Tuesday, October 26, 2010

You're so beautifully tall...now sit down!

It never ceases to amaze me how important the delivery of a request or question impacts the response. How many times have you asked your significant other for something and it did NOT turn out the way you expected? Or seen people get into an argument over what initially seemed like a reasonable request? Regardless of how the situation turned out, it is YOUR FAULT if you are the one making the request.

That's right! Buck up and take responsibility. If you are trying to say something and the receiving party doesn't hear or understand what you tried to communicate, you did it wrong. In a class for leaders in the California Society of CPAs the instructor, Bill Reeb, made a statement that went to the core of all the participants. "WHATEVER happens in your life, you are responsible for it." was all he said. When you embrace this level of responsibility in your life, believe it or not, things change. You view the world differently. (of course there are some limitations to this, but, arguably, not many)

Recently, watching the final game of the MLB NLCS Giants vs. Phillies, I met a woman who executed this approach beautifully. In a crowded bar, some friends and I were sitting down cheering on the Giants. My girlfriend Shanna got up for something and stopped next to me before leaving the table. After a little while, the woman behind us commented to my better half, "excuse me," she said. "You know, you are so beautifully tall." Immediately, Shanna realized that she had been blocking the view of the people behind us and felt terrible. "Oh, I'm so sorry I'm in your way!" Shanna replied and quickly moved on out of the way.

We've all heard the other ways that woman could have made her point. "You know, you make a better door than a window!" "Hey, we're trying to watch the game too ya know...." The list goes on. The grace and tact our barroom neighbor exhibited by offering a compliment to make her point was stunning. Who wouldn't want to be obliging to someone who just made you feel good about yourself? I can't begin to guess the potential impact of taking this example into other requests you make throughout your week, but I aim to find out!

You're such a smart reader for having found this posting! Would you mind taking a brief moment and sharing it with a friend? :>)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Apple's iPhone 4 antenna response: a PR model for crisis

Have you watched Apple’s press release about the iPhone 4’s antenna issues?  Apple, the company widely revered by its passionate customer base for its innovative products, has also been known for its hubris and occasional PR trip ups.  With all the hype around the incredibly successful launch of iPhone 4, there has been an abundance of press around problems with the phone’s antenna.  Gotta love it when media companies ride the coat tails of highly popular products and tear them down as a means to generate press.

This time Steve Jobs and Apple fought back and did a great job!  As I watched, I noted the structure and response to the current public outcry.  Steve Jobs took the opportunity to turn what’s been a PR nightmare and turn it into a promotion for what’s been done with the phone and how it compares to previous generation iPhones and other popular smart phones.  This is basically the outline of what he said:
     •    This is the hard data / These are the facts (they ultimately said there is an issue but its tiny)
     •    We love our users
     •    This is what we’ve done in development and design and the resources we’ve put into this product (spent millions of dollars and have lots of PHDs on staff)
     •    Acknowledged the  problem
         o    Problem is inherent in all smartphones
         o    We will continue to work on this issue
     •    We are being completely transparent (acknowledging these problems)
     •    Put the scope of the problem in perspective with competitive products and previous gen iPhones (the iPhone’s  antenna issues is virtually the same as all other phones)
     •    These are the actions we are taking to address the issue (we want EVERYONE to be happy)

It was clearly a carefully engineered response but my impression was that they nailed it! 

This framework can serve as a model for many other situations when companies need to respond to a crisis.  Take note, BP!  If there’s an issue, acknowledge it.  Provide the facts.  Promote what you’ve done.  Explain what you will do.  Tell your customers you love them.  Sounds like a fairly simple communication plan.

While I was at bidz.com we received an onslaught of criticism and accusations that ranged from misleading pricing structures to our CEO having ties to organized crime to SEC investigations.  We didn’t respond to all of them because doing so would have helped fuel the critique and given validity to those voices.  In the ones we did respond to we fell short of this model and (perhaps) as a result, had less than stellar success. 

Ultimately, you hope you don’t come across a crisis our public outcry where you need to respond.  But, when you’re pushing the edge, beating the competition, or have huge success or failure, critiques are bound to arise.  Hopefully this helps when that time comes.

To watch apple's video, click here .

Monday, July 12, 2010

Social Media Framework

Whether they are in a typical brick and mortar business or some virtual world in the cloud, good entrepreneurs recognize the power and potential of social medial tools.  They facilitate interaction with your business's audience, are very inexpensive if not free, provide trackable information, allow "enthusiasts" to pass along their passion for your company, and can virally promote your product or service.

My challenge has not been whether to use social media or not but rather, which outlets to use.  More vehicles come up every day, across so many different segments.  At mindmeister.com, I came across the below framework that someone has created.  See the original version here.  I think it does a great job of outlining the various social media services for what you want to do.

Are there any you use that aren't on here?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Customer Service Gone Bad

It was an odd phone number from Nebraska that wasn’t listed in my phone.  I racked my head trying to figure out who it could be that was calling me; was it someone whom I had recently met and given my number to?  I wasn’t in a spot to take the call and they didn’t leave a message so I was left to wonder.  It was a mild annoyance but I was in the middle of a short vacation and quickly moved on to other things.

It wasn’t until I got back that I decided to do some quick internet sleuthing to see who this mystery caller had been.  Maybe I’d gotten lucky and won the lottery…in Omaha?  I did a quick Google of the number and the answer surprised me.  It turns out that many people had been receiving calls from the same number; Omaha Steaks (OS).  There’s a whole list of frustrated (ex)customers here.  A few months ago I placed an order from them for a Father’s Day gift and now I was receiving calls from them.

The thing is, this company is trying to do the right thing but doing it all wrong.  It would be much better off had they not tried in the first place.  Most businesses that want to stay around implement some form customer service outreach.  It’s a good way to stay engaged with customers, solicit feedback and hopefully, gain additional sales.  After all, previous customers are the best source of future sales since they’ve already discovered your company and expressed an interest in your product/service.

So what is OS doing wrong?  By not leaving a message they are coming across as, well, quite frankly, dirty.  Assuming they absolutely feel its imperative to speak with someone live, all they have to do is say “Hi this is Omaha Steaks calling.  Sorry we missed you.  We’re calling because you’ve previously done business with us and want to let you know about a current promotion we’re running.  We’ll try back again soon and hope to catch you at a more convenient time.  Until then, keep those BBQ’s fired up!”  I would have been much happier to receive that but instead, got nothing.

I called OS’s customer service and spoke to a friendly lady named Robin.  She explained that my call would have come from one of their Outbound Call Specialists and that they don’t ever leave a message.  “They’ll keep calling every couple of weeks,” she explained, “unless you’d like me to take you off our calling list.”  Well, there you go! 

I’d like to praise them for offering to take me off their calling list…but I just can’t.  Clearly it’s been an issue for many customers and that’s how OS is addressing it.  Rather than provide quality, helpful customer service, essentially, they are volunteering to stop talking with customers.  According to the company’s web site OS has been around since 1917 and opened a telemarketing facility in 1999.  Presumably that’s where my call originated from.  Someone should tell this family run business that “the way we’ve always done it” isn’t the best way to keep doing it.      

Omaha Steaks represents itself as a high quality meat company but calling customers and not leaving a message does not support that.  Ultimately, this gets to the idea that EVERY touch point you have with current and potential customers is a reflection of your brand.  In this case, OS’s actions are misaligned with the brand identity they are trying to create.  But that’s a conversation for another time.  Until then, stay focused on delivering QUALTY customer service that WOWs people.  If you have any similar stories, please share the lesson!

Monday, June 21, 2010

How to hire a programmer to make your ideas happen

Timothy Ferriss recently tweeted this blog posting from Derek Sivers.  Great article!


Inspiration for change

I recently came across this and like it: "At the root of all growth, we find change.  Allow it to work for you not against."

Friday, June 4, 2010

What Motivates Us

This is a great video introduced to me by my brother, Greg.  Thanks, bro!!  Love what it has to say!  It echos so much of what Tony Hsieh has to say in Delivering Happiness or what Patrick Combs tells us on an almost daily basis.  Watching this video will be a good use of the next ten minutes of your time.  What are your passions?!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Culturally Playful; new genre? web 2.5?

Some could say it all started with improv everywhere's mainstream "missions" such as their Grand Central Station Freeze, or their ground breaking MP3 experiments.  Others might argue that the dawn of the Twitter age and its fast, micro communications spawned new creative luminaries.  Regardless of who or what you think is responsible for its genesis, there's a new game afoot over the internet.

There's a growing number of web sites, twitter feeds and youtube channels that are engaging people to be active participants in their "games."  Sites such as Shitmydadsays, failblog, and textsfromlastnight, just to name a few, are growing in popularity and engaging visitors an an offline way that we haven't seen before.  They're spurring book deals, webby award nominations and much more!

On May 7, Twitter user Ferris_Bueller_ gave a practically line by line, real time recreation of the movie, employing foursquare, movie quotes and ad lib commentary.  Aside from great entertainment throughout the work day, it popped my proverbial online cherry with an experience I'd never been through before.  I'm now looking forward to my second time experiencing IT online!

Awkwardfamilyphotos hosts a collection of family portraits that evoke all too familiar memories of childhood, family get togethers with distant cousins and family portraits done at Sears.  It's almost like that trainwreck on MTV, Jersey Shore, where you just can't turn away, but differs in that we probably have something that contributes to the fun.   

The common thread among all these sites is that they take users' web experience out into the real world.  Or, conversely, ask users to take their real work experiences and bring them online.  In fact, they are dependent on it.  Not only are they dependent on it, they are successfully capitalizing on it.  Consider that the founders behind textsfromlastnight found a way to make money from the debaucherous drunken, stoned and sexually exploratory evenings of college students and twenty-somethings!  With the book already released, one has to wonder...when does the movie come out?!

They say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery.  As if a book deal and TV pilot starring William Shatner weren't enought to flatter Shitmydadsays's creator, Justin Halpern, he has inspired a parody on Twitter, shitmydarthsays.  With lines like "I intercepted several transmissions beamed to your phone that I thought were rebel plans, but turned out to be sext messages" and "And now, salad dressing, we will discuss the location of your hidden valley ranch" the parody is almost as enticing as the original.

All these sites, feeds and experiences point to the next generation of internet interaction, communication and engagement.  They are the pioneers at the beginning of the next online movement.  Advertising strives to be more entertainment than ever before and these sites are the next medium for targeted, customer engagement.  They are playful with various elements of our culture and might just represent the next leap in the internet.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Manage, Take Ownership and Be Proactive

I was recently speaking with a good friend of mine who is a communications consultant for a Fortune 100 Company.  She expressed some frustrations about some of the disrespect the team members had for the communications function and on-boarding people with her efforts.  I suggested she have a team meeting.  Because I see this happen fairly broadly, I’m sharing the advice I gave.

The first thing to do is introduce yourself and your role.  Explain how your work will be furthering the objectives of the team and why it’s important.  You can’t assume that they will automatically understand.  If you have specifically relevant experience you may consider sharing that as well if you feel you need more credibility.

Next I recommend explaining how you will be interacting with the team.  Will it be weekly assignments? Daily?  Adhoc?  If you give a team member a project and a deadline make sure they agree to the deadline.  If you have the flexibility you may even consider asking them when they think they can have it completed by.  If a project deadline is one week and you haven’t heard anything after four days, check in.  “Hey I know you committed to getting me that write up about XYZ in three days and just want to see if you have any questions or problems you’ve run into.  No?  Great!  I’ll look forward to it in three days then.  Thanks!”   This serves as a reminder to your team member and facilitates communication should there be any delays. 

You can NOT assume that since someone has committed an assignment to you that they will remember having done so and that you’re instructions were clear.  In fact, successful managers will assume otherwise until their colleague has demonstrated regular responsibility for their commitments.  At the end of the day, you may have received commitments from people but if their work isn’t done YOU are still the one responsible for the project.  There’s nothing productive about placing blame on others for missing your deadline.  If, despite your regular, proactive, efforts your colleague is late in their commitment, speak to them when you are alone.  “Hey I just want you to know that I was counting on you for your write up.  Because you got it to me late the team leader is really pissed at me and now our project is off schedule.  What could I have done differently so that we would have avoided this delay?”

In short, don’t assume people know what they are doing or will have your request as a priority (until proven otherwise).  Own it.  Own it.  Own it and proactively manage your assignments until you achieve the results you need.  Good luck!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Delivering Happines: Book Review

I just finished reading my advance copy of Delivering Happiness by Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh that I received at the Business Growth Conference. Overall, this was a great read! Tony’s casual writing style made it easy to pour through all 241 pages. The official release is June 7, 2010, and I recommend this reading for any entrepreneur who wants to build a solid employee and customer centric (ie successful) company!

The book explores Tony’s background and early entrepreneurial pursuits before becoming involved with Zappos. These provide an important perspective and reference to how and why he has shaped Zappos to be what it is today. Tony then goes into some of the early struggles of the company and how innovation, creativity, out-of-the-box thinking and PERSISTENCE, kept the company going after many flirts with failure. From here, we move into the core of what Zappos is about; its culture. It’s employees!

Zappos.com has 10 committable core values that they are dedicated to. By committable I mean that they are willing to hire and fire employees around these values. That’s how important they are! It’s not just lip service. While they’re all very relevant, a few values of note are Deliver WOW through service, Create Fun and a Little Weirdness, Pursue Growth and Learning and Be Humble. People who work at Zappos and interact with its customers and vendors LOVE working there! They feel valued as employees and people, feel a shared sense of purpose, and are encouraged to grow. Are these virtues reflected in their interactions with customers and vendors? Absolutely! And this is a big part of why I endorse so strongly that Tony “gets it.”

Having spent five years in HR I appreciate that it can cost a company between 30% and 250% of an employee’s annual compensation to replace them. That’s a whole other subject on its own, but Zappos has created an environment where people are HAPPY to be there and want to stay and THRIVE. While there aren’t any specific turnover statistics provided, I expect its VERY LOW for Zappos. In addition, they encourage people to self select out of the company by offering $2,000 for anyone to quit between weeks 2-5 of their orientation training. Makes perfect sense! If you have happy employees who want to be there, you’ll have happy customers , both of which translate into company profits and smart business.

With such focus on company culture I couldn’t help but be reminded about Southwest Airlines and a book I had read about them, The Southwest Airlines Way. With cover tags such as “Using the Power of Relationships to Achieve High Performance” and “If you want to understand how one organization can change the competitive rules of the game for an entire industry, read this book,” it’s abundantly clear the Southwest book was an inspiration at Zappos. So much of what Tony describes echoes what Southwest set out to do.

Southwest airlines isn’t the only apparent source of solid inspiration for Mr. Hsieh and his Zappos team. There is respect to Sun Tsu’s The Art of War (“when you are weak appear strong and when you are strong appear weak”), Tom Peters and creating “WOW” (The Brand YOU 50 is the first book I came across this), and even Buddhism by stating that while we take different paths to get there, we all have the same goal in life: happiness. There are also many strong customer service themes that I had found in What’s the Secret to Providing a World-Class Customer Experience (endorsed by Tom Peters).

Delivering Happiness is a noble book and great story of the inspiring company that is Zappos.com. Enjoy!

Growth Conference Notes

Following up on my trip to the Business Growth Conference, I attended four breakout sessions: 
* Financing Growth with Debt: Fuel for your business
* Cashing in For Maximum Value: Finding the Best Exit Strategy
* Private Equity Funds: Insights about deals that get done
* CEO Confessions: If I knew then what I know now

What follows are my rough notes and observations from each session. 

Financing Growth with Debt:
            Venture Lenders
                        want warrant coverage as a % of loan
                        want security against loans
                        currently they are in a position to be "highly selective"
                        recent terms for a deal were 3.5% in fees, 12.65% interest, 8% backup fee (fee against the unused loan amount), and 80% warrants
                        monthly and quarterly payment terms

            Asset Based Lending (ABL)
                        primarily against AR (preferred) and inventory
                        80% advance on AR
                        6-18% in fees with 8-12 as the sweet spot
                        different from factoring because - w/factoring there is no risk to borrower, ABLs prefer to lend $500k and more, and factoring is more expensive

            Traditional Banking
                        discussed ways to get around a PG if a Co can stand on its own
                                    look at Cash Flow, LTM EBITDA, Growth, and EBITDA as a % of cash flow
                        often ask the question - is it debt or is it equity that I"m ultimately on the hook for

Cashing in for Maximum Value
            there is currently pressure for PE firms to invest
            acquisitive companies are flush with cash
            expect activity in the deal markets this fall
            strategic buyer valuation = DCF + synergies
            diversification of a company's channels mitigates risk
            an entrepreneur who sold 70% stake to a PE consortium had the following comments
                        had a lot of data and info on the biz which was a plus for the buyers as he was able to anticipate the next three or four questions and provide data against them
                        took 1 year to complete the deal.  Took his time FT and relied on another exec to run the business
                        you need to define your objectives for your exit/liquidity event
            deals are closing in a much longer time frame than in the past - buyers are more actively looking for "things that come up" for which they can they adjust the term sheet
            need to consider 1 time events that are reflected in the financials and are the FS reliable
            consider: what are the industry trends?
            best way to handle due diligence is to prepare ahead of time
            DD will cover several areas, thoroughly
                        Legal, IT, Financial, Tax, People, Commercial (partners, contracts, etc.)
            use an "e-room" for doc storage to allow others access to them
            the entrepreneur described his process for selecting professional service providers:
                        interviewed 5 IB firms, all top and highly qualified
                        wanted to be the "big deal" for them, not just some other deal
                        didn't want big egos to get in the way of the deal

Private Equity Funds
            looking for CEOs with proven track record of success
            and companies with thick Gross Margins
            generally looking for companies with between $20 - $250M in revenues requiring $10 - $50M in equity capital
            I asked a question about target Co's cap structure and how that affects their decision - ans: look primarily at senior debt and anywhere there is 2x EBITDA

            the session had a lot of good stories and anecdotes but nothing specific worth making note of, outside of what I've already shared

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Heart, Passion and Happiness

I'm on my way back to the airport from the 2010 Business Growth
Conference in Anaheim, CA, hosted by the Harvard and USC Marshall
School of Business Alumni Associations and can honestly say I'm blown
away! So many great people with brilliant minds, warm hearts and
passion for what they do.

In my recap, I'll start with the last, first. The last session of the
day was an impressive panel of successful entrepreneurs who talked
about lessons learned. It included Alex Cappello, a director on the
Cheesecake Factory board and CEO of Cappello Capital, Richard
Melcombe, a former TNT exec, Bob Barry,president of John Barry &
Associates and Rob Ukropina, founder of Overnite Express. All great
people! but there was something especially touching that Alex had us
do before we left. "Everyone pull out a dollar" he instructed the
audience of 150. "When you leave, I want you to leave this on your
chair as a tip for the people that clean this room," he explained.
"TRUST me, it will make a difference in these people's lives and it's
the last thing they'll expect from a room full of Harvard and USC
alumni." Consider the power of this one small gesture! I love it! I
can't wait to lead a ro again and copy it. I hope my readers will pass
it along as well.

Next mindblowing excerpt from the day was the keynote address by zappos.com
CEO, Tony Hsieh (pronunced Shay). Tony built zappos to a billion +
company by focusing on....products? No. Price? No. Customer service?
Not really. His secret sauce? Unflinchingly committing to a company
culture of "delivering happiness." I can't wait to read his new book
by the same title. From other companies I've studied and been a part
of, I can tell you, this guy gets it! I feel very privlidged to have
heard him speak this morning.

Gotta run but more to come...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Be an Expert!

Last night I had the pleasure of spending time with James Hickey, a managing partner at Tatum (rockin' CFO talent), and Nicole Ward, a fellow Board Member at ArtPoint and colleague of James.  Both are great people, super nice, uber motivated and well connected (for good reasons). 

We talked about a lot of fun stuff but at some point the conversation went into CPA firm partners and their Biz Dev efforts.  James explained that frequently partners will ask him for an introduction into a certain industry where "they'd like to be (and are not)."  What followed from there was a discussion around if these CPA partners want companies to recognize them as experts, or "go to" people, in a certain field, they have to establish themselves there first.  We gave credit to their ambition to recognize where some of the hot markets are and their desire to be there.  We concluded that without having the perception of being an expert, they're not going to be successful in developing clients.

So how does one become established as an expert?  In his book The Four Hour Work Week, Timothy Ferriss outlines some very simple techniques.  The first is to join organizations in the field you want to be in.  So, for example, if you want to provide services to the music industry, join the Blues Music Association or the American Federation of Musicians.  This one step will immediately open doors.  Next, get quoted or published.  Peter Shankman has told me that he founded Help a Reporter Out (HARO) to level out the playing field in journalism.  By doing so he's created a huge opportunity for people to become recognized in and associated with their field of expertise.  Next, attend related trade shows.  Simple.  Easy.  Of course, there's the whole social media field of blogging, tweeting, etc. that are great vehicles to establish credibility as well. 

What I've failed to mention thus far and is perhaps the most important, is to actually BE an EXPERT.  "Fake it 'till you make it" will only get you so far.  If you say you can deliver the goods, you better be able to actually deliver otherwise you'll quickly develop a reputation...and not the kind you want.  Do your research.  Ask lots of questions to people who are already established in the field.  Partner on some projects with them.

The context of this discussion is not limited to CPAs and their firms but is applicable to all businesses.  Motivated entrepreneurs are consistently looking for ways to grow their business and enter new markets.  By following some of the above suggestions, these entrepreneurs can establish themselves as experts and successfully evolve their businesses through strategic growth.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Simplicity leads to efficiency

Do one thing and do it well. Tom Peters would argue to chose one thing that you can be the best in the world at. Keep it Simple Stupid, or "KISS." In a conversation this afternoon I found myself, again, pontificating on the virtues of simplicity in business. I found myself say that "simplicity leads to efficiency." And while that statement simply came out organically, after having reflected upon it since then, I still believe in it's merit.

Successful entrepreneurs are visionaries. They see things which don't exist. They envision solutions to problems and therapies to some pain in the market. It is this vision which makes them successful.

This "blue sky" outlook can also be their vice. I've seen entrepreneurs see such a wide variety of options and potential for their business that they explore so many different avenues within their business, and ultimately, their core business suffers.

While neither extreme is healthy, a measured approach to both ensures the greatest potential for success. The best entrepreneurs know to solely dedicate themselves to their core competency, first and foremost. They will explore natural extensions of that competency only when there are sufficient resources to do so and the monetary potential makes it worthwhile. They will recognize when their creative energies have become such an offshoot from their initial vision that it is a separate business unto itself.

Some will argue that diversity in a business is necessary to insulate it from changing market trends and other threats. And while I will concede that many businesses take this route, there are also many solid companies that do one thing and do it extremely well (I can't think of any specific examples offhand, but I would suspect they are privately held and well known brands. Please share if you can think of any).

Getting back to simplicity leading to efficiency, the context of the conversation was actually about a product, not a business. In general, I think that engineers are motivated to add more "stuff" to products because they can and it excites them to do so. However, this does not mean that the product then becomes better, more reliable, incrementally more profitable. Actually, the inverse of those is probably closer to the truth. So, just as I believe that simplicity leads to efficiency for businesses, I believe the same also holds true for products. Budding and seasoned entrepreneurs alike, keep this in mind as you look to add complexity to your business and its offerings. Best wishes...

Monday, April 19, 2010

CEOs like Ship Captains

In a book club I'm part of, we recently read "Master and Commander." As a follow up to the read, we decided to visit a local historic ship to really make the story come to life. In the captain's quarters there was the below passage; an excerpt from "Ocean Life in the Old Ship Sailing Days" by Captn. John D. Widden.

One of my initial reactions to this passage is how appropriately it also describes leaders and CEOs. It is true that while a good captain will rely upon advice and information from his crew, decisions concerning the ship are ultimately his and he owns the glory of success as much as the blame for failure.

"A captain's position on shipboard at sea is a peculiar one. He is something like the mainspring of a watch. If that is all right, the works will do their duty, and all is well, but let the mainspring break, or anything happen to it, and everything goes wrong, or stops. So the captain, as the mainspring, in order to keep perfect discipline, which is so essential , to a well-regulated ship, must first discipline himself. He is thrown on his own resources. All on board, except himself, have companions; the crew have each other to talk with and confide their feelings to;
the cook and steward fraternize; the first and second officers can confer, or even talk amicably together, although in this case, the first officer, if he knows his
business, will preserve the line between the dignity of his position and undue familiarity, that in some instances is apt to be taken advantage of by the second. The captain, if he has no companion, stands alone, isolated, in a certain measure, from all on board."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Challenge assumptions and think differently - I ask for 1 second

I would like to ask for one second of your time. Ultimately, you'll be the one to decide whether you'll give that to me. You'll have to weigh, against the potential reward, is it worth that investment of your life, that you will surely never get back.

Often in business we have meetings to develop solutions to any number of challenges or problems, as a team. Increasing revenues and profitability, decreasing costs, and overcoming obstacles along a given path are some simple examples of these problems. I think in most problem solving meetings its healthy to challenge all assumptions and think outside of the box.

Thinking outside the box is hardly a new concept but one which is rarely fully embraced. By our nature, people don't like change. We like definition of our world and take comfort in assumptions like growth is good, costs are bad and computers have keyboards.

Frequently, during these types of meetings I'll throw out ideas and suggestions that seem to challenge these basic assumptions and am often met with a barrage of rejection. However, what people infrequently realize is that I'm not married to the idea I just introduced. Hardly! But my intention is to simply throw it out there and ask people to consider it for a second. Just a brief second. Maybe it spurs a tangental idea. Maybe it's spot on and culling of existing clients, rather than driving for new ones, will lead to greater profitability. Maybe subscribing to a new service will help improve productivity. Or, maybe the iPad is the wave of the future and we DON'T need a computer to have a keyboard for it to be successful.

I don't want to dwell on these considerations for eye tearing hours but if we don't consider them, we can't TRULY be confident we've explored all our options. If they don't fit, let's drop 'em and move on. Not much lost. Maybe some will fit. Maybe some will fit another problem that we're not trying to solve right now. Modern day internet Pioneers have achieved multi-billion dollar success simply by challenging assumptions about how we behave and interact. I'm not remotely asking the same from you. Just a second of your time when we're in a meeting together.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Review your work

It's amazing how many mistakes I make in my first pass at emails and
online comments. To make matters worse, in the middle of a busy day
it's so easy to just hit the "send" button. However, i'm aware that
each piece of ecomm (electronic communication) that I put out is a
representation of me and the quality of work I produce. So, I'm
fortunate that, for the most part, i've disciplined mtselaf to review
my work. It's amazing what a difference it can make. :-)

Sent from my iPhone.

Celebrity Apprentice Observations

Ok, I'm not a fan of most TV shows, especially the mass market crap that gets spewed out Prime Time on the main channels. However, I found myself watching Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice the other night and caught some really interesting business techniques and strategies that the show employs. Nothing earth shattering, but still worth noting:

*The show uses big name star power of high profile celebrities to draw a diverse audience to the show.
*... partners with Universal Orlando to promote the new Harry Potter Ride - Product placement is nothing new but by virtue of the exercise the team had, the show was practically an infomercial for the experience and Harry Potter.
*...had a "This week's Kodak moment" with three scenes where viewers could vote on. - This was the first interactive user element to the show that I noticed. It's also the second most obvious partnership plug in the show.
*Throughout the show there are various teasers to visit the show's web site to see deleted scenes, commentary, etc. - This drives: additional viewer interaction, measurable results, additional traffic on the site for advertising, etc.

In general there was a strong interplay between the show, its content (entertainment and sponsored), web and customer interaction.

The last stroke of strong business practice I noticed was an Aflac commercial. Although I failed to remember the product afterward (good thing I DVRd it) Aflac asked viewers to submit a 10 second video that defines the company. Genius! By doing this you: engage your customers at a high level, customer stories and testimonials are more powerful than the company giving a message, and it taps into the collective creativity of the general public. Love it!!

Finally, in some form or another, all of these observations can be applicable to your business. The "celebrity" you use as a draw may not be Bret Michaels but maybe a local figure from a school or news program. And the examples of engaging your customers are sound and sage for all businesses. Good luck and I'll see you in the marketplace.
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