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Monthly Archive for June, 2009

How to be a failure at networking

There are two terms floating around these days that I’ve gone on record as thinking they’re not useful. One is “social media,” which is intended to describe online communities, but is actually the technology that allows us to do that. As you may know, I prefer intuitive terms, which is why I am on a one-man crusade, when speaking of the business application, to replace social media with online customer communities.

The other term is “social networking.” There are two problems with this term: 1) It’s redundant; and 2) It is typically used as an alternative to online networking. Humans are a gregarious species and millennia before we could go online we were networking.

Sadly, as true as the last sentence is, too many humans still don’t get it when it comes to how to behave in face-to-face networking situations. I wonder if online networking has harmed our in-person manners. Here are a couple of the most egregious mistakes people make:

1. Not understanding that networking is not ALL about you. As my friend and galactic guru on networking, Ivan Misner, has taught the world, “Givers gain.” I also like this passage from Ecclesiastes: “Cast your bread upon the water and in time it will come back to you.” Put someone else first and prepare to be swamped by the goodwill - and business - that will follow.

2. How you behave around people who can refer you to prospects is directly connected to how motivated they will be to refer you. If you’re habitually late or are intermittently reliable, that’s how to guarantee no referrals. As Confucius said over 2,000 years ago about how to live a successful life, “Be in reality what you appear to be.”

Recently, on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I visited with Ivan Misner, founder of Business Network International (BNI), and we talked about the Top 10 things to do if you want to make sure you are a failure at networking. We had a lot of fun with this list, and I think you’ll enjoy the lessons and the energy. Take a few minutes to listen, and be sure to leave your own addition to Ivan’s list.

May the social media Force be with you

Earth, Stardate 8506 (20th century)
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, businesses controlled all new information about existing products and services, as well as information concerning anticipated innovations. Such information was only available through the business’ representatives. Consequently, customers learned what they needed to know from salespeople, who traveled far and wide throughout this great land dispensing information to, and collecting sales from, grateful and beholden customers.

If one had observed such a meeting, the customer would be seen nodding his head in wonderment as the salesperson, sitting right in front of him, revealed the virtual magic that was his product.

In this land, the Force – control of information and timing of its release – was with businesses.

Earth, Stardate 10906 (21st century)
On present-day planet Earth, some things haven’t changed: Customers still buy from businesses that still produce information about products and services, plus news about anticipated innovations. But if you now observe a meeting between a customer and a business’ salesperson, you will see the customer explaining what she knows about the business’ products and services, while the salesperson nods his head in wonderment at the fact that this person – as if by magic – knows as much about what he sells as he does. The salesperson, in this era, is the one who is grateful and beholden if, and when the customer gives him her business.

In the 21st century, the Force – access to information and control of its use – is with the customer. It began with remote controls and progressed through video recorders, TiVo, DVR, the Internet, on-demand everything and, finally, what is commonly known as social media.

Social media, or, as I prefer for business purposes – building online customer communities – is the Light Saber of 21st century customers, whether business or consumer. Armed with this power, customers not only have access to virtually all the information they need to make a better decision, but they also control all of the sub-space chatter about any given company or product, as it is being evaluated in the online dimension.

Alas, too many small businesses are still operating a Stardate 8506 strategy in Stardate 10906. The predominant emotion identified when observing one of these companies is frustration that they have diminishing control over relationships with customers and the future of their businesses. Destruction will come to those who don’t learn that the only way to end this frustration and find their way to the current age is to embrace the online community reality and join the conversations that are being conducted about their industry as well as their business.

The good news is that this “joining” is not only relatively easy, but also can be done without direct cost. The great resource commitment for a business is in determining how it wants to engage with – and be engaged by – online communities.

Recently, on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked about how to enter the Light side of the Force and operate in the current age of online communities with two Jedi Masters. Neal Creighton is with Ratepoint.com and Adam Boyden is with Conduit.com. Both are experts at establishing, growing and serving online communities. Take a few minutes to listen to what these two Masters of the Force have to say, and be sure to leave a comment.

For Neal Creighton:
For Adam Boyden:

How fear gave small business a competitive advantage

Over 30 years ago a survey was published that revealed the top ten things that are most important to employees. The findings were shocking: The most important thing was how employees felt about their manager and how much their work and ideas were valued by the company.

Stop the presses! You mean to tell me that the most important thing to an employee is not compensation? Not money?

And here’s more shocking news: In every subsequent survey I’ve seen in the intervening years, money has never even been in the top three most important things for an employee. Until now.

That’s right. A brand new survey, conducted by my friend and Brain Trust member, Chuck Martin, revealed that perhaps for the first time ever, compensation topped the list of things that are most important. But the big news is why. I think the answer to that question is fear.

The sudden collapse of the global economy beginning in Q4 2007 has created more fear than I’ve seen in my long career. And as if that weren’t enough, the way top corporate management and politicians have reacted – and over-reacted – has poured fuel onto the fear fire.

When a manager or employee is afraid to propose a new idea or take a risk for fear of losing his or her job, creativity and innovation are the victims. Without creativity there can be no optimism. And without optimism the spirit is wounded, trust dissolves and relationships break down.

In this kind of environment – where relationships up and down the organization chart are questioned – the historically reported feelings for remaining in an organization give way to survival. If I can’t find fulfillment in how my boss appreciates me, the only other source of employment fulfillment is money.

As the economy recovers, fear will abate. But in the meantime, there is opportunity for small businesses with this change in attitudes. There is still plenty for small businesses to be fearful of, but we are less likely to have fearful work environments than big companies. Perhaps that’s the reason Chuck’s recent survey also revealed that 71% of respondents would rather work for a small or medium sized company than a large organization.

Consequently, there has never been a better time for small businesses to recruit top talent. And as you interview those candidates, make sure you demonstrate that creativity and relationships are alive and well in your small business and that fear is not part of your management style or business plan.

Recently, on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked with Chuck Martin, CEO of NFI Research about the impact of his research. Take a few minutes to listen to what Chuck and I had to say. And be sure to leave your comments.

Small business, social media and the Tour de France

The 96th Tour de France will be staged soon to determine the greatest cyclist of the year. Competitive cycling is a lot like being a small business owner: You have to sprint when necessary and grind out mountains of endurance all the other times.

Regularly, a Tour competitor will “break away” into the lead and leave the peloton (the biggest bunch of riders) behind. Whereupon one of the TV commentators will say, “Someone better chase him down,” so he doesn’t get too far ahead and glide across the finish line unchallenged. But the “chasing down” only happens once it’s clear that the break-away has the “legs” and isn’t going to fizzle and fade back into the pack. To make the move too quickly would waste energy resources on someone else’s ill-advised dash.

Whenever something is new, trendy and/or unproven in the marketplace, there is often a lot of hype about it as the next greatest thing, not unlike the early stage of a break-away. Wise small business owners are not easily pulled into chasing down these fads because the return on investment has not been proven. The social media craze has been one such example – until now.

Reasonable people can disagree as to the relative value of social media sites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, just to name a few. And I’m on record saying that in a few years, we won’t talk much about these brands. But we will still do what these sites have helped create: build online communities; and for a business: build online customer communities – a term I prefer to social media.

So, if you’re one of the many skeptics of the value of social media, your reaction may have been to not participate. But it’s now time to realize that this guy has legs. Let me say this one more time: Social media may be a craze, but it’s not a fad.

Even if you don’t yet have a social media strategy, even if you don’t know how to create value for your company, even if you still think it’s just silly, you must now think like a member of that Tour de France peloton: You can’t let the break-away leaders get too far ahead, or you’ll lose sight of them.

Start chasing down the leaders by opening a Twitter account and spend only a few minutes there once a day; post your profile on Facebook and learn how the inhabitants of this universe behave; find someone, or a company, whose values and ideas you like and subscribe to – and comment on – their blog.

You can be successful without winning the social media race, but not if you don’t at least keep the break-away leaders in sight.

Recently, on my small business radio program, I talked about social media with marketing expert and Brain Trust member, Ilise Benun, author of Stop Pushing Me Around! Take a few minutes to listen to our conversation on this important topic. And, as always, be sure to leave your thoughts.

Health care reform that makes sense for small business

The health care reform debate is experiencing a significant increase in volume and vociferousness, including increased momentum toward a government take-over of the U.S. health care system. The two most often cited issues by proponents of health care reform are: 1) runaway costs, not only in delivery of care but also insurance; and 2) the millions of uninsured Americans.

There is nothing inaccurate about either of these debate points. For almost a decade, insurance costs have averaged double-digit increases every year. And there are somewhere between 40 - 50 million people living in the United States without health care insurance. Let’s break these points down and uncover alternative solutions to a government take-over of our health care system and one sixth of our economy.

Issue 1: Dealing with the cost
State mandates: The cost of health care insurance is inflated in many states by mandates for various medical procedures that should be optional but are required elements of a basic policy. What if your automobile budget restricted you to buying a car that provides only basic transportation, without fancy accessories, but the state you live in only allows “tricked out” cars to be sold? You now have a personal transportation crisis since you can’t afford to buy the car you need. Mandates, by state or federal governments, are not the answer to lowering health care costs.

Association health plans: Unlike big businesses and unions, small businesses cannot purchase health care insurance across state lines, thereby limiting access to the group discounts available to national organizations they may belong to. Allowing small businesses to buy health care insurance through chambers of commerce or trade groups would lower costs and allow more companies to provide insurance for their employees.

Health savings accounts: Essentially, these are IRAs for health care. You purchase a major medical policy with a high deductible, which is covered by annual investments up to that deductible amount into a tax-deferred account (like an IRA). Over time, any of the investment you don’t use for health care still belongs to you and you can even pass it on to your heirs. HSAs train people to become health care consumers instead of just patients.

Issue 2: Millions of uninsured
Illegal immigrants: Part of this number includes 12-20 million illegal immigrants. Whatever we decide to do about providing care for these people, our health care system should not be hijacked by including these numbers in the argument.

Young Americans: Recent research conducted by the state of Massachusetts showed that young people – who believe they are bullet-proof and will live forever –refuse to buy insurance even when they can afford it. A high percentage of America’s uninsured fit this profile and should not be included as reform evidence.

All the rest: The rest of the uninsured are Americans who truly can’t afford insurance. But we already have plenty of government programs to cover them. Even if we want to do more for this group, we can do that without converting everyone else to a Euro-style universal health care system.

Finally, we already know the government can’t run a health care system - look at Medicare and Medicaid. Both are insolvent, primarily due to government ineptitude, waste and inefficiencies. Small businesses need market solutions for our health care challenges. A single-payer, universal, government-mandated and controlled health care system will not be good for small businesses.

Recently, I talked about this on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, with one of the most important experts on market-based health care solutions, Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute. Grace-Marie is also a long-time member of my Brain Trust. Take a few minutes to listen to what this world-class expert has to say. And, of course, be sure to leave your thoughts.

The Three Clocks Of Small Business

Ti-i-i-ime is on my side - yes it is.

So sang the legendary Rolling Stones singer, Mick Jagger. As lyrics in a ballad this is a nice sentiment, even romantic. But in small business, it’s hogwash.

In the marketplace, there are actually three clocks at work: one for operating expenses, one for sales, and one for cash. Rarely are any on the side of a small business.

The clocks that tick on sales and cash collections often seem to have hands that drag or even get stuck, while the clock that is in control of expenses is so well oiled and finely tuned that the hands seem to fly around the face.

Let’s take a look at the three clocks of small business.

Operating Expense Clock
Every month, like clockwork, whether sales are good, cash collections are on schedule or profits exist, payroll must be met, rent must be paid, taxes must be remitted, plus phone bills, utilities statements, insurance premiums, etc., ad nauseum, must also be paid.

The Operating Expense Clock is hardwired to Greenwich, England for accuracy within a nanosecond per millennium, and nothing stops it short of a global, thermo-nuclear holocaust, coinciding with a direct hit from Halley’s comet. The only way to influence this clock is through operating efficiencies - you won’t be billed for something you don’t buy.

Sales Clock
This clock runs off the customer relationships you’ve created so that sales result each month. You project when each sale will occur by qualifying prospects and attributing a “clock” to each potential transaction so that you can budget future sales volume.

The Sales Clock is completely logical and intuitive. A sale will be made made only when a prospect’s purchase requirements have been met.

Cash Clock
What is not so logical or intuitive is the Cash Clock and its relationship to the other two clocks. Think of it like this:

Cash is to sales as snow is to winter:

  • You can have winter without snow, but you can’t have snow without winter,
  • You can have sales without cash receipts, but you can’t have cash receipts without sales.

And expenses are like weather: You get some every day.

But what every small business owner knows is that for every one glitch in the mainspring of the Sales Clock, there are 1000 sprocket failures that can slow or stop the Cash Clock. Consequently, this clock requires constant attention and maintenance.

Murphy’s Law flourishes inside of the Cash Clock and is a frequent resident in the Sales Clock. But the Operating Expense Clock is totally immune to Mr. Murphy’s insidious law and rocks on just like The Rolling Stones.

Recently, on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked about the three clocks of small business. I also had a conversation about cash in an interview with Brain Trust member, Phil Holland, founder of My Own Business. Take a few minutes to listen to these conversations on this important topic and, as always, be sure to leave a comment.

My commentary:
My interview with Phil Holland: