Do It If You Can Measure It

I had a good friend and colleague ask me my opinion the other day about attending a women’s expo sell a cookbook she recently published for sale.  She started to the conversation by first telling me she needed some business advice, then proceeded to ask me if I have ever been to an Ultimate Women’s Expo.  I have, I’ve been to one.  And I told her so.  I told her all the things they had readily available for the attendees including a panel of women experts to talk about health, workshops that spoke of expanding your income and giveaways throughout the event.  Then she asked me should she be an exhibitor at one.

My answer to her was “Do it if you can measure it.”

She went on to tell me all the things she’d want use the venue for — sell her cookbook, have little recipe cards ready to hand out, have her promotional t-shirts for sale, possibly do a giveaway and interact with other women there.  She continued by telling me all the things they had to offer for exhibitors at this two-day event.  I could tell she was excited about it because she told me it was “the perfect venue to sell, market and promote [my] recipes to active and enthusiastic women, all searching for great fashion, beauty, health, nutrition, fitness, financial planning, careers, home decor, direct sales opportunities and more!”

I said it again, “Do it if you can measure it.”

I don’t think she entirely understood what I meant when I told her that.  She replied asking if I could look into it for her and see if it’s something she should do.  I told I could (and I will) and let her know my thoughts once I delve into it.  But what I meant by “do it if you can measure it” is that I didn’t want her to walk blindly into something without having a measurable goal in mind.  If she wants to sell her books at the expo, then she would need look at the number of past attendees, see how many other vendors attended last year, how many of them sold their products, which vendors were similar to hers and figure out from those number how many she could aim to sell.  Yeah, it seems like a lot of work (the right way always is), but it’s better than losing out on a whole lot of money needlessly.

The same would apply to interactions and networking, since that was a goal of hers too.  I do this all the time.  Whenever I drag myself out to a networking event, my goal is to meet and keep in touch with 5 new people.  I don’t ever change that number, actually.  5 is a simple number to keep up with.  I can email 5 new people when I return home from the event, I can call 5 new people to schedule a meeting with, and I can share useful information with 5 new people.  And from those 5 new people, I can measure my success in building a relationships.  Even if only 2 or 3 people keep in touch with me afterwards, that’s a 40-60% of  new people addition to my network.  Not bad.

Do it if you can measure it.

Social Media Isn’t Your Problem

Social media isn’t your problem.  You think it’s your problem, but it really isn’t.  If someone sat you down and showed you how to set of a few platforms, upload videos and photos, schedule posts, ask for likes and comments, and return the favor, you could do it.  It is much simpler than what business owners imagine it to be.  Granted, it does require a little finesse, above average writing skills and time –obviously — but, social media isn’t your problem.  Knowing how to engage with social media… that’s your problem.

Be honest, how many of us thought that just setting up a Twitter account and a Facebook account was going to be enough for our business?  We thought if we had one or two pictures, the business contact info and a little somethin’-somethin’ about the business, people would visit and magically all on their own, convert themselves from visitors to customers.  How well did that work out for us?

First off, “enough” is the word we never want to use in business.  Businesses that are doing just enough are going out of business.  So, let’s unwrap our heads around this idea of “enough”.  Secondly, treat social media like a person.  A person who we are conversing with — well, in person.  Aside from the spam bots, there are people out there behind those profiles, likes and comments.  Talk to them as if they were sitting right across the way.  Social media and online marketing are such a staple in conversations for businesses that I feel like I’m beating a dead horse when I bring it up.  But so many business owners — home kitchen chefs, garage engineers, bathroom mixers, attic artists, and back yard scientists — are not even giving their ideas and businesses a chance because they’re failing to use social media the right way.

LinkedIn — Don’t just accept or extend an invitation to connect.  Communicate.  Yeah, we may have over 500 connections, but if you don’t message, endorse or share worthwhile information, then those 500 plus connections are meaningless.

Google + — Yeah, many of us have added someone or something to a circle, but what does that mean?   What makes that circle and those group of people special or relevant?  Get personal and personalize.  Not everyone wants the same thing even if it’s from the same company.

Twitter — Just about everyone and their mama has a Twitter account.  But it sucks when people start un-following us and we have no idea why.  Maybe you’re not conversing enough or at all!  Twitter is all about the conversation.  So get to talking.  Ask questions, answer questions, search what your customers are looking for and share — again — useful info.

Facebook — The Godfather of social media, right?  If that’s case, then this is the social media we should be crafty with.  Visually.  If we don’t know exactly what to share on Facebook, log on into our personal account and see what our friends are sharing and reading.  Then see what their friends are sharing and reading.  We’ll find memes, photos and videos dominate Facebook.  So, get visual but remain informative.

Social media isn’t the problem, it’s all about how well we use it for our business.  If you took the time to build the business, take time to market the business.

No Man Is An Island

Who Are You Lending On?

My grandfather — may he rest in peace — always said no man is an island.  No one person can do it all by themselves and succeed.  Everyone, even the self-made billionaires of our generation, have leaned on someone else for support and guidance.  This is not about delegating tasks and outsourcing work.  This is about genuine help.  Genuine support.  No, I’m not going to break into Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me” (although if you want to sing a few bars, I wouldn’t mind joining you), but he did hit the nail on the head.  There is no problem so unique that someone else hasn’t experienced or gone through what we have or are going through — a friend, a family member, a mentor, a colleague, a LinkedIn group member.  It’s not even about being weak or a failure.  It’s about knowing when to seek out help before it’s too late.

We all would like to think that we’re strong enough to endure the challenges and obstacles that’ll be hurling themselves our way.  If the Mark Cubans and Jeff Bezos can do it, why can’t we? But did they really do it all by themselves?

Should we?

You don’t need to know everything about marketing, creating a campaign, holding a conference, planning a networking event, branding your company, recruiting top talent or even writing a business plan.  Because there is someone you know who you can lean on and help.

“For no one can fill/ those of your needs/ that you won’t let show.” – Bill Withers

Write Outside The Lines

There is no trick or secret to blogging for your business.  There’s no formula or magic keywords or tags that will make your business blog be the most searched source on the internet. But it isn’t hard to blog either if you got something to offer and something to share.  Normally, I would say practice till you get it right, but sometimes it’s best to hire a freelancer or someone with much more experience.  And if you’re not a strong writer, don’t know your voice yet, or don’t have the time — someone else can do it for you in the meantime, right?  But if you wanna take a crack at it, review all the rules you’ve heard before: blog at least once a week, blog consistently and spread the word around through your other social media platforms.  Sounds easy enough.  But don’t forget the add-ons — the extras that make a blog a bit better: include video, photos and links whenever you can and appropriately, share more information that can help your customer or client rather than yakking it up about how great your company is and include links to your website.

But just like the tech companies, out there, there are some rules you should break —

  • Blog inconsistently consistently — What does that mean?  I try to blog every week, up to 3 times a week.  But I don’t have select days of the week when I blog.  I blog when I have an idea, or the time to devote to an entry.  Being flexible without a set schedule also allows me to add information as I get it — event dates, the latest news or what have you.  Decide how many times a week you’d like to blog and then go from there.  Your time should dictate when you have an opportunity to blog and share, not the calendar.
  • Play with the titles.  You’ll hear copywriters discuss the importance of a good headline or tag… I say, have fun with it.  Personally, I love innuendos for titles.  There’s something about misdirecting the topic that I enjoy all too much.  A (sexual) innuendo is more likely to stop people long enough to skim the article you wrote than a straight forward boring title.
  • Trade shoes when you write.  Think of the person who you are writing this blog for.  Think about what they would to get out of it, think  from their point of view.  Then give it to them.  Be that irate customer who doesn’t understand why the store won’t take back his purchase after 31 days even though his receipt says no returns, refunds or exchanges after 30 days.  Give him solution or a loophole to working with businesses and people like yourself.
  • Vent.  Here is that opportunity to tell the world about the awful no-paying-on-time client that won’t stop calling you whenever they feel like it. Here is the chance to spill how you (and most likely every other business owner) feels about that annoying client.  You can say it all, get it off your chest, be brutally honest without ever saying their name.  Think of it as a form of therapy.  Whoo-sah!

Blogging is the content marketing your business is going to need to keep it’s edge in 2014.  Anybody with a laptop and internet can blog, which means anyone with a business too, should be blogging.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t write outside the lines when you do.

 

 

 

You And Your Crew

I’ve had the pleasure — even displeasure, if we wanna keep it real — of working for a number of small companies; small business owners.  And I’ve taken every lesson I’ve learned from each employer into my own business.  I’ve watched them studiously as they conducted business, formed relationships and grew — and I’ve retained as much as could about all they were doing right and much of what they’re were doing wrong.   And it seems like whenever employees are introduced into a growing established company, problems arise.  In other words, people make things crazier —who knew!  But the important takeaways that I gathered about owners and their employees were:

  • Hire people who have the potential to grow as your company grows and not just someone looking to fill the position.  Hell, with the right training, anybody can do a job.  That’s how most people got to the jobs they have now — by being trained, or taught or schooled, or whatever you want to call it.  But ambition to grow — that’s not something you can teach, that’s inherently in select individuals.  Hire those folks.
  • Keep your word.  I remember a company I use to work for; we were a staff of 14 people including the owner of the company.  For some reason, we were  unable to have our annual holiday party in December, so the owner decided to move it to January and call it an “Employee Appreciation Dinner”.  The date was set for the middle of January.  Well, when  January came and gone, we started to passive-aggressively joke about how little we were appreciated because there was no mention of the dinner anymore.  Although it was just a dinner, people became a little resentful of the fact they were promised something and it wasn’t delivered. Deliver or don’t promise, but you can’t do both.
  •  Know what the gossip’s about.  I don’t care how small a company is, there’s always  gossip.  And 9 times out of 10, it’ll be about you, the owner.  So as they owner, know what’s floating around the office.  Check in with each employee on a regular basis.  Create an atmosphere in which your employees can feel comfortable with approaching you with what they need to make your business better.  You might even find that the open-door policy reduces the noise of gossip.
  • Say what you mean.  No one’s a mind reader. I don’t believe mind readers are mind readers.  And neither are your employees.  Don’t have them guess what you’re thinking or try to figure it out.  If you don’t know what you mean, they don’t know.  And don’t punish them for not knowing.  That’s so dumb.
  • Be the first with a greeting.  I know it sounds trivial, but you’ll be surprised how sensitive people are in the work place.  Not receiving a hello from their boss in the morning can start the day off all wrong.  Listen, I said nothing about being buddy-buddy.  I said say, ‘hello’, ‘good morning’, ‘good evening’ or whatever the time of day calls for.  This goes along with acknowledging your employees.  You may not be saying ‘job well done’, but a ‘hello’ can simply translate into ‘hi, thanks for coming in today and giving me your time today’.

Listen — the people that work for you are your crew.  They’re there building your dream.  They don’t have to be there.  They could be working for someone else who doesn’t mind showing them a little appreciation.  You have a relationship with your employees, no matter how badly you’ve neglected it.  And just like any relationship, it’s about the little things.

Phrases Never To Use With Customers or Employees

‘I Don’t Know’  (Customer) – As honest as this answer is, if this is all you give a customer, you can pretty much kiss them goodbye.  You really may not know the answer, but find out instead of shutting them down with ‘I don’t know’.  Showing interest in your customers’ needs is not only common sense, but ensures they’ll stay loyal to your business.

‘I Don’t Have Time Right Now’ (Employee) – Are you really going to brush off an employee — someone who is working in your business so that you can work on your business — because YOU don’t have time?!  Truth is, this actually happens.  Time gets away from all of us.  We’re in a hurry to get somewhere or meet someone and all of a sudden something comes up with an employee of ours.  Instead of quickly dismissing them, ask them to send an email or leave a brief note of what their concern or issue is and let them know we’ll give it our attention as soon as we can.   Unless it’s urgent, handle it then and there.

Can You Give Me A Call Back Later?’  (Customer) – Never, EVER ask a customer or client to call you back later.  It takes them the same amount of time and energy to call your competitors as it does to call you back.  Instead, briefly ask what they’re looking for, what they need, take down their name, number and when would it be best to RETURN their call.  Show them you’re making every effort to get and keep their business. No customer wants or will work to give you their business, so don’t make them.

‘Just Handle It!’ (Employee) – This sits right up there with ‘I don’t have time right now’.  This is hardly ever said with great confidence or endearment.  And more than anything, it leaves your employees feeling as if you’re setting them up to fail.  You’re either too busy or can’t be bothered and now an issue — whatever it is– becomes their responsibility.  And what if they can’t?  What if the reason they’re bringing this concern to your attention is because it needs your authorization?  Do you still want them to ‘handle it’? Instead, ask them what the issue is, if it’s something that needs immediate attention and decide whether it’s something they can and should handle on their own.

Oh, I Don’t Handle Those Kinds Questions/Problems/ Areas, Etc’ (Customer) – Stop bringing attention to all the things you CAN’T do or that’s outside your scope.  Politely let the customer know that’s something you don’t do — whatever the request is– but, then offer to help them find someone who can.  Become a reference, someone people turn to find answers, even when they themselves don’t have the answer.  That too can build a customer base within itself.

‘Don’t You Understand?!’ (Employee)Do you understand?‘ conveys a more cordial way of asking if your employee(s) have grasped a method, procedure or explanation.  Saying ‘don’t’ rather than ‘do’ belittles them and drives a wedge between the employer-employee relationship (which we all know is the bee’s knees!).  Keep in mind, pissed off employees don’t work well and are always working towards finding a better employment environment.  Don’t drive away your employees by talking down to them.

As logical as most of this sounds, a lot of this still happens in the workplace and in many customer service departments in many businesses.  And just because it seems like the norm, doesn’t mean it’s right.  Sometimes our first impressions are simply words.  And our words can ignite feelings of resentment and hostility.  We have to be careful of what we say and how we say it.

What Comes First: The Funding or The Planning?

For some of you, this is a no-brainer kind of question.  If we were on a game show, I would guess many of you would hit the buzzer for “planning”.  Duh!  It makes the most sense.  If there’s no plan in place, how can you ever fund the business?  But let’s change the scenario a bit — You have a great multi-dollar idea.  You don’t have all the details just yet and you definitely haven’t planned how this is all going to work out, but the idea is valuable.  To top it off, you’ve just landed yourself an investor!  You have a great idea followed by a great pitch.  After bouncing the idea off a few friends and family you now have someone who’s willing to invest.  Let’s morph this wonderfully ideal dream back into a bit of reality and say that the investor has agreed to fund the business but of course, wants a business plan, a proposal, a timeline (a deadline, really) and whatever else to assure him this is a lucrative and probable investment.  All from an idea.

Funding

Think of all the in-the-shower ideas we had come to us.  What if your multi-million idea was just like that?  An idea that  was born out of some repetitive task or inspiration brought on by frustration that anyone in their right mind would want to jump on and be a part of.   But while you’re lathering up and rising off, did you bother to figure out how to find the right manufacturer, or commercial slot or print ads in every national paper?  Probably not.  But you still have the idea.

What if you don’t have an idea for a product, but rather a service.  Manufacturers are not needed, neither is inventory or stock and overhead is probably much more manageable.  But a service idea is harder to picture than a product idea, which even in it’s conception phase can be sketched out.  Do you seeking funding for that idea first, or do you plan first?

Planning

Truth of the matter, there is no real easy answer or right decision, at least not across the board.  Some people are better at selling and others are better at planning.  Sellers will pitch to investors and planners with dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’.  It’s also probably best that if you have a service based business idea, that you prepare a plan, an outline of what it is, what’s provided and how to get it from conception to realization.  The same goes for if you have a product based business idea.  But unlike a service idea, sometimes a concept is enough to win over the masses and a few investors.  That that conception has to be something that can be actualized.  And don’t feel bad if you’re one of those people who doesn’t like to write or focus too much on the itty-bitty details.  You can either outsourced that to someone else for a decent price or start building a team of people in which someone on your team can do that for you.  No matter what you idea is about, at some point planning is going to have to be involved and so will funds.  But in what you arrange them it’s up to and the idea.

{photo credits: dream designs and artur84 via freedigitalphotos.net}