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attitude Business model Competition Entrepreneurs Setting Expectations Small Business strategic planning Strategy

The can that’s hard

Orion constellation panorama
Creative Commons License photo credit: write_adam

As I look back over the last 12 years or so, I’m convinced that Scott Dinsmore is exactly right.

None of us have least bit of a clue what we can really do. Not the faintest idea.

On the contrary, we’re all fairly sure what we can’t do. But the whole “can’t” thing is really way too easy. It’s the can that hard.

“Can too”

Remember when you were a kid and your best friend or your brother or sister would get into a silly argument? One of you would say “Can too!”, to which the other would reply with an insightful “Can not!”?

While it sounds a lot like most modern-day political conversations, the same thing goes on inside our heads all the time.

Have you ever put any thought into which one of you wins? I mean the yous inside of you.

Rather than get you all weirded out with touchy-feely stuff, here’s an example.

Except for a couple of months when in Tennessee, I’ve been running several times a week since sometime early this year.

I’d go to the place where I run and get after it on the elliptical or the treadmill (usually both, back to back) until I’d run two or three miles. On a big day, I’d go five. As I got back in the groove from my time out of town, I managed to get 12-20 miles in every week.

Those miles were chipped away at what seemed like a decent enough pace until I was done. Despite the drenched clothes and sometimes grumpy knees, it hit me one day that I was slugging along at a rather generous pace of 11 to 14 minute miles.

Faster than your grandmother, but not what I expected after months. Something bugged me.

Kinda like Monk

It was that danged Nike+ smartphone app.

Like most running/hiking tracker applications, it has a GPS and a motion sensor so it can record your pace and distance.

The troubling part is that there’s a records display and the 10k one was empty. I’m one of those undiagnosed sometimes OCD types about some things (we all have “those things”, it seems) and that empty spot just made me nuts.

One day, I couldn’t take it any more. I decided to fill that box one Wednesday a few weeks back.

Took me 90 minutes the first time. Pathetically slow, but the box was filled with nowhere to go but down (in pace/time). In over 50 years I had run a 10k once.

Two days later, I ran another one. Then a weird thing happened.

My regular run pacing started to shrink like a fat guy locked in a sauna. Instead of 15 minutes on average to do each of slightly more than 6 miles, I started seeing my long run fastest-mile-pace dropping from 12 or 13 minutes per mile to nine and change.

Because I didn’t know I could do that, I guess I just did. The Nike slogan suddenly made more sense than ever before.

Start.

Not all that long ago, a guy told me I couldn’t do something. Said I’d be back in 6 months.

So I did it anyway…12 years ago.

The specifics don’t matter. The lesson is simple: Start. Then don’t quit.

I know…it’s a platitude you’ve heard 1000 times. Have you heeded it?

If you’re going to invest your time, energy and money in something, put it into something impossible, insane, unprecedented, life-changing. Don’t waste all that energy on something that isn’t worth darned near losing your mind over. Do something that’s so killer, so incredibly difficult, so rewarding and yes…so profitable that you don’t have any idea how you’ll make it work.

That hunger has value you can’t imagine.

Start. Now.

Maybe you’ve already started

Your business might be stuck at that 15 minute mile type of plateau. What do you do? How do you go faster, better, stronger? Every week I write about strategies to break through business plateaus.

Is your plateau breaker sitting there like that empty 10k record box?

Sometimes you just have to do something you’ve never done to learn the potential of what you really can do.

Anyone can just plod along. Why not do something impossible?

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Business model Buy Local Community Competition Economic Development Management Manufacturing Montana Positioning President-proof Small Business strategic planning Strategy Technology

Lucy and the Aluminum Football

World's Favorite Sport
Creative Commons License photo credit: vramak

Lately, there has been a lot of talk in the news and around the Flathead Valley about the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) offering a four year power supply deal to Columbia Falls Aluminum Company (CFAC).

The deal is subject to environmental review and other what-ifs, so it isn’t a done deal quite yet.

Given the economic struggles facing Columbia Falls, any news of new jobs is good news. Really good news, in fact.

The topic of CFAC concerns me – it always has. Folks who have lived in Columbia Falls far longer than I know the history of CFAC first hand. To summarize for everyone else: It opens. It lays off / closes. It changes hands. It opens. It lays off / closes. And so on.

Again, Lucy pulls it away
CFAC has at times been our employment Lucy (from the “Peanuts” comic strip). Just as Charlie Brown approaches to kick the football, Lucy pulls it away and Charlie goes flying through the air, screaming and lands flat on his back. Imagine having that done to your career and family -  several times.

No matter how good things are when CFAC is rocking, a shutdown ripples through the financial well-being of our fair town’s families and the businesses that serve them. The impact of the historical ups-and-downs of CFAC on those families is unimaginable.

To their credit, CFAC’s troubles haven’t always been bad news for the valley.

In at least one case, their troubles have generated substantial benefits. Several years back, CFAC paid their people to do what amounted to volunteer work for a number of groups that couldn’t have otherwise afforded the labor. Many organizations benefited big time from the hard work their employees provided back then – and continue to benefit from the work done back then.

Don’t be a commodity
It isn’t as if these troubles were created on purpose (feel free to argue about that in the comments).

While it may not have started that way in the 1950s, the CFAC of modern times is incredibly sensitive to the whims of commodity prices. Many businesses deal with commodity prices somehow affecting some part of their business. CFAC’s business has it as part of their raw materials supply, energy supply and their finished product. As things sit today, it’s a tough, tough business they’re in.

Imagine having someone else setting the prices of every major component of your business. Now imagine that the ingots you ship are not substantially different (speaking very generally here) from those shipped by a Chinese firm using labor that works for $10 a day, ore that’s mined locally by workers paid similarly, and so on.

Advice to everyone else – do whatever you can to avoid getting yourself into a commodity market. If you’re in one, work on your business model to get out of it.

In fact, that’s my advice to CFAC, though they didn’t ask. Let’s call it a wish for the betterment of Columbia Falls and the entire valley.

The Whole Valley
Wait a minute…the whole valley? Absolutely. It’s about airline seats, hotel rooms and rental cars. It’s about cafes and catering. It’s about grocery and clothing stores. It’s about car dealers and construction work. It’s about the schools that get property taxes from an active thriving business instead of the waiver-level taxes of a dead one.

My wish is that in four years no one cares what electricity costs CFAC. Not because they are gone, but because whatever they sell has so much value that people will pay whatever it takes to get it. It worries me deeply that in four years we’ll be right back where we are now.

What I’d like to see is for CFAC to add a ton of value to the aluminum they produce, *before* it hits the rails. I’m told CFAC had some of the best millwrights anywhere who could create “anything”.

I wonder
I wonder what CFAC could make that would allow them to sell a product that doesn’t get sold on commodity markets based on someone else’s price control. I wonder what they can manufacture with the skills and backgrounds of the people who worked there for the last 20-30-40 years.

I wonder what would happen to a community manufacturing valuable products for today’s economy, rather than commodities from my grandfather’s economy.

I wonder what would happen if Charlie got to kick the ball.

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Business culture Creativity market research Marketing Positioning Small Business Strategy

Think Outside the Smores

Are you paying this much attention?

Are you putting this much thought into what your customers’ do with your product?

Are you then following it up by shipping what they need?

Yes, these stackers are a blatantly obvious invention to anyone who has made a smore at a campfire.

The important thing is that Kraft thought enough to make them.

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Business model Competition Direct Marketing Entrepreneurs Improvement Leadership Marketing Positioning Setting Expectations Small Business strategic planning Strategy The Slight Edge

The hungry dog expects a bone

Pancho's Bones 02.09.09 [40]
Creative Commons License photo credit: timlewisnm

In almost every market, there’s someone who seemingly owns that market’s customers and prospects.

They’re the household name in that marketplace.

A common assumption is that they get so many customers that they may as well get them all.

To be sure, doing things that make you that household name is something I strongly encourage you to do. So what do you do if the market you want to enter already has a household name?

You’ve heard me suggest that you: Do more. Do it better. Do it more often. Do it differently.

The owner never has 100% of the market. If it’s a market you’re truly interested in, you need to figure out if there is enough left to make a business of it.

“Enough to make a business of it” has to last at least long enough to get a foothold so you can start to chip away at the leader and/or create new markets for what you do.

Can’t Get No…

For example, every single market includes customers who are dissatisfied.

They might not be that way because the market leader treated them poorly or failed to meet their expectations – though that’s certainly possible.

Every market has people who aren’t aware of the market “owner”, people who will intentionally choose someone other than the market leader just because that business is the leader, people who want something more/better/faster than what the leader does, people who want something different, people who have had a run in with the leader, and so on.

No matter what the reason is that you have them, the expectations thing is a big deal.

In the absence of someone setting expectations for them, people assume their personal expectations will be met – at whatever level they have them. Failing to set expectations almost guarantees dissatisfaction among some portion of the population you serve because their assumptions will be higher than yours.

Different levels are OK. Disappointment is not.

Because you’ll find different levels of expectations, you have an opportunity to create good, better, best, unbelievable, and rock-star class tiers of products and services. Still, your job is to set those expectations as appropriate so that even the lowest tier of service gets *at the very least* exactly what they expect.

How often do you get *exactly what you expect* from a business?

Think hard about that.

Now the hard question: How often do your customers get exactly what they expect from your business?

 

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Business model Competition Customer relationships customer retention Customer service Habits Ideas Improvement Management Marketing marketing to the affluent Marketing to women Positioning Sales service Small Business strategic planning Strategy

If I owned a fitness center

In the process of elliptical-ing across some wide open (virtual) spaces recently, I thought to myself, “What would I change if I owned this place?”

I might warm up the pool a couple of degrees, but that really isn’t the kind of change I meant.

The things that came to mind were in the spirit of “Be indispensable“.

So what would make that place the ONLY place to be a member?

When I have these conversations with a client, the first thing we often talk about are their clients.

We start simple. Who are they? What do they need?

A Day in the Life

To answer the “Who are they?” question, let’s look around at a day in the life of a fitness center and see how we can segment the members (customers) into groups based on gender, age, level of fitness, “Why they are there”, and so on.

I don’t mean a group like “People who need/want to work out.” Obviously, most people who join qualify for either need to or want to.

I’m thinking about a list like this, and I’m sure it’s far from complete:

  • Professional or semi-pro athletes, such as people who regularly marathon, triathlon and/or Ironman. You might include players for the local semi-pro teams. Around here, the Glacier Twins and/or Glacier Knights would be included.
  • Bodybuilders.
  • Post-partum moms who want to get their “pre-pregnancy body” back.
  • Pregnant women.
  • Men recovering from heart surgery.
  • Anyone newly diagnosed with diabetes.
  • People who are new to working out.
  • “Formerly disciplined workout people” who haven’t worked out in five, ten or more years.
  • People recovering from an injury, possibly under the direction of a physical therapist.

Within these groups, you’ll find breakdowns for gender and/or age group. Don’t underestimate those.

Everyone should be considering the sizable wave of Baby Boomers heading into their 60s-70s-80s might impact their business and what opportunities they suggest. Likewise, research has repeatedly shown that women control or influence 80% or more of household spending.

Is your business catering to these groups? If not, is your business even passingly friendly to these groups?

I Have Needs

The second question on my list was “What do they need?”

Until you create the list above, your needs list might be simpler than it should be because you might just be thinking “What do my members need?”.

Once we’ve gone through the customer (and prospect) identification and segmentation process, we’ll find more needs.

That’s why we go through this probably tedious, sometimes eye-rolling process that almost always helps you find new things that your customers need. The result should be obvious.

What do they need?

Now look back at that list of customer types from a “wants and needs” perspective. Consider the needs of body builders, post-partum moms, heart patients, and semi-pro athletes, for example. In some ways, they’re similar. In others, they have wildly different expectations.

They all need machines/weights, steam room, hot tub, pool, showers, restrooms and so on.

After that, the needs among the groups vary quite a bit:

  • Some would benefit most from instruction and/or working in groups.
  • Some prefer private facilities.
  • Some prefer gender-specific workout times/rooms.
  • Some prefer age-specific.
  • Some work evening or night shift.
  • Some would prefer to find a workout partner for motivation, spotting weights and/or accountability.
  • Some would like to be gently nagged if they don’t show up 3 times a week.

One example of many obvious ones: You wouldn’t necessarily have 20-somethings in a Yoga class with 60-somethings. Not because they can’t enjoy each other’s company, but because the instruction and goals for one group probably don’t parallel the other. That might drive you to have separate Yoga classes for singles, post-partums, “retirees”, physical therapy patients and so on. In each case, the instructor could be matched with attendees.

“What about me?”

If you don’t own a fitness center, you might be thinking this discussion isn’t much help.

Use what you can after adjusting it for your business. Can you take any idea here and make it work for you?

Finally, take a hard look at the thought process itself (“Who are my customers, what are their unique needs”) and see what you can come up with for your business. Even if you’ve done this five, ten or fifteen years back, I suggest doing it again. You might find yourself in new markets, focusing on a particular type of customer that you’d previously ignored, etc.

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Business Ethics Business model Customer relationships customer retention Recurring Revenue Small Business Strategy

The New Math aka Economics 101

A friend told me recently that his family filed a homeowner’s insurance claim for slightly under $600.

After filing no claims in over 20 years of keeping their insurance with this company, this was the 3rd claim in 5 years.

During that 5 years, their annual insurance rate went from $1300 a year to $4000.

After the 3rd claim was paid, their insurance was cancelled without warning.

Do the math

Somewhere, a bad piece of software or a misguided underwriter just killed a 20+ year customer relationship.

That aside, let’s do the math.

Even if a family had no other insurance with this agent/company (highly unusual, I suspect), they’ve been worth well over $20,000 to this insurance company.

In this case, ALL their insurance is at that company. Think they’ll move it? If they fired this customer over a $600 claim against a $4000 per year policy, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the family move their coverage elsewhere. All of it.

At $4000 a year, the recent claim is nothing.

Yet because they didn’t really look at the math the right way, they just discarded a customer with 20 years of loyalty over $600.

If this family keeps their home another ten years, that’s a loss of $40,000 in premium revenue, not counting the other insurance policies they have.

Who does the math at *your* business?

Are you throwing away thousands of dollars by not paying attention to the Lifetime Customer Value generated by recurring revenue?

Please do the math.

 

 

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attitude Business model Competition Creativity Customer relationships customer retention Entrepreneurs Improvement Influence Marketing planning Positioning Restaurants Retail service Small Business strategic planning Strategy

Be indispensable

Sossusvlei Landscape
Are you indispensable to your customers?

The question that you have to ask yourself – daily, rather than once – is “What can you do to make yourself indispensable to your customers?”

A few examples to get the juices flowing:

  • If you sell coffee, how can you help your customers wade through the coffee buzzword maze and enjoy *better* coffee? What’s fair trade? Is it really fair trade, or is it just another marketing buzzword?
  • If you sell cars, how can you help your customers make better decisions, get more from their investment, and save time and money on repairs? How can you help them remember to perform the regular maintenance that allows them to depend on their vehicle regardless of the weather?
  • If you repair lawn mowers, how can you help your customers get a better looking yard, without injury, cheaper, safer and faster? How can you save them time and money on upkeep and repairs? How can you help them remember to change their oil, sharpen their blades and make their mower perform better and longer?
  • If you help people deal with (and prevent) legal problems, how can you help your customers avoid rushing into your office with a problem that has to be solved NOW? Ounce of prevention, pound of cure kinda stuff. Be their lawyer every day or every week, just a little vs. being their rescue squad every 5 years.
  • If you treat people’s injuries and diseases, how can you help them be safer at home and at work? How can you help them by advising them on nutrition and other preventative care, without becoming a nag? Knowing that these things require lifestyle / habit changes, how can you help your customers/patients make that happen? How can you help your patients make sense of the constant flow of health, nutrition and prescription information placed in front of them each day? How can you help them prevent injuries and disease, rather than waiting until they occur so you can treat them?
  • If you sell building materials to professional contractors, how can you help them find more business so they can buy more building materials? Can you help keep them informed about industry promos, tax incentives and other things to help them be more competitive?
  • If you sell advertising (better sit down), how can you help your clients track the effectiveness of all their advertising? How can you help them calculate the ROI on the advertising? Not guesswork, but real numbers based on the foot/internet traffic, revenue and profit each advertising source generates. Who is indispensable, the ad salesperson or the ad salesperson who is also a partner in profitability?
  • If you sell computers, ANSWER YOUR PHONE. Those people on the other end of the phone who don’t know as much as you’ve forgotten about a computer are the ones with all the money. They’d like to give it to you, if only you’ll help them. Yes, to be indispensable in the computer business, quite often it’s as simple as answering your phone and helping them with their problem without being arrogant. In fact, just answering your phone will be a huge first step.

If I didn’t mention the business you’re in, use these things as inspiration to do what makes your business indispensable to your customers. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that because your specific type of business wasn’t mentioned, it won’t work for you. Likewise, if you’re thinking to yourself that “my business is different, it won’t work for me”, you’re right. If you don’t do these things – they won’t work for you.

The goal in doing all of these things is to position yourself and your business as the only place that your clients will consider doing business. Arrive at that position by doing this kind of stuff and both your checkbook and your customers will thank you.

Take care of them like no one else is willing to.

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attitude Automation Business Resources coaching Competition Entrepreneurs Improvement Leadership Management Motivation Personal development planning Restaurants Retail Sales Scouting Small Business strategic planning Strategy systems

Being Prepared

One of the things Scoutmasters teach their Scouts is the Scout motto – “Be Prepared.”

We don’t stand around saying those words all that much (or ever, really).

When I ask a Scout what it means to them, I get a lot of different answers. I talk about it with the boys because I’m curious what it means to them – which tells me where they are preparedness-wise.

Depending on their age and their seriousness when I ask the question, I hear answers that include things like:

  • knowing how to select the right gear for a campout,
  • having the right fishing lures,
  • making sure that bacon is on the menu (not kidding),
  • being in good enough shape for the upcoming hike,
  • making sure the car is full of gas and has proper levels of other fluids/air and so on,
  • having charged batteries in the camera,
  • having a sharpened pocket knife,
  • knowing how to tie a rescue knot, or
  • having the proper gear to safely canoe or kayak a river/stream.

What it ultimately means to me is being prepared for what life/business serves up, whether it’s a class V rapid, an unexpected flat tire during a snowstorm in a remote area, that five figure invoice that your “customer” still hasn’t paid, the new box store down the street, mention of your business in the Wall Street Journal, by Scoble and on TechCrunch, or stumbling upon an idea that changes your life and/or business.

Embarrassment? No.

To someone who has a job, I ask them what they would do if they lost their job today? Are they honing a new or enhanced skill so that they can react quickly to a downturn in what they’ve done for the past 20 years? Do they have a network of people in their current (or desired) line of work that could help them identify opportunities?

To someone who has a business, I might ask them what would happen if the building housing their business burned down, or if their biggest customer stopped buying from them, or if they suddenly got 100 new customers tomorrow.

I don’t ask these questions to embarrass employees or business owners any more than I ask them to embarrass a Scout when asking them what would happen if their friend cut his hand or lost his water bottle on a week-long hike. I ask them so they’ll think about their level of preparedness.

Being prepared isn’t just about having a poncho in case it rains, having backups offsite, and having a marketing plan that never stops finding new customers for you. It’s also about being mentally prepared to deal with what happens next.

Be prepared, not only to take a punch, but to make big leaps when opportunities present themselves.

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attitude Competition Entrepreneurs Motivation Personal development planning Small Business strategic planning Strategy

Risk, Breakthroughs and the Torrent of Change

Today’s guest post from Tom Asacker continues a theme from yesterday.

Taking yourself seriously…or as Tom writes doing what risks everything.

Read Tom’s post about risking it all.

How are you risking it all?

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attitude Competition Creativity Entrepreneurs Improvement Motivation Personal development planning Small Business strategic planning Strategy The Slight Edge

Take yourself seriously first

Private moment. In public.
Creative Commons License photo credit: skedonk

Today’s guest post from AJ Leon is about getting serious about your ideas and goals.

Dan Kennedy talks about “massive action” more times than you can imagine. That’s all about getting serious.

Do you take yourself seriously? If not, how can you expect anyone else to?