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Selling The Right Thing

Happy Customer
Creative Commons License photo credit: Ash-rly

A couple of weeks back, I received an email from a website owner asking for one of my OpenLine sessions (which are currently booked about two weeks out).

In essence, the question was “Why aren’t our clients registering for our services?”

The situation required more discussion (in detail, anyhow) than I could cover in 15 minutes, but it also screamed for a blog post – because some of the things their site needs to attend to are core things that all of us need to think about.

It’s a great looking site, but the conversation with their real customers’ core thought process just isn’t there.

The reason for that might not be obvious, especially since the site looks nice and invites you to dive right in to do a search.

Problem is, there’s more than one customer population, and the second isn’t getting much attention on their website.

The site is a service directory, so by nature that means there are going to be at least TWO populations of customers: people wanting to list something in the directory and people wanting to find that something. Maybe more.

Because you might have other ideas, take a look at RentMyChurch.com and comment here if you feel I’ve missed something.

Customer #2?

The churches listed there.

If I’m renting my building to “strangers”, I’ve got a lot of questions.

Most rentals tend to be to church member families or friends of the family and this helps break down a lot of obvious barriers. Even so, many church boards require a vote at a council meeting before a rental is approved.

Now we’re talking about starting to commit to rentals to just about anyone who clicks a link.

At the very least, there’s needs to be a section that addresses all the what-if’s, questions, concerns and risk factors for a church who wants to start renting their facility in this manner. Something that describes the process step by step.

So what else is missing?

Let me put my church lady hat on…

I’d like to see a serious guarantee for the church listing their property/facility. A guarantee needs to make me feel like I’ve got as little as possible (or nothing) to risk and everything to gain, but in this case, the risk reversal just isn’t there. The current guarantee might be reworded this way: “If we don’t do anything for you in an entire year, we’ll do that again for nothing!”  Sounds different when you look at it that way.

Sales objections aren’t addressed. Try to hit them in advance, before you ever hear them from the prospect.

How does RentMyChurch get prospects in my local area to look at the site?

What are common signs I should look for to know I’ve got a good renter? Likewise, what warning signs should I look for?

Do you have sample rental agreements for churches who are just starting to dip their toe in this water.

If I’m a little church in a town of 5000 people, do I pay the same as the Lakewood, North Point or Willow Creek? (all are huge churches)

What about insurance and bonding?

Do you have sample check lists for check-in/check-out?

What paperwork should we need to create a successful rental?

What works and doesn’t work when creating my church’s “bio”?

What about photos? Can you refer me to a good building photographer in my area? (that is a gift, btw)

How do I know what dates are available?

Testimonials – there isn’t a single one from a renter or a church.

Where are the social aspects of a service? The 3 R’s: rankings, referrals and reviews

That’s just a start, but I think you get the idea. These aren’t things to be addressed AFTER the sale, these are things to show up front that show you DESERVE the sale.

Make a case

As we talked about with the compelling discussion the other day, make a case such that this is a no-brainer. What makes it clear that I’d be nuts not to list my facility on this site?

As for everyone else – what makes it clear that you are the only choice for what you sell or do?

There’s needs to be a section that addresses all the what-if’s, questions, concerns and risk factors for a church who wants to start renting their facility in this manner.
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Are you selling compelling?

grulla
Creative Commons License photo credit: kekremsi

Ever created or started selling a product that was so compelling that people would line up to get it?

It’s a really great thing.

I remember a trade show about 10 years ago where the crowd around our booth was so big, they flowed into the booths across the aisle (yes, they were angry – rather than appreciating the traffic).

At this particular show, it got to the point where our existing customers were taking prospects out of our booth and showing them the product on their own laptop. They’d find a quiet(er) spot somewhere and demo the product for them, more or less making it clear to them that they were nuts to leave without buying.

They did this for two reasons:

  • We were totally, unbelievably swamped – despite having 5 people in the booth.
  • These folks believed in the product so strongly that they couldn’t wait to tell someone else about it.

There’s some important psychology in the second one. We all want others to acknowledge our decisions.

If we show someone else a product/service that we use and they like it, it makes us feel better. Oddly, we “need” this validation despite being sure of our decision.

In their case, they already knew what it did for them – and they still did this.

That’s nothing

That seems pretty cool until you look at something like the first 2 months of iPad sales.

Apple sold two million iPads in 59 days.

In case you’re having trouble getting your head wrapped around that, try this:

Apple sold an iPad every three seconds for 59 straight days.

To be sure, 50-60-75-100 million iPod Touches and iPhones already in peoples’ hands helped that cause immensely.

Not just because of the lockstep nature of overly loyal Apple customers (called “fanboys” – male or not), but because those people *know* they will be able to use this new product as soon as they take it out of the box.

They somehow know this even though they can’t exactly decide what they will use it for.

Some people use it to read more. Some use it to browse more. Some use it for video or writing or gaming.

No matter what they’ll end up using it for, they were confident enough about the product to line up all over the US just to buy one on the first day it’s available.

Takes a compelling product to get people to line up.

Compelling stirs

Compelling makes you want to buy that thing even if logic tells you not to. Not because of rampant consumerism, but because the product makes you think about it.

It stirs your mind.

Its design and potential is enough to make you think about it while driving to town.

What you might do with it. How it might change other things and make them better.

All without spending any time wondering how to turn it on, navigate around its interface, or hook it up.

Easy as pie

Think about how important that is – because few people do.

It’s incredibly easy to lose sight of what *real* ease of use is.

When you pick up a pencil, you know how to write with it.

When you grab a hammer, you know how to swing it.

And in the case of the iPod (etc), we’re talking about a device that’s substantially more complex. A tech device.

Seth Godin noted that he saw a 2 yr old in a stroller holding an iPod Touch.

Not just chewing on it and throwing it around, but actively using software on it.

Ever try to teach a 2 yr old how to use a computer? Sure, they can move a mouse around and peck randomly at the keyboard. Beyond that, most of them haven’t yet developed high quality language or motor skills to do much more.

And despite that, they know how to use an iPod touch/iPhone.

It’s about making it easy. Obvious.

“Easy enough for a caveman to do it”. Or a two year old.

How did they get by?

Are you thinking about your customers, their needs and challenges in a way that will enable you to create a product that compelling?

A service that makes your best, most insightful customers think “How did I get by before they invented this?”

PS: To learn more about the curious psychology that drives our buying (and that of your customers), I suggest starting with Cialdini’s Influence.

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Mining shoeboxes for customers

Prospector
Creative Commons License photo credit: ToOliver2

In these days of oil spills and mine disasters, it might seem a little off-base to ask about mining, but I think you need to become an expert at it – and do it regularly.

It’s a critical skill if you’re concerned about keeping your business pump primed with new and returning customers – especially returning ones.

When I say mining, I mean mining your customer/order database.

Yellow pads and shoeboxes

No matter what you use to keep track of this stuff; a yellow pad, QuickBooks, a ledger book, your CRM (customer relationship management system) if you’re using that tool like a shoebox, you’re likely making a five or six figure mistake.

What I mean is by shoebox is stuffing receipts and sales data and similar info into it all year long and never referencing it again until it’s time to do your taxes.

That shoebox is your gold mine. It’s the asset that many businesses ignore – often at their own risk.

Missing out

Let’s talk about Mary. She owns her own business and has 14 employees.

You would typically know this because you saw a profile of her business in the paper. How do you remember that fact?

You put it into your CRM (again, customer relationship management system), tickler file or *something* that organizes your data so that you can search for it later (I’ll get back to that).

Out of nothing more than gut feel, you know that she visits your restaurant 3 times a month and you also see her occasionally at events you cater.

What you may not know is that Mary’s business entertains clients twice a month and has an in-office staff appreciation lunch every other Friday.

Have you ever catered those events?

If not, does she know that you cater? She should, because she attends events you’ve catered – so why doesn’t she use you once in awhile?

Have you asked her?

It’s possible that her current caterer rocks the house *so well* that you might not ever get a chance to show your stuff.

One thing is certain – if you don’t ask, you won’t likely get a shot. Tantamount to that is *knowing that you should ask*.

The who

A message that is in context to the proper person is miles ahead of a generic message to everyone.

Have you made any effort to let your regular customers know that you offer catering for their special events? More importantly, do you know exactly which regulars would have a use for those services?

Do you know how to get in contact with them? Do you know when they last visited your restaurant? Do you know what kind of experience they had during their last visit?

Your customer / order tracking system should allow you to store info that lets you find out such things. If yours doesn’t, get a new one or at the very least, find a way to export the data into something that allows you to search this info.

Things you’d like to know:

  • Who has reservations this weekend who also owns a business?
  • Who has reservations this weekend who hasn’t visited in two or three times their normal visit frequency?
  • What regulars have we not seen in a month or more?

The answers to these questions will yield info about your customers and more importantly, about what you’re doing, how well you’re doing it and best of all – what customers you should have a catering conversation with.

If they do, who else does?

Here’s where the mining comes in handy…

If your catering gig database is sorted by “What do the businesses do?” and then you ask to see only those businesses that use you monthly, what do you ask for next?

Let’s sort them by what they do. Maybe the top 3 types of businesses are architects, real estate brokers and luxury home builders.  You can guess, but you won’t know until actually you collect this data.

Now take a look at your entire restaurant database of regulars. How many of them are in those 3 lines of work?

Hmmm. Wonder if any of them need catering?

PS: If you don’t have a restaurant, look at this through the lens / terminology of what you do. The same concepts apply no matter what.

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Are you measuring the future or the past?

This was the story of Hurricane
Creative Commons License photo credit: cyberuly

Recently, I’ve found myself involved in a multitude of conversations about community benefit organizations and education.

Something Hildy said reminded me that I need to discuss running those two entities “like a business”.

One of the first things that you hear from business people after a story in the news about a failing school or wacko teacher is that schools need to run like a business.

Listen to the news about today’s natural disaster response (or some such) and you’ll hear the same about community benefit organizations (sometimes called non-profit or non-governmental organizations).

“Run them like a business and it’ll solve all your problems”, they say…in so many words.

Backlash

Of course, the next thing out of the mouths of some of the folks involved in education and community benefit (you might call them non-profit – a poorly chosen name) organizations is something like this:

“Oh, you mean like Enron, Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers?” (or the currently top-of-mind business cretin of the moment)

Why yes, of course. That’s exactly what those silly business folks meant.

They have studied your troubles at length and have decided that it’s best to run your school district or your food bank like some sort of corrupt dictator, complete with automatic weapons, fast cigarette boats, and under the table money.

With that behind us, let’s get real.

Reality strikes

Seriously though, what does someone mean when they say they want to run your school or non-profit  “like a business”?

In the case of schools, let’s gloss over the likelihood that it probably means they don’t really get how complex a school district budget is, noting that it’s a recursive budget of budgets consisting minimally of bond funds, Fed and state monies and that oh-by-the-way annual operating budget.

Those oddball budgets are then scrambled a bit more by the goofy manner we’ve chosen to fund education: Head count, which produces oddball economies of scale of the type that few in business have to deal with.

In the case of the community org, the common mistake is assuming that all (or most) activities have to have a hard dollar return on investment – and that if it one can’t be found, they are failing somewhere, perhaps everywhere.

What they really mean about schools

I think much of this comes from a sense of low/no accountability, something that makes business owners nuts (oh just wait, we’ll come back to that).

Much of this comes from the news media. You see stuff about the teacher in Florida who slept with her 15 year old student, or stories of rooms full of bad teachers in NYC who are paid not to teach because they can’t be fired, or the litany of schools failing based on No Child Left Behind Act criteria and it isn’t long before it’s easy to stick em all in one bucket of non-accountability.

The obvious place for business people to start is “Why are you spending $ on that?” and “Why can’t you fire that bad teacher?” (contracts, legalities and the 17 conflicting definitions of “bad teacher” notwithstanding)

What they really mean about orgs

In the case of a non-profit (I had to use the term at least once), it often relates to the blank stare you often get when asking for standard business metrics, such as marketing leads, “sales” and return on investment.

The organization that measures their success on things that are hard-to-quantify financially is going to take some heat from people used to using standard metrics to gauge success. Even the ones I’m involved in often have a difficult time producing that info.

Questions of a future past

The big questions in all of this are:

  • What’s getting measured – and are those the right things to measure?
  • What are you doing with that information?
  • What does any of that have to do with what you’re REALLY trying to accomplish over the long haul?

Think about it… we measure teachers based on their students’ grades and test scores. Like tax returns, they indicate historical performance.

What do we do to measure future performance?

I’d like to be able to see trend info showing how various learner types do in each teacher’s class and how each type of student’s learning, problem solving and creativity advances as they experience each teacher type.

For example: Who is the most effective math teacher for 6th grade kids who learn visual/spatially and are reading 2 years below grade level? Why is that teacher so effective for that group? Why does that teacher fail to reach non-spatial/non-visual learners as well as other teachers? Why is he so effective with Asperger’s kids? Do these success trends change when they are teaching science or history? Why?

Do these patterns of success (or not) change based on race, income, family situation and other factors we can’t control? What controllable factors are impactful, if any – for this learner type? Have you tried addressing them? What happened?

Answer: They have no idea. But it isn’t entirely their fault. They’re forced to answer the wrong questions in order to find a way to balance their budget.

Is there a line of questions like that – about your business – that would transform your thinking from past performance (letter grades) to future performance? (matching learner types with teachers who are the most effective at teaching each type of learner)

The punch line: Considering that last question, are you truly running your *business* like a business?

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iPads for business? Yes. Start now.

Trust me on this. Your business needs an iPad.

I know what you’re thinking. It goes something like this:

Why does this Apple fanboy think I need this thing? It’s just like a dinky little laptop with no keyboard. I can’t even plug my USB thumb drive into it. There’s no camera.

I hear you, but I ask that you think forward a bit. The iPad available today will seem like a lukewarm joke in 5 years. Your kids won’t even touch it.

If you wait 5 years until “the space is ready”, you’re gonna be 5 years behind – maybe more.

Maybe the winner in 5 years will be an Android-based GooglePad. Maybe it’ll be a Windows-based GatesPad. Maybe it’ll be one of the tablets from the folks at CES this summer. But…

IT. DOESNT. MATTER.

What matters is that you shift your thinking.

This stuff is going to impact your business and your life (and the lives of your clients) – and I can say that not knowing what you do for a living.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

First off, don’t worry about what it won’t do. Focus on what it *can* do for you instead.

There are at least five areas that need some strategic thought on your part:

  • How your staff will use the iPad
  • How your customers will use the iPad (and iPhone/iTouch)
  • How a phone-enabled, GPS-enabled tablet (generally speaking) will change your work, your clients’ work, your clients’ personal lives and so on.
  • How this “intelligent”, connected form factor will change how people consume information – which includes information that brings them to your business.

Note: The same things will apply to the HP Slate and other touch devices already in the pipeline.

Portable, connected – and finally, capable – touch-based interface devices are here to stay. You can either take advantage of them or watch someone else and then whine about the competition.

Answer this 27 part question

The iPad gives you a way to show your clients and prospects touch-navigable information that is *already available* but often poorly presented. That info is rarely displayed in context with anything else.

That’s gonna change.

Here’s an example:

“Show me a map with the locations of the three best italian restaurants on the way to the bed and breakfast we’re staying at tonight (it’s just outside Glacier Park). Include an overall rating from previous reviews, an option to read those reviews, directions to each restaurant, menu items with photos of the food, prices and eliminate the ones that don’t have a table for six at 7:00pm. Oh and a photo of the front of the place so we don’t drive past it.”

27 phone calls or visits to websites later, you *might* have a decent answer. That’s one of the simple, easy to understand examples. There are a TON more. If you’re a client, ask me how you can take advantage of it.

The difference with the pad isn’t just the always-on internet and the GPS/location-enabled functionality. Those are huge, sure.

What changes things is that you get a touch interface that a 5 year old can operate. Don’t discount the impact that has. Most people don’t truly understand it until they use it – I had the same gap in experience with the iPhone/iTouch, despite being a geeky, computer-toolhead kinda guy. This time, I know better.

I have so many ideas about this thing, my head is spinning (some might say it did that before the iPad).

If yours isn’t, think a little harder.


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It’s tough to harvest if you don’t plant

Imagine how ridiculous it would sound if one of the farmers in America’s breadbasket said “How can I get a new crop of winter wheat to harvest tomorrow / next week / next month?”

Maybe someday the science of farming will allow such a thing, but these days, farmers still have to depend on planting, nourishing, weeding, sunshine, rain and especially – the passage of time – before thinking about enjoying the fruits of the harvest.

Consider all the planning, preparation and investment that has to go into that wheat crop. Even if all you do is lease the land to someone else and take part of the crop as your rent, it doesn’t reduce the effort necessary to produce a harvest.

*Someone* has to do the work.

The same is true in businesses outside of farming.

Despite this, I’m still surprised (not sure why) to find many small businesses running their “farm” without an essential component.

These businesses have no written marketing plan. Or worse, no marketing plan at all.

If they were farming, they wouldn’t expect to harvest without the planting. Yet they operate as if “Build it and they will come” is a viable strategy.

It’s easily the most disappointing situation I encounter when talking to business owners about what’s going on in their business. Fortunately, it is easily corrected. In fact, we’re going to do that today.

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

In the worst of situations, someone’s marketing is driven which ad salesperson next walks in the door.

Yes, some of that is rationalized as “Well, that’s why I came to you”, but that isn’t good enough.

Not in this economy (not in any, really).

*Every single business* should have a marketing plan (presumably part of your business plan), even if it’s a very simple one – way before they get around to needing help from me or anyone else who provides business assistance.

Would you head into the wilderness on foot without a map and compass, or at least a GPS? Probably not.

Lewis and Clark may not have had a detailed map of the Northwest, but they had a plan. And Sacagawea.

Today, you can call me your marketing plan Sacagawea (yeah, I’ll probably take a few hits for saying *that*).

I want *every* business to have a marketing plan, even if it’s a simple one.

Let’s put together a basic one right here, right now.

Heading West

One of the things I do when I start working with folks is give them a questionnaire that helps me understand their business.

It asks them a ton of questions and gives them time to put some thought into their answers, rather than trying to hurriedly gather it during an initial consultation.

Here’s a very simple (and abbreviated) version of it:

What do you do?
Describe what you do in the length of a text message. I don’t want to hear four boring, meaningless paragraphs from the corporate buzzword generator. Even the people who read that stuff don’t know what it means.

Why should I get that from you instead of everyone else?
Not some namby-pamby “because we give great service” (so does everyone else – they think) and heaven forbid “because we have the best prices”. Give me a real, compelling argument to use you and no one else.

What are you doing now, marketing-wise?
Describe in detail your efforts to find new customers and bring back existing ones.

Of those things, what works? What doesn’t?
Self-explanatory. If you don’t know, why are you doing those things?

Who is your ideal customer?
The perfect customer. Describe them. What they do, where they live, what they read, demographics, income, business, you name it. Go deeper than you think you should and keep in mind – it won’t be deep enough. I’ll still have questions about them.

Where are these customers?
As I tell you often, it helps to fish where the fish are. Where are yours?

That’s a massive simplification, but for today, it’ll have to do.

The answers will help you form the core of your marketing plan. Get to work, you’ve got planting to do.

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Warren Buffett to Josh: Read, read, read

Notturno
Creative Commons License photo credit: gualtiero

Today’s guest post is from Josh Whitford from over in Fargo, dere (hey, we’re both way up north here so I can say that dere).

Josh did a really smart and simple thing to get in touch with – and get advice from – Warren Buffett.

While it’s great to get advice from Mr. Buffett, the key thing here is not so much the specific task Josh was assigned but that he sought out the wisdom in the first place. Constant improvement is not a luxury, it’s a requirement.

Asking questions of those who know more than you (and/or know the success you want) is definitely a good strategy (ever hear of “Think and Grow Rich”?)

Speaking of, I’m on a quest to increase my reading to at a least a book a week this year. While it has impacted some other things negatively (at least from their perspective), I see positive results in my work, this blog (sometimes negative results – like far fewer posts), and life in general. Highly recommended.

And yes, I should be blogging about those weekly book adventures, shouldn’t I?

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Startups, Apollo and head bobbing

Moon Dreams
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This piece by Paul Graham talks about a survey of startup founders, but it reminds me very much of my software company days.

Too much, perhaps.

It may not describe the business you’re in – since it’s mostly talking about software businesses – but the attitude, expectations, “reason why” and much more is certainly something that should be on your radar.

Not altogether different than the energy this country had when it was racing to the moon.

Where is your business racing off to?

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What’s lighting up your dashboard?

Audi Q7 4.2 quattro with Offroad Style Package * Saint Beast * Dashboard
Creative Commons License photo credit: jiazi

People often wet their fingertip and hold it up in a light breeze to see which direction the wind is coming from (at least for that instant in time). Golfers just grab a few blades of grass and toss it in the air.

Both tactics indicate current conditions, much like a weather rock.

Indicators are critical to your business just like the dashboard lights are to your car’s health.

That temperature indicator on your dash, in some circles called an “idiot light”, might light up to tell you the engine is overheating. It might not say that your antifreeze is way past its prime, your radiator is clogged, hoses are leaking, your air-cooled VW bug is out of oil , your head gasket is toast or any number of other things that make an engine overheat.

The Spandex Candyman

I read an article this week about a brilliant indicator used by Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth. Often perceived as a strutting, spandex-clad prettyboy with an amazing multi-octave voice, it turns out Roth was the operations whiz of the group.

Deep in an inches-thick contract specifying everything from how many hotel rooms to reserve to the voltage and number of outlets on stage, Roth included a clause mandating that a bowl of M&M candy should be provided and that no brown M&Ms should be in the bowl.

For some bands, it might be just another silly request to see what they can get away with. In Roth’s case, the bowl was an indicator of the quality of the job the event producers were doing.

If the bowl was present and no brown candy was included, it was an indicator that someone had read the entire contract, took it seriously and paid attention to even the smallest details. If he found no bowl (or he found brown M&Ms), Roth had reason to suspect that the contract hadn’t been read and followed to the letter.

For him, that meant that the specification of a myriad of electrical supply lines and outlets needed in specific places at specific loads might also have been ignored. At best, a poor electrical setup might impact the quality of the show. As the severity increases, equipment damage or fires could result.

Either way, it would have been easy for Roth to view that as a risk to long-term music/ticket/gear sales, notwithstanding the danger issues.

The M&Ms were an idiot light to tell him that a careful concert facility setup check was required.

Balls of paper

I’ve told you before about the ball of paper I use at hiring time to indicate self-motivated, observant folks from those who might not be.

If you pick it up or ask me about it, cool. If not, I’ll start to wonder if you pick up your socks. The reality is, it indicates whether you’ll notice that the back door is unlocked at closing time, or that the register is open when it shouldn’t be.

Finally, that ball of paper and what happens to it tells me whether or not I need to take the conversation deeper where it comes to self-motivation.

Warm Caveman Fuzzies

Another indicator is lighting up all around me and it’s more worrisome than a dashboard light or a ball of paper on the floor: It’s the caveman thing.

At a time when creativity and innovation (much less shredding of the box you need to get outside of) are as in demand as ever, I see folks retreating to their cave to hunker down until someone comes by and tells them that it’s ok to come out.

I also see folks looking at things the same way they got looked at them 30 years ago.

An example: A firm needs a TON of funding to pull off a project. It’s a project that will grant them independence and perhaps a competitive edge that puts them 4-5 years ahead of everyone else, while protecting them from regulatory issues and commodity sourcing problems *for decades*.

So far, approaching a bank seems like the only choice.

Funding enterprise-class expenses is beyond going to the bank these days. Partnering with vendors and (oh my, dare you consider it) competitors, public-private orgs, local equity partners, angels, heck – even 10000 community members. If you look hard enough, there are many, many ways to build a pile of funds if you just gotta have them.

Ask yourself a few questions when pondering whatever is lighting up your dashboard:

  • “Why not?” (instead of “Why?”)
  • “How can we?” (instead of “We cant”)
  • “Who else benefits?” (and will they invest?)

Update: David Lee Roth explaining the Brown M&M story:

[vimeo:http://vimeo.com/36615187]
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Scoble, Secretariat and Mister Ed

A while back, Robert Scoble wrote a terrific post on Scobleizer about the worst things that startups do.

I suggest you hop over there and check it out even if you aren’t in the technology business. When you’re done, come back so we can apply Robert’s comments to your not-a-startup small business. (Psst…While you’re over there, I suggest you subscribe to his blog, even if you aren’t in the tech world. You’ll be glad you did.)

Now that you’re back, let’s look a little closer at Robert’s list because it isnt just startups that make these mistakes. Here’s a small business angle on his list of mistakes:

1. Have plush offices in the most expensive part of town.

I haven’t managed to make this mistake as yet. Haven’t used someone else’s money for a startup though, maybe that’s why.

On the other hand, there have been times when I should’ve kept my office at home and didn’t. Sometimes it’s right, sometimes not. Think hard about the reasons why. Cash flow is always a concern, and more often than not, a critical strategic piece.

2. You canâ??t tell me what you do in a single Tweet.

For those who don’t use Twitter, that means: “Describe your business in 140 characters.”

For me, the Twitter version is “I help small businesses get more customers, become more productive and make more profit. Guaranteed.”

I find myself tinkering with that now and then, but it always seems to come back to the basics. If you aren’t interested in getting / keeping more customers, becoming more productive and more profitable, we don’t have a lot in common to build to a business relationship on.

3. If I look around and donâ??t see programmers.

Scoble’s talking about tech startups, but his point hits home for you as well – no matter what you do.

In a tech startup, programmers mean product and service creation. Someone’s creating something. In your business, product and service creation are equally important.

For me, if I’m not marketing, creating products and services, or delivering them…you could say I’m wasting time.

4. You hire a PR firm. (4b: you donâ??t have a blog and a Twitter account)

Hilary will probably beat me up a little about this – but note Scoble’s criteria – *startups*. If you don’t have a product or service for sale yet, most companies don’t need a PR firm. There are exceptions, but your business likely isn’t one of them.

If you’re open for business, this one isn’t a mistake unless you’re doing it really badly.

Example mistake: Referring anyone and everyone with questions to sales or PR (or someone else) because they aren’t allowed to talk to the public, or the press, and so on.

I don’t mean questions about your top secret process, chemistry, electronics or whatever. I don’t want to know the “I could tell you but I’d have to kill you” stuff.

We want to know why we should care…and despite the secret sauce stuff that you can’t tell us, we also want to know why *you* care.

Every single person on your staff had better be able to tell your company’s story with passion (at least their part of it).

No one, including me, wants to be bored by you reading the 9 paragraph mission statement that no one – including the CEO – remembers.

Infect us with your enthusiasm for what you do, even if you’re a divorce or bankruptcy lawyer. Think about that for a minute.

I can tell you one thing – if you step into the room sometime when I’m speaking to a group, you’ll damned sure get infected with the idea that you can do better. Lots better.

5. They spend money on the wrong things.

In the programmer world, the bad chairs and lousy monitors Scoble talks about are right on the money. If you’re a programmer and you don’t have dual monitors (or more) on the computer where you write programs, you’re working with a dull axe.

In every business I’ve ever seen, there are resources that make people more productive, that make them feel valued, that make them happier to work harder.

No one likes being unproductive. Watching either the Windows hourglass or the little multicolored Mac spinning thing is *the most annoying thing in the world* to a computer user. How much of your staff’s day is spent doing that?

How’s that make them feel about the value and importance of their work?

Beyond that, what’s that time costing you?

6.  They donâ??t fire fast enough.

At almost every business, some of the best people leave because they aren’t being challenged or because others aren’t pulling their weight.

Just like Scoble said and it isn’t just startups.

Your best performers have little tolerance for those who aren’t performing, much less for poor tools. The situations that businesses put them in often are what force them to go out on their own. If you’d like to avoid competing against your best performer(s), provide your racehorses with the best possible environment and when you hire – hire the best possible folks to accompany them.

Don’t make Secretariat share a stall with Mister Ed, (no matter how cool he was).

7. You picked the wrong infrastructure.

Most of us have hitched our wagon to the wrong horse at one time or another.

Next time, choose better. Choose for the right reasons.

Is your web host critical? Is a steady supply of large amounts of electricity critical? If you start to grow, are there enough skilled employees available in the area?

We got lucky on this one – there was a call center nearby with *excellent*, well-trained people – and we hired some of the best folks in the valley.

8. You let VCs control your management team and strategy too early.

Most of you won’t ever deal with a venture capitalist, but the same kind of issues can hamper your growth and stability.

Does your ability to access capital control your strategy? Does the size of your American Express bill?

Cash flow is as strategic as any other aspect of your business, sometimes more so.

9. You have a too cool name and logo.

There’s nothing wrong with a great name and logo, but there had better be some meat on the bone.

10. You say yes too often, particularly in engineering decisions.

This is the one that used to get me, and it was a hard lesson to learn. One of my business partners used to ride me now and then about “building end tables when we needed coffee tables”.

In other words, “Give me the big stuff, the little stuff can wait”.

I’ll quote Jim Rohn as usual on this topic: “Saying no means you can say yes to something more important.”

This isn’t just about software. Everyone has decisions to make about what to do, not to do, whether you’re an attorney, a programmer, a car wash or a restaurant.

11. Startups pick old technology because itâ??s familiar.

In his post, Scoble said “…going with the same stuff your dadâ??s company used?”

Technology can be as strategically important as (almost) every hire you make.

Maybe not your choice of operating system or spreadsheet, but how you use technology to gain edge after edge.

This is one of the reasons why I bought a Mac last year. Most of my tech-related work is still on Windows, but for me to help myself and clients reach even higher, I needed to be able to explore custom iPhone/iTouch apps. That requires a Mac.

How have you stretched your technology-related capabilities lately?

12. You donâ??t change direction fast enough.

You’re either setting the tone or singing along.

If you’re echoing the moves of someone else, you’ll always be behind unless they misstep badly, not to mention that it’s pretty hard to lead a market in wait and see.

If that new thing is *the* next big thing or the next big flop, wouldn’t you rather know before everyone else? Wouldn’t you want to be the one taking your clients that direction first – or knowing first not to take your clients there?

Going to the moon isn’t about planting a flag and taking a picture. It’s about the challenges you face and the lessons you learn on the way to liftoff.

Think about Robert’s list. Where can you improve?