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    Monthly Archive for September, 2009

    Small business question: Electronic or face-to-face communication

    With all of the electronic communications tools we have today, unfortunately the face-to-face meeting too often become an after-thought. So how does a small business decide when to email, text or IM some information to a customer and when should you ask for a meeting?

    Recently, on my radio program, The Small Business Advocate® Show, I interviewed Jonathan Treiber, CEO of RevTrax, a Manhattan-based online marketing company, who explained that his business “helps brick-and-mortar companies leverage the Internet to encourage customers to physically come into a retail store or restaurant and buy something.” Treiber said, “RevTrax accomplishes its mission for retailers and restaurants by providing a secure, measurable and flexible online promotions technology” so they can “deliver and track online offers ultimately redeemed by customers in person within the physical stores.”

    Treiber believes the RevTrax business model works because his clients realize their customers “want to do business with people they know and trust.” And even though Treiber sells high-tech connections, he recognizes that “periodic face-to-face contact strengthens the trust level.” When asked how his own company decides when to transition from virtual to face-to-face connection with customers, Treiber uses a football analogy: “We think of it as taking a prospect from goalpost to goalpost. After we’ve qualified them at least to the 50-yard line, we go to see them.”

    Good Main Street advice from a guy who makes his living on Cyber Street. Take a few minutes to listen to other lessons Jonathan offered during my interview with him. And as always, be sure to leave your thoughts.

    Health care reform ideas that work for small business

    There seems to be no stopping the government’s plan to begin the incremental takeover and ultimately control of America’s health care system. The most likely bill seems to be the one being written by Senator Max Baucus, (D-Montana), Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which would result in a sweeping overhaul of an industry that is one-sixth of the U.S. economy.

    But instead of health care reform for its own sake, meaning that the issues that need fixing are addressed and logical adjustments are put in place, what we now have is health care reform for the sake of politics. If you think this is an overstatement, consider this: Currently over 550 amendments have been proposed to the Baucus bill. This ridiculous number of amendments, plus the fact that there is an arbitrary push to get a bill signed into law this year, is proof that this effort is all about politics and has very little to do with quality reform.

    America has a filet mignon health care system that is not perfect and could use some fixing. But please explain why we would let this sausage factory we call Congress get control of a $2.5 trillion industry that, unlike any other industry, touches the most intimate aspects of the lives of every American. Why would we allow the same people who have managed Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the U.S. Postal Service into de facto bankruptcy to take over our health care system? And shouldn’t the horror we’ve seen with the mismanagement of VA hospitals give us great pause before we hand over our health care system to the government?

    You would be correct to point out that the current proposals aren’t about an immediate takeover of the U.S. health care system. But anyone who thinks this isn’t the ultimate plan is living in a fantasy world. Once this bill is passed, the socialized medicine, single-payer system camel will have its nose under the free-market economy tent and it will just be a matter of time before this stinking dromedary will be wreaking havoc in America’s living rooms.

    There are many ways the marketplace and government can work together to accomplish true reform, not the least of which would be tort reform, but here is just one:

    Take away the employer deduction for employee health insurance expense and replace it with tax credits given to every American to shop around and buy their own health care insurance, the same way we shop for, and buy, everything else. If you, or your employer, want you to have a better plan, you can pay for that with after-tax dollars. With this plan, a federal law would also be needed to allow individuals to buy insurance across state lines, thus avoiding the various state insurance mandates

    This simple reform would solve many problems, including but not limited to:
    - create a more efficient insurance system
    - create more competition – real market-based competition
    - create more innovation, both in insurance and health care products and services
    - create more marketplace jobs and fewer government jobs
    - eliminate an employee being held hostage to a job because of insurance benefits
    - eliminate the “pre-existing medical condition” problem
    - Americans would become health care consumers, instead of just co-paying patients.

    All of these elements would be good for small businesses, but especially because they would help level the benefits playing field in competing for workers.

    Perhaps the greatest flaw of this health care reform idea is that it’s simple and would actually work in real life – a concept seemingly foreign to members of the political class.

    As always, looking forward to your comments.

    Small businesses leading us out of The Great Recession

    In 1998, I began predicting that the 21st century would be the century of the entrepreneur. And every year that goes by proves that my prophecy was accurate. Even with all of the unfortunate economic conditions we’ve endured the past year or so, I still believe that whatever the economic recovery looks like, it will be led by small businesses to a much greater degree than big businesses.  Here are just a few reasons:

    1.    Entrepreneurs are pathological optimists and, as such, refuse to have their dreams suppressed for very long by the upwind quadrant of an economic cycle.

    2.    Small businesses can recover from a downturn more quickly to redirect and redeploy their business models in a way that is customized to fit what the new marketplace demands.

    3.    Technological innovations continue to incrementalize powerful tools and applications which give small businesses the ability to compete at higher levels, for higher stakes and with less overhead per dollar of opportunity.

    4.    In a world where credit and capital acquisition are part of the recovery challenges, small businesses can still get the money needed to capitalize growth plans because the financial instruments they require are not very big or complicated, and often fulfilled by an independent community bank.

    5.    In the future, customers will want more connection and less marketing.  Small businesses don’t have big marketing budgets but have always been the world’s gurus at connecting with customers. But now, with the growth and maturing of low-cost online customer communities (a.k.a social media), its advantage: small business.

    I could go on, but you get the picture. And remember, what’s good for small business is good for the world.

    Someone who agrees with me about the impact entrepreneurs will make on our future economic success is Carl Lavin, Managing Editor at Forbes, who set out to find the small businesses that will be among those to lead the U.S. into the coming expansion.  Out of thousands considered, Carl and his crew picked what they call America’s Most Promising Companies for 2009.

    Here is a link to this group of America’s finest, which hail from all over the country and represent a wide variety of industries.  Brett Nelson, Entrepreneurs Editor at Forbes.com, has done a great job of turning information about these 20 companies into valuable resources for you. Check it out.

    Carl is also a member of my Brain Trust and, recently, he joined me on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, to talk about what you and I can learn from these companies. Take a few minutes to listen and, of course, be sure to leave your thoughts. Listen Live! Download, Too!

    “No problem” is a problem for small business

    It has happened to all of us: You are being waited on at a restaurant or buying a product at a retail establishment or returning something to a merchant, and as an employee is delivering some kind of service, you say, “Thank you.”

    Good for you. Your mother would be so proud because you still say “please” and “thank you.” Life is so much better when we just do what our mothers taught us.

    But somewhere along the way all of this kindergarten stuff got hijacked from the marketplace. It’s difficult to pinpoint where things ran off of the rails, but the bad news is after you say “thank you” for having your water refilled or your order completed, the employee says, incredibly, “No problem.”

    So, from this response, are you now to think that asking for or simply allowing service to be delivered is some sort of a “problem” you’ve created, from which you should pray forgiveness will be granted? Should you feel relief that you’ve been redeemed by this person with “no problem” absolution? Clearly, the English language, at least the way Americans speak it, has devolved to a level that makes many feel nostalgic for casual. But when did the sublime “it’s my pleasure” turn into the sub par “no problem?”

    Well, my friends, let’s get one thing straight: No problem is a problem. And for small businesses, when “no problem” is used in the conversation with a customer where “you’re welcome” should be, it’s a serious problem that, over time, could be the equivalent of a business death wish.

    Think I’m overreacting How much money do you spend getting a customer to do business with you? How much energy and resources do you invest into making sure your products, pricing, display, etc., etc., are just right? How many sleepless nights do you spend worrying about how to compete with the Big Boxes? Now that we’ve established the enormity of these answers, have you checked to make sure that no employee of yours ever causes one of your customers to think - even subliminally - that the mere fact that they are doing business with you could be a problem?

    The only thing that is unique about the contact your business has with a customer is the experience they have with you - how they FEEL about doing business with you. Everything else is a commodity. Everything! So in what universe does “no problem” help your business maximize the positive emotions of a wonderful customer experience? It doesn’t, so stop saying it, and train your employees to stop saying it.

    There must be 39 different ways in the English language to express your delight in serving a customer without saying “no problem.” Use them.

    Remember: Please, thank you and you’re welcome. Otherwise, you’ve got a problem.

    Recently, I talked about “no problem” being a problem on my radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show. Take a few minutes to listen, and as always, be sure to leave a comment.

    Leveraging good over evil: Remembering 9-11

    The human spirit, I believe, is the most powerful force in our world. Unfortunately, a single evil spirit is often more powerful than a good one.

    The reason for this inequity is because it is the nature of evil to be fanatical and aggressive, while the nature of good is to be gentle, often complacent, and sometimes even naive. The good news is there are more good people in this world than evil ones. But that math only works, to paraphrase Edmund Burke, if the good work together against the evil.

    We cannot afford to be naive. We don’t have the luxury of being complacent. Even now, eight years later, this is no time for gentleness. We owe it to those who gave their lives to never forget the images we saw on September 11, 2001. To never forget what this evil hath wrought.

    Let’s work together — all nations of good people — until we rid ourselves of this evil called terrorism. However long it takes. Whatever it takes.

    We can claim no other comparable blessing to offset the imbalance between the power of good and the forces of evil.

    Today, on my radio show, The Small Business Advocate Show, I reflected on this the 8th anniversary of the attacks of 9-11. I also talked with Rich Galen on his reflections. Take a few minutes to listen and be sure to leave your thoughts.

    A 9/11 poem:Listen Live! Download, Too! Listen Live! Download, Too! Ten truths about the war on terrorism:Listen Live! Download, Too! Listen Live! Download, Too!
    Rich Galen on 9-11:Listen Live! Download, Too! Listen Live! Download, Too!

    Executives are not confident of their social media activity

    How confident are you about your company’s social media strategy? That’s the question NFI Research asked thousands of corporate managers in a recent poll.  NFI’s president is Chuck Martin, who is also a member of my Brain Trust. 

    The results of Chuck’s poll might shock you: Approximately two-thirds of the respondents were not confident about their company’s social media strategy, and only around 10% were in the confident category.

    When you think about it, the response to Chuck’s question isn’t that surprising since we’re still basically on the threshold of the development of corporate social media strategies. And clearly, developing a social media plan for a business is a lot more complicated than creating a personal Facebook page or Twitter account. Plus, the larger the business the more complicated the process. So for a majority of executives to be less than confident about their foray into social media should actually not be a big shock.

    But the primary reason for executive exasperation with social media is not just because it’s an emerging market discipline that most of us are just learning. Indeed, I predict that larger companies will still be unsettled about their social media strategies five years from now. I think the real reason is all about control – actually, the loss of control.

    It’s in an executive’s DNA to control corporate messaging, whether PR about the company or their marketing messaging. But when a business launches into the social media universe it literally is an exercise in watching control evaporate. As I’ve said many times before, in the social media world, companies – large or small – cannot control conversations in online communities, they can only influence them. And influencing takes time and patience, the latter of which is not a natural by-product of the quarterly report mentality so prevalent among managers of big companies.

    Small businesses don’t operate with a short-term attitude; our business decisions aren’t based on what analysts will think or how the stock price will be affected. We’re already comfortable with merely influencing community activity, and operate so close to customers that a two-way conversation has always been the norm for us.

    Social media is nothing if not about connecting on a more personal level, which is good news for small businesses. Consequently, once social media has evolved to becoming just another tool – like websites, email and instant messaging, which will happen soon - small businesses will not only become confident in their social media activity, but will thrive with these tools to a much greater degree than the Big Boxes.

    The advent and ultimate universal adoptions of social media practices (for businesses: creating online customer communities) is just more evidence of something I began predicting in 1999: The 21st century is the century of the entrepreneur.

    Recently, Chuck Martin joined me on my radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, to talk about his research and our thoughts on it. Take a few minutes to listen to this conversation. And, of course, be sure to leave your thoughts.