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Monthly Archive for July, 2009

Hanging out with those wild and crazy Chamber execs

As I write this blog post I’m in the beautiful city of Raleigh, in the great state of North Carolina, attending the American Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE) annual convention. Once a year professional chamber leaders descend on a different American city to whoop it up on behalf of chambers, learn how to be a better chamber leader, how to work with neighboring chambers and how to do a better job of helping their chamber members. And since 90% of the membership of the typical local chamber of commerce is small business, most of which have less than 25 employees, by extension, these folks are also whooping it up on behalf of my heroes, small business owners. Ergo, where else would I be?

Recently, in this blog and on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I’ve written and talked about my respect and admiration for local chambers of commerce. But when you see chamber professionals gaggled up in one setting, like an ACCE convention, you see what a supportive and motivating family they are to each other. From this vantage point, you can appreciate the dedication of these folks as they talk about their local issues and challenges, while launching or participating in initiatives that have a national impact. For example:

1. A national program to help chambers be more effective with social media so they can ultimately help their small business members with this hot topic.
2. A national initiative to help chambers help their members “go green.”
3. A national program to teach school children leadership skills based on a plan our friend, Stephen Covey, talks about in his new book, “The Leader in Me.”

While here, I’ve met chamber leaders from around the world, such as Vietnam, Cayman Islands and Norway; all with the same motivations and passion as their U.S. counterparts, and all encouraging relationships and trade between countries. When I talk with these people I think of the words of 19th century French economist, Frederick Bastiat, who said, “When goods cross borders, armies don’t!” The possibility of achieving a peace dividend is yet another reason to admire chamber leaders.

Recently, I’ve conducted several interviews with chamber leaders: Steve Millard, with the Cleveland, OH chamber (COSE), and I talked about the social media project. Harvey Schmitt, with Raleigh Chamber, and I talked about hosting the ACCE event. Aaron Nelson, Chapel Hill Chamber talked with me about the GreenPlus program. And I interviewed Wil Pineau, CEO of the Cayman Islands Chamber and Lars Legernes, with the Olso, Norway Chamber, about their countries. Take a few minutes to listen to these world-class leaders, and be sure to leave your own thoughts.

For Stephen Covey’s interview:
For Steve Millard’s interview:
For Harvey Schmitt’s interview:
For Aaron Nelson’s interview:
For Wil Pineau’s interview:
For Lars Legernes’ interview:

Creating online customer communities for your small business

A “craze” is something that takes popular culture by storm. A “fad” is a craze that doesn’t last. Social media is currently a craze, but it’s not a fad. And the question is not whether this craze will last, but rather, what will it look like over time and why should a small business care? Consequently, let’s establish a few “social media” points.

Strictly speaking, “social media” is the technology that makes online community building possible, not the community itself. It allows for the creation of and service to online communities, where dialogue and interaction among community founders and members are possible. Ultimately, the term “social media” in a business application should become the more accurate term, “online customer communities.”

In defining community, Webster uses words like association, fellowship, like-mindedness and shared interests. When building online customer communities, we should remember these words. Every small business should create online customer communities, of which there are two primary examples:

1. A company’s profile pages on sites like Facebook, Twitter, etc. Your company leverages these companies’ platforms. These sites are free but have limited flexibility.

2. Communities founded and hosted by your company, oriented around relationships with customers and prospects. An online community is established when customers subscribe to one or more of your channel offerings in order to receive your information.

A channel is a syndication tool or method of content delivery and service to a community. For example, real simple syndication (RSS), a blog, an email newsletter (ezine), a text blast and Twitter are channel tool examples, through which businesses and their communities exchange information.

Merely having a website isn’t practicing community building any more than owning a piano makes you a musician. But a website can become a platform from which you launch and serve online communities.

There is one critically important thing for a founding company to understand about both of the online customer community types: the company cannot control community behavior. Members – customers and prospects – control the community. A founding company can only create the community and influence it by establishing community values, then serving it via the channels and information it offers, which are requested by members.

Always remember: Customers control online communities, not companies. Soon I’ll post my thoughts on defining, establishing and being true to your community values.

Recently, on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked about some of these social media points. Take a few minutes to listen, and be sure to leave your thoughts.

Why you should be a member of your local chamber of commerce

Are you a member of your local chamber of commerce? If not, you should be. In case you think I’m being nosy and/or presumptuous, I’ve been a member of mine since 1977.

Community growth only happens when constituent groups, like business, politics, education, the arts, sports, neighborhoods, etc., have a place to state their interests, work out their differences and pull together for the common good. Your local chamber of commerce is the only organization in your community that can create the venue where discussions can be conducted that cut across all of the emotional and ideological boundaries that get erected over time in a community.

“What’s the chamber ever done for me?” you might ask. Well, the chamber IS you. Your local chamber isn’t part of the local government; it’s a private non-profit organization founded and nurtured by local leaders, just like you. There are hired chamber professionals who staff the office and coordinate the work, but most of what happens in your chamber is attributed to a local citizen who volunteers to help the chamber – and, therefore, the community and marketplace – be all it can be.

To paraphrase a great American, ask not what your chamber can do for you, but rather, what you can do for your chamber. I believe being a chamber member is the most important investment I make in my community. And as far as the financial commitment is concerned, I think you’ll be surprised, maybe shocked, at how small it is.

Recently, on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked about my devotion to chambers, how they work and why I think you should be a member. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to listen to my thoughts. And be sure to leave your comments.

Referrals: The Holy Grail of small business success

Referrals are the Holy Grail of small business for obtaining high-quality prospects. When you receive a referral it’s not money in the bank, but almost, because this person who has been referred to you has already been pre-qualified in two ways. They wouldn’t contact you unless: 1) Someone who knows you told them you are worthy of their time and money; and 2) They need whatever you sell.

So a referral is as close to being ready-to-buy as you will get from someone you just met.

But consistent referrals don’t just happen out of the blue. First you have to do something worthy of being referred. Then someone has to remember whatever exemplary thing you did, and be impressed by it so much that they remember to tell someone else. And this last thing is where many referral opportunities break down.

So what’s the answer? Two words: Training and intuitive That’s right: If you want someone to refer you to a prospect, you will likely have to teach them how to do that in such a way that it doesn’t seem like homework. Here’s an example of how I successfully used an intuitive training practice once upon a time.

When I was a full-time small business consultant, my tag line was “I’m a vice president you can rent.” Catchy, huh? Well, that’s the second part of why clients who valued my services gave me so many referrals. Not only did I do a good job for them, but my tag line made it easy for them to explain how their friends could benefit from an association with me, and intuitive enough for their friend to quickly understand why they should call me.

There are many other referral tips and best practices you should learn, and I talked about some of them on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, with Brain Trust member, John Jantsch. John is one of the world’s small business marketing (and referral) experts and author of Duct Tape Marketing. Take a few minutes to listen to this conversation from a couple of grizzled referral practitioners. And, as always, be sure to leave your thoughts.

How birth rate and generational waves impact our future

Could regional birth rates and demographic anomalies impact global economic competition? Do China, Japan, Russia and Europe have more to fear from within because of demographic and generational wave issues than from global competition without?

China’s “One child” policy has manifested in the abortion of 400 million live births in the past three decades - most of them female - effectively cutting a hole in a generation. Japan’s birthrate has been declining in recent years. Europe’s birthrate has been declining, plus it faces significant challenges with the growing Muslim immigrant population that is not being assimilated into European societies.

Could the western hemisphere - the Americas - become a self-sustaining, self-contained trade zone?

Recently, on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, long-time Brain Trust member, Ken Gronbach joined me to talk about why we need to include demographic realities into our long-term business planning, both within our countries as well as globally. Ken is a demographer, futurist and author of The Age Curve. Take a few minutes to listen to the fascinating report Ken delivered in this interview.

Unilateral carbon restrictions will hurt the U.S. economy

In April of this year, I posted an article here titled, “What if the climate change zealots are wrong?” where I proposed that a unilateral carbon cap-and-trade policy by the government would:

1. Unilaterally hurt every American citizen by what would be tantamount to taxing our use of carbon beyond the taxes we already pay, like gas tax, for example.
2. Unilaterally hurt U.S. businesses by making them less competitive with other nations, especially China and India, which have not interest in carbon reduction.
3. Actually harm the global environment because industrial production would move from the U.S. to China and India, where carbon efficiency is much poorer than in the U.S.

Since that post, a few things have happened:

1. The American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454), a/k/a Cap and Trade and the Waxman-Markey bill, passed the House and there is a companion bill in the Senate.
2. When the G8 global leaders met recently in Italy, they did not agree on any near-term carbon reductions, only a goal set 40 years hence. What does that say about a multi-lateral commitment to carbon reduction?
3. In a Senate committee hearing recently, during questioning by Oklahoma’s Sen. James Inhofe (R), EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson confirmed that unilateral carbon reduction by the U.S. would have no effect on the global climate.

As I wrote in April, carbon reduction protocols without China and India participating are useless environmentally and a competitive disadvantage for the U.S. According to Sen. Inhofe, “With China and India recently issuing statements of defiant opposition to mandatory emissions controls, acting alone through the job-killing Waxman-Markey bill would impose severe economic burdens on American consumers, businesses and families, all without any impact on climate.”

Well said, Senator. Perhaps he reads my blog.

One thing you won’t see in the mainstream media is reporting on the U.S. carbon footprint per dollar of GDP, which has been decreasing significantly for the past 20 years. Proof of this is the fact that oil price spikes in recent years have had less of an impact on the economy as in decades past.

Remember, my argument isn’t whether the earth is warming or who is causing it, but rather that the United States should address this issue without doing unilateral harm to ourselves. We have the ability to lead the world in alternative fuels for the next century if we encourage innovation instead of unilaterally punishing consumption.

Here is a link to the previous post. I look forward to your comments.

Click here for previous post “What if the climate change zealots are wrong.”