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Small business + iPhone app = opportunity

Disclaimer: I simply have to admit that it’s unlikely that I would buy an iPhone until Apple decides to discard AT&T, or Steve Jobs’ gang adds a better cell carrier to the mix. I’m simply not willing to deal with those guys if I don’t have to.

And yes, I’d probably get over it if the right opportunity (or idea) came to me.

My AT&T issues aside, your business could benefit a great deal from taking advantage of the fact that there will be even more iPhone users out there – with what appears to be the best mobile application platform built to date.

Let’s talk about a few possibilities.

Let’s say you own a restaurant. Imagine if an iPhone owner, their spouse and another couple are driving around deciding where to go for dinner.

They call up an app called TonightsSpecial on their phone. Because the iPhone has a GPS in it, it knows where you are. It displays the current specials at restaurants within a 15 minute drive (or 5 or whatever the iPhone owner decides) of their current location.

It shows the wait time for seating (if you so choose), price range, cuisine, and how to get there from the iPhone’s current location – again, since your phone knows where you are and where the restaurant is.

And with a touch, it tells the restaurant to hold a table for 4 for seating 15 minutes from now, because you’ll be right over.

Or maybe you own a motel. And some poor, tired traveler has been driving all day to get to Mount Rushmore, the kids are tired, their spouse is after them to find a motel and everything is full because it just happens to be the first weekend in August – ie: the Sturgis motorcycle rally.

Except that this traveler’s iPhone has an app on it called EmptyRoom that tells them where all the empty hotel room inventory is within 30 miles of their current location. And since you registered your hotel with EmptyRoom’s service, it knows when you have a vacancy.

Instead of that family driving past Rapid City because every hotel they checked was full, they turn left just past the airbase and follow the directions on a phone to a room that cancelled 23 minutes earlier because a biker got held up by some rain (ok, ok, that wouldnt happen with a REAL biker, but I digress).

Rather than having a room-night go up in smoke, you just did 2 things: Rented a room for the night that was probably going to go to waste and 2, pulled a tired driver off the road and made their spouse and kids a lot happier and safer.

Or, you’re a Realtor. And you have built an iPhone app that automatically notifies a client on their phone when a home that matches their needs comes on the market.

You’re busy, out making a sale, or at a closing – yet your iPhone app is telling the client where the newly-listed home is, how to get there, what the price is, and if they tap a button in the app, it’ll make an appointment using the open times in your shared Google calendar (or me.com, or whatever) to tour the place.

And of course, it’ll only do that for people you have under contract, if that’s how you want it to work.

Or, you belong to a network of independent coffee shops. Starbucks is your arch enemy, other than the nice thing they did to sell everyone on how cool it is to buy $4 cups of coffee:) So when you join the independent coffee shop network, your shop appears on someone’s iPhone when they open that app.

Again, since a GPS is built-in, it can show me the closest independent coffee shops to the iPhone’s current location. This one can be cloned for just about any independent business. Bike retailers. Pizza shops. Dry cleaners, etc.

No matter what business you’re in – and especially with service, retail, restaurants and lodging, there are a pile of iPhone application possibilities here to make your business even more personal, to deliver even more value and to take advantage of an opportunity that most competitors wont even recognize.

Sure, all of this can be done now, from a web page, or the Yellow pages. You have a chance to bring it into their hand, without extra effort, so you can draw them specifically to your business – and that’s exactly what they want, otherwise they wouldnt be using that iPhone app in the first place.

Pre-sold buyers. Everyone likes them.

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Apple Automation Competition Corporate America Creativity Customer service Media Positioning Productivity Small Business Software Strategy Technology

Who cares about the iPhone?

If you own a small business, you just might start to care.

First of all, set aside some time to watch the video of Steve Jobs’ iPhone keynote yesterday morning at the Apple Worldwide Developer’s Conference. Apple QuickTime (a free download) is required to view it.

Pay close attention to how well Apple appears to have listened about when people asked for REAL business support. In the video, the discussion is “enterprise”.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking this only means big business.

Even if you don’t watch the entire video, watch the first 5-6 minutes until they show the cover of Fortune magazine and share who participated in the beta testing for iPhone 2.0.

Between March 6th and June 9th 2008, 250,000 people joined the free iPhone 2.0 developer program. In that same period, 25,000+ applied to the paid beta program. 4000 of those were accepted.

Included in these 4000 testers are:

  • the top 5 commercial banks
  • the top 5 securities firms
  • 6 of the 7 top airlines
  • 8 of the 10 top entertainment firms
  • 8 of 10 top pharmaceutical firms
  • the U.S. Military
  • and the Who’s Who in higher education (Duke, Harvard, Stanford, etc)

All told, 35% of the Fortune 500 participated in the beta.

Remember, this is an Apple beta. Why is that a big deal?

Mostly because Apple has never been known a friend of business, much less small business.

Their response to the enterprise’s demands of the first iPhone is a very clear sign that things have changed at Apple. They’re not just for elementary schools and artists anymore.

Even Mister Spock would be impressed with the example applications they showcased. If you watch the video, the musician app was particularly interesting – though not from a business perspective. Also represented were the medical industry, music, Major League Baseball, blogging, education and others.

I’m sitting here watching these demos and the ideas are flying through my mind for clients, much less for friends who are in medicine, forestry, retail, hydrology, you name it.

Take another look at that list of markets above that were in the paid beta program. Do you compete with or work within those fields?

No doubt, one of thoughts going through your mind is “How does he expect me to do this too, when I can’t keep up as it is?”

Look, I’m simply bringing it up, thinking it might spark an idea that generates your next great way to serve your clientèle. That’s not keeping up, it’s staying ahead. You’re either staying ahead or you’re falling behind.

Speaking of keeping up… In an unrelated geeky conversation, a friend of mine said “boy, does it ever illustrate how hard it is to keep up”.

My reply to him: “Its even harder to stay behind.”

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about how you might consider using the iPhone to make your small business more personal to your clients.

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Competition Corporate America Internet marketing Marketing Media Politics Positioning Small Business Strategy

Underdog marketing

No, I don’t mean Underdog:)

Today’s guest post, or at least, recommended reading is a Washington Post story about strategies inside the Obama Democratic primary campaign.

If you aren’t a Democrat, or you aren’t a fan of Obama, or for that matter, whatever excuse you might use not to read the story about his campaign… I advise you to set that aside long enough to read the story and absorb the lessons.

The lesson described in the story is important. It’s about winning the right battles in a war with a stronger, entrenched opponent.

Does that sound like a box store, franchise or entrenched competitor to you? It sure does to me.

Strategic thought is important. One of the 17 things in Think and Grow Rich is “accurate thinking”. This story is all over that concept. Good reading, so enjoy.

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Competition Corporate America Customer service Leadership Management Marketing Positioning Pricing Small Business

American Airlines tests the law of unintended consequences

American Airlines has had only a few advertising slogans over the last several decades.

  • We know why you fly. We’re American Airlines. (Uh, because it takes too long to drive?)
  • Something special in the air. (It was the dog, really!)
  • Doing What We Do Best (and that is?…)

That isn’t where the PR is coming from for AA these days.

Naturally, it’s coming from that “$15 to check a piece of luggage” thing.

To me, the $15 isn’t that big of a deal, *but* the likely possibility is that the law of unintended consequences will strike American and other airlines who follow suit.

Airline travel is already working hard to become an experience right up there with going to the dentist, getting a visit from your brother in law the insurance salesman (noting that my pretty cool brother in law sells insurance<g>), and having someone at your door asking if you need your carpet cleaned.

Making air travel even more annoying is not the answer.

What American might see when the law of unintended consequences comes to visit.

At check in:

  • Lines will become longer and slower because people behind the counter will have to take credit cards, make change and so on. Just wait till the person in front of you has a “Take the card” marker on their credit card account and the poor airline check-in clerk is forced to repo their card.
  • MORE education will have to take place during check-in because people will not have funds (trust me) to check bags that are too big to carry on. And of course, they will argue with someone that the bag is OK and has been carried on many times before. All of which will take more time, making the line longer and slower.

At security:

  • $15 per checked bag will mean more people will carry on even more crap. Meaning TSA will have more stuff to xray and the line at security will be even slower because people will forget that the 3 ounce rule applies to carryons and that 24 ounce native coconut shampoo bottle you bought in Tahiti will have to be poured out.

During boarding:

  • Bags that are too big will have to be checked, delaying departure, disrupting the boarding process and oh by the way, will the baggage handlers in the jetway have credit card scanners on them?
  • Everyone and their mom will be carrying on more stuff. It’s bad enough as it is, with people bringing everything they own to carry on – it will get worse when every checked bag is now $15.

During deplaning:

  • Slower, for the same reasons that boarding will be slower.

During an emergency:

  • More crap will be available to trip over as people have more stuff in their lap and stuffed under the seat. One more cabin fire is all it will take for a Congressional hearing on carry ons.

All of this is really not the point of the discussion. It’s simply conjecture.

The real point of this discussion is to motivate you not to let yourself get trapped into doing stupid things that will make it harder and less enjoyable to do business with you, all because you were dumb enough to allow your business to become a price-sensitive commodity.

When the only purchase decision point you give your clientèle is price, you leave yourself with little in the way of strategy.

Given today’s levels of airline service – what other decision points are there? Either that airline goes to your city, or it doesn’t. Everything else is schedule and price. Commodities.

Here’s what they won’t do – and their behavior over time proves it.

  • No domestic U.S. airline will raise the price of their tickets so that they can actually provide the level of service that most travelers appreciate.
  • No domestic U.S. airline will provide the level of service that makes them the only choice when it’s time to fly.
  • No domestic U.S. airline will focus on the most profitable travelers, pamper them so they’ll never leave, price their tickets accordingly and let everyone else fight over the price shoppers who will change airlines for $5 round trip savings.

Don’t fall into the cheap trap. It’s easy to do when the press says that the economy has slowed, even though you couldn’t tell based on how packed the Costco parking lot is.

Be better, not cheaper.

Update: Today, this article about US Air making more service changes in the wrong direction.

Related posts elsewhere on the net:

Church of the Customer’s take on the American Airlines situation.

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Automation Competition Customer service Management Productivity Technology

How have fuel prices changed your customers’ behavior?

Since I work out of a home office, I don’t spend all that much time on the road. Good thing.

As a result, I don’t have to fill up the Suburban too often. It’s great for hauling around a big pile of Scouts and their camping gear, but lousy at efficient travel for me and the Dog (my Mom the English teacher cringes, thinking “it should be the ‘dog and I’ “).

Driving into the future
photo credit: kevindooley

So last Friday, I fill it up for the first time in a little over a week. Gas has risen about 15 cents per gallon since the last time I filled up (8 days ago), and a total of at least 27 cents since the time before that. Result: We’re at $3.43 here as of 10pm Friday night.

Anyhow, I’m on fumes after picking up my son after an all day (and much of the night) District band competition (he plays sax), so I stop and fill ‘er up.

$143.80 – a new record for the blue beast, who has a 40 gallon belly.

On the way home, I’m thinking to myself “Thank goodness I don’t have a long commute like I did 20 years ago.”

Then I start thinking about what changes in customer behavior this is causing – and more importantly, what actions businesses should take in order to deal with possible changes in behavior.

  • Do pizza delivery services get busier?
  • Do delivery charges rise?
  • Fedex fuel charges go up.
  • Food climbs 40% in the last 6 months.

With all this stuff going on, what are you doing to compensate for the changes in your customers’ behavior?

Remember the posts over the last week or so about automation? Twitter? Your website? All of these things will be more valuable as people decide not to drive all over town to shop, but instead, decide to pick up the phone or open up their browser.

Today, I picked up the phone and asked if 2 print jobs were done. The print shop is a 45 minute roundtrip drive on a good day. I drive in to pick up the work – and only 1 job is done. When I got there – as is usual – they have to search all over the shop to find the printed output (I’ve watched this for 2-3 years and still haven’t figured out why they insist on doing it that way).

So I will have to go into town again on Monday and get the other job – all because someone made a mistake. While it was an honest mistake, it cost me 45 minutes and about 3 gallons of gas.

Look at what happened to me and examine your business to see how you can streamline processes, delivery and so on – all in the interest of saving you and your client some time, money and energy. The more efficient you make the process of doing business with you, the more value you provide to your clients and the better off your business will be.

Ask yourself these questions, as examples:

  • How can I save my customer a trip to the store/office?
  • How can I save my customer some time?
  • What can I automate that we do manually now (taking up time)?
  • What can I automate that isn’t being done at all, but would provide more value to my clients?

For example, it would be simple to setup an automated notification system that would email, fax, SMS/text message or Twitter me when the print jobs are really done. I would expect a notification for each one.

Likewise, delivery would save me time and money. Do you offer it? I’m far more concerned about the extra 45 minutes than the $10. Clearly, I can justify at least a $10 delivery fee, since it’ll cost me that much in fuel alone. With the capabilities of route generation software, you can deliver 20-30-40 packages each day and not spend all your time on the road. You can use local courier services as well.

When will $143.80 change the behavior of your customer – and will you be prepared to provide them with business as usual, only better?

PS: Don’t confuse efficient with cheap.

Related posts elsewhere on the net:

Improving Operational Efficiency and Business Performance in …
Social Media for Efficiency and Productivity in Business
Screwing Over Customers is Not a Good Business Strategy

On Monday, the Albany Business Journal joined the bandwagon saying that a Federal fuel tax “vacation” would help. I say it’s a pile of horse biscuits. An 18.4 cent discount doesn’t mean much when fuel has gone up 30+ cents in 10 days. And it doesnt fix the problem, it just panders to the voters.

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Competition Leadership Management Small Business Strategy

86 percent have no plan. Are you wandering in the desert with them?

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photo credit: cdibona

Prior to teaching an online internet business course, Jack Humphrey recently surveyed his class of almost 200 students from across the globe. He reported on the results a few days ago.

One of the things he asked his class is “Do you have a plan for your business?”

EIGHTY SIX percent said “No.”  14 percent said “Yes”.

I’m guessing that 12 percent might have stretched the truth a little bit. I’d be surprised if 2 percent had a plan, but that really isn’t the point.

Are you one of the 86 percent who doesn’t have a plan for your business?

A strategic, financial, marketing business growth plan?

If you are, spend some time this weekend putting one together. Don’t make your success an accident. Build a roadmap and then start following it.

Tempted to blow it off? Consider the likelihood that your competition is in the 14% who has a plan. Part of their plan is to put you out of business.

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Blogging Competition Entrepreneurs Internet marketing Mark Riffey Marketing Media Positioning Public Relations Strategy

Small business owners, like consultants, should be everywhere

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A friend asked me the other day why I do a small business marketing radio talk show and if it had been profitable for me.

My answer? Because I need to be everywhere, and yes.

The question reminded me of a long-told story in marketing circles about the chiropractor (or whoever it was).

A famous lady chiropractor from the East Coast speaks at a chiropractic convention about her success, her practice and why she got into chiropractic in the first case. It’s a motivational piece, intended to instill “I can do it too” in the young chiropractors in the room.

When she leaves the stage, a number of people in the crowd have questions for her – a commonplace reaction at conventions like this.

One struggling young chiropractor steps up, introduces herself as Lee, and proceeds to tell her a story about her efforts to gain new clients. Lee talks about how she tries one thing and then another to get new clients. No matter what she tries, her office only gets a client or two or three with each ad that is placed.

Finally, she says “So after all of my struggles, I got really excited when I heard you say that you average 72 new clients every month…what’s technique are you using to get 72 new clients?”

The chiropractor shifts her weight and lays her hand softly on the woman’s shoulder and says “I’m sorry Lee, but I don’t know one strategy that gets 72 clients”. As she pauses, she can see confusion and disappointment on Lee’s face.

Then she shares the punch line: “However…I have found 72 ways to get one client, and I use every one of them, every month. You should try that and see how it works for you. I’ve very happy with the results.”

HotSeat Radio is one of my “72 ways”. So is the print newsletter, this blog, the email newsletter, and the Flathead Beacon column, just for starters.

“Be everywhere” is a core strategy that I teach my marketing clients, and I (as you may have noticed) put a significant effort into practicing what I preach.

If you need 50 new clients each month to make your revenue goals, do you have 50 ways in place to get 1 new client? Or 25 ways to get 2 new clients each month?

Sit down with a pad and paper (or MS Word, or whatever) and answer this question: How many ways does my business have to attract and meet future (and current) clients?

Is that enough? What other ways can you think of?

P.S. Notice there wasn’t a password on this post? The reality is that I’m collecting “evidence” for a future post. Not quite as externally obvious as yesterday’s survey, but just as important. More about that, probably next week.