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Monthly Archive for August, 2009

San Francisco is my kind of town - to visit

Just spent a couple of days in San Francisco, working with the good folks at Wells Fargo. We’ll have a couple of videos to release in a few months that are a product of this trip.

San Fran may be the weirdest city in the U.S., but it’s also the most charming and one of the most interesting. I’ve been going there for decades and always look forward to going back. Here are the top 10 reasons why I love San Francisco so much:

10. The Golden Gate bridge - one of a kind.
9. The fresh seafood is legendary.
8. The climate is great. Mark Twain said the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco, but I’ve never had bad weather there. Good karma?
7. Lombard Street - the one with all the curves. I drove down it once – slooowwwly.
6. It’s a small, walkable city, Russian Hill notwithstanding (which I’ve done – uphill, but only once).
5. The Tadish Grill, the oldest in SF, circa 1849, where you can still get fresh sand dabs. You know, the fish that the guy was cooking when Charles Lindberg went to California to pick up his new plane (think Jimmy Stewart in “The Spirit of St. Louis”).
4. Chinatown. It’s the original.
3. The sourdough bread. All other sourdough bread is from a lesser god.
2. The Cable Car Barn and Museum. This is where you can see the continuous cables being powered in and pushed out.
1. And the Number One reason I love San Francisco - drum roll, please: The cable cars. All three lines: The Powell-Hyde Streets line, the Powell-Mason Streets line and the California Street line. You can ride them all day for $11 and they operate until midnight, every day.

The only moving national monument in the world, the cable cars are WAY cool. DO NOT go to San Francisco without riding at least once on a cable car. Where else can you have that much fun for $11?

When you go to San Francisco, be sure to stay close to Knob Hill, Chinatown or anywhere near the cable car lines (did I mention that I like the cable cars?). It’s a very romantic city, but also a great place to take the kids, too.

Finally, with regard to the title of this post, I wouldn’t want to live in San Francisco; the cost of living is very high, the tax and regulatory structure is oppressive for small businesses and I couldn’t truck with the politics. But I do love visiting.

Thank you, San Francisco, for being so charming. I’ll be back as soon as I can - to visit.

The lion of the Senate and small business

The lion is dead.

The senior Senator from Massachusetts, Edward Moore Kennedy, has lost his battle with brain cancer, which, like the rain, falls on the just and the unjust, the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak.

The only thing the name Kennedy is more synonymous with than wealth, public service, power and privilege is unspeakable tragedy. It has been said that to whom much is given much is required. In the case of clan Kennedy, much has indeed been given, but surely too much has been taken away. Now the youngest child of Joe and Rose has been taken by a tragic disease.

In the hours since his death, many have reflected on his life and work, including those who agreed with his politics and those who didn’t. I am in the latter camp.

I didn’t know the Senator, but we have mutual friends and they loved him. Apparently, you were fortunate if he called you friend. And it’s admirable that, for someone to the manor born, he could have lived a life of leisure but chose rather to dedicate his energy to public service. That service, however, too often was at cross-purposes with two things that I love and have dedicated my own life’s work and energy to: the marketplace and small businesses.

For years I have been an ardent and public critic of Senator Kennedy for championing issues that I believe are harmful to small businesses. For example: minimum wage increases, laws that promote unionism, carbon emission laws that threaten the competitiveness of U.S. businesses, innumerable tax increases and the one about which he was the most passionate, his Big Kahuna, universal health care.

He was known as the “liberal lion of the Senate.” For the same reasons that he earned that moniker, I gave him another one: the arch-enemy of small business. I think I know enough about the Senator to believe that he wouldn’t want me to be a hypocrite today, so I still stand by that appraisal of his record.

There is at least on thing that Kennedy and I had in common: a sometimes ill-advised courage of our convictions. I much prefer those who feel strong enough about their ideas to declare them. Unfortunately, in my opinion, most of the public policy convictions Kennedy declared I consider the work of someone out of touch with what has made America great, our free market system.

But Ted Kennedy was an icon for something else that is great about America, individualism. God help us if America ever stops producing individuals like Ted Kennedy and if it ever prevents such an individual from declaring his convictions – even when I disagree with them.

Rest in peace, Senator Kennedy; I won’t miss your work but I will miss your spirit.

Recently, on my small business radio program I talked about Senator Kennedy with two members of my Brain Trust. Rich Galen, publisher of Mullings.com, a Republican who worked on the other side of Kennedy’s policies, and Bill Brandt, President of DSI, Inc., a Democrat, who was a friend of Ted Kennedy for over 30 years. Take a few minutes to listen to these conversations, and be sure to leave your thoughts.

For Rich Galen:
For Bill Brandt:

Dangers of changing the health care reform pronouns

In his 1973 book, “Winning Through Intimidation,” Robert Ringer wrote that when he was negotiating with another party who brought an attorney along, the attorney would typically begin by saying, “He (the client) wants …” this or that. Later, Ringer said, the attorney would change the pronoun to, “We want …” When the attorney’s pronoun inevitably changed to “I want … ,” Ringer said he would get up and walk about of the room because he knew the negotiation focus had shifted from the deal to the ego of the attorney.

Alas, there has been a pronoun shift in the health care reform debate that should be pointed out.

“He (Americans) wants …”
In the beginning, most people on both sides of the debate agreed that something should be done to improve the way we deliver and pay for health care. Initially, the debate was over how to accomplish that Herculean task, and it sounded like, “He wants …”

“We want …”
Even though Democrats control the Legislative and Executive Branches, there is a heated debate within the party about health care reform. So when you blend this internal debate with the political prudence of passing legislation that includes Republican votes, then stir in the arbitrary time pressure President Obama and the Democrat leadership have placed on this process, the result is a political contest with so many different players and rules that the average person watching can’t possibly score this game at home. This is where the debate sounds like the attorney is saying, “We want …”

“I want …”
In all of this convolution, there is one thing that is becoming clear to regular folks: Those in the “damn the political torpedoes, full speed ahead” camp are looking like their objective has evolved from health care reform for its own sake to health care reform purely for the sake of politics, as in, “I want …”

No one is naive enough to believe that any health care reform won’t be political, but when we’re talking about a topic that involves 17% of the U.S. economy and has few peers in terms of the personal impact on every American, shouldn’t we expect the final reform product to actually be focused more on lasting solutions than on accomplishing a political victory?

Watching this embarrassing mayhem has led me to want no health care reform legislation at all right now. Any bill produced in the current process will be flawed policy that will surely create more harm than good. The reform process should be scrapped completely until the debate addresses societal and market realities of the 21st century, rather than be the victim of political dysfunction.

It’s time for Americans to tell Congressional delegates to walk away from this negotiation until the correct pronouns are being used.

Recently, on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked about the problems with the current state of health care reform. Also on my show this week, I discussed health care reform with Grace-Marie Turner, President of the Galen Institute. Take a few minutes to listen to these thoughts on this important topic and, as always, be sure to leave your thoughts.

Beware the two edges of the brand sword

This post is about the power and dangers associated with a brand; but in order to make the point, we first have to talk about something else. So bear with me.

Do you know this name: Abdel Baset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi? He is a 57 year-old Libyan who is the only person to be convicted of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which resulted in the murder of 270 people, including 11 Scots on the ground. En route from London to New York, most of the flight’s passengers were American.

In 2001, al-Megrahi was convicted in Scotland and sentenced to life in prison, where in 2008 this terrorist was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer. Consequently, and defying international outrage, Scotland’s Justice Secretary, Kenny Macaskill, released al-Megrahi on “humanitarian grounds” to allow him to go home to die.

This is where a potential branding nightmare occurred.

Upon boarding the flight for Libya at the Glasgow airport, video and still cameras captured al-Megrahi’s countenance as he attempted to cover his face. Unfortunately for Nike, he did not cover the black logo on the snow-white baseball cap he was wearing, which very prominently bore this international sports-marketer’s iconic “swoosh.”

Okay, clearly Nike had nothing to do with anything this man did or with the circumstances of the day. But in a universe where the impression factor of a logo seen live by millions and then by gazillions in all the re-distributions is marketing nirvana (re: Tiger Woods’ chip-in, 16th hole, 2005 Masters), the al-Megrahi episode for the Nike swoosh is the other edge of the brand sword, a marketing nightmare.

Could Nike have avoided this? Not likely. Could it have been some kind of competitive sabotage? Nah! What should Nike do? Probably nothing – just let it go. Is there a lesson in this for small business? Absolutely!

Think this couldn’t happen to you? Think again. What if a person is arrested of some unspeakable crime in your local market and takes his “perp walk” in a tee shirt with your company’s name emblazoned on it? Never underestimate the power of your brand to do good or to do harm.

So what’s the answer? Respect the power of your brand. Value it. Defend it. Leverage the good edge of the brand sword so much that if an al-Megrahi moment should befall your brand, the goodwill it has already fostered in the marketplace will overcome any sucker-punch photo-op, competitive sabotage or disgruntled customer’s blog post.

The question you should ask yourself is not whether your small business has a brand - it does! The question is how is your brand being defined in the marketplace and who is doing it: your competition, the media, an unhappy customer no one can please - or you?

Be aware of both edges of the branding sword.

EVERYTHING your small business sells is a commodity!

Webster says a commodity is an item in demand in the marketplace but which is supplied without differentiation across a market. For example, a soybean in Shanghai is pretty much the same as the one you could buy in Sheboygan.

Here is some 21st century tough love: EVERYTHING your small business sells is a commodity, not just soybeans. Any questions?

That includes every product your customers can hold, carry, break, drive, wear, eat – you get the picture. It also includes things you can’t see, like service. That’s correct: From this day forward, even service is a commodity. The ONLY thing about the relationship between your business and its customers is the way they feel and think about the experience they have with you. That’s it! EVERYTHING else is a commodity.

Instead of spending the next week detailing why the last sentence is true, I’ll show mercy and merely ask you to look around at your own experiences in the marketplace. How many sources do you have for whatever you may need or want to buy? The answer is anywhere from many, in terms of your physical marketplace on Main Street, to practically infinite, in terms of the virtual marketplace on the Internet. And I’m sure you’ll agree that if the search is refined down to a handful, at least two will be in a virtual tie on price vs value, product array and quality service.

So, when your small business makes it to a customer’s final two, what makes them choose the winner? Here are some classic reasons. The winner’s employees remember the customer’s name, or remember what the customer likes, or smile more, or act like they appreciate the customer’s business and actually say so.

Now let’s look at some 21st century reasons: The small business winner has a website where prospects and customers can shop, or has a blog and/or email newsletter from which useful information is delivered, or allows customers to follow them on Twitter, or notifies customers electronically when new products and supplies are available, or allows customers to comment on a website or online community about their experiences, or anything that recognizes that customers are busy and helps them stay connected, even when – perhaps especially when – the customer isn’t buying.

It’s not easy for small business owners to think of their wonderful offerings as just another soybean. But get over yourself and start thinking about the only thing that will differentiate you from all the other competitors: the classic things customers have always wanted and those 21st century elements that are brand new, but no less compelling.

Recently, on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked about the commodity thing. Take a few minutes to listen, and be sure to leave your comments.

Recognition from American Chamber of Commerce Executives

If you’ve been following my work for very long, you know by now that I am an ardent and unabashed advocate for local chambers of commerce and the people and organizations that support them. One such organization is the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE), which I’ve worked with for many years to help them further their mission on behalf of chambers and chamber members.

Recently, during the ACCE annual convention in Raleigh, N.C., where hundreds of chamber professionals were gathered, the ACCE leadership honored me with their highest recognition of a corporate leader, the “Champion of the Chamber Movement” award. This is not an annual award and has only been presented one other time previously. The plaque read, in part, ” For years of tireless support of individual chambers of commerce and the ACCE.”

In the words of ACCE president, Mick Fleming, “We’ve been very selective in presenting the ‘Champion’ award over the years and Jim Blasingame deserves this recognition not only because he uses his media platform to advance the importance of local chambers, but also because of his direct support to local chambers and, of course, for his many years as a valuable partner in our work at the ACCE.”

This award is a great honor for me because I have the highest regard for the professionals in this community. The leaders at the ACCE and the chamber executives they serve are among the most dedicated small business champions on the planet, which makes supporting them an important part of my work and that of my organization.

As I have said before, any recognition I receive in my role as The Small Business Advocate is accepted on behalf of the true heroes of the marketplace, small business owners – who continue to inspire me, and the chamber leaders across America and around the world.

You can see the press release here.  Looking forward to your comments.