Monthly Archive for August, 2011

Small Business Advocate Poll: How do you consume online media?

Which Internet-connecting device do you use most often for surfing, social media, podcasts, and video?

94% - Personal computer (desktop or notebook)

6% - Smartphone (iPhone, Android, etc.)

0% - Tablet (iPad, etc.)

My Commentary:

For most of the last 16 years, the device we used to consume online content - text, graphic and streaming media - was the personal computer - desktops and laptops. But simultaneous with improvements to content delivery software, innovators were also busy creating new hardware and broadband capability that expanded our device and mobility horizons: laptops, small-form computers, tablets and the increasingly ubiquitous Smart Phone, all with connections to the Internet by WiFi and mobile 3G and 4G networks.

With all of these choices, we wanted to know what our small business audience was using, so recently, we asked this question: “Which Internet-connecting device do you use most often for surfing, social media, podcasts and video?”

It was no surprise that the personal computer came in first, but we were surprised to see that it was still so dominant, with 94% of our respondents using PCs as their primary device. The Smart Phone (iPhone, Android, etc.) came in second, with a surprisingly low 6% of our respondents.

The biggest surprise was that none of our sample chose the Tablet (iPad, etc.) as their primary device. But that will change.

When we take this poll again a year from now, Smart Phones and Tablets will have taken a much bigger bite out of PC usage.

Take this week’s poll HERE!

Check out other great SBA content HERE!

Is barter right for your small business?

In his landmark 1776 book, Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith called money one of the three great inventions, including the written word and mathematics. Money has helped businesses grow more efficiently, markets expand more dynamically and nations trade more effectively.

But there is something still in use in the marketplace today that humans used for millennia before money: barter. Indeed, barter birthed the marketplace.

In simple terms, barter is the direct and mutual exchange of goods and/or services between two parties. The Latin term, quid pro quo, “something for something,” is the original definition of barter. Think of the frontier doctor who took a chicken and a sack of potatoes for delivering a baby.

Over the past hundred years or so, a combination of the ubiquity of money and the growth of financial tools and resources has relegated barter to the marketplace minor leagues. Nevertheless, barter is still being conducted, primarily between businesses that know each other and have a mutual need for what the other offers. For example, a printer barters a brochure job for food from a local restaurant. Or a lawyer accepts personal and/or real assets from a client in barter for legal representation.

Small business should look for barter opportunities. For example, with too much inventory and too little cash, barter can be part of a survival strategy in a bad economy. Slow-turning goods become the equivalent of cash to pay for something that in a better economy would have been covered by the cash flow and profits from customer sales. Plus, there are tax advantages with barter, but also tax reporting requirements. So consult a tax professional before bartering.

As handy as barter can be, it does have three inherent challenges that money was invented to address:

  1. Party familiarity
  2. Timing
  3. Relative value

But a few entrepreneurs have created something to overcome these limitations in much the same way that money does, while keeping the advantages of barter. They’re called barter networks or exchanges.

A barter network becomes the nexus between parties by offering services that address the challenges mentioned, including:

  1. barter credits that can be used any time in exchange for
  2. a variety of goods and services from a catalog the networks has aggregated from and for its members.

Before using a barter network, remember you may be exchanging assets today for future redemption. So conduct the due diligence to make sure the barter network has experience and a good track record.

Consider barter in your economic recovery plans.

On my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I interviewed Steve Bolles, founder and president of Merchants Barter Exchange. In this interview, Steve talked about some of the reasons that barter could be just the right tool for small businesses experiencing cash flow challenges or other issues in this recovering economy. Plus, we talked about some of the details that are required to pull off a successful barter, including through a barter network and, of course, the tax details. Take a few minutes to listen to this conversation and, as always, be sure to leave your own thoughts. Listen Live! Download, Too!

For more great SBA content, click HERE!

Defining success in more ways than one

There are times when being one with your small business is not only a good thing, it’s essential. But extreme commitment weaves a fine seam between business and owner. And, unfortunately, entrepreneurial single-mindedness often results in the opposite of what is intended:  a business in jeopardy, run by unhappy humans.

The best way to be a successful AND happy small business owner is to define success in many ways, including having a life that’s balanced with richness outside of the business.

A small business is more like a patchwork quilt than a security blanket.  Some patches represent good things and some not so good. Some patches are about the business, others are about the owner, and some are hard to tell. Small business happiness is found by those owners who feel successful regardless of which patch is in front of them.

Having multiple touchstones of success, not just money and stuff, helps keep the rough patches in business and life in proper perspective. If you became a small business owner to find financial success, good for you; as a capitalist, I admire that motivation.

But if you think just being rich will make you happy, get your umbrella out because I’m going to have to rain on that parade with these two truths:

1.  Wealth only provides options, not a guarantee of happiness.

2.  If you can’t be happy without wealth, you aren’t likely to be happy with it.

Small business success can actually be found in being able to attend a child’s school activity in the middle of the day, as well as in getting a new contract.  And you should be as proud of being able to give back to any worthy cause as you are of the reason you can give back: your business’s financial strength.

Now let’s talk about fun.

Reasonable people disagree on where we will spend eternity, but most agree that this is our only trip through this life. And every moment that goes by without some kind of joy is a precious opportunity lost.

You’re no doubt planning for success this year, but have you made any plans to have fun?  Not your trip to Disney World.  Are you having fun on any given day as you run and grow your business?

If you desire maximum small business success, learn how to run a tight ship while encouraging your people to laugh and find joy in their work.

And one more thing: Be sure to laugh at yourself — in front of others.  Those are usually the best laughs of the day.

Write this on a rock… Define success in more ways than just money and stuff. And don’t forget to have fun.

On Monday, I talked with JoAnna Brandi, The Customer Care Coach, about what it takes to be happy and keep the good and bad stuff in perspective. Take a few minutes to listen and tell us how you keep your life in balance.

For more great Small Business Advocate content, click HERE

Your values and customer communities

Last time we talked about focusing on developing customer communities as a way to find relevance through your online strategy, including website and social media. Now let’s strengthen this relevance by focusing on values.

Increasingly, prospects will turn into customers, and customers will become loyal, because they’re attracted to what your company stands for. They are looking for evidence of your values in your online elements. For example:

  1. Are your brand elements – brand promise and image – all about you and your stuff, or do they sound like something that would benefit your customer community?
  2. When delivering information to the community, is it all about you, or does it contribute to helping customers?
  3. What is the tone of your marketing message? “Tone” is how brand messages are incorporated as you serve the community, from crassly commercial to almost subliminal. You should strike a tone balance between making a sale and serving the community.

In a world where everything you sell is a commodity, value – product, price, service – is the threshold of a customer community, but values are the foundation. Anyone can find value, but when customers like your values, they tell their friends. Indeed, the most dynamic and potentially viral element of any online community is the feeling members have about your values. But remember, that “feeling” can go either way – positive or negative.

Here are a few guidelines for establishing compelling values online that match your values offline:

  1. Acquire and use the technology that makes online community building possible.
  2. Create an environment where an online community can flourish around the value you deliver and the values you demonstrate.
  3. Serve and protect your customer community, while accepting that you cannot control it. As customer members come and go, and say what’s on their minds, maximize the positive and repair the negative.

Once community members find your value and like your values, prospects will turn into customers and customers will turn into your best salespeople.

Write this on a rock…

Build and serve customer communities by delivering value and demonstrating values.

For more great Small Business Advocate content, click HERE

Build community with a website & social media

Here is a question many small business owners ask: “Do we need a social media strategy if we have a website?”

The answer is the same as for why you have an email address, even though you have a phone. It’s not an either/or decision; it’s both/and.

Clearly, your beautiful website is also very handy: cyber address, digital brochure, e-catalog, virtual store, etc. But as versatile as it is, there is one increasingly important capability you need that a website isn’t good at: community building. That’s what social media does.

By my definition, social media is much older and more comprehensive than the popular Johnny-come-latelies, Facebook and Twitter. Your social media strategy includes everything you do to build, connect with and serve customer communities, including: the new stuff, email marketing, customer loyalty programs and, the original social media, face-to-face.

What are these communities? Do you have one?

In the old days – like 1999 – your customer list was just names on an accounts payable report or sales forecast. Today, those customers are part of your business’s community; the rest are prospects who are becoming interested in you. But unlike the passive customer list of old, this community is functioning and has expectations you have to meet, or they will join another community.

At the risk of hurting your feelings, once customers find you, returning to that beautiful website of which you’re so proud will be of decreasing interest to them. But the good news is that anything you have that’s new – product and how-to information, order status, special offerings, etc. – is of increasing interest to customers. They just don’t want to have to come back to get it. More and more, customers are saying to businesses, “I’ve seen what you offer and like it, but I won’t be returning to your website much, because I’m very busy. Why don’t you follow me home?”

This is what customers and prospects mean when they join your community by giving you permission to connect with them and send them stuff by email, text messaging, Twitter, Facebook, etc. They just want the new stuff, including updates to your website.

Connect with and serve your customer communities by following them home with all social media resources. That’s how a small business transcends merely being competitive by being relevant.

It’s both/and: Build and serve customer communities with a website and social media.

I’ve talked a lot about building online communities on my radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show. Click here to see all my interviews on social media, but first, let me know what you think about building customer communities.

What do you think of tax increases to support Social Security and Medicare?

The Question:

In order to make Social Security and Medicare solvent, tax increases, means testing, and reduced benefits are being considered. What do you think?

62% - If it will make the social programs solvent, make the changes

38% - Find another way to fix these programs

The Commentary:

We asked this question: In order to make Social Security and Medicare solvent, tax increases, means testing, and reduced benefits are being considered. What do you think?

A little more than six of ten or our respondents said, “If it will make the social programs solvent, make the changes.” The rest, 38%, went the other way, with this answer, “Find another way to fix these programs.”

As I’ve been saying in response how America is going to get its financial house in order, there will be pain. The question is do we want to experience that pain while we have some control over the solution, or wait and experience it when another entity – a holder of our debt, global competitor, or both – make the decision for us.

Be sure to take this week’s poll! Click HERE!

So, what steps have to be taken to save Social Security and Medicare? Recently on my show, I talked with Bob Jennings, President of Lean Management Group and co-author of The Adversity Paradox, about  reforming retirement entitlements, raising the eligibility age, means testing, and increased payments from participants.

To listen to our conversation, click HERE.

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