Monthly Archive for December, 2008

Small business and quantum leap service

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, business owners could count their competitors on the fingers of one hand; and they were all neighbors. You could deliver a product or service to a customer, take their money, say “thank you” and, assuming you performed on-time and as promised, could expect them to come right back to you when they needed to make their next purchase.

Well, wasn’t that another fun trip down memory lane?

Here in the 21st century, with consumers and businesses seeming to have more purchasing options – combining traditional and on-line – for whatever they need or want than the numbers in the value of pi, how does a small business hope to compete in the global marketplace?

Well, it turns out that meeting this challenge is not only easy, but can actually be accomplished with little or no budget; and here’s the best news: No one can do it better and more consistently than a small business. I’m talking about delivering service that is so outrageous that it’s a quantum leap above the kind in that long-ago time mentioned earlier and is at a level that blows the doors off of the classic, “value-added service.”

Two of my Brain Trust members, Chip Bell and John Patterson, world-class customer care experts and authors of Customer Loyalty Guaranteed, call this new service level “Imaginative Service.” And your imagination shouldn’t stop until, as they say, you’ve “taken your customer’s breath away.” Here’s an example and it happened to me:

I went to a local supermarket and picked something up at the fish counter. I asked that person where something unrelated to her work was in the store. Not only did she tell me which aisle it was on; but she walked out of her department and, virtually taking me by the hand, led me to the product I asked about. Now, regular service was having what I wanted in stock; value-added service was this lady knowing something that was out of her area. But what this employee did for me was outrageous, breath-taking, imaginative service. Guess where I buy all of my groceries?

Chip and John joined me on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, recently to talk about this topic, which I think is one of the keys to survival for small businesses over the next 12 months. And let me repeat: It costs virtually nothing. Take a few minutes to listen to our conversation – you won’t be disappointed. And be sure to leave a comment and especially an example of breath-taking service you’ve performed or received.

Small business and the right growth strategy

“A man’s gotta know his limitations.” This is the wisdom of Inspector Harry Callahan, the detective played by Clint Eastwood in the “Dirty Harry” movies. Small business owners can learn a lot from Harry.

A friend of mine says, “if you’re not green and growing, you’re ripe and rotten.” He means that every business is headed in some direction, either up or down. For small businesses, moving up involves a lot of challenges because we often don’t have enough critical mass – capital, equipment, organizational talent, distribution, etc. – to take the next growth step on our own. So how do we still grow in the face of this limitation reality? Two ways:

1. Grow organically, which means one tiny step at a time by being a frugal manager, limiting debt and leaving as much of the profits in the business as possible, in the form of retained earnings.

2. Create strategic alliances, which could include financial, organizational or market partners who have something you need, such as capital, talent, contacts or a distribution network.

The first one is the more conservative option, but an excellent one. The second option is more aggressive and requires more sophistication on many levels, but can produce many advantages. Actually, most small businesses that find long-term success do so by blending both of these strategies to varying degrees over the life of the company.

Recently I interviewed two different experts on this topic: Gary Harpst is a management expert who helps companies develop growth strategies that work for them and author of “Six Disciplines Execution Revolution”, and Dave Morse, who is CEO of Location Based Technologies and PocketFinder- whose business model requires them to develop national and international alliances. Unless you like being ripe and rotten, take a few minutes to listen to my conversation with these guys on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show. And be sure to leave a comment or a question.
For Gary Harpst:
For Dave Morse:

The 2009 Small Business Attitude

Most people who know me will tell you that I exhibit the classic traits of an entrepreneur: pathological optimist, Pollyanna playing the “glad game,” glass half-full, take no prisoners, etc., etc. Perhaps I was born with all of that; but there is something else that I have acquired in my decades in the marketplace, many of them managing a small business, just like yours: Discretion is the better part of valor.

We’re currently in a very challenging economic period. I use the word “challenging” rather than the technical term, “recession,” because the impact of our economic condition is different for each small business. Some are really hurting, and some are doing okay. But every small business owner is justified in being concerned about the next 12 months.

So, it’s my nature to say, “Damn the torpedoes – full speed ahead.” But that’s not the attitude I’m encouraging right now. My advice is to assume what I call “The 2009 Small Business Attitude,” which is when you look in the mirror every morning, stand up straight and say to yourself, “I’m going to win by surviving.”

I’ll let you define what surviving means for your organization. But I believe that those small businesses that are still in business on January 1, 2010, can say they had a good year. If you can do better than that, congratulations.

Frankly, when we look back on 2009, I think we will determine that it wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be. But right now, as we anticipate the next “shoe” to drop – like one or two of the Big 3 auto makers going bankrupt – many organizations, large and small, as well as most consumers, are girding their loins in preparation for a tough year. And that kind of fear in the marketplace is what causes a recession to last a little longer than it should.

If you feel like taking a big risk in 2009, remember that there is a very fine line that separates the opportunity at the leading edge and the cash-eating effects of the bleeding edge. Make sure your capital picture can support a mistake or a surprise.

Recently, on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked about some of the operating fundamentals that we must focus on in order to accomplish The Small Business Attitude. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to listen and leave a comment. I’ll see you on the radio and on the Internet.

Small business and the heretics among us

Have you ever had someone – like an employee – say something to you that, at the time, sounded so off-the-wall that you dismissed the comment and mentally put the person in the “wacko” category? But then, after a while – a few days, weeks or months – things happened that made what that person said actually start to look more like wisdom than wacko?

If the scenario above has happened to you, turns out, you were in the company of a heretic. Isn’t it interesting how often today’s heretic becomes tomorrow’s prophet?

According to my Brain Trust member, Art Kleiner, who wrote the book on this topic, “The Age of Heretics,” a heretic is someone who is a true believer in what you’re doing, has discovered something they feel should be noted even if the news isn’t welcomed, and who has the courage of his or her convictions to speak truth to power. Every small business owner or manager should pray that they not only have heretics working for them, including the courage thing, but, more importantly, that they – the power – are smart enough to listen to and seriously consider what could be prophecy.

Recently I talked with Art Kleiner about this topic on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show. If you agree with my “prayer” idea above, and if you listen to my conversation with Art, I think you’ll actually be able to benefit from your next close encounter of the heretical kind and, perhaps, even begin fostering some heretical thinking in your organization.

Small business and a fatal attraction

Competition is arguably the most important dynamic in a free market economy. Indeed, two of the most valuable products that are alloyed in the competitive crucible are the pressure to innovate and the quest for excellence.

But sometimes focusing on the competition can become a bad thing.

In the classic, “Winning through Intimidation,” Robert Ringer writes about how a lawyer begins negotiations on your behalf by saying to the other lawyer, “He wants this.” Later, if your attorney says, “We want this,” on his way to demanding, “I want this,” Ringer says at that point, your lawyer is focusing more on beating the other lawyer than serving your best interests.

I think this is what happens to a lot of businesses, large and small. We get so focused on beating the competition that we start to think that that is our purpose, rather than serving the customer. I call this the “Customer? What Customers? Syndrome.” CWCS is a fatal condition.

Someone who has a lot to say about this is Jim Champy, one of the world’s foremost experts on management performance and author of the new book, “Outsmart.” Recently Jim joined me on my small business radio program to talk about how to maintain a healthy balance between watching the competition and staying focused on customers. Don’t miss the valuable perspectives of this important voice. And be sure to leave a comment.

Small business and the global warming debate

Is global warming real? I don’t know, and there are so many different views on this by learned scientists that it’s difficult to know for sure. The most recent report I’ve seen said that the past two years of cooling has reversed the warming trend of the past 30 years.

Is there climate change? Absolutely. Is this a bad thing? Maybe, maybe not. Remember that global warming actually began 10,000 years ago when Kentucky was under 5,000 feet of ice, and there were mammoth footprints, not carbon footprints. I think reasonable people agree that human beings have benefited from this warming trend over the past 10 millennia.

Is human behavior having an adverse impact on the environment? Probably. If so, we should try to do something about that. But here is a point I haven’t heard anyone else bring up: How do we know that human efforts to reverse global warming won’t go too far and actually trigger global cooling? I don’t know about you, but I prefer to be warm.

In the policy debate, the enviro-zealots want to regulate carbon as a commodity, possibly list carbon dioxide, one-half of the photosynthesis equation, as a dangerous gas, and legislate reductions of carbon emissions back to levels prior to 1990. But U.S. GDP was just $6 trillion in 1990, while in 2008 it will be more than double that at approximately $13 trillion. Any carbon reduction plan has to combine alternative energy sources, conservation and carbon reduction over a period of time that allows for an orderly transition that doesn’t make American businesses uncompetitive against countries like China and India, which have no interest in curtailing their carbon emissions.

Recently on my small business radio program I discussed global warming and related topics with Dr. David Deming. He is a noted scientific expert and an adjunct scholar with the National Center for Policy Analysis, and I think you’ll learn a lot from what he had to say about this issue. Thanks for listening and also for your comments.

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