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Is your business stuck in the Dark Ages?

There’s just nothing better than making some grumpy old business obsolete.

This week’s grumpy old business is the Associated Press (AP).

Why? Because they have decided to start charging $2.50 per word when you excerpt their story (even though such excerpts are permitted under Fair Use as long as the excerpt is of reasonable length).

Now, to be sure, if you use the entire story, you should pay for it. You’re being lazy, or you simply like their piece enough that you should license it.

On the other hand, we’re talking about brief excerpts of stories where the original is not only cited, but the reader is invited to go see it in its original location.

Yes, that’s right. They want to charge bloggers for sending viewers to their websites. Anyone with half a brain who is excerpting an article and commenting on it is going to link to the story as a form of proof, not to mention as a courtesy to the reader.

Big, old, crusty media simply doesn’t get it. They are so scared that we don’t need them anymore, when the truth is that the things they do make many people not WANT them anymore.

I can’t remember the last time I watched the national news at 5pm or 6pm or whatever.

Is your business stuck in that old world?

Has your business model changed in the last 5 years?

Has your business model been put out to pasture in the last 5 years?

Some examples to get your attention:

  • 5 years ago, iTunes was a joke in a RIAA board room, much less at Best Buy, Amazon and Wal-Mart. Today, it sells more retail music (In any format, on any medium) than any store of any kind.
  • 5 years ago, Skype was a joke in an AT&T board room. Today, it’s not unusual to see 11 to 12 million people using it simultaneously. It was valuable enough that eBay bought it for $2.6 Billion. Let me remind you that people who have a $3 billion in spare cash are not the types to just waste it on fast women, fast horses and fast cars.
  • 5 years ago, Lifehacker.com didn’t exist. In fact, it wouldn’t exist for 2 more years. Now, it’s in the top 10 most viewed sites on the Internet. In only 3 years.
  • 5 years ago, Amazon.com was about to report their second-ever profitable quarter, about $9MM, after 9 years in business. Last quarter (1Q2008), they made $143MM in profit.
  • 5 years ago, Wimbledon was something you watched pre-recorded and delayed. Usually you see pieces of all but one or two matches, and someone else chose those matches. Today, you can watch EVERY match on streaming video for $25.

So, with those things under your belt…

  • 5 years ago, did you get new clients the same way you do now?
  • 5 years ago, did you communicate with clients the same way you do now?
  • 5 years ago, what else was the same in your business as it is now?

You decide, item by item, if that’s a good thing. And then do something about it. Some things probably don’t need to change. But everything is worth a look.

If five business-savvy 27 year olds bought your business, what would they rip out and replace? Besides the coffee machine, that is.

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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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Corporate America Education Ethics Legal Management Marketing Public Relations Restaurants Small Business Word of mouth marketing

How to tick off a big group of customers

Homeschoolers do what they do for a number of reasons.

Some dont like the local schools. Some homeschool so they can include religious teachings in the curriculum, or to avoid stuff in the public school curriculum that contradicts their faith.

Some do so because their child has something going on that might not help them succeed in public school. Some do so simply because they can – who wouldnt want to spend an extra several years with your kid, all day long, if you could?

Today’s guest post is from Ian over at Musings from a Catholic Bookstore, where he talks about the business lessons that the folks over at Subway missed while implementing their misguided campaign for school kids.

Me? I’m cooking for 80 or so folks at the Order of the Arrow Ordeal weekend near Bigfork, MT. See you Monday.

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Competition Corporate America Customer service Management Marketing Positioning Pricing Small Business Southwest Strategy systems

Southwest: Something simple in the air

Yes, it’s a play on the now-untenable “Something special in the air” that American Airlines used to use – back when they really were special.

Southwest Airlines announced changes in their business model that are easy for any air traveler to understand.

Click the image below to see the entire graphic from Southwest.com:

Now I had to admit that flying Southwest used to make me nuts because there was so much difference between the cattle car experience and what everyone else did.

Since those days year ago, they’ve made boarding changes to make things far more normal, and given that everyone else has cut service to the bone, now the other guys are the cattle cars.

Rather than follow the industry – Southwest has always tended to take a page from Earl Nightingale, that is, watch what the mainstream airlines do, and do just the opposite.

That’s just where this is coming from.

Instead of making their business complicated, they’ve made it simpler.

That’s not exactly news. They’ve done simple all along – such as using the same model of airliner across the entire company.

They do simple for a reason: They understand that eliminating all this complexity makes it easier for their staff and their passengers, but that isn’t the real “secret” to all this simplicity.

The key to this latest simplification move isn’t just making the other airlines look like idiots (as if they need help), but that it allows Southwest to chip one more little piece away from their turnaround process (land, deplane/unload, clean, board/load, takeoff) without slowing things down to check for paid tags, or capture a credit card or make change, and so on.

Plus it’s a heckuva lot less annoying to the passenger.

Result: More on time departures, faster turnaround, more flights, less planes, happier customers who met all their connections, and far lower expenses for feeding/housing travelers stranded by their inability to manage their on-time arrival.

Southwest is the Apple Computer of the airline business – except perhaps in price.

Simple is better.

What can you do to simplify YOUR business?

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Competition Corporate America Management Retail

Irony is spelled E-X-X-O-N

With Google and Yahoo sleeping together, it’s a rather busy day in the business newsroom.

Despite that, this one just sticks out like your grandmother’s bunion toe.

Exxon is leaving the retail gas business due to “challenging conditions” in the service station business.

Hard to be a service station without SERVICE, isn’t it?

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Competition Corporate America Creativity Management Pricing Small Business Strategy

Update: Transparent Economics

Here’s some suggested reading in a follow up to my post “Transparent Economics“:

A NY Times article about steps airlines are taking to make planes more efficient. Smart stuff. Kudos to them for looking at everything, but not just cutting for the sake of cutting.

Quoting from the article:

â??Our fleet is over 500 airplanes,â? said Beth Harbin, a Southwest spokeswoman. â??If you can make a difference on one airplane on one flight, and multiply that by 500, in this day and age that is significant.”

These are the same kinds of steps you should be taking as well. Looking at everything strategically, not just going after things with a machete.

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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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Management Marketing Motivation Positioning Productivity Small Business Strategy Time management

Saying no to business

Do you say no?

I’m always in fear of not having enough business, so I say yes to projects that might not be a perfect fit or that I don’t have time to tackle effectively. So for me, the question would be, how do I know when to say no?

That’s a quote from a reader.

When you aren’t sure how many deals you have coming next week, can you say no to business that isn’t your forte, or that you are too busy for?

Sure, it’s tough, but you have to. You can do that other stuff, but you’ll regret it.

Every time you take a project that is out in left field, you’ll be annoyed.

If you have properly positioned your business, the chance of getting more projects that don’t quite fit right will be reduced. You won’t be tempted to take what isn’t offered and you’ll be available for more of the right
work.

In addition, the better you are at your core business, the less likely you are to want to produce other work that can’t meet your typical quality standards – simply because you do that work sporadically.

Sometimes you’ll have to transition to that core work, stepping into other projects along the way as you focus your marketing and take on more projects your the core business area.

One alternative – find someone who is great at that other work you get and work out a deal to refer the projects to them.

Doing 100 things poorly is no way to run a business. Even jugglers use the same type of balls (well, most of them anyhow<g>).

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Automation Competition Customer service Employees Management Marketing Positioning Productivity Small Business SMS systems Technology The Slight Edge Twitter

Operations and Details: Why you need a passion for crossing the T and dotting the I

One of the very few troubling things about living in a small town or a rural area is that sometimes, not all that often, but sometimes (yeah, I repeat myself), you find yourself “forced” to use a vendor that drives you crazy.

Because of what appears to be a lack of passion about operations and details.

Talk about timing. As I was writing this post, up on Twitter pops this tweet from @ChrisBrogan :

“Is anyone really *passionate* about operations and details?”
Chris Brogan

To be sure, when I say “passion”, I don’t mean that your hormone levels start rising when you are making sure your business’ detailed operations are just so – and have processes in place to keep them that way, but I’ll tell you what: I’ll bet you ARE passionate about the lifestyle that your business provides for you.

You know. Things like being able to make that Boy Scout meeting, that piano recital, that Wednesday afternoon golf “meeting” every other week, the choir practice, your kid’s soccer games or the bridge club.

Whatever it might be…the passion that you have for the lifestyle you lead has a direct relationship with the passion you have for crossing the T and dotting the I.

You probably think I’m nuts, so let’s talk about a few examples from my business life. I suppose this could be a reference to the pet peeves discussion of a few days ago, but this is really a bit different because the kinds of things I’m talking about here could be a part of any business.

In my case, it’s a local business whose services I use every month. Likewise, several of my clients use this service every month because they produce the production version of what I created for my clients (gee, is that vague enough?)

Why do I put up with the annoyance?

One reason and one reason only: There is no viable alternative business that provides this service within the community with the slate of features I need.

These are the kinds of things that any service business could be doing, and quite a few online or brick and mortar retail product stores could be as well. That way YOU can fix the ones you might be doing.

Number 1 – They deliver, but they can’t tell me for sure (in advance) when a produced job will be delivered.

When they do deliver, they don’t notify me that they’ve delivered the product. Because I happen to be one of those “Likes to know if the client got the stuff I ordered for them” kinds of guys, I have to call back (and remember to call back<g> and ask if the stuff was delivered. Today, I had to do this and they had to call me back because they had no idea.

Number 2 – They don’t notify me when the job is done/delivered unless I ask (and sometimes not even then). They clearly have no system to keep track of what needs to be delivered, what is on the truck, what has been delivered and what couldn’t be delivered. My guess is that they might have a clipboard nailed to a wall somewhere. Maybe.

Note that the big box store that competes with them (but doesnt offer enough services to make me switch), DOES have automated email notification that the job is done and I can pick it up.

Little things make a difference, especially when I can decide to give them my cell phone’s SMS email address, forcing their email to my phone.

Why is this apparent triviality even important?

Lessee…In the days of $4 gas, an emailed notification that goes to my phone could save me a 40 mile round trip drive (if I’m already in town for something else), PLUS 40+ minutes of their productive time if I have to turn around and come get that job because it is time-bound.

I don’t like doing business with companies that waste my time. Do you?

It might not just be my time. Maybe I have my virtual assistant (who lives here) pick them up. Wouldn’t it be nice if I didn’t have to take the email and forward to her, or call her? Sure, they could email directly to her – but if they aren’t emailing, what difference does it make? So now we’re talking about contractor or employee time, depending on your situation.

Number 3 – Out of control accounting. OK, I admit it, I *hate* bookkeeping (yes, I do appreciate and take action on the reports).

This is important with them because I often pay by credit or debit card and then get invoiced for the same amount at a later time. This happens repeatedly. So much so, in fact, that I have to get statements and make sure I haven’t paid for something twice. Sometimes I pay in person. Sometimes I pay over the phone or even via email. It doesn’t seem to matter, because double payments or unlogged payments are a frequent issue.

In the case of the in-store payment, this occurs despite the fact that they appear to enter the payment on the computer when I’m in their store. In fact, most of the problems originated from in-store payments.

Call me confused.

By now, you’re probably still wondering where the “why cross and dot” in all this is.

Simple: It’s those lifestyle things that make owning a business worthwhile. If your business is out of control, you don’t have time for that every other Wednesday golf meeting with friends you treasure. You can’t make that Rotary meeting once a month, much less once a week.

You can’t go on that photo safari across Montana, much less across Africa. And you sure can’t leave at 10am or 2pm for that school play or soccer game out of town that you promised your kid you’d make, even though they know you’ll be on your cell phone the whole time.

Why? Because you can’t leave your business for a week for fear that it will collapse into chaos when you aren’t there.

Cross the T and dot the I, and put systems in place to make sure it happens even when you aren’t there.

Imagine if you don’t have these things in place. That ONE important delivery to your best client gets messed up, or forgotten and that client leaves forever taking 5 or 6 figures worth of business to a competitor.

Now you feel like you can’t ever leave to watch a kid’s recital, ball game or what not.

Is that really worth not putting some effort, some passion into systems that cross the T and dot the I?

Don’t you want your business to be the one that is known as the one that never drops the ball?

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Competition Corporate America Management Positioning Small Business

Is your business dependent on suburbia?

Lajpat Nagar
photo credit: wili_hybrid

Today’s guest post comes from TED.

It’s a 20 minute video presentation by James Howard Kunstler about the “Tragedy of Suburbia”, and there is a strategic business message in here that is worth examining, especially given what is going on in the energy business.

Is your business dependent on the current structure of suburbia? Strip malls, mega stores and so on? I know that a good portion of my readers are independent business owners, so I’m not too concerned about the box store situation but many of you use the box stores as a way of gaining additional traffic. Not unlike the remora that clings to the shark, I guess.

WARNING: The F word is used in the video 3-4 times, but I suggest that you not discard the overall message simply because of that.