Categories
Competition Corporate America energy Honda Leadership Management Positioning Small Business Strategy

Doing one thing really well

Anyone who has ever driven or owned a Honda vehicle knows one thing that is consistent about them.

They make a tight, efficient vehicle that lasts a long time, and costs little to drive day to day.

They started doing this when gas was under $1.00 a gallon, long before it was fashionable, much less necessary to reduce fuel expenses.

Now that gas is approaching $5 per gallon, little has changed at Honda.

Except of course, sales volume, and the fact that they manufacture many of them right here in the US.

Is everything you do as a business owner focused on achieving your company’s core goals?

If not, why not?

Categories
Competition Corporate America Leadership Management Marketing Microsoft Small Business Software Technology

Find and fight the fire before the customer does

In a recent email to senior Microsoft staff, Bill Gates had rather unflattering comments about a pre-release download and install process for Windows Moviemaker.

Every one of us can relate, right?

As for the message, Gates smiled and said, “There’s not a day that I don’t send a piece of e-mail … like that piece of e-mail. That’s my job.”

Exactly.

No matter how high up you are, one of your jobs is to find the problems before the customer does.

And yes, I’m sure someone will wonder aloud where he was on Microsoft Bob, or on Access 1.0, or on <whatever>. Perhaps it’s best to wonder what it would have been like otherwise:)

In the software business, we have a term called “eating our own dogfood”, which means using the software you sell to clients. Whenever possible, it’s a valuable effort because you look at things differently as an end user than as a programmer.

Eating your own dogfood can and should extend far beyond the software business.

No matter what line of work you’re in, you can find a way to…

  • Secret shop your store(s).
  • See that your friends and family have to deal with your business and your products, anonymously if at all possible.
  • Watch someone try to use your website, or listen as they call your business for help, to make a purchase, obtain service and get advice.

Find the forest fire smoldering inside your business before the client does.

Categories
Automation Community Competition Creativity ECommerce energy Management Marketing Positioning Productivity Small Business systems Technology

Fuel cost thoughts for small business owners

To the consternation of many, I’ve quietly noted for several years that the rise in fuel costs would also have some positive impacts on us and on our society – in addition to the obvious negative ones.

It’s not a liberal or conservative issue, it’s a pragmatic one.

Among other things, higher fuel costs will…

  • force us to become more self-sufficient, both as individuals and as communities.
  • force us to become better thinkers. The smartest business now has even more of an edge.
  • force us to become better planners.
  • force us to become far more responsible to ourselves, our neighbors and to our businesses.
  • force us to deliver even more services via the Internet
  • force us to use the Internet to fine tune the logistics of every aspect of our businesses
  • require our communities to become far more dependent on the individuals and businesses within, rather than on a largely-faceless community 600 or 6000 miles away.

That last one is where the business that has a personal relationship with its clients will shine.

What should fuel costs have the small business owner thinking about?

The obvious thing is the rising cost of shipping and transportation of goods.

While it is “really cool” to order a new computer on the internet at 2am and then be surprised to have the Airborne guy standing in my driveway with the computer box at 8am that day, the cost of making that happen is far more than the $5 extra I paid to make it so back in 1987.

The changes that rising fuel costs cause require some thought, no matter what you do or sell.

Some might not be so obvious, and those are the ones that can make the most difference.

Look for things that are below the radar of “most people”.

One example: the real estate business

Evidence is appearing that prospective home buyers are looking far more closely at the location of homes and the resulting commutes.

The higher price of homes close to town is offset by shorter commutes to work and shopping. How many people in California (much less Boise) would rather spend that extra 2-4 hours a day with their family rather than on gas, as they stare at the back of the car in front of them? Suddenly, even with California wages, those numbers become significant.

If you are a Realtor or a mortgage broker, you have to be watching for small changes in people’s behavior before they become large changes. You might start selling more homes in areas that are less congested (slower traffic, longer commutes), yet still close in and convenient.

You might have a new tool that takes MLS address info, ownership years, employer data and change real estate agent farming forever.

Maybe you “niche yourself” by offering a service for employers that helps their people find homes closer to the office, or a similar service for employers who are moving employees to the area.

You might focus your attention on selling those remote homes by touting their access to broadband internet and place your marketing attention on work-at-home business owners, telecommuters and the like – people who are far less concerned about commuting distances.

Distances to day cares from work and homes are now more important. This will affect your ability to find employees. Minimum wage work will be chosen more carefully, since commute costs will eat into a small wages quickly.

If you were having a hard time finding people a year ago, commute costs due to fuel prices might complicate that further.

You must put far more thought into those 3 little words: location, location, location.

The best Realtors are going to find smart ways to leverage today’s issues, as they always have, only the parameters have changed.

It isn’t just real estate though

If you do a lot of mail order/internet order/phone order business, how are you preparing your business to do more locally?

What if shipping costs tripled tomorrow? Would your mail order business survive? Where would you find “replacement” customers locally? How would you attract them? Would you focus on regional mail order clients vs national? What changes in your product line are necessary to succeed on that refocused client market?

These are things you should already be thinking about, no matter what you do.

Categories
Community Competition Employees Leadership Legal Management Marketing Montana Photography Politics Positioning Public Relations Small Business Strategy Word of mouth marketing

Can you really reserve the right to refuse service?

With the recent same-sex marriage ruling in California, more and more businesses are going to be faced with making serious, perhaps business/life-altering decisions about their operations – assuming they haven’t already.

One excellent example is the case of New Mexico wedding photographers who refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony in 2006.

Earlier this year, the state of New Mexico’s Human Rights Commission ruled that they had violated the rights of the gay couple who called to inquire about their photography services, and fined them $6600.

It’s easy to think in hindsight that if they were uncomfortable – for any reason – shooting the ceremony, they could have simply said “We are booked that day, sorry.

The problem is, do you also lie when the Catholic couple calls, or the bi-racial couple calls, or the Muslim couple, or the white couple, or the Jewish couple, or the Republican couple? Before long, you’re left to photographing parakeets, as long as they promise to behave:)

Seriously, I don’t mean to equate any of these groups with each other, much less with the parakeet, but the exaggeration (perhaps) makes the point clearer.

Does the context matter?

We recently talked about firing clients, in the context of them being abusive to my staff. Is that any different? What if that client had sued, saying he had the right to say whatever he wanted and still acquire our software?

Last week, Blackstar Rising blogger and professional wedding photographer Sean Cayton discussed the issues surrounding same-sex wedding photography. His comments were in the context of “if I do business with group A, will I lose the business of group B” and noted that he was watching the situation as he figures out what to do.

We’ve seen this here in Montana a little bit, as a Great Falls pharmacy decided to stop carrying birth control pills a while back, citing moral objections.

Note that they also made it clear that their profit and sales volume of those items were small and that was also part of the decision. True or not, are you obligated to carry EVERY drug, even if it doesn’t sell well? Some might question your real reasons for stopping those sales.

And that gets us to the real question…

Is it possible NOT to offend?

What is a business owner to do?

These days, in some business sectors, it’s almost impossible not to offend SOMEONE simply by opening for business in the morning. Others because they go camping with Boy Scouts, or go to the Catholic church, or volunteer at the UN Association, or carry a Sierra Club membership card, and so on.

In a lot of ways, this goes back to having your business well thought out. Knowing who your customer is, and who they aren’t. Knowing yourself, because you have to expect in today’s business and political climate, you are going to take crap for things you take part in, much less for things you feel strongly about.

And remember that it isn’t just you. Your staff plays a significant role here. It’s not hard to imagine that a religious goods store owner would try pretty hard not to hire an atheist, but they would have to be very careful how they figure that out without breaking employment law.

Yeah, with all those links, I’m sending you all over the place to ponder the impact of this, and perhaps, give you a few things to think about before one of these situations catches you unprepared. Strategically, and personally, it makes sense to have as much of this figured out as you can – but sometimes, that’s not how life is.

If you refuse service, even if it is your right, how will the market react?

Are you prepared financially and personally to deal with the outcome? Is your business structured so that you can turn away business that you don’t want. If you don’t want it (whatever IT is), is there another way to deal with those prospect?

For starters, referring them to a competitor that delivers great quality is the minimum you owe them.

Remember, your marketing and your reputation – both built intentionally – is likely what caused them to contact you. Hanging up on them because they were attracted by your success is absolutely the wrong thing to do.

When you hang out a shingle, you invite the public to deal with you. None of us is perfect, least of all, me.

How you react to the folks who “bother you” – regardless of the reason – is just as important as how you react to your ideal client.

Both deserve courtesy.

Categories
Management Small Business Technology Tiger Woods

Denying service to Tiger Woods

Denial of Service (DOS) attacks occur when slimy types hit a web server with thousands (millions, whatever) of requests for access all at the same time.

Their goal is to bring a website down under the unanticipated workload.

A common strategy is to focus these thousands/millions of requests on a website all at once during an important time – like when Tiger misses an eagle putt on 18.

It wasn’t hackers this time. Just a bunch of golf fans trying to watch Tiger and Rocco.

You see, the U.S. Open playoff between Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate was streamed live on the web last Tuesday, as well as followed in Twitter via Summize.com, and elsewhere.

A network engineer at Arbor Networks, noticed an interesting pattern to the Flash video traffic on the internet during Tiger and Rocco’s playoff round.

The oddest things can make your life interesting in business.

Last Tuesday afternoon, a lot of network engineers were trying to keep the internet’s pipes flowing – and maybe weren’t sure why things were hopping all of a sudden.

Consider this encouragement to think about the events going on around your world, and across the globe.

Something like a missed putt just might impact your business more than you think.

Categories
Customer service Employees Management Positioning Retail Small Business

Do you send the wrong unspoken messages to clients?

What message do you send to clients when you have a live sales chat feature on your website, but no live support chat?

It says to me that I am not as important after the sale as I am before the sale, which is exactly how I felt today when visiting a website whose service I use.

On Wednesday, I was in the Post Office sending some Rotary International grant money via Express Mail.

During our conversation, the agent behind the counter made a comment that “It isn’t Express Mail without tracking.”

As I was stuffing $23,000+ of someone else’s money into the envelope, I was thinking “That’s not the desired result.”

The desired result is that our envelope gets there tomorrow.

The agent made it clear that the importance to the Post Office was not the delivery, but was the process. The paperwork. Not the message that the customer wants to hear – even if they’re filling out the paperwork.

Ask yourself:

  • What unspoken messages do my procedures and business processes send?
  • What written or spoken messages do we send that detract from our reputation, our products/services and our company?

Next – work on correcting, or removing them from your scripts, pitches, company lingo, training, printed materials, websites and most importantly – the silent messages you send.

Categories
Apple Competition Corporate America Creativity ECommerce Leadership Management Positioning Retail Small Business Strategy Wal-Mart

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.

Categories
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?

Categories
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.

Categories
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?