Monthly Archive for February, 2009

Don’t let your small business “go dark” this year

Even when things are going really well, we small business owners are not always the best we can be when it comes to marketing strategy and funding. The primary reasons are pretty simple, but no less unfortunate:

- We often don’t understand the holistic approach to successful marketing
- We typically aren’t trained at developing marketing strategies
- We too often don’t employ – or contract with – marketing professionals
- We don’t establish a marketing budget that is strategic, targeted and adequate

Sadly, if our marketing acumen and financial commitment could use some improvement when the economy is rocking and rolling, marketing is also too often the first budget casualty when the economy falls off the table. But this is sooo counter-intuitive when you think about it. Yes, revenue may be off and cash is tight, but the worst thing that can happen to you when things slow down is to drop off the radar of customers and prospects. In the broadcast business this is called “going dark.”

So next time you’re tempted to cut or discontinue any element of your marketing strategy, if you ask yourself this question, you’ll be able to make a better decision: “If I can’t afford this program, can I afford to “go dark” with the prospects it was designed to target?”

In these challenging times, we should all take a hard look at all of the money we’re spending on marketing and advertising to make sure it fits with our current business goals and economic realities. But as my grandmother would have said, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.” That’s a grandmother’s way of saying, “Don’t go dark.”

Recently, Stephanie Hobbs joined me on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, and we talked about small business marketing in the current economic conditions. Stephanie is Vice President of Communications for the Yellow Pages Association (yellowpages.com). Take a few minutes to listen to what this expert has to say, and I think you’ll pick up a few tips on how to not “go dark.” And as always, please leave your own marketing wisdom or other comment.

What small business can learn from Google

WWGD? No, this isn’t some new twist on a religious question. Or is it?

This acronym stands for “What Would Google Do?” which is the title of the new book by renowned blogging pioneer and 21st century media expert, Jeff Jarvis. In his book, Jeff doesn’t go so far as to say Google’s influence is tantamount to a religious movement, but almost.

Unlike Yahoo, Google isn’t a portal, as Jeff explains in the book; it’s a network. He reminds us of what we really already know but may have forgotten: Google doesn’t want to control the content you seek; it just wants to help you find what you seek and manage it once you’ve found it. And he also reminds us that the best content in the world is useless unless it can be found, and that’s where Google comes in.

One of the many things small business owners can learn from Google is how to manage mistakes in the creative process. In his book, Jeff reveals how Google manages its creative process through beta offerings, where users contribute to what is announced up-front as a work in progress. The creative and development process is composed of many decisions resulting in smaller mistakes leading to micro-adjustments, the discovery of which is contributed to significantly by Google users, who are its customers.

Imagine that: customer-influenced product development. There’s a 21st century success strategy that entrepreneurs at all levels of the marketplace would do well to employ.

But with all of its success, which on many levels is unprecedented, everything Google touches doesn’t turn to gold. Recently, Google abandoned unsuccessful campaigns that sold ads on radio and in newspapers. One of the things Jeff likes about Google is that when something doesn’t work out, it’s often right out there for all to see. So if we pay attention, you and I can benefit by discovering what not to do.

Recently, Jeff Jarvis (buzzmachine.com) was a guest on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show. He talked about what makes Google unique and what we can learn from where this company has been and where it plans to go, including the potential of mobile platforms. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to listen to what this expert has to say. And be sure to leave your own comments.

Personal Horizons for small business owners

A horizon is such a useful thing; it helps you have perspective.

There is more than one kind, you know: The old standby that meets the sky as you drive down the road or sail on the water; in aviation, there is an artificial horizon that pilots use as one of their gauges to keep the aircraft in the desired attitude when they are “in the soup” and can’t see horizon #1; and then there is your Personal Horizon.

Your Personal Horizon is your perspective on future prospects; where you’re headed in your personal and professional life. Do you see a bright horizon with clearly defined features, or do you see a dark and hazy horizon and are not sure of what’s ahead?

When you’re on the ground if you want a better view, you have to physically move higher in the hopes of gaining a better perspective. But you can improve your Personal Horizon by moving to higher ground in your life through education, new goals, a new attitude – you get the picture.

If you don’t like what you see on your Personal Horizon, what are you going to do about it? I’m not saying personal change is easy, but you have to admit, it is convenient. You don’t have to physically go anywhere to change your Personal Horizon. You can do it right now, right where you are. Here are three Personal Horizon thoughts from three big thinkers:

Renaissance man, Michaelangelo: “The danger is not that you will reach too high and fall short, but rather that you will aim too low and achieve it.”

Twentieth century entrepreneur extraordinaire, Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t, either way you’re correct.”

And finally, this from English philosopher and author, James Allen: “You will become as great as your dominant aspiration… If you cherish a vision, a lofty ideal in your heart, you will realize it.”

Allow your “aspirations” to become “dominant”. Give your “vision” a chance to work by acquiring a new Personal Horizon. Where do you look for your Personal Horizon? James Allen says it’s in your heart.

Now go aim a little higher.

Small business opportunities - and tractors

The great 20th century entrepreneur, Henry Ford, made a trip to Europe during WWI to try to encourage the combatants to end the war. Before long he was back in the U.S. rather frustrated and disappointed in the results of his mission. But he later made the following observation, “I didn’t get much peace, but I found out that Russia is going to be a great market for tractors.”

By this time in his life, Mr. Ford probably wasn’t surprised when the pursuit of one project (which failed) produced information, if not opportunity, for another. For ourselves, it’s not possible to know where or when the next revelation, discovery or new opportunity is going to occur. For example:

- The next phone call could provide valuable information for our business.
- The next person we meet could become the newest member of our company’s brain trust.
- The next expert’s words we hear or read could trigger some clearer view into a previously murky perspective.
- The next annoying problem we face could turn into a life changing opportunity.

I think Mr. Ford would tell us that none of this happens if we don’t engage the world at least half-way. We must make ourselves available to the possibilities.

Remember, when opportunity knocks it’s often disguised as something else. And if we’re not available when it comes calling, opportunity doesn’t leave a message, it moves on.

How’s YOUR tractor business these days?

The power of small business trade secrets

Forgive me, because I know you’ve heard me say this many times before, but we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. We’re in the 21st century, and things here are different. And nowhere is this truth more evident than in the world of intellectual property (IP). You know: patents, trademarks, service marks, licensing, copyrights and trade secrets.

One of the cool things about 21st century IP is how easy it is for small businesses to create and leverage it. Unfortunately, too many small business owners get the idea that they don’t own intellectual property because they don’t have a big brand trademark like Nike’s swoosh, or they don’t have patented inventions, like Research In Motion’s Blackberry. But that’s like thinking you can’t cook a delicious steak on the grill at home because you don’t own a restaurant.

The truth is small businesses - including yours - create intellectual property all the time, just not always the flashy kind. One of the best examples of small business IP is a trade secret. This is anything that you’ve developed or discovered that gives your business a competitive advantage. It could be a delivery system or an inventory management scheme. It could be as simple as a finely-tuned payroll-to-revenue ratio, or as elaborate as a customer relationship management program that you’ve created for the way you want to track sales development and customer service.

Either way, it was created by you, your business is leveraging it and, therefore, it’s an asset that belongs to you - which means you should recognize that it has value and should take the necessary steps to protect it.

Recently, I talked about how to value and protect your trade secrets on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, with Brain Trust member and intellectual property attorney, David Dawsey. David’s firm is Gallagher and Dawsey, based in Columbus, Ohio. I think you will benefit by taking a few minutes to listen to what this expert has to say. And be sure to leave your thoughts on this topic.

How dear are your small business mistakes?

Mistakes are worth contemplating, and yet we often don’t. The reason, I think, is because it hurts a little to focus on them. It’s not fun to see ourselves that way. Mistakes are definitely not ego food.

But there is something very important to remember about mistakes: Not focusing on them can ultimately be more painful.

Sixteenth century French Renaissance writer, Michel de Montaigne, wrote, “Those things are dearest to us that have cost us the most.” Think he’s talking about mistakes? I do. Do you think of your mistakes as “dear”?

If you don’t contemplate your mistakes and learn from them, you are subjecting yourself to double jeopardy. Because today you will not only make the new mistakes we are all destined to make as we go through life, but you’re also doomed to repeat the old ones you should have learned from yesterday.

Whether your mistakes are valuable or expensive depends on whether you contemplate and learn from them, or deny them and keep on paying for them. I think paying for a mistake once is “dear” enough, don’t you?




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