Saturday, December 27, 2008

A little unabashed promotion

I know you're not supposed to directly promote your business through your blog, or so goes the conventional blog wisdom. But, I've never been much for conventional wisdom so below please find a promo video that I did for Cazbah a couple years ago.

Everything in it is still very (extremely) relevant today so, I thought what-the-heck. I want people to see it so here it is!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Getting to know Karen G. Mills, Director (to-be) of the Small Business Administration

President elect Obama announced that he has appointed Karen Gordon Mills to take the top spot at the Small Business Administration (SBA) last week. The fact that he did so a month ahead of schedule is being heralded as a ‘good sign’ because it shows that he is serious about solving the economic problems we are currently facing. Well of course he is. That’s what he signed up for. Here’s hoping that he doesn’t lose his resolve as it relates to small businesses.

I had never heard of Karen Mills and I think that I’m going to be hearing quite a bit more about her so, I did some research. I’m genuinely interested in ‘where’ people come from because I believe you can tell a lot about a person by looking at their history. I did a little digging. Here’s what I found.

Karen Dale Gordon was born in 1950 to Ellen R. and Melvin J. Gordon. She is married to Barry Gordon (an attorney), who graduated in ’72 from Bowdoin College in Biochemistry and Government, got his PhD in biology from Syracuse University (“Cuse – Go Orange”), and got his JD from Columbia Law School in ’79. He is currently the president of Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. They have 3 sons, William, Henry and George. Karen did her undergraduate work at Harvard in Economics in 1975 and got her MBA from Harvard Business School in 1977.

Karen’s father Melvin J. Gordon (88) has been the Chairman of the Board of Tootsie Roll Industries Inc. since 1962 and serves as its Chief Executive officer. Mr. Gordon serves as the President of HDI Investment Corp., a (Gordon) family investment company. He has been a Director of Tootsie Roll Industries Inc. since 1952. He serves as a Director of HDI Investment Corp.

Karen’s mother Ellen R. Gordon (76) has been President of Tootsie Roll Industries Inc. since 1978 and serves as Chief Operating Officer. Her father William Rubin originally bought the company from its founder, Austrian immigrant Leo Hirschfeld, in 1935. Mrs. Gordon is also a Vice President and Director of HDI Investment Corp. Prior to her election as President, Mrs. Gordon served as Senior Vice President of Tootsie Roll. Mrs. Gordon has been a director of Tootsie Roll Industries Inc. since 1969 and is a Member of the Executive Committee. Mrs. Gordon has been a Director of Unilever - Bestfoods since 1991.

Tootsie Roll Industries is a top 1000 company and has been very good to the Gordons. Mr. & Mrs., have a reported and combined annual income + options of more than 8.4MM.

So, Karen comes from money (or candy), a lot of it. Is it any surprise then that she went into the Venture Capital industry? She has served as President of MMP Group, a private equity investor and advisor since 1993. From 1999 to 2007 she was a founding partner and a managing director of Solera Capital, a late-stage, 'controlling interest' VC firm with $250MM+ under management. I’m still waiting to see what The Funded has to say about Solera Capital, if anything.

"Our operating philosophy is to invest about $15–20 million in each deal and take a controlling interest," notes Mills." We like to be the capital that comes in to grow the business to the next level — build the next plant, make an acquisition, or expand the brand."

I am not a huge advocate of Venture Capitalist (VC) and believe that there are good reasons why they are oft referred to as ‘Vulture’ Capitalists. Having said that, I realize that they play a role and that not all of them are money grubbing thieves. The fact that some of them are makes what The Funded does such an incredible service to entrepreneurs and business owners! We’ll talk more about this manifestation of the Social-ness of the web another day.

The media is reporting that Karen has taken a leadership role in the growth of more than 20 companies in the consumer products, food, distribution, textile and industrial component sectors since the mid 1980s. That’s less than 1 (one) deal per year. Not exactly aggressive lending by any stretch of the imagination.

I am very hopeful that Karen can step up and reform a government agency that is in desperate need of leadership. That she can see her way clear to developing conscientious funding policy, developing flexible and easy to access funding for the majority of small businesses, not the sweetheart deals that she is used to working with in her current life

At this point, the jury is still out on Karen Mills!

Laws of Good Content Continued...

Law #3 -- Significance:
Understand this… There is a very basic law that governs information on the Internet. This law, as viewed from the recipient’s standpoint, is simply this: Information should be free! Break this law at your own risk.

Actually, there’s a bit more to it than that. You must first establish Trust with your audience before you can start asking them to pay for anything. Trust is a byproduct of Value and value is in the eye of the beholder.

If your audience gives your information a positive valuation, you are well on your way to establishing trust. The common currency used for this exchange on the Internet is obviously information. A key variable in this Value + Trust = Customer Loyalty equation is the significance of the information provided.

By significance I do not mean quantity. What I am talking about is the quality of your information. If you can communicate your special value to your audience in a single page, so much the better.

Perhaps you have a one-page matrix, graph or spreadsheet that would be useful to your audience. Great! Let them have it! Don’t be bashful about letting them know this information is theirs to use for FREE! There is a natural inclination (an innate tendency really) within all of us to “return the favor.” By giving away significant information (content) you are tapping into this most basic of all human instincts. Your audience will reciprocate!

Law #4 -- Frequently Updated:
Your audience wants to know that you’re on-top-of-your-game! After all, they are coming to your web site or opting-in to your ezine to find out more about you, your information or your company, with the eventual and very real possibility of spending some of their hard-earned money on your products and services!

An easy way of demonstrating to your customers that you are indeed on top of your game is by updating your web content frequently. Having done so, you should send an e-message to your opt-in subscribers that “new” information is available on They will do the rest.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve visited web sites only to bail out immediately and go to the next one in line when I read this telltale sign at the bottom of the page: “Last Updated -- October 2001.” See Ya! If it took me 8 seconds to get to this point, great, if not I go away with the feeling that I’ve wasted my time.

If you are using such an update notice on any one of the pages in your web site, make sure that you keep it current. If you have no intention or plan to keep your web pages current and updated, remove the update notice immediately. This is essentially preventive maintenance, which is better than the damage control of trying to win-back lost visitors to your web site.

Another dead give-away is a web site visitor counter that hasn’t seen much action in a while! Counters do little to gain visitors confidence and trust—especially when they note that, “YOU are visitor # 246 since Oct 2000.”

Final Notes On Good Content
A couple final notes on good Content: First, it is important to strike a reasonable balance between your own company information, news and events and relevant industry related information. So many ezines and web sites on the Net today are nothing more than glorified sales literature. Don’t get caught in this trap. Give your prospects and customers excellent content, always. If you don’t, be assured that your competitors will.

Second, maintaining good content on your Internet Assets (website, ezine, blog, etc.) doesn’t happen by itself. It requires a concerted effort. As I mentioned earlier, you get back what you put out. Fortunately there are numerous resources at your immediate disposal to assist you with this challenge. The rewards for developing and maintaining a good content plan are great and are waiting for you, just around the corner.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Good content -- 4 Laws

Over the next couple posts I am going to describe the 4 laws of good content. I originally published this information over 5 years ago. As with many things online it's as relevant today as it ever was.

Your content must first and foremost adhere to The 4 Laws of Good Content. For our purposes in this article, your content is defined as the information that you provide to your community members, prospects and customers. In the final analysis it must be:

Law #1 -- Relevant
If the information that you are providing to someone who has taken the time to seek you out is not meaningful to them, or more importantly does not address their need(s), they will leave. The oft-quoted figure is 8 seconds. You have 8 seconds to capture someone’s attention and interest or they’re gone, never to return! Pretty harsh for sure, but that’s life on the Internet! Frankly, your lucky if you get 8 seconds. People (your potential customers) recognize full well that there is an endless supply of information out there, waiting for them to find it.

This aspect of good content has most to do with effectively targeting your prospects and customers. It’s very important that when you set out to do business on the Internet, you do so with a very clear picture of who your “ideal” customers are. Miss this point, develop a muddled focus on your web site, in your ezine or other e-communications, and your potential for doing business successfully on the Internet is pretty close to “0.”

Worse yet is the situation where web surfers end up at a site that appears to have no bearing whatsoever on what they were searching for originally. This type of online duping goes on all the time and has become a serious annoyance. Don’t even consider doing such a thing in an effort to get more web traffic!

Law #2 – Current
Your information may very well be what your prospects and customers are looking for. However, if it’s outdated it’s as good as yesterday’s news! No one wants to read a newspaper from several days or weeks ago. In their quest for information, your prospects are looking for cutting edge data that will answer their questions and solve their problems. This certainly puts the burden of responsibility squarely on your shoulders.

This point speaks to a basic misconception that exists with many small business people about the Internet. The misconception is that somehow Internet Marketing requires less effort than traditional marketing. To this I respond with what I tell everyone who thinks there is some get-rich-quick formula that they haven't yet discovered online: “You get back what you put out!” This is a simple truth that applies to everything in life including Internet Marketing. Another way to put this is “You get what you pay for.”

Fear not! Information is what the Internet is all about. There is literally an unlimited supply of information available online that you can provide to your interested eyeballs (prospects and customers). This will probably require you to change your view about using OPI -- Other Peoples Information, and generally force you to take a less parochial view of the manner in which you service your customers' need for information.

The upshot of this part of the discussion is that in gaining access to “good” content online, you will be presented with the opportunity to think more broadly about your business model. Actually, forced to think more broadly accurately describes the situation that you face. Again I say, fear not! This is opportunity knocking! Openly sharing information is one of the foundational principles that Social Media is based on.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Fix your Cruddy Credit Scores

Let’s face it, one of the most challenging parts about starting and running a small business is money. I should probably put that differently and say finding the money to start and run your small business. As with all Entrepreneurs who started from scratch, I too made somthin’ out-o-nothin’ and had to figure out how to get it to cash-flow. I also had to wrack my brain to come up with creative financial solutions in order to pay the bills and make sure I (actually my family) could eat in the meantime.

Since I don’t have a Sugar Mama, a Rich Uncle or an inheritance burning a hole in my pocket I was left with my 401K, HELOC (home equity line of credit), credit cards, and high interest PE (private equity) .

(Editorial comment, we’re beyond all that now, Sweet!)

For those of you uninitiated readers who have never (or not yet) ventured down the entrepreneurial path, prepare yourselves because this is what it take. If you want to win big, you have to risk big. It’s the name of the game. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you (ala all of those purveyors of the get-rich-quick...)! Simply put, you get out what you put in. That’s all there is to it.

I know as well as anyone that it’s easy to let bills slip and get behind or off track with your payments to a point where you are getting calls from creditors and your credit rating is being negatively affected. This begins a vicious cycle that deteriorates very quickly into financial chaos if not properly addressed. The first and best piece of advice that I can give anyone who is facing this predicament is to communicate with your creditors. Don’t blow them off. They don’t like it anymore than you do. Besides, you owe them the money and the debt you have with them is your legal obligation.

That said, and I can’t say this conclusively, most creditors are interested in working with you to resolve your debt through some payment plan. There are about a gazillion different organizations out there willing to settle your debt with creditors “FOR PENNIES ON THE DOLLAR…” yada, yada, yada. Proceed with caution! Frankly, you may not even need them unless you are facing severe circumstances beyond your control.

But that’s not what this post is really about. What I really want to share with you is how to clean up your credit score after it has taken a hit due to the afore mentioned scenario. eCreditAttorney is the only organization that you need to consult with to correct your low credit scores. These guys really work! I know. Read the testimonials page to get the gist of the type of improvements that they have achieved. I can say with conviction that they are every bit as good as what you see in the testimonials on their site. Just click on the banner below.

The 3 credit bureaus, Trans Union, Equifax and Experian report your credit how they receive it from your creditors and it will remain uncontested, whether right or wrong, until you do something about it. There are laws that govern how your credit is reported. The information has to be substantiated and they (credit bureaus) must be able to prove that the information is correct and accurate. As eCreditAttorney puts it, “As the need for proper legal enforcement of credit rights has increased the eCreditAttorney team has emerged as a destination for consumers all over the country to pursue financial freedom.”

One final note: This process takes time. Just like so many other things in life that are “worth-it, ” it takes hard work, mostly on their part. So, if you are in this predicament (below average or low credit scores) I suggest that you spend the very reasonable fee and get them working for you immediately!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Give 'em What They Want!

In developing your website, it is important to keep in mind that your web site is essentially a document, or series of documents, that your web visitors will be reading. Understand that this is the expectation that they are coming to your website with as well.

Recent readability studies prove that the eye is immediately attracted to text, not pictures or graphics on a web site. This may be bad news for website designers out there who have a penchant for developing very elaborate Flash animations, but it’s good news for you. It saves you the time, trouble and expense of developing such things.

Creativity Killed the Customer
Recently, a web designer (former creative director for an advertising agency) colleague called me up excited to show me a website that he had just developed. When I got to his office and saw his latest masterpiece I was a little concerned. He had indeed developed a magnificent dynamic, database driven web site. Unfortunately at his customer’s request he had also developed a 2 minute long Flash animation. This was the first thing a web visitor encountered when they went to this particular company’s homepage.

I stood there watching this spectacular high-bandwidth display of color and motion, while my friend basked in the glow of his creation. My only thought was how absolutely annoying this was going to be for just about every single web visitor that came to this particular website, with the possible exception of his mom.

I did my best to express my concern to my friend however, it was to no avail. In fact I just went and checked on this “spectaculon” and it’s still there. Fortunately my friend had the good sense to put a “skip-intro” button on the animation. Hopefully this company’s web visitors will find it quickly. Besides being a time waster a flash introduction immediately alienates those web visitors still using low-speed connections, and that’s still quite a few people in the US today!

Words, words, words...
Words are the most powerful communication tool known to mankind and the Internet is the great facilitator of this tool. In his somewhat eclectic, yet enlightened book, The Medium Is the Massage (Bantam Books, 1965), Marshall McLuhan stated, “Western history was shaped…by the introduction of the phonetic alphabet, a medium that depends solely on the eye for comprehension…” “Its use fostered and encouraged the habit of perceiving all environment in visual and spatial terms.” In the words of Yvonne DiVita, book publisher, author and Social Media expert, “Words count! The Right Words Count Double!”

All of the rules of good typography still apply. In this case, the more things change, the more they stay the same. (A quick search on “rules of typography” will produce several sources of information.) Keep this in mind as you develop your web content. As an example, bolded text and subtitles command more attention than pictures or fancy graphics and animations. Other things to think about are, spacing, font size and style… Don’t ignore a large demographic that is flocking to the Internet—baby boomers. Remember that they don’t like small script and they want information up front, top down!

2 Points on Good Web Content
As you develop your web content there are a couple other basic concepts for you to keep in mind. First, Be Brief! In most cases online -- Less Is More. Don’t say in two paragraphs what you can say in ten words. Second, the contents of your web site should reflect the real and measurable benefits that you provide to your customers. In other words, your copy should be about the unique value you provide to your customers and NOT about your marketing ego. The more you can build on your unique qualities, and their benefit to your customers, the better.

Several final notes on the development of your web site: It is a known fact that 70% of Internet users will NOT re-visit a graphically rich web site. This most definitely supports the point made earlier that web visitors are coming to a website with an expectation of gathering information, i.e.: reviewing a document. 59% of online shoppers want MORE product information not less. In addition, web site visitors demand speed and gratification. 40% of Internet users will not tolerate web pages that do not load quickly. The eight-second rule still applies – “Capture my interest in eight seconds or I’m gone!”

If you Twitter -- tweet -- don't "TWACK!"

I heard an interesting interview with Chris Brogan on John Jantsch’s DuctTape Marketing podcast yesterday afternoon. Chris, who is recognized as an expert in the social media space, was being interviewed about his use of Twitter, the micro-blogging utility that has become so popular of late.

Among the various and sundry ideas both men tossed around was a comment about how they loath getting blatant sales pitches from people who they don’t know who are following them. Neither of them had a good term, or any term for that matter, to describe this Twitter equivalent to junk mail or SPAM.

Well divine light has shown down upon me. Ladies and gentlemen, I have that term! And the term is, “TWACK.” Now I realize that sounds kind of goofy but, follow my logic. As with all words within the twitter lexicon, it begins with the letters T W, as in Twittonary (Twitter Dictionary). This is a cool tool you can use to look up the meaning of anything and everything on twitter. “TWACK” also sounds like Elmer Fudd in hot pursuit of Bugs Bunny. “Be vewy, vewy quiet. I’m twack-ing a wabbit! Huhuhuhuhu…” LOL

Most birds chirp and tweet, the later being the term used to describe a micro-post (140 characters or less) by anyone on twitter. These chirps and tweets are melodious sounds that are pleasing to the ear. Ducks, by comparison, quack which to anyone but a duck hunter is not a melodious or pleasing sound. A “Quack” is also a derogatory term used to describe a doctor of ill repute or perhaps a shyster. The word “Quack” is rather abrasive and obnoxious, which is in keeping with the previous comment. The term “TWACK” is also rather abrupt and harsh, when you say it. Try it out. It also sounds similar to “whack,” which is to hit or strike something with a resounding blow.

This gets to the real meaning of the term. Twitter is a great utility for communicating (one to many) short bursts of information. The content on Twitter ranges from the typical “what I am doing right now,” to quasi chatting. As with all communications mediums there are those people who choose to throw a blatant sales pitch at everyone in the hopes of attracting an ignorant few with their message. Chris Brogan referred to this as marketing with a Bull Horn. As I alluded to above, this is abrasive and obnoxious and it also flies directly in the face of what Social Media is all about.

TWACKING then, is the equivalent to Twitter SPAMMING, and is the quickest way to become un-followed, or UF’d, by pretty much everyone. The bottom line is, nobody wants to hear your sales pitch without getting to know you first. Chris had a more colorful description of this when he said (and I paraphrase), “don’t try to stick your tongue in my mouth when we haven’t even shaken hands yet.” You get the point!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

AIDA -- A Timeless Love Story?

This content continues to get a ton of traffic on our website so I figured I would include it here for your viewing pleasure. Don’t get me wrong, this is extremely relevant information related to the development of effective communications with your potential customers. Everything in the following post is as relevant today in the Social Marketing space as it is in the dirt-world. As you will see, it’s all about communication…

Unlike the Broadway musical of the same name, the AIDA that I am referring to is not the story of timeless love between a Nubian princess and an Egyptian prince, but rather the 4 “timeless” fundamental elements of effective marketing communications.

Your audience is barraged by thousands of different marketing messages and communication inputs every day of their lives. This is only going to get worse now that we have embarked on yet another communications revolution on the web (Social Media). Ensuring that your message is seen and read will mean the difference between success and failure.

Keep in mind that “It’s Not About You!” Get your ego out of it. Your headline, in the case of an ad, or subject line, in the case of an email communication, or blog post, should be a bold and compelling benefit statement that “hits the reader where they live.” It should address some aspect of their need, that you are responding to, or the problem that you are solving. Make it as personal as you possibly can!

A good starting point is to make sure you know who you are communicating with or who you would like to communicate your message to. Remember that Search engines feed on blog posts and all other forms of online communications (web pages, twitter feeds, etc). Make sure that your content will draw the right crowd.

Most email management programs on the market today will allow you to personalize your message with the recipient’s name in the subject line, which has been shown to be highly effective in getting email messages noticed and read. By the way, non-spam email is still the highest rate of conversion on the web today.

Ask yourself, “what can I say (truthfully) that will grab my audience’s attention, and get them to read my entire communication?” Look around in your own world. What is it about the messages that you look at or read that gets your attention? Follow suite with your communications. An effective way of establishing interest is to ask a question, or several questions, that give your audience a reason to continue reading.

Capturing interest always has to do with the establishment of value in your readers mind. Don’t forget that. Don’t be overly concerned with the length of your content. It’s a known fact that long copy sells. This assumes that the copy is good, of course, and that you continue to focus and to build on the unique value that you are offering to your audience.

This is the set up for the grand finale… It’s very important that you get this part right. If you don’t, all your efforts up to this point will be for naught. Don’t underestimate the power of this element. It has been said that the purpose of advertising is to evoke an emotional response. Similarly, your task is to reach out and generate DESIRE (an emotion) with your audience. Getting a bit more technical, you want to stimulate the amygdalae (brain tonsils), which have been shown in research to perform a primary role in the processing of memory and emotional reactions.

Sound challenging, like brain surgery? It’s not. There are a couple techniques that are surefire ways of establishing desire. The first involves telling your readership, in bold and vivid detail, what they will get when they purchase your product or service, in the case of an advertisement. I.e., what’s in it for them. As I said earlier, don’t be overly concerned about the length of your copy.

The second technique involves the use of testimonials, which are statements of praise and testimony from existing customers. This alleviates the “Guinea Pig” factor -- the concern that they are the first to buy or use your product or service. Additionally, your future customers would like to know that they are in good company with other folk within their peer group. Testimonials are a great way to achieve this.

In a word, this is where you CLOSE the deal. Be specific and keep it simple. Tell your reader exactly what to do and then make it easy for them to follow your instructions. If you have done everything correctly up to this point, this should be very straightforward.

Something as simple as “Lean More,” “Free Trial Offer,” “Contact Us Now,” or “Order Now,” is generally all that’s required. Make sure that you have a simple to use form or template for your reader to fill out and submit, or the whole thing falls apart!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How Cool is Social Media?

Now that’s a great question! Check this out… I was on my way home this evening and I was listening to my car radio, only because I don’t have the “All Blues, All the Time,” Satellite radio hooked up yet. And I heard the same-old stock report about local big businesses in our back yard. You know, the ones they always talk about. I guess because they’re publically traded or something like that. As if that gives them some kind of status or prestige... Frankly, from where I’m sitting, that counts against them these days!

Anyway, I heard the same old BS about the pathetic results that all of them were putting up, but one company in particular, Eastman Kodak, and it made me wonder. I wondered how those people who work for Kodak must feel knowing the company’s contributions to their 401Ks have been frozen for at least the next year, due largely to the mismanagement of the company. Or, the fact that executives can expect no raises (not that they deserve any) for at least the next year.

Hmm, how about this? Time to look for another job maybe? Ooh bummer. Without good workers they can’t innovate or produce good products. Without innovation or good products, they have no customers. Without customers they have no… yeah, you get the picture (place pun here)!

Now, I’ve been in the Rochester, NY area for the better part of 20 years. I remember when Kodak’s share price was right around $100 per share (it’s below $6.50 per share these days). For anyone who’s been around here for a while they know that’s been a while. I even owned some Kodak stock. I also remember when George Fisher, former CEO cashed in his options for some sick amount of money ($100MM+ comes to mind) just before it went below $100/share, and he got away with it! As if he didn’t know it was going to tank… He’s the same guy who went to Congress and whined because the Japanese were kicking his ass on his home turf. They told him to go pound salt, by the way. Exactly what they should tell the American Auto makers…

So anyway, with that in my mind I jumped on Twitter tonight. Just for kicks, I wrote the following tweet: “Kodak CMO I know you're out there... Share price <$6.50. Wazup? I still remember $98! Consumer products... what a bitch.” Within minutes, Jeff Hayzlett, Chief Business Development Officer (CBDO or some such thing) along with one of his Mar Com lackeys was following me.

I have to say, back in the day, you couldn’t get a guy like that’s attention without fireworks. And now, using a totally free social networking utility, available to anyone in the world on the web, I not only got his attention but, I’m sure, caused him some consternation along the way as well. That friends, is the power of Social Media. I’m sure he’ll be delighted to know that this blog post is available to a worldwide audience too.

Final note: Jeff hasn’t contacted me directly yet to make me an offer to buy my company (hush money), not that I would sell it to him, but it’s still early. I’ll be sure to keep you posted. In the meantime, here’s hoping that Kodak can get their collective stuff together and put it in one sock, and make a useful product out of it.

Oh, and Jeff, we’d prefer if you didn’t make it in China. Maybe that’s why you guys are so geeked about the WalMart ads. Hmmm.

CCI -- Customer Composite Index

If you are going to succeed on the web, be it as a manufacturer, retailer, dealer / distributor, consultant, coach or whatever, it is essential that you identify, as specifically as you possibly can, who your prospective customers are. This is the foundation upon which Target Marketing is based.

An easy way to tackle this problem is through the development of a Customer Composite Index (CCI). Your CCI is a detailed list of characteristics that very specifically and succinctly defines your customers. Ask yourself the following questions: who, what, where, when, how and why.

An example of some of these types of questions are; who are our customers, what do they do, where do they live, (in the case of consumer products)? Or, where are they located (in the case of businesses)? Does their location have any significance to the product or service I’m offering? Does how they live have any bearing? What business are they in – product, service, specialty, commodity? What’s their annual income or revenue? How many employees do they have?

Additionally, are there customer personality or lifestyle traits that are important to your business? And, who are their customers? This is especially important, because if you understand their customer’s needs, you truly know what makes them tick! What are their interests and hobbies? I am sure you can come up with many more relevant questions that will help you to define your CCI. The point is, if you know who your customers are, by virtue of your CCI, then you know what you are looking for in a new customer.

If you have trouble with this exercise, visit an existing customer (or five) and ask them these questions. This gives you the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. 1) You will meet with them and get some face-time, for a very legitimate reason. Which means you can continue to build your relationship. 2) In your questioning, you will inevitably communicate your concern through your interest in understanding your customer better. You never know, you may just uncover an unmet need or two that you can convert into a sale!

“No” – The Most Critical Word in your Vocabulary
Get comfortable with saying “No.” It is the most important word in your small business vocabulary. One of the predominant issues that small businesses face, due largely to the absence of a CCI, is their inability to say “No” to a prospect or customer when they should.

Here’s how it works; they (small business) have a sales opportunity but it’s really not what they do. But, the customers or prospect trusts them, perhaps due to a pre-existing relationship. And that prospect or customer really needs whatever “it” is. Rather than saying, “I’m sorry, we don’t do that. But, I’d be happy to help you find someone who does.” Or, “I know exactly who to point you to, let me make a phone call...” The small business decides that there’s an opportunity to make a quick buck, and “it” really isn’t that far-afield…

Well, I think you probably know the rest of the story (thank you Paul Harvey). The small business takes the job and ends up scrambling (i.e., jumping through hoops) to get it done. They don’t really understand what they are doing so the quality isn’t there. They won’t deliver on time and they spent too much money building or delivering “it.”

Net, net…
Net result? A big looser! Not only did they alienate everyone within their own their small business, they lost money on the job, (they would know this if they kept track of such things). And most egregious of all, they broke the trust of a customer who may very well tell all her friends and neighbors about what a pathetic job the small business did her.

I wish I could say this doesn’t happen very often but I can pretty much guarantee if you are reading this you have either been involved in such a debacle, been on the receiveing end or, you know of one first hand. Solution? Do what you do best and forget the rest! Your customers, your employees and your banker will love you for it!

There is Nothing New Under the Sun -- Solomon

The best way to begin the discussion of Success on the Internet is with a brief historical review about what exactly the Internet is and why it came into being in the first place. This may seem like an exercise in futility to some but, I assure you knowing the origins of “the Web” will help in understanding the dynamics of all of the Social Media dialogue that’s flying at us these days.

Often times the basic premises upon which the Internet was established are overlooked by companies and individuals seeking their fortunes online. This is unfortunate and often leads to disappointment with their less than stellar results. A brief review of e-History will serve you well as you approach the Internet as a means to your success.

Going Back to Where it All Began
In 1962 (That’s 46 years ago. I know this because I was born in ’62.) Dr. J.C.R. Licklider, who at the time was working at MIT as a research scientist on a project funded and sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), came up with the concept, what he referred to as the Inter-Galactic Network. You see, the defense research work of DARPA at that time involved several desperately and remotely located research facilities, located at several different major universities, MIT and Stanford being among them, as well as several military installations across the country.

Communication And Collaboration
Dr. Licklider (his friends called him “Lick” for short) realized that to effectively work together on co-development projects the research teams located in these various centers needed a way to effectively communicate with each other. Ultimately, they needed to develop a means by which they could collaborate on various aspects of their research activities. Is this starting to sound familiar based on where you see the web going these days?

Where the Internet Came From
Dr. Licklider is most often credited as the man with the original vision of the Internet. In two of his most influential papers, Man-Computer Symbiosis (PDF document), which he wrote in 1960, and The Computer as a Communications Device (PDF document), which was co-authored with Robert Taylor in 1968, he describes his vision of computing, which at the time of his writing was a mere concept, a good idea at best. He also goes into some detail about the purpose of the Internet, and why it was built.

Remarkably, “Lick” also predicted the future by stating that by the year 2000 millions of people would be online, connected by a global network. Isn’t it interesting that Dr. Licklider was absolutely correct?! He also set the table for the types of Social Media interaction that we as users of the “Inter Galactic Network” are having these days.

The Future - Now
As a futurist, he foretold of modern computing conveniences like the graphical point and click interface, digital libraries, e-commerce, online banking, and technology independent software that exists on a network (the web) and migrates to wherever it’s needed. He was also known as the “Johnny Appleseed" of computing. This is a well-deserved nickname for a man who planted the seeds of computing, and in many respects got the digital age started.

My point in this post is this, the Internet was, is and shall ever more be a communications medium designed to bring “people” together, regardless of whether we call it Social Media or Corn Flakes. No doubt about it, we have more ways to communicate with desperately located people than ever before. As I said earlier, that’s not anything new. Speaking personally, I'm having a direct (albeit cryptic = 140 characters at a time) conversation with any number of people from around the globe on Twitter as I write this. Now that is COOL!

I wish I could have met Dr. Licklider but, unfortunately he has since passed away. I consider myself a futurist too and would love to compare notes with him. There are many other contributors to the development of the web that deserve mention but, that’s for another day and another post.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Book Report - New Year's Resolution

Not sure if we’re into the New Year’s resolution territory yet but here goes; if you make one New Year’s Resolution this coming year, be resolved to read more.

I’m not talking about newspapers (Do people still read those?), blog posts or twitter feeds here. I’m talking about books. Pick up a book that interests you and read it! And then do it again and again...

I’ve set a personal goal of 2 books per month for the year. We’ll see how I do. My plan is to review the books here and give some insights into their content and application.

Here’s my first review.

The E Myth -- Revisited, by Michael E. Gerber
Why Most Small Businesses Fail and What to Do About It (The dog-eared book to the right is my own personal copy from 1995).

The subhead says it all! As you know if you’ve read my other posts, I’m all about overcoming the small business epidemic (a term that I coined several years ago), which gets right to the point that “most” small businesses don’t work, or fail.

Needless to say this book speaks to me. Actually, it's been speaking to me for years and was instrumental in the development, structure and continuing success of my own business, Cazbah.

The term E Myth relates directly to the Myth that; I am an Entrepreneur, therefore I know how to start, run, manage and succeed at a small business. The data regarding small business failures in this country say otherwise. In fact, most small businesses are started by what Gerber refers to as “technicians,” people that make things or do things and start a business because they think they have a better way of making or doing things. I’ve always related the difference between leaders and managers to this point, namely – managers do things right, leaders do the right things. So simple, so relevant…

One of the characteristic pinch points for entrepreneurs is that they can never seem to get ahead. Gerber refers to this as working in the business, rather than working on the business. They are so busy making stuff that they never raise their eyes to the horizon to see what’s coming or where they are going. Like walking across a field looking at your feet. You may never get to the other side...

There are many, many small businesses (most actually) that I’ve interacted with over the years that are in a perpetual vicious cycle. They go out to their markets sell something, bring it back to the shop and build it, go out sell something, bring it back build it..(repeat). Their financial results porpoise as a result. Picture the fish (o.k., mammal), above the water - below the water - above the water - below the water, etc… It never ends and they never really grow or get ahead. They just exist like this, in some cases from one generation to the next.

Gerber offers some simple and actionable advice on how to correct the E Myth through the development of the Franchise Prototype. This is a business model that adopts the attributes of a franchise business. He goes to great lengths to give credit where it’s due (Ray Crock – McDonalds). Here’s a little tidbit to give this point some credence. “Regular” small businesses fail at a rate of 70% – 80%. Franchises succeed at a rate of 75%. Get the point? As an aside, for the entrepreneur considering a business venture, being a franchisee may represent your best choice!

Most small businesses lack structure and any repeatable process documentation, the attribute that truly defines the franchise business model. Gerber contends that the strategic systemization of your small business will reap huge returns and resolve the E Myth… and he’s right!

If you are 1) an Entrepreneur, 2) business owner or manager, 3) considering becoming an Entrepreneur, 4) may someday be in a position of business management, 5) are currently employed or, 6) are considering employment… (you get the point): You owe it to yourself to read this book!

Michael Gerber’s E Myth is what I consider to be one of the foundational texts that every small business should have on its book shelves and have in practice! Buy it and read it.

eStrategy... 3 Simple Steps

Practically speaking, a large percentage of a small group is a ‘bigger’ and more meaningful number, than a small percentage of a large group. Gaining this large percentage of a highly targeted group of customers, or market segment -- commonly referred to as market share – should be the primary objective of any business. The success of your eStrategy is defined by your ability to:

1. Find this highly targeted group of customers

2. Communicate with them

3. Get them to make a purchase

The Great Equalizer
In the past, this level of marketing focus was restricted to those companies that had the research, advertising, and direct response budgets to support it. Not anymore! No longer do you have to be a Fortune 500 company with a multimillion-dollar budget to market effectively to a highly targeted group of customers and prospects. In this case, the Internet is the great equalizer. The major direct response marketing agencies realize this fact. They are currently busying themselves with the conversion of their traditional services to online services.

The More You Know…
The more you know about your customers and the better you understand them, the more likely you are to find them online. The important task is getting them to find you. There are several methods that you can use to do this. One in particular involves both traditional search optimization and pay-per-click, or search engine marketing (online advertising).

Communicating with your customers and prospects is a fairly straightforward proposition. There are numerous highly targeted online methods including eZines, e-Pubs, Communities (Social Media -- the list seems to be infinite these days) and eMail marketing campaigns, to name a few, which you can use to reach out to your market segment.

It’s all about focus!
If you do the appropriate amount of work on the ‘front-end’ – finding your customers and communicating with them -- the ‘back-end’ – getting them to buy your products or services -- will take care of itself. Ultimately, if you focus your eStrategy towards the specific identification of your target customers and prospects, communicating your UVP (unique value proposition) to them in response to their needs, they will buy your products or services!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Focus, Focus, Focus

When you boil it all down, success online is dramatically affected by one thing! Recently, a colleague and I were talking about success. Since he has given me good advice and friendly council over the years, he had my rapt attention while sharing pearls of wisdom from his 40+ year technology and business career.

My friend asked me, “Do you know what the secret to success is?” Almost without letting him get the words out I said, “No What?” After a dramatic pause he said, “One thing.” Remarkably, my friend’s appearance began to change to that of Jack Palance (Curly), from his Oscar winning performance in the 1991 classic City Slickers . I waited with bated breath for him to share this life-changing secret.

Nothing happened. He wasn’t saying anything. We were just looking at each other in silence, until finally I asked; “And that ’One Thing’ would be..?” A wry smile crept across his face. “I have no idea,” he said. “That’s for you to figure out. Whatever you decide, do it with all your heart and do it better than anyone else!” I got the point. My friend had reinforced a principal so basic and so true.

The principal of One Thing -- Focus, is especially relevant when applied to the Internet. A singular focus is fundamental to answering the question; “What’s it going to take to do business on the Internet?” The numerous elements, tactics really, that go into the development of an effective e-Strategy for your small business are important, without question. But, more important than any combination of any element or tactic is ..........FOCUS!

Who Needs a Unique Value Proposition Anyway?

(The importance of your differences cannot be overstated.)

The short answer to this question is, you do! If you want to do more business, more effectively on the Internet, then you definitely need a Unique Value Proposition.

The term Unique Value Proposition can be best understood by breaking it down into its parts.

Unique refers to the characteristics of your product or service offering that distinguish you from as many of your competitors as possible. Think about it. What is it about what you do that sets you apart? Take the time to really understand how you are different from your competition. Then, write it down!

Value is the intrinsic worth of your offering to your customers. In other words, it defines what your customers get for their money. If you’re having difficulty with this one, ask your customers to describe how your service or product has helped them. Take this input and translate it into several concise statements.

Webster defines Proposition as; a statement containing only logical constants and having a fixed truth or value. That pretty much sums it up! It is your factual and truthful proposal to your customer. Being able to qualify and quantify your claims is very important and makes your Unique Value Proposition that much stronger!

The Internet is a tremendous resource for gaining a better understanding for the UVP concept. There are numerous examples that you can find online through a search using any search engine, on the terms ‘Unique Value Proposition.’ Using the results of your search as a model, construct your own Unique Value Proposition.

Documenting your Unique Value Proposition and making it easy to understand is very important. As with goals, the elements of your Unique Value Proposition are not real until you have written them down. Once you have done so, place them somewhere that you are sure to see them. Reading them on a regular basis is an excellent test of their accuracy. Ultimately, your customer will determine how well you have captured your Unique Value.

As an aid in this process, ask yourself this question: “What is it about what we do that makes us different (better) and why should anybody care?” Combining your honest answer to this question with some objectivity and customer input will get you far along the path to identifying and documenting your Unique Value Proposition.

Use mind mapping to capture your Unique Value Proposition. Write your product or service features in the center of separate pieces of paper. Once you have documented the features in this way, draw a circle around each one. Then, write the benefits that your customers receive from that feature in smaller circles, surrounding the center. Connect the circles with lines, like spokes in a wheel. When finished, evaluate them all to ensure that they accurately represent your offering. Compile each feature map page into one sentence. Then, combine the sentences into an itemized list or paragraph. Congratulations, you have just created your Unique Value Proposition.

As indicated before, your customer will be the ultimate judge of the accuracy of your UVP. Take the time to test your newfound focus by sending it to some of your better, longer term customers to gain their insights. Their input will provide you with the finer points that will allow you to refine and sharpen your Unique Value Proposition even further.

All The Business!


I wrote this article in 2005 for Business Strategies Magazine. It is as relevant today as it was then. Note in particular the emphasis on Trust in the last paragraph as it relates to the success you will achieve on the web!

Most small businesses are of the opinion that their website is like a billboard on the Information Superhighway. Unlike traditional billboards, having a website without promoting it effectively is an exercise in futility (It truly amazes me how many small business owners and managers still think this way).

If the majority of businesses that have had limited or no success on the Internet were honest with themselves they would acknowledge that they have no clear direction when it comes to the Internet. This manifests itself in their lack of focus and their inability to state, in no uncertain terms, why they are online.

Why Are You Online? The development of a very clear objective statement for your online activities is important because it will help you shape what is it that you intend to do specifically and why you are online?

Branding is a term that you hear most often in relation to big product names like Coca Cola, General Motors, Microsoft, and so on. Not so coincidentally, these are some of the most well known brand names in existence today. These companies recognize that the perception that exists in their customer’s minds, which is essentially the brand message, is a valuable commodity. It is so valuable that often times it is considered as the most valuable asset of any company. For example, the Microsoft brand, which is one of the most well recognized brands in the world, is worth 65 Billion dollars, according to Interbrand, the brand valuation company.

You may be thinking, how does that affect me and my start-up or small business? As follows: Those giant companies with their mega brand valuations didn’t start out as giants. They began life as somebody’s vision or dream in a basement or garage or in a back room somewhere. Over time they were able to define a very specific category or market segment and then dominate it. As a result, their brands came to be identified with that category or segment. The meaning of their brand names evolved accordingly and became associated with a positive image in the mind of the customer.

In their book, The Fall of Advertising and The Rise of PR, Al and Laura Ries submit that, “The best way to establish a brand is to create a new category...This is a revolutionary concept in the sense that it goes against conventional thinking.” They go on to say that, “Creating a brand and defending a brand are two major functions of a marketing program. PR creates the brand. Advertising defends the brand.” (Editorial comment: I really believe that Al & Laura kicked off the Social Media emphasis on the web, without even knowing it...)

Public Relations builds the brand. There have been more cases of brand building failures that were directly related to the misuse of advertising for this purpose, than most advertising and marketing people care to remember. It is incumbent upon you, the small businessperson, not to make the same mistakes .

In establishing your brand, it is important to follow the path of success mapped out by other successful brands many of which you most certainly are familiar with because they are household names. After defining your particular category you need to work diligently to associate your brand name with that category striving to establish that positive impression that will set you apart. The Internet represents the ideal opportunity through which to do this.

The Internet was created to enable communication, cooperation and collaboration. Public relations strives to do the same thing. Most people view PR (articles in newspapers & magazines, the news, editorial columns, etc) as the advice of a “trusted friend. You have the opportunity to establish this same level of trust using the Internet as a primary communications medium with your customers and prospects. Be cautious about the contents of your messages however. Try pushing a blatant advertising message through this medium and you will quickly loose that trust.

Everything about the design of your Web site should represent your unique position within your category and support the positive impression that you are striving to establish in the minds of your customers. In addition, the information that you make available to your Web site visitors needs to build on the philosophy that you are developing a trusting relationship with your customers and prospects.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

To Thine Own Self Be True...

I wrote the following article over 4 years ago and it was published in Business Strategies Magazine. It came up recently in a search result and I re-read it and pondered how, the more things change the more they stay the same. It really speaks to what the "Social Medium" is all about. Read and enjoy!

Like most great principles, integrity gets a lot of air time, but it is seldom a true way of life, especially on the Internet. How people love and value a man or woman of integrity. Integrity in everything he or she does, in relationships, in business. Unfortunately, this often seems to be the exception rather than the rule. We have tuned ourselves to distrust what we read and see because frankly, so much of it is spin or an all-out lie. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is…

When we hear the word integrity it often congers up an image of a stern and sober school master whose Quaker or Puritan upbringing shows through his innate inability to smile, joke or be happy. But this isn’t what I’m talking about when I say integrity. I am referring to that strength of character that shuns expediency and avoids the temptation to cut corners or shade the truth, no matter what.

Integrity is the key to success in any endeavor. Integrity is honesty and the truth, period. Shakespeare captured the essence of this in Hamlet; “And this above all, to thine own self be true. And it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” If we are honest, truly honest, with ourselves we cannot be dishonest with anyone. If our motto is integrity, we always have what we need. We sleep soundly resting in the assurance that we do not have to worry about what we have said or done.

Translating this principle to your efforts on the Internet is critical as you develop the contents of your website and online communications. Remember that the Internet is the quintessential and ubiquitous communications medium. By design it is everywhere, all the time. The communities that define the Internet, people (all of us) coming together around common interests, have unprecedented access to information, yours and everyone else’s. Therefore, make sure what you publish is honest and true. Simple, right?

The simple truth of the matter is that all of life is governed by the principle of cause and effect. We have all heard this law repeated in various forms from scriptural to cultural; You reap what you sow - For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction – What comes around goes around. Failure to heed this law will result in certain disappointment. This is especially true of the information that you publish and communicate, or the business that you do, on the Internet.

There is a term “Internet Time,” that gets bandied about in relation to the speed with which change occurs or things happen online. I have always correlated this term, or concept, to another very familiar concept, dog years, the 7:1 ratio of the age of a dog to a human. In other words, the dog ages 7 times faster than a human. The correlation is a simple one: Change occurs and things happen 7 times faster on the Internet than they do in the dirt-world.

At a purely pragmatic level, honesty is the best policy. Frankly, it is the only policy online. With the law of cause and effect and the concept of Internet Time in mind, imagine if you will the potential impact of putting information out there that isn’t absolutely true, or doing business online that is not honest according to our previous definition. Understand that this dishonest effort will most certainly bring those “chickens home to roost.” When and how significant the unfailing blow will be, nobody can tell. However, you can be sure that “the other shoe will drop.”

By comparison lets look at the upside potential of this example. If the information that you publish and the business that you conduct online is honest and true, it stands to reason that the reward that you will receive will come to you 7 times faster, right? Absolutely! Not only that but just as the punishment always seems to be greater than the crime, the rewards for our Integrity will be out of all proportion to our honest efforts. It is our choice.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

So what is the Small Business epidemic anyway?

Here goes my inaugural blog post (I know, it’s about time): There are two economies out there. The one we hear about all the time, every single day, from every conceivable direction. The economy that includes names like Paulson, Bernanke, CitiCorp, Wall Street, GM, Ford, Chrysler, UAW, Congress, etc. And then, there’s the one that we hear virtually nothing about, at least not at a national media level. Obviously, I am referring to “Big” (scoff) Business on the one hand and on the other hand of course I am referring to small business which, interestingly enough, represents the majority of our economy on multiple levels. We’ll get to what that means in just a moment (actually, I’ll grind on that forever).

The sub-heading on this blog really says it all. I am personally and professionally committed to overcoming the small business epidemic. We’ll get to the definition of what exactly that means in just a bit as well. Everyone needs goals, although most people don’t have them, and this happens to be one of mine. I refer to this statement of ostentatiousness, overcoming the small business epidemic, as my BHAG (beehag) or Big Hairy Audacious Goal. The term BHAG was originally posited by James Collins and Jerry Porras in their 1996 article entitled Building Your Company's Vision. They also incorporated it into their book, Built To Last - Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, a great read for sure.

I realize that permanently changing the face of small business in America may seem somewhat brash, but hey, that’s who I am. A manager (small business owner) once referred to me as Brash so, I looked it up and came up with the following definition; aggressively self assertive. Yep, that’s me. Now, I’m not one to apologize for who I am and I certainly don’t mean any offense to anyone but, I will not hold-back, kowtow or bend to conventional wisdom in this medium, or any other. Therefore, I will be forthright and truthful about what I know, what I see and what I hear in support of small businesses or in criticism of them in order to accomplish this goal.

No question about it, I will have plenty to keep me busy for my entire career. I doubt seriously that I will ever accomplish this goal based on conversations that I have had with thousands of entrepreneurs and small business owners over the last ten years or so.

Overcoming the Small Business Epidemic will require a radical new way of thinking about business and here’s why. As I mentioned earlier, small businesses in this country, not big businesses, represent the majority of our economy on several levels. According to the SBA – Small Business Administration small businesses:

1. Represent 99.7 percent of all employer firms!
2. Employ about half of all private sector employees
3. Make up 97.3 percent of all identified exporters…
3. Have generated 60 to 80 percent of net new jobs annually over the last decade
4. Create more than half of all non-farm private gross domestic product (GDP)

Here’s the gist of it; these small businesses that have such a marked and profound impact on the US economy, employing the majority of our workforce, are failing at an alarming rate! More statistics from the SBA: In 2007 there were an estimated 637,100 new businesses started. Approximately 560,300 small businesses were closed with approximately 28,322 ending in bankruptcy. Do the math… And here’s the epidemic part. It’s been this way for a very long time and it’s getting worse!

Here’s something else. Again according to the SBA a full one third of new businesses close their doors within the first two years. Fifty six percent close their doors after just four years and sixty nine percent go out of business by year number seven.

In summary, our economy is dependant to a very large and growing extent on small businesses, more than half of whom never make it to their five year anniversary. This as I’ve said is a problem of epidemic proportion and demands attention. I will endeavor in this blog to provide information, tips, methodologies, concepts and plans, resources, contact information, success stories and critical thinking in an effort to overcome the small business epidemic in America. I thank you in advance for your interest and consideration and welcome your comments – It’s going to be an interesting trip!