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Monthly Archive for May, 2011

Surviving the not-so-great recovery

After the technical end of the Great Recession in the summer of 2009, I predicted the letter that would most accurately describe this recovery is not a “U,” an “L” or even a “W,” but rather, an “M” – for marathon. After working in six previous recessions, to me everything pointed to a very long and grinding economic period.

Alas, my prediction has come to pass. Seven quarters into the not-so-great recovery, GDP for Q1 2011 came in at only 1.8%, which caused economists, who had earlier projected 2011 growth of at least 3% for the year, to lower their expectations.

We wanted to know what our small business audience thought about the economy, so for the third time in a year we used our online survey to ask, “What does the economy look like for your small business for 2011?” Here are the three options, with each response followed by how similar questions were answered previously.

Those who said, “We’re experiencing solid growth and expect the same through 2011,” represented 14% of respondents. In the previous survey, 29% were this optimistic.

The next choice, “Our growth is similar to the national trend – up, but barely,” was chosen by 40% of our sample, which is very close to the 43% choosing a similar option in the previous survey. Unfortunately, 46% of our respondents said, “It still feels like a recession,” which is up from 28% making this choice in the previous poll.

Our survey, while unscientific, is supported by others that are: The NFIB small business survey indicated optimism declined again in April, and the Tatum, LLC survey has been reporting more red arrows than green ones all year. Clearly, overall small business economic sentiment has eroded.

But sentiment shmentiment! As the CEO of your small business, it’s your job to balance the force of entrepreneurial optimism with the gravity of economic reality. That means:

• Giving every customer the maximum opportunity to do business with you while serving that customer with maximum efficiency.

• Combining your service “special sauce” with every technological innovation you can find.

• Keeping your team motivated and inspired while running the most deliberate, disciplined and methodical business marathon of your life.

• Believing that it’s okay to fall in love with what you do, but not with how you do it.

Remember the ten most powerful two-letter words:  If it is to be, it is up to me.

Recently on my radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked more about how small businesses feel about this marathon recovery. Take a few minutes to listen and leave your comments on the recovery.

Future Employee Planning

The Question: What is the likelihood that you will hire at least one person this year?

50% - We will definitely be hiring this year.

22% - If the economy improves we will have to hire.

28% - We will not be adding any employees this year.

Jim’s comment:
America needs new jobs. We wanted to check on the hiring attitude of our small business audience, so we asked this question: “What is the likelihood that you will hire at least one person this year?” The news was encouraging.

Fully half of our respondents said, “We will definitely be hiring this year.” America needs more CEOs drinking this Kool-Aid.

A little over one in five of our sample said, “If the economy improves we will have to hire.” Perhaps the employment leadership of the first group will encourage these folks in the middle to find hiring confidence.

The last group, representing a little more than a quarter of our sample, said, “We will not be adding any employees this year.”

Considering where unemployment is, plus all the other headwinds pushing back on economic recovery, I am encouraged by the response this week. You go, small business owners. America - and the world - really needs you right now.

To participate in this weeks poll on mobile phones, click here.

Limiting the size of government

Here are the results of last week poll question, including my comments:

The Question: Would you take more personal responsibility for what life hands you - good or bad - if it meant limiting the size of government?

7% - No - The government is supposed to take care of its citizens.

93% - Yes - Politicians should stop thinking we expect them to fix everything.

Jim’s comment:
We wanted to know if Americans were ready to return to their pioneer roots and begin the process of reducing our dependence upon government. So we asked my radio, Internet and Newsletter audiences this question: “Would you take more personal responsibility for what life hands you - good or bad - if it meant limiting the size of government?” Here’s what we learned.

Those who thought, “The government is supposed to take care of its citizens,” represented a whopping 7% of our sample. The good news is that the rest, 93%, said, “Politicians should stop thinking we expect them to fix everything.”

Americans need to have a national gut check about how to limit government spending. A big part of that process will be how much we are willing to tell politicians to stop spending our tax dollars on things we should be doing for ourselves.

To participate in this week’s poll on hiring and the economy, click here.

The customer is now in control - get over it!

As previously revealed in this space, the Age of the Seller is succumbing to the Age of the Customer. In the new Age, control of the relationship between Seller and Customer has shifted to the latter.

This paradigm shift is largely caused by online platforms that are: 1) increasing the access customers have to information about a Seller and its products; 2) allowing customers to express and share what they have learned about and experienced with a business.

To put two fine points on the first element of the shift, in the new Age: Customers have access to virtually all the information they need before you know they’re interested, and prospects are similarly informed before you even know they exist. Such access to information is changing - or disrupting - the way you market to and connect with customers, as well as how you train sales people. Plus it demonstrates why your greatest danger in the Age of the Customer isn’t being uncompetitive, it’s becoming irrelevant.

The second element is the new kid on the block, but corresponds to a centuries-old marketplace maxim, “If you make customers happy they will tell someone; if you make them unhappy they will tell 10 people,” which describes the ancient practice of word-of-mouth. The theory behind the 1:10 ratio is that all businesses, regardless of size, are motivated to perform, or risk a marketplace indictment by the judge and jury of word-of-mouth.

In the new Age, online platforms have caused word-of-mouth to transmogrify into a powerful dynamic called “user generated content,” aka UGC. This is when customers post online their experiences, questions, praise or condemnation about a seller’s products, services, and general behavior in the marketplace. In the vernacular, it’s word-of-mouth on steroids.

Indeed, if the word-of-mouth maxim were coined today it would sound like this: “Customers may post online their opinion – positive or otherwise – about your business, making it available potentially to millions.” To paraphrase Mark Twain, comparing word-of-mouth to UGC is like comparing a lightning bug to lightning.

In the new Age you have to do two new things: 1) anticipate that customers are already well informed; 2) track and respond to UGC about your business. And how well you do these two will influence whether the new customer control becomes a sales lever, or a disruptor that makes you irrelevant.

It’s the Age of the Customer - get over it.

Last week on my radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked with Alan Maites, President of Robinson & Maites, an unconventional marketing firm in Chicago, about the Age of the Customer and how it will change relationships with customers. Take a few minutes to click on one of the links below and listen to our conversation. And, as always, leave your thoughts on the Age of the Customer.

Marketing in the Age of the Customer featuring Alan Maites

Serve communities in the Age of the Customer featuring Alan Maites