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Innovation breeds profit? Who knew?

New corsair
Creative Commons License photo credit: psiaki

Profit is an evil word in many circles these days, but I used it anyway.

Are you the innovation leader in your market?

It seems to work for Apple.

Think back to your last real innovation. Yes, that one.

Remember that product or service that made customers and prospects flock to your office, store, website, trade show booth or reseller displays?

Once you got to that point, business sure did seem easy, didn’t it?

Think a little farther back. How’d you get there?

Follow the thought process that made you decide to reach out a bit more than normal.

Isn’t it worth being your market’s or even your industry’s thought leader again?

Sure makes those trips to the bank a lot more fun.

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The President of You


Creative Commons License photo credit: dev null

Been talking about this for a good while, glad to find someone else who agrees.

There is one President who matters to your business: The President of you.

What you do today, tomorrow, the next day and every day to improve your products, services, customer support, and to continue to provide better value to your customers makes a ton more difference in the results seen in your business than anything done by anyone else, regardless of party, regardless of office.

Quit fussing over elections and political issues. If you want to make a difference in your business, get to work.

PS: Happy Veterans Day. Thank you to Veterans for all you did. Thank you to active duty personnel for all you’ve done and continue to do.

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Real business owners aren’t scared

Kick Butt
Creative Commons License photo credit: Teeejayy

While live-blogging the US Chamber of Commerce Small Business Summit, Brad Peck (US Chamber of Commerce official Twitter blogger) said this during Joe Scarborough‘s talk:

Somewhat annoyed by the “scared” comment, I responded with this:

I don’t know a single business owner that’s scared.

Annoyed? Sure. Aggravated? Sure.

But scared? Not. A. Single. One.

Thankfully, Brad understood. I say thankfully because I would wonder if he has any business working at the US CoC if he actually *believed* what Scarborough said.

I don’t believe for one minute that an entrepreneur would decide not to start a business because someone in Washington was talking about new taxes.

Do I think new taxes make business people happy? Of course not. But scared? No way.

Hand-wringing by the numbers

What you have to keep in mind when reading Scarborough’s quote is that he is a politician and a TV talking head. My guess is that his speech’s goal is to stir people up about government intervention, regulation, taxation in order to boost TV ratings, get votes or whatever.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Except (and here’s where I can predict the comments) that I really don’t worry about those things on a day to day basis.

Sure, I’m aggravated by higher taxes, especially when they arrive in the same wagon with government waste. And yes, it annoys me when a politician votes for final passage of idiotic legislation and then later speaks as if they are an opponent of the law (eg: Rehberg on the CPSIA is a fine example).

BUT…I don’t sit around wringing my hands about it.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The best “revenge” is success.

While you might get some satisfaction out of passing your competitor on the street and waving at them from the driver’s seat of your new F350 or 911 Cabriolet, that’s really not what I mean. I don’t mean revenge against them, your favorite tax entity or anyone else in particular.

The real revenge is being successful enough to do *exactly* what you want to do – and none of that has anything to do with fear of what happens in Washington.

Real satisfaction

If you observe people like Bill Gates (and you should), you’ll find that the big screen movie theater in his home might give him enjoyment, but wiping out polio via his $350MM+ donation to Rotary is what really gets him excited. Likewise his efforts in the sustainable energy business (see more on that at TED.com).

No one – including Bill Gates – likes paying taxes. Like you, he’d rather use that money for something else.

Here’s a suggestion: Worry about making more gross so you have more net than you need.

More net than you need means that you can do the things you always wanted to do, including helping folks that you always wanted to help. Or maybe it just means a new boat. Whatever.

It isn’t always about that million dollar donation or the new bass boat. Little things mean a lot.

Small favors

For example, when my Scout troop goes camping once a month, we don’t cook on Friday night. Everyone brings a sandwich or eats before they leave home. We cook Saturday and Sunday.

Before I arrive, I typically buy a footlong sandwich and save half because most trips, one of the guys will have forgotten dinner, gotten it creamed by a wayward backpack, dropped in the mud or some such.

The why and how really doesn’t matter.

While you might consider lecturing the boy on “Be Prepared” (and yes, we will talk), what matters to me is the look on the face of a kid who just got a half a lukewarm meatball sub, when he thought he was going to go to bed hungry because of an accident.

Gates could do the same to Rotary. He could lecture them about what they’ve done wrong in the home stretch of their 25+ year polio battle. Instead, he gave them a pot of money (with conditions) to make it happen and when he saw how they used it, the next pile came without conditions because they had earned his trust.

Trust is a measure of success as well.

Control and the flip side of taxes

I’m sure many will read this wrong, but I’m going to say it anyway: I *want* to pay more taxes (all else being equal) than my competitors, because I want to do more, earn more and create more business for my clients.

The more good you’ve positioned yourself to do (as a business person), the more taxes you’ll pay. Part of that hurts, but it sure beats not paying any because you’re in the red.

If the government puts a regulation in place that impacts one of my clients, I enjoy spending time (and earning fees, of course) helping them profit *despite* the regulation, while their competition sits around and whines about it, writes a letter to the Daily Bugle complaining about it and then fades slowly out of business because they whined rather than working.

The point is that real business people don’t have the luxury of sitting around and hand-wringing (or teeth gnashing) about what Washington DC or Helena are up to – only talking heads like Morning Joe have that luxury.

Work like you’re scared

With very few exceptions, folks in Washington are gonna do what they’re gonna do.

Don’t get me wrong – I strongly believe that you should make every effort to right the wrongs (if not fix them in advance), but that’s isn’t enough. In addition, you’d better be working twice as smart /hard as everyone else in your market in the meantime.

All of the stuff that government does affects us, but we have a lot more control than most of us believe. If our businesses kick butt and take names, the government’s so-called “efforts to scare us” are mostly irrelevant.

Work, don’t whine.

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Scared is the wrong word

You’ve probably heard the saying “No rest for the wicked” (or weary). Weary might be a better choice in this case.

Should you be scared like the author suggests that Microsoft perhaps should be?

Microsoft, like many successful companies large and small, has reinvented itself before. It’ll probably have to do it again, and perhaps so will Google. I’m not here to help them though.

If Amazon starts selling online to your market and does so with better prices and free shipping – do you just roll over?

I don’t think so, but that’s your choice.

One thing to keep in mind – Never forget what business you’re really in.

If it’s a business in a market that is easily transformed into a commodity, transform how you deliver value. Deliver it to additional markets.

Think a little…

Scared is the wrong word, don’t you think?

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Good enough for the Pope. Good enough for your business?

hoje é quinta
Creative Commons License photo credit: Ana_Cotta

Yes, I’m talking about social media.

Think about it. The Pope has a new website dedicated solely to connecting people to the Catholic church via social media.

The key part of that sentence is not website or social media. It’s “connecting people to the Catholic church”.

It’s another media and they’re doing more than dipping a toe into it.

But why?

Despite having all these “stores” (ie: churches) that “sell” the Catholic faith, they felt that it was worth the investment to create a Facebook application, an iPhone application, a Catholic-specific Wiki and a YouTube channel.

Communication – maintaining a connection with your clientele – is what social media is all about.

Silence is what sends customers somewhere else. Not knowing what’s new in your business and why they should know about it is what makes customers fall asleep.

Do you really want your customers hearing about that great new thing from your competitor?

Meanwhile back at the ranch, there YOU are. What will you do next? Who will know about it?

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Oprah is an alien?


Monday’s have been a bit over the top lately, but yesterday was a doozy.

Really, there’s enough things going on to give your business some challenges without adding today’s “entertainment”.

On the other hand, what Monday wouldn’t be complete without:

The only thing missing from today’s headlines might be Oprah announcing she’s an alien and that she’s having the Shamwow dude’s child. Next Monday perhaps.

Seriously though, there’s that issue of the mortgage

Meanwhile, your mortgage is still due and it’s Tuesday so perhaps the time has come to get back to normal.

Given the complexity of yesterday, I thought I’d keep it simple.

If you’re struggling to make your nut this week, here are a few questions to ask yourself:

Who are your customers? Really? Break them down into individual groups with different primary needs.

For each group ask yourself these questions:

  • How can you save them money?
  • How can you save them time?
  • How can you help them be more successful?
  • How can you treat your best customers even better?
  • When did you last speak with your 10 best customers? What else do they need that you aren’t supplying them with?
  • How can you reward your most loyal customers for sticking with you?
  • What can you do to get your newest customer to be your next great customer?
  • Are there any kind of events or workshops that you can offer to them to get them into your store?
  • What about the last 20 customers you lost? Have you spoken with them to find out why they left? Can you get any of them back?

About your products and services…

Can they be separated? Combined? Shrunk? Enlarged? Bundled? Delivered? Shipped? Installed?

Which of them need fine tuning, repair or overhaul?

Think. Then Act. Today.

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President proof your business #2: Drizzle on the absolute best

Even though President-Elect Obama’s staff has started to take shape (and the hand-wringing has begun), you shouldn’t think of “President-Proofing” your business as something specific to him.

Sure, some things will be different in an Obama administration than in a McCain one, but the things you have the ability to exert control over are largely insensitive to the personality sitting behind the Resolute desk.

One way of President proofing your business is to simply do more business. Obviously, we talk about a number of additional ways to attract (as opposed to chase) new clients, but one we haven’t ever discussed is that of the ripest fruit.

The ripest fruit might not be the best term for it, but bear with me. I’m talking about the clients you would simply LOVE to have. Surely there’s a list in your head of 1, 2, half a dozen or 100 of them.

You might not have 100 on the tip of your tongue, so let’s talk about the process.

If you were asked to choose the absolute best group of people (if you run a consumer-oriented business) or absolute best businesses (if you run a business that serves other businesses) that you don’t currently have as a client, but would be thrilled to have as new clients, who would be on your list?

Yes, I’m suggesting you make a list and that you expand your thinking a bit. There are all kinds of ways to qualify for this list.

Will they be a high-profit or long-term repeat client?

Will they be a client who will result in other people flocking to your business, simply because you can say they are your client?

Will they push your business into a new market for the products and services you already sell?

If you own a retail store, maybe you do some wholesale or online selling as well, so don’t forget those. If you own a service business that primarily serves consumers, don’t forget that some businesses might need your help – sort of like an quick lube oil change shop might do all the vehicles for a city, a county, or a business with a fleet of cars and trucks.

This technique works better as a way to attract businesses than it does to attract a consumer type of client, but it will work for both if you put some thought into the next piece of the process.

Putting the list to use

Once you have this list, make it a part of your daily schedule to learn as much as you can about the businesses / people (be polite, please) on your list. Maybe you or your assistant spend 15 minutes a day researching the people on this list, but do it. Schedule it.

Even if we’re talking about attracting a business – there’s still a person you must attract. Businesses don’t buy stuff. People do.

Begin contacting them regularly – but not with a pile of sales stuff, no matter how good it is.

Create a system for researching, contacting and continuing to casually drizzle pertinent, helpful information on your prospect list.

Your system might include some of these steps – and might include ones I haven’t listed here:

  • Add them to your print newsletter mailing list. DO NOT start emailing them a bunch of stuff, even your email newsletter. Your print newsletter should refer to it so they can sign up if that is one of the ways they prefer to get info.
  • Every week or two, send them a hand-written note or card – NOT a sales pitch - that includes something important or meaningful to them. This might include an article in the paper or on the net about one of their staff, themselves, their business, one of their customers or a family member. It could be something as simple as a snipping of something out of a paper from across the state that talks about a cousin. It might be as simple as a web page about one of their customers, or about their industry, accompanied by a short note that says you thought they might be interested.
  • Maybe you don’t know their cousin, but you see a similar name from the same hometown as theirs in their hometown paper. Cut it out, send it to them with a note saying you were guessing they might be related and if so, hope they enjoy the snip from that local paper.

Expand on this as it makes sense for the type of person or business you are courting. DO NOT chase them. Simply “be present” with information helpful, interesting or pertinent to them.

You want to be seen as a valuable resource to them, not a pest – this is particularly true for consumers. If your marketing to this group of people was a rainstorm, it wouldn’t be a driving, windblown drencher, it’d be a fine drizzle.  

Add this as just one of the ways you attract new clients to your business. Why not go for the clients you’d really like to have? Someone has to serve them. Why not you?

Once they respond, then they should become a part of the funnel or process that your marketing system takes them through to guide them to being a client.

There’s no need to wait for the inauguration. You can start working on this today.

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President proof your business: Through the eyes of your clients

No matter who is elected as the next President of the United States, things are going to be different over the next 4 to 8 years. Whether Obama or McCain wins, the wind in the business community is going to shift.

Is your business sail going to be set in the right direction to catch that wind? We’re going to talk about “president-proofing” your business on and off for a while, so let’s get started with episode 1.

Whether you do business with the government or not, the change that is taking place now and the changes that will take place starting on January 20th 2009 are going to present a pile of opportunity.

Either you recognize these opportunities as early as possible and set your sail to catch the wind, or you could find yourself tacking against a storm.

Whenever there is change -of any kind – in the air, you will find it accompanied by opportunity.

The problem with these great new opportunities is that they can be frustratingly difficult to detect when you are blinded by the day to day crisis management of your business. Even if you’ve successfully implemented processes and systems in your business that funnel responsibilities to your staff and shield you from what I would call the “daily mundane crisis”, stuff happens.

A critical step in seeing through the day to day fog of business crisis is something we talked about a few weeks ago (Airplane Time). I think we hit that topic hard enough already, so I suggest you review that post as part of your efforts to President-proof your business.

So how do you see those opportunities? Open your eyes.

When I say “Open your eyes”, what I mean is that you need to look really hard at the changes likely to come from a new President and his management (aka the Cabinet and staff), much less from 400+ elected or re-elected Congressional members.

No matter how you vote, examining the middle ground of each candidate’s goals and platform is a safe bet, but is it going to result in a breakthrough for your business? I’m not so sure. On the other hand, expecting massive, immediate change isn’t a reality-based expectation either.

Presidential inertia (voluntary or otherwise) will set in at the White House, as will a realization of how things really work in Congress when you’re no longer a Senator. Even if the same party controls the White House and the Congress, it isn’t necessarily a blank check.

Don’t believe me? Look at the lack of movement that has come as a result of the almost-month-old bailout bill. Life is more complex than Washington sometimes seems to recognize.

So how do you push the envelope and come up with ideas that are going to propel you safely and profitably through 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue’s gauntlet of *whatever* and create that new, great new thing?

Look at your clients. Look at your market.

Don’t worry so much about how the upcoming changes – whatever they are – will affect you and your business. Look at how these changes will affect your clients and your prospects.

Do any of these changes relate even remotely to what you already do? Deal with it. Create products and services that make the impacts of these annoying little changes simply go away.

Make em scatter like cockroaches suddenly exposed to sunlight.

Put yourself in your clients’ place. Look at the new world through THEIR open eyes, not just yours. Talk to them about their anticipated concerns for the upcoming administration to confirm (or destroy) that their concerns are what you expected.

What is going to make them the most insanely annoyed, angry or crazy about the upcoming administration?

What is going to start making them lose sleep at night? What is simply going to be different, perhaps notably different for them – even if it isn’t going to make them crazy?

Create the magic wand that makes the pain go away and take insanely great care of them through “these difficult times” (whatever that’s gonna mean).

PS: While I really appreciate comments, candidate-specific responses here will be deleted. If that’s on your mind when your comment juices are flowing, you’re missing the point of this post. Read it again.