press release for use with my local media, so please feel free to use it as is or with your own contact/business information so that your local media can get a feel for the local impact of the CPSIA in your area.

You can get the CPSIA press release here (pdf).

Constructive criticism is welcome, as is posting your version as a comment.

CPSIA Media Montana Politics Retail Small Business

What you should be doing about the CPSIA

Creative Commons License photo credit: Gustty

I spent some time on the phone today with Senator Baucus’ office in DC. Ended up spending about 20 minutes with Bruce Fergusson, Baucus’ business specialist in this area. 

Bottom line – he said this:

  • If you contact your reps/Senators, calling them by phone is far and away the best thing to do. Call their DC office. Everyone emails and almost no one calls. Calling stands out and gets a real person on the line most times.
  • Because the legislation is already law, calling the CPSC for clarification of the impact on your specific business is best. They have till Feb 10 to formulate the first set of rules for the CPSIA. Your call – the sooner the better – can impact the result. You can contact the Consumer Product Safety Commission via the contact info behind this link.


Meanwhile, keep working on the other channels of communication:

  • Work as much as possible by phone.
  • Blog.
  • Write letters – real ones with a stamp.
  • Fax.
  • Get interviewed on local tv, radio or in the newspaper.
  • Talk to your vendors, manufacturers reps and markets about it. 
  • Tell your customers about it and ask them to contact their representatives. Give them a short letter to mail and sign to make it easy.

The number of people who know about this law is still very, very small. You can fix that.

February 10th is just around the corner.