6 Focus Areas of a Profitable Business

In May of 2008 I went to the Olympics of Graphic Communication trade shows in Dusseldorf Germany called drupa. The show comes only once every 4 years and it's 14 days long. Fourteen days of trade showing is A LOT of time on your feet, listening and sharing information! I needed a way to organize myself and in the back of my brain I developed a simple framework that has been getting stronger and stronger each day since then.

I began to hone a particular business mindset that frames much of what I see and do in business today. I believe it's worth sharing because I have found others have benefited from it and I'm looking to make it stronger and welcome input to any and all of it.

Below are six areas of business that can be used to organize yourself in your own business or you could even use it as a filter to look at your customer's business too!

6 Focus Areas of a Profitable Business

  1. Strategy: This is all about where you are and where you want to go. It's the high level look to help you work ON your business even though we typically spend the day-to-day working IN the business.
    • Does the current direction align with where you want to be?
    • Does the current direction align with current customer needs?
    • Does the current direction align with new customer needs?
    • If so, how's it going, where are the roadblocks?
    • If not, how come? What will it take to move in that direction?
  2. Product/Service Offering: As an organization you DO something. This represents the products/services you offer to keep the customers you have and obtain new ones.
    • What one product/service do you sell the most of? Why? Is it profitable enough? Does it lead to more profitable business?
    • What is the most profitable product/service you offer? Least profitable? What are you doing to align your marketing and selling efforts to sell more of this?
    • If you could add any product or service not currently offered what would it be? Why? How does it align with current customer/new customer needs?
    • What are you doing to find out if what you deliver to your customer meets/exceeds their needs?
    • What else does your customer need (not know they need) that you could be offering?
  3. Marketing: Represents the processes by which you identify what people want and lets them know you have it for them.
    • Do you actively identify and continue to find out what customers and prospects want? 
    • Do you follow a process as you do it? Is it measurable? Is it repeatable? If you do, do you take the time to review and improve it?
    • How do people who don't know you/your organization hear about you?
    • What are the perceptions of what you do for your customer?
    • Have you considered using a marketing approach to review and help your customer with their business?
  4. Sales: Creating business transactions that gives people/organizations what they want or didn't know they could have.
    • Do you have a sales process? Why/why not?
    • Is it measurable? Is it repeatable? Do you take the time to review and improve it?
    • What is the most successful way you/your organization interacts with a customer for the first time?
    • What channel do you use (direct mail, web based, face to face, phone, etc.) and what do you say? How does it change as a suspect becomes a prospect and then a customer?
    • How do you get to what makes your organization more profitable/successful?
  5. Workflow: Represents the people, processes and technology working together to enable profitable work to happen. This is how you create, develop, build and improve what it is that you DO for your customers.
    • Do you have a process to identify the bottlenecks in your existing workflow? Why/why not? If you do, what do you do about it once you find them?
    • What holds you back from doing more in less time at less cost?
    • What could you spend (time and/or money) and be more efficient at the work you do?
    • How can you use this thinking to go after business from your customer? What if you made their workflow "better?" What would it take to make it happen?
  6. Finance: Represents the cost of doing business, the tracking of time, money and resources to make it happen as well as the ability to report on the profit/loss of the organization.
    • How do you track the costs of operation?
    • How do you set pricing?
    • How do you set/interact with the budgets for each area of the business?
    • Is there a documented process, is it measurable and repeatable?
    • What, if any, investment is made in the development of future success?

Think of each as a frame by which you can look into your business, or any business for that matter and identify what is working and what isn't. Although you may think like this, do all the employees think about all six of these even though they may only work in one of them?

If we used this type of business mindset think about the benefits of a more holistic look at what gets done, isn't getting done or isn't being done well. This could help justify the change each and every organization needs to do every day to be successful.

What do you think of this list? What would you add, take away, do better? I'd like to know, please tell me.

~Keep the learning going, pass it on!


Where Can Content Come From?

Looking for ways to generate interesting, relevant, useful, valuable, searchable, remarkable content? Consider using the following to help get your content generation juices flowing:

  • You could describe your product/service
  • You can teach people how to use your product/service
  • You can inform customers about news and relevant information to their needs beyond your product/service
  • You can tell stories how others use your product/service
  • You can let your customers tell the stories and describe what’s most meaningful to them
  • You can help your customers help other customers use your products/services
  • You could just listen…what are they saying about you, your company, your products/services, your competitors, your industry and more
  • You could also do nothing at all

Sometimes generating content can be as easy as asking someone to have a conversation.

Where do you get great content from? I'd like to know.

~Keep the learning going, pass it on!

You could describe your product/service

You can teach people how to use your product/service

You can inform customers about news and relevant information to their needs beyond your product/service

You can tell stories how others use your product/service

You can let your customers tell the stories and describe what’s most meaningful to them

You can help your customers help other customers use your products/services

You could just listen…what are they saying about you, your company, your products/services, your competitors, your industry and more

You could also do nothing at all


5 Social Media Lifestyes

The 5 Social Media Lifestyles can outline 5 tactical uses of social media you could employ in your business and for your customers. These aren’t in an order of progression that you have to go through, they are lifestyles. Ways you can choose to involve yourself and take part in interaction with these new tools…or not.

  1. Participate or not: You don’t have to use social media. No one is forcing you. You have the choice. Since our major focus on social media is for business purposes, ask one question, “Does my current customer use social media?” Ask one more question, “Will my future customer use social media?” The choice you make here will shape your future. You’ve committed to this presentation. As a result, you will know more than some about social media and how you could use it for your business. That won’t last forever and knowing is only half of it. Trying it is a whole different ride! Choose to participate and you’ll start to grow a new set of skills to make you more valuable.
  2. Look and Listen: This is the basic starting point of social media, also known as the “lurker.” There is nothing wrong with tuning in to a social media channel and seeing and hearing what’s going on. You could review the Facebook News Feed of Your Friends, you could follow a conversation about collections on a LinkedIn user group, you could even watch a YouTube video about digital printing and packaging. You chose to join and show up. You can learn a lot by observing, but what if you decided to participate?
  3. Engage and interact: Engaging and interacting are what make social media “social.” Two or more people sharing ideas, content, music, video. Growing our knowledge exponentially through people we are connected to. You decide to comment on a blog post and the author asks for your help on a project he’s working on. You send a direct message to someone you follow on Twitter. You decide to write your own blog and your first post is about making the move from lurking to participating. Now there’s no turning back. Watching your time and knowing what you want to get from engaging and interacting are important to reaching your business goals.
  4. Develop and Implement: Now you are making decisions to use social media to reach your goals. You decide to create a blog and link it to the website and optimize the tags so people find you in a search on “custom photo books + kindergarten.” This aligns with a new market you are targeting and a new product that will appeal to parents who are sending their children to school for the first time. You decide to write on the blog about how easy it is to use the web to build a scrapbook and appeal to parents, teachers and administrators. You produce a two pronged YouTube series on the How-To Create and the Business Value of Offering Scrapbooks to your students. Your Facebook page and Twitter feed align with these approaches and support a common message and theme of “capturing the first steps of lifelong learning.” You get the idea.
  5. Provide as a Service: It’s in this stage you make the decision to help others start the journey you’ve been making using social media as part of your marketing plan to grow your business. It’s a busy market out there. Marketing services have been around a long time. Social media provides new channels to reach goals. The channel alone doesn’t make a company successful. It’s the alignment of the goals and objectives to the needs of the customer and the use of channels appropriate to make it all happen.

 Which lifestyle is for you? Is there another lifestyle I haven't considered? Let me know.

~Keep the learning going, pass it on!

The 5 Social Media Lifestyles can outline 5 tactical uses of social media you could employ in your business and for your customers. These aren’t in an order of progression that you have to go through, they are lifestyles. Ways you can choose to involve yourself and take part in interaction with these new tools…or not.

1.Participate or not: You don’t have to use social media. No one is forcing you. You have the choice. Since our major focus on social media is for business purposes, ask one question, “Does my current customer use social media?” Ask one more question, “Will my future customer use social media?” The choice you make here will shape your future. You’ve committed to this presentation. As a result, you will know more than some about social media and how you could use it for your business. That won’t last forever and knowing is only half of it. Trying it is a whole different ride! Choose to participate and you’ll start to grow a new set of skills to make you more valuable.
2.Look and Listen: This is the basic starting point of social media, also known as the “lurker.” There is nothing wrong with tuning in to a social media channel and seeing and hearing what’s going on. You could review the Facebook News Feed of Your Friends, you could follow a conversation about collections on a LinkedIn user group, you could even watch a YouTube video about digital printing and packaging. You chose to join and show up. You can learn a lot by observing, but what if you decided to participate?
3.Engage and interact: Engaging and interacting are what make social media “social.” Two or more people sharing ideas, content, music, video. Growing our knowledge exponentially through people we are connected to. You decide to comment on a blog post and the author asks for your help on a project he’s working on. You send a direct message to someone you follow on Twitter. You decide to write your own blog and your first post is about making the move from lurking to participating. Now there’s no turning back. Watching your time and knowing what you want to get from engaging and interacting are important to reaching your business goals.
4.Develop and Implement: Now you are making decisions to use social media to reach your goals. You decide to create a blog and link it to the website and optimize the tags so people find you in a search on “custom photo books + kindergarten.” This aligns with a new market you are targeting and a new product that will appeal to parents who are sending their children to school for the first time. You decide to write on the blog about how easy it is to use the web to build a scrapbook and appeal to parents, teachers and administrators. You produce a two pronged YouTube series on the How-To Create and the Business Value of Offering Scrapbooks to your students. Your Facebook page and Twitter feed align with these approaches and support a common message and theme of “capturing the first steps of lifelong learning.” You get the idea.
5.Provide as a Service: It’s in this stage you make the decision to help others start the journey you’ve been making using social media as part of your marketing plan to grow your business. It’s a busy market out there. Marketing services have been around a long time. Social media provides new channels to reach goals. The channel alone doesn’t make a company successful. It’s the alignment of the goals and objectives to the needs of the customer and the use of channels appropriate to make it all happen.


Where Do You Find Your Inspiration?

To look at something differently, to recognize something you’ve never seen before, to feel for something in a different way, to realize something could be done that was never done before—all of these things can be the result of being inspired. Here are just a few ways people experience being inspired: a sound, a smell, an article, a picture, a lecture, a meal, a sculpture, a piece of wood, a stack of $100 bills, a child being given a glass of water, a cancer victim crossing a finish line, a smile on someone’s face after experiencing you or your business. Being inspired can lead to innovation and action.

When I’m inspired I can describe a problem in a new way, develop new material, create a new service or product, connect with a prospect I never could connect with before, reconnect with old customers to discuss something new. Finding inspiration helps me and those I work with to be fresh, interesting, motivating, engaging and worth other people’s time. Being inspired can be inspiring to others.

I find inspiration in blogs that I follow, websites I watch, people I keep up with in the industries that they influence. Inspiration comes from articles, programs, lectures, books, pictures and the world around me. There’s inspiration everywhere. When I stay focused on one project or task and I don’t take the time to look around in my business, in my customer’s business, in my industry or the industries of my customer’s customer then I find myself falling short on inspiration.

Here are just a few of the many places I turn to for inspiration: Wall Street Journal, www.wsj.com, Chris Brogan: www.chrisbrogan.com, Tech Crunch: www.techcrunch.com, AdWeek: www.adweek.com, American Marketing Association: www.marketingpower.com, Social Media Today: www.socialmediatoday.com, International Erosion Control Association: www.ieca.org, travel to new cities and countries, my local museum and parks, talking to my existing customers regularly and reaching out to new customers and learning about their business and industry.

Where do you find your inspiration? What have you done to inspire others? Two great questions you can explore as you grow your business and your customer’s business too!

Let me know where you find your inspiration and how you may have inspired others by posting a comment here.

~Keep the learning going...pass it on!


Finding Your Breath in Business

How far can you swim? In 2010 I learned to distance swim (sure I could swim, but not very far) and completed two Sprint Triathlons, one Olympic Triathlon and one Half Iron Man Triathlon. Before you start thinking it’s no big deal for someone who does this all the time I want you to know I had never participated in a triathlon before. I had also never swum more than a couple of laps. I realized early on that the mechanics of the stroke are easy to observe and harder to practice but it’s the breathing that made all the difference for me. When I relaxed and focused on my breathing I found myself able to learn more, practice more and do more.

After a few months off I got into the pool today and was surprised that even after a shaky two laps at the start; much of what I had learned came back to me and I proceeded to have a great workout. The first few workouts I had in 2010, as I learned to distance swim, were not so smooth. Not being able to swim more than a few laps because of fatigue, swallowing water, hitting my head, water up my nose, rushed strokes and so many more struggles was frustrating to me. I remember back to other activities in my life that caused similar frustration: golf, snowboarding, public speaking and teaching just to name a few. As the year went on it wasn’t so new anymore and I worked on perfecting how I performed. Time and time again I came back to my breathing. The intake of energy and the exhale of waste whether in the pool, on the bike or pounding the pavement drove me, powered me, centered me and allowed me to do more than I ever thought I was capable of doing. No, I wasn’t first…or even in the top 25% of finishers in most of my races, but at least I was conditioned to do things most people only dream of doing.

2011 is off to a fast start and I find myself struggling to find my breath in my business. Calls and e-mails to return, blog posts to get done, social networking updates to be made, new services to develop and sell, marketing to research, billing…and oh taxes too! I know I’m not the only one; I’ve spoken to others and heard similar woes. Today I sat and reminded myself I know how to run my business. There are new things I want to do too and I can add them once I prioritize what needs to be done. I realized I need to take time to breathe and look at our strategy of where we are and where we want to go. Breathe and look at what it will take to get there. Breathe and engage the resources we have or bring in others to get it done. Breathe and measure the effort to show it’s worth the return. Breathe and consider my customers can use our help to do the same for their business.

What can you do to help your customers find their breath? What can you do to help your customer to be successful, sell more, win new customers and show the customers they have why they should keep doing business? You can help your customers grow their business and you can grow your business too. That’s what business development is all about. Finding your breath and helping others do the same.

Share your thoughts on finding your breath or helping others do the same by posting a comment.

~Keep the learning going...pass it on.


Top 8 Risks of Social Media

  1. Something gets posted you don’t want others to see.
    • Is it a corporate secret, comments of a disgruntled employee or an upset customer because of a lack of customer service? If you don’t already have one, a brief internal social media policy should cover what can and can’t be said along with how it could be said by those inside the organization. It should be flexible enough to encourage passion for customers and the brand but should also make sure the brand remains an asset. If the comments are from outside the organization they should be quickly judged to determine constructive criticism or inappropriate behavior and appropriate steps should be taken to deal with them in a timely manner.
  2. You create a social presence but no one is participating.
    • Social media should start with a strategy and part of the strategy should include audience, content and appropriate channel(s). It takes time to grow a community. You may think you’re talking to yourself but really you can be honing your message to your customer while you also spend time listening to what is important to them and include it in your community content. The time you take working at establishing your social media standing can also be used as an ongoing case study to discuss what you’ve learned with your customers.
  3. You’re trying to be social but the topic gets sidetracked or even hijacked.
    • Simply ask, “Why?” Perhaps there is something else more important you could or should be covering. One of the first rules of social media is that it’s not about you. Or perhaps you can suggest covering the new topic in next week’s discussions where you can research it further and get more input on it. The point of social media is that you don’t have direct control of the message but the more involved you are in social media and are aware of your business and customers, your ability to influence the message increases.
  4. Some people don’t tolerate change.
    • As your social media community grows and expands its reach there is a possibility of alienating your core followers. You need to consider your core first before diluting your approach to please the masses you’re not currently connected to. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but if you include the core in your growth and choices for growth it’s often easier for them to deal with change. Also remember, there are some people who just don’t want to change. If they are your target audience, what about creating a core group just for them? Consider the impact on you resources and the benefits of keeping them happy while still addressing a larger potential community.
  5. Social media channels and content can open up breaches of security.
    • Viruses, malware, identity and brand theft can all occur with or without the use of social media. You should consider good IT practices to avoid the possibility of software and hardware security breaches. Some recommend being vague with content to avoid brand or identity theft. You need to consider the level of information you share and the possibility that information can be used against you. But if you participate in social media and all you do is listen without giving there is a high probability your community will wonder if it’s worth participating in your network.
  6. Social media strategies that don’t include the whole organization.
    • In a small organization the worry is not enough resources to establish a social media strategy and be able to execute while in a larger organization it may mean a fight to control or influence the approach, the theme, the content, the budget and other resources. Not everyone needs to be directly involved but all should be aware of the social media benefits as part of the marketing and sales strategies of the organization.
  7. Too much power wielded by an individual.
    • There is a risk if the social media “face” of the company is a particular individual and what if that individual leaves the organization or takes another role within the company? Their social media currency could leave with them. Consider the impact of an individual and consider spreading the currency around to include others. Not only will it help to balance the power, but it can also help balance the responsibility to create great content and manage the social media strategy.
  8. Not having the ability to localize your message to a particular audience.
    • What happens if your social media presence expands to another country or a customer base outside your typical one? Monitoring your social media strategy and reviewing the needs of a particular audience can help you plan for the needs of your existing and future audiences. As you look to expand into a new audience you should evaluate tactics to localize your message to the audience. This could include translation services or evaluating the needs of a new layer of employees.

Keep the learning going...pass it on!


Living Socially

Below is a comment of mine to a blog Post by Howie Fenton about the possible "time suck" effects of social media.

You can check out his original post here: http://printceo.com/2010/08/time-suck

_____________________

To some social media is a noun. As a noun it's a channel (or series of channels depending on how many social media technologies one chooses to lump under the definition). People can choose to tune into the channel and watch, listen...and even participate or not. I think of all the debate over all the years about Howard Stern. Although I didn't listen to his show, I thought he was funny. As for those who thought he was vulgar...stop tuning into that channel.

To others social media is a verb. As a verb "doing social media" takes time. Some like to do social media and some don't. I admit time can fly when you are doing social media (blogs, twitter, facebook, linkedin, youtube and more). If you don't want to do social media, you don't have to.

“Social Media is about enabling conversation”, said Lon Safko and and David Brake in “The Social Media Bible.” They went on to say, “social media refers to the activities, practices and behaviors among communities of people who gather online to share information, knowledge and opinions using conversational media.

Imagine the debates when the telegraph, radio, television and the internet came along. People using the existing technology saying the “new” way is taking away from what we’re doing today. They're no different than the debates the printing industry had over flatbed scanning, desktop publishing, CTP and digital print.

There’s always another ways to get something done, you interested in trying it? It could be one hell of a ride. Or perhaps it could be a 54 hour bus ride from hell going to see a relative you don’t even like. That’s time you’ll never get back.

It takes time to debate whether it's a time suck or not. Nothing wrong with good debate, people can learn from it, just make sure you're doing something else besides debating or else the world will move on without you.

People have choices. We've always had them. People are choosing to use social media as a way they want to communicate. I can't tell them to use it or not use it...it's their choice. (Businesses can mandate whether an employee can or not). How much time they spend on it and what they do on it is up to them.

If you take away the opinion (analysis) from the report it says there are more people choosing to be online using social media tools doing social media activities. That's less people watching tv, listening to the radio, reading the paper, reading a magazine etc.

The print industry is funded by people's needs (consumer and corporate) to communicate via print. There’s an opportunity here to raise our awareness of new ways to communicate. It costs less than a TV or radio studio but it does take time.

What about using social media for your business? Use it to participate in conversations with your customers or provide them support the moment they need it. Use it to get found on searches  or share information like WTT does. Use it gain knowledge and grow skills and experiences. If you try it and you’re frustrated that "it doesn't work" or “takes too much of your time” it may not be a channel for you.

But that frustration some people feel is EXACTLY what many customers of the print industry are feeling these days. B2B, B2C, association and non-profit markets are acknowledging that people want to communicate in different ways. They're splitting what's left of their smaller marketing/communications budgets into smaller portions so they can free up funding to try web site development, e-mail and social media themselves. These choices can take away from the profitability of the print industry.

Helping our customers use a mix of channels that can be used to connect with existing and new customers could be a great way to spend our time. We can even use our experiences of trying it ourselves at home and at work as part of our pitch.

There will always be more channels. And not all are effective as others. But if people are given a choice to communicate the way they want to and they go there to do it; I know I want to learn more about it and will invest some of my time to see what it’s all about.

What amazes me is that there are some people out there that actually click on the link in the e-mail from the President of a foreign land who needs my help. Someone is choosing to watch reality tv and tend a crop in Farmville—not my thing. It's all about choice.

What will you do with yours?

I gotta get out for a run. All this social media is making my butt sore.

Thanks Howie for starting this up. And thanks to everyone else who's participating. That's what living socially is all about.


Choose the Channels and Erase the Mystery

With the advent of variable data printing direct marketers were given the ability to create highly targeted and personalized marketing campaigns. Automating the process and tracking responses more precisely has allowed them to finely tune their databases and increase the relevancy of their marketing outreach. Finally, they were gaining the kind of accuracy and response cold callers of yore only dreamed of. Then along came social media and a whole new arena for communication erupted that marketers couldn’t ignore. Now marketers could reach into the discussions, referrals and commentary going on in previously private networks. Now everything from dinner table conversations to professional networking advice to personal journaling and more was up for public consumption. Marketers knew there was an opportunity but they weren’t sure how to access it. 

Facebook and Twitter were initially designed to be social networking platforms for individuals to connect with other individuals and that began to grow into groups. Eventually marketers tapped into these channels with a message (often with a tight budget) and used the channel to connect with their customer base.

At first there was little method to the marketing madness—many will argue that’s the real wealth of viral opportunity—as brand managers began cruising Facebook, Myspace and Twitter looking for opportunities to reach their desired audience. Lessons were learned and mistakes were made but there were also a number of successful marketing efforts using these new channels of communication. After each report of a wildly successful social media marketing campaign other marketers would sit back as ask, “How did they do that?” It was entirely new territory and everyone was figuring it out as they went along.

Now, as social media continues to evolve so do the few elementary rules and best practices that have been established. In the rapidly evolving environment of social media marketing there are a few truths that can help you navigate the best way to incorporate social media marketing into your existing and future campaigns.

  1. There is no “one way.” The reason it has been so difficult to measure and commoditize social media marketing is the highly customized nature of a good campaign. The channels, messages, methods and strategy of each effort are tied to the goals, experience, products/services, audience etc. of the client. Every time a new campaign is created a good marketer will start from scratch—using lessons learned to prevent repeat errors—and assemble the components necessary to successfully market the brand. Don’t try to package the process. Just observe and measure what you can to find the rhythm and nuances of using social media as a marketing tool.
  2. Social media is a method. It should be part of a marketing plan. If you don’t have a marketing plan or it has been a long time since you’ve updated yours then take the time to explore and update your marketing objectives. Social media should be part of your marketing strategy and your day to day tactics to reach your objectives. Need a refresher on what a marketing plan could look like? A Google search on “marketing plan template” had the following top hit as of today: www.quickmba.com/marketing/plan/.
  3. It isn’t always about what you have to say. In fact, one of the most useful ways to use social media as a marketer is to get a glimpse at the behaviors, thoughts and trends volleying amongst your target audience. Simply "listening in" can help you better understand what they want from you and how they want it presented.
  4. Let them choose. Instead of trying to anticipate the best way to touch a customer give them options. People are accustomed to having everything—meals, TV programming, news—their way. They now expect to be able to choose how they want to receive your marketing message. Don’t fight them. Make sure your campaign gives the audience a choice.
  5. Engage. Don’t lecture. The truly unique element of social media is the “social” part. You now have direct access to your customers. Explore ways you can engage them in your brand experience. Get them to provide feedback or enable them to share their support for your cause. Social media is a two way street the faster you can embrace the potential conversations you can have the sooner you’ll find your campaign’s niche.
  6. The cost isn’t always about money. With social media it’s often time. Social media’s biggest source of funding is time. Setting aside the time to identify relevant content, post it on appropriate social media channels and monitor what’s being said about it is an ongoing process. Be sure to include more time in the beginning to learn what works for you and your audience.
  7. Remember these three words: content, channel and hook. These three have been the cornerstone of marketing efforts for years. What you want to say, the channel in which you say it and what you expect someone to do with what you’ve shared or done. Modern marketing has increased the number channels and what can be done with them. Finding out what people want and being able to deliver it in a channel or channels they want to receive it in. It’s both a mystery and an opportunity. The best way to demystify it is to try it for your organization.

Before You Send Your Next Meeting Request Read This

Over the holiday weekend I was privy to some friends griping about a side of professional life I have, thus far, been lucky to avoid: pointless yet mandatory meetings. They come in all sorts of flavors from "staff meetings" to "team update meetings" to "just checking in to see how you're doing meetings" and tend to take a nice bite out of ones day- not to mention productivity- as the leader aimlessly attempts to give the assembly some meaning. I listened as they each recalled their horror stories; entire days eaten up by meetings where their input nor presence was necessary, open ended (i.e. endless) review sessions without any structure that continually deviate from any semblance of a productive course, hours wasted trying to set up/understand presentation technology that is supposed to help not hinder meeting efficacy. The tales went on and on each contributing to the mounting sense of frustration over these bureaucratic inefficiencies. Before they got to riled up I changed the topic - this was a BBQ after all- but it left me wondering what would be a few easy considerations to take before planning a meeting that would help you avoid chaotic time sink territory. Here is what I came up with:

 

  1. Why are you calling the meeting? If you can't identify at least three reasons to bring people together for a conversation then you could probably scratch the meeting itch with a well worded email inviting a response. If you're calling a meeting because you always have a Monday meeting ask yourself whether they are really necessary or if you could convey the message in a group voicemail, email or simply make the meetings less frequent. 
  2. Are you looking for feedback, input or discussion? Or, are you just looking to talk. A theme appeared as I listened to my friends talk. Too often meetings were called when someone wanted to report something or share pertinent information but wasn't really interested in what the attendees had to say. I can understand wanting to make sure the message was received but sending an email with a receipt attached or "to let me know you've read this send me a reply with 'PURPLE' in the subject line" placed randomly in your message are two ways you can ensure your message has been received without taking up valuable work time. 
  3. Who really needs to be there? Unless a person's opinion, experience or work is required to achieve the goals of you're meeting then they probably don't need to be there. Giving the usual suspects the option to attend a meeting is one thing but requiring them to be there when their minds are elsewhere isn't doing anyone any favors. Put some thought into who you're asking to attend and you might find your meetings move a bit more smoothly. 
  4. Give it some structure. It is no secret I'm a fan of organization and I think every meeting could benefit from some structure. When setting up a meeting let the attendees know when you want to start and how long you're intending the meeting will go. Then STICK TO THAT. Letting people know you appreciate their time and busy schedules and dedicating yourself to a predetermined amount of time will keep the spirits high and meeting clicking along. If you're really feeling on top of your meetings go ahead and share that list of reasons you identified back up on question 1. Priming their minds for the matters you're going to touch on will mean they'll also be more prepared for the meeting. 
  5. Multitask. If you find yourself reaching for the meeting button every time something crosses your mind that you want to share I would suggest instead adding it to a meeting "to do" list. At the end of the day/week take a look at the issues you've identified and see if there is some way you can bunch things together in one meeting or, pull out a few really important issues to dedicate meeting time to then write an email to cover all the other smaller issues. The most effort you put into streamlining your meetings the more effective that time away from other tasks will be. 

These five points are by no means a cure-all for the meaningless meetings epidemic however they are a starting point for inciting change within your organization. Smarter more effective meetings will send a ripple of similar efficiency through the rest of your company's workflow so start tightening up your meeting strategy today.


The "Creative"/"Suit" Spectrum

There are plenty of people for whom creativity is the main fuel for their day. Designers, marketers, artists, chefs all exist in environments that demand fluency in creative thought. However, there are a lot of jobs that center on process, routine and analytical thought where there isn’t a lot of room for creative thought. Neither extreme can lead to a completely successful career; “creatives” still need processes and business acumen to grow and market while “suits” need creativity to find new opportunities and innovative solutions that enable evolution and expansion. Most people appear naturally towards one end of the “creative”/”suit” spectrum. The lucky ones are those who incorporate their “creative” or “suit” status in their work but it is the successful professionals who acknowledge where they fall and seek ways to move towards the other end.

So, I ask you where do you fall on the “creative”/”suit” spectrum? If you’re a “suit” how do you try to introduce creativity into your work? If you’re a “creative” what ways do try to embrace process and analysis? I challenge you to determine where you fall on the spectrum and work to move yourself towards a more centered place by exploring a way of working that may not be natural but will be more fruitful.


Making The Customer Connection

For a small business their customer & lead database is the heart of their sales process. Without an organized system for tracking who you sell to, how you sold them and what they bought a sales team will find themselves engaged in a wild goose chase on inefficiency and low profits.

Large corporations often have entire departments dedicated to standardizing the sales process and training their sales reps on their highly customized CRM process. Small businesses, however, don’t have the luxury of cost or time to establish extensive procedures or elaborate systems. None the less, small businesses have a very real need for a streamlined system to track their customer relationships. Luckily in the past few years some excellent services have appeared that can help your small business maintain an improved system of customer engagement.

While a spread sheet and a tidy Outlook contacts file are a good start you might want to consider one of the CRM service options if you’ve found yourself suffering from any of these common sales process road blocks:

 

  • Remembering you talked to somebody at Acme Client but you’re not quite sure who it was or what         asked for.
  • Sent out a whole bunch of sample kits but lost track of where they went and how long ago.
  • Passed a client off to the next in the sales chain but you’re not sure if they ever followed up with them.
  • Find yourself sending out the same single email to people throughout the day/week/promotion.
  • Continually realize there are ways your current system fails or creates gaps in your efficiency. 

 

This post isn’t intended to endorse one service over another -we will leave you to do your own investigating- it is intended to help you recognize the need for having a CRM system in place and some factors to consider when looking in to your options. So, here is a list of things to keep in mind before you sign up for a CRM system:

A good system will allow you to easily:

 

  • Track contact w/ each customer (Phone, email, face-to-face)
  • Take notes about client interaction
  • Integrate with your other systems
  • Track the sales process with each lead and customer
  • Manage your timeline of interactions, emails, appointments, etc and alert you if a deadline is approaching.
  • Most importantly, look at your existing process and identify the weaknesses you should hopefully be able to find a solution that resolves most, if not all, of those issues.

 

Before you approve the payment ask:

 

  • Do they have a service level that fits your budget? CRM services can help make you more profitable but don’t put all your money into the system and not the clients.
  • Can you easily navigate the user interface? Most services will allow you a trial period, if you find actually using the service to be cumbersome or confusing from the start you’ll most likely end up abandoning it eventually.
  • Is there room to customize? Your sales process is distinct to your business you should be able to tailor the service you use to maintain that process.
  • What kind of customer support do they provide? Do they offer webinars or training so ensure you understand how to properly use all the service’s bells and whistles? If something goes wrong will you be able to rely on them to help you find a solution? 

 

Now that you have a starting point go forth and find the solution that best suits your company’s needs. With a standardized CRM process in place you’ll be able to focus more efficiently –and hopefully, profitably- on your customers.

Some Options To Consider: 

SalesForce

HighRise

Zoho

SalesBoom

NetSuite


Write It Out

When was the last time you wrote? I don’t mean a quick email reply to your officemate or 140 character tweet. I mean really took some time to sit down and write out your thoughts. It is a practice I often find myself doing when I am trying to develop an idea or clarify my opinion on a matter. It helps to solidify my positions and makes me much more articulate when I need to talk about the topic or my position later.

Of course, the fact the I have to write a lot for work, gives me motive to write regularly but, now that I have realized the benefits of putting my thoughts on paper I find myself doing it a lot more for reasons other than blogging or proposal writing. Usually while in the middle of putting my thoughts into words I will see my thoughts take a natural order, one I might not have come up with if I had tried to find key point before fleshing out the full argument. I even sometimes find myself questions my initial opinion or finding a whole new side of the argument. I vary my approach depending on my mood or topic and I always feel better –not to mention, more prepared - after I’ve put my mind through a bit of a workout.

If you think starting your own writing workout would help you make better at forming arguments and sort through your thoughts here are the two main approached I use. 

Free Styling

When I have a nugget of an idea or even something as vague as a general direction I will often let my natural synapses take control. To keep the thoughts flowing freely I’ll pick up a pen and go at it; sometimes when I type I find the process can interrupt the stream of ideas. So, with nothing between my mind and the paper in front of me I begin writing everything that comes to mind, doing my best to make the thoughts string together somehow but ultimately not fussing with semantics. I’ll do this until I hit a block or until I feel the ideas have really played themselves out. Then, I step away and let it sit for a while.

After at least an hour but sometimes as much as a week I will return to the work and start to give the piece shape. I’m not looking to necessarily make it publishable, just to extract the strong points and find the most concise relationship between them. I work with the brain dump until I feel like I’ve absorbed enough to either help me in future articles and/or presentations or in conveying opinions.

Much like a brainstorming session this no rules approach often shakes loose some ideas that wouldn’t have been revealed by a more formal process. It also helps improve my understanding of the way I write. Becoming familiar with my patterns and voice makes writing on assignment easier and more efficient.

Homework

On the occasion when I’ve been gnawing on some ideas but can really wrap my head around how to connect them or what angle to use to dig a little deeper I give myself an assignment. I take a basic editorial approach. First, by making an outline. In fact, I often push the outline step to it’s fullest trying to organize the various thoughts I’ve already come up with. Then, I begin to build prose around that outline. Challenging myself to make my writing as concise and relatable as possible.

This approach requires me to be more structured but it usually provides the connections I need to make the best argument succinctly. I generally us this when I need to understand my thoughts but, more importantly, I want to be able to share them with others. I will edit the prose until I‘ve reached a point that I feel it stands on its own then I put it aside. The mere exercise of working through my thoughts and refining them primes my mind for future conversations. Instead of worrying I may not be explaining myself effectively or trying to justify a position I haven’t fully thought through I am more confident in presenting my thoughts and opinions.

While this may seem like a lot of work it saves me a ton of time because my head is clear and my positions solidified. At least try it once and see if it doesn’t help you with your formal work.


Innovation Comes From Within: Progressive employee policies

A lot of changes in workforce management have occurred in the past decade as the economy, communication methods and technology have all done a fair amount of shifting. People no longer feel obligated to stay at the same company for decades; in fact, many workers change entire careers as their interests dictate. Yet the need for dedicated and skilled workers is as great as ever. So what are employers doing to build effective workforces? They're thinking out of the box and embracing progressive employee policies. If you're looking for new ways to improve the results you're getting from your employees consider some of the following ways other companies are shaking things up in their work places.

 

  • Give them room to roam; it is a well recognized fact that everyone learns in their own way. Some are visual learners, others do better if they hear a lesson and there are also those who thrive in a tactile learning environment where they can work through problems with their own two hands. The same can be said for the way people work; everyone has a particular method to be most productive. If you're interested in getting the best results from your workforce's individual skill sets then give them some freedom to find their comfort zone. If they are morning people then encourage them to come in as early as they'd like, if they work better standing up then allow them to change their desk situation. Working within the parameters of your expectations of them do your best to enable them to achieve those expectations in their own way.
  • Encourage creative thinking and allow employees to pursue their own ideas. Companies like Google and Azavea are getting a lot of recognition for allowing their employees to use 10% of their "work hours" to pursue individual projects. Their theory is that the more their employees work to build their own skill sets and interests the more they will benefit from the diversity of perspective and a staff capable of demonstrating initiative. Allowing workers to broaden their horizons can bring new ideas and opportunities to your company simply by extension of your employee's interests. This is particularly effective if you've hired people who are passionate about the work they do for your company as well as the company's overall ethos, then it is even more likely that their outside interests will dovetail with their internal projects.
  • Embrace the untraditional; identify elements of your business that are unique and build them into your employee policy. If you're an eco-friendly company encourage and enable a green work environment (provide a bike helmet for everyone who bikes to work, allow composting in the cafeteria) if you're an arts centric company set aside three or four days for cultural events like going to a concert or festival. Incorporating the company's brand identity in your employee policy is a way to not only practice what you preach but also encourage your workforce to partake of the ethos themselves.
  • Ask what you can do to make your employees' day easier. Offering small fringe benefits like dry cleaning pick up from the office, a monthly visit from a masseuse, arranging for a grocery shopping service to take orders and make a single delivery at the office are all small ways you can help reduce non-work related stress. The less they have to worry about all the things they have to get done after work the more they will focus on the tasks at hand while they're still at work.
  • Make learning accessible. The practice of reimbursing employees for going back to school while working for you has been around for a while but usually relegated to larger companies. More recently small businesses have been taking their own approach to providing educational opportunities to their workers by hiring consultants to teach their workforce about the strategy and lager business theories that drive businesses. These courses go beyond specific job training and reenforcing company policies to encompass more general business theories. Providing the opportunity for employees to learn more about their industry or business in general -trends, strategies and best practices - can improve their ability to work within your company and to understand the larger context within which that company operates. If you can't afford to hire an outside firm to provide courses (webinars, lunch and learns and face to face training are all common approaches) consider giving each employee some money to purchase business books or building an in office library.
  • Put yourself in their shoes. PortionPac, a cleaning chemical manufacturer in Chicago, sets aside one day every year to play a little musical chairs with the employees. The administrative workers go into the production center and spend the day in the shoes of the employees who actually produce their cleaning products. Shifting everyone's perspective of the company's workflow provides the opportunity to reconsider their methods. Doing someone else's work always changes the way you do your own, making this practice part of your company policy can help everyone get a better sense of their place in full workflow.

If your company is already using some innovative employee policies let us know. We're always interested in how businesses are evolving.


I've Got 1,000,000,000 Followers I'm Successful. Right?

When discussing social media with businesses already actively engaging channels like Twitter and Facebook I often hear them tell me how many followers or fans they have as though this number is directly representative of their success or influence. It isn’t, not automatically. Each “follower” or “fan” represents a potential new customer, a new business opportunity or an existing customer/colleague interested in seeing what you have to say (or offer). However, simply acquiring more and more opportunities does not a successful business make. While it is nice to see the numbers grow it is even nicer to see the business grow as well, then you can consider your social media efforts successful.

Your “followers” all expect something of you, whether it is as simple as a few regular entertaining posts or full conversational interaction, they’ve all chosen to follow you for some reason. To effectively turn the numbers into business opportunities you need to give them what they are looking for. At first this can be easy, just ask. Then, listen; really listen because what they those initial followers tell you will help you build a scalable social media strategy. If they want to get a glimpse of your prowess or insight then give them informative posts. If they want updates on new products then use status messages to keep them up to date. Build your social media strategy – like your customer service strategy – according to what your customer expects.

As the numbers grow it will be a lot harder to give each follower individual attention. Most likely, though, the expectations of your “fans” will begin to fall into categories that, if you’ve really listened, will be addressed by your social media strategy. A scaleable social media strategy, however, is only possible when you stop simply counting your followers and start engaging them. 


Is Event Marketing For You?

Are you considering hosting a customer event? Not sure of the potential benefits or reasonable motive for organizing an event campaign. Often when we ask people why they host customer events is “to sell stuff” and while from a very base perspective that may be true, there a number of other more nuanced motives that can help you decide whether a customer event is the right strategy for you. Here are five considerations that may help you decide whether event marketing is right for you.

  1. Do you have an event idea that will be a memorable or educational experience? Keeping your customer’s interest and needs in mind organize an event that will be informative or provide a solution not necessarily tied to your products or services. Putting their interests first will position you positively in their minds, building the customer relationship and, hopefully, their loyalty.
  2. In the past have you relied entirely on one or two forms of marketing campaigns? Whether they are successful or not a little change in your marketing formula can jumpstart your customer’s engagement and lure new customers. Events are a dynamic way to present information and build your audience’s familiarity with the people in your company.
  3. Is your sales team tiring of the usual routine? Giving your sales team the project of organizing and executing an event can help them gain a new perspective on their customers and the sales process. New opportunities can blossom from employing a new approach.
  4. Are demonstrations or examples a central part of your business? If you plan an event that incorporates a demonstration or samples in a unique way benefits will be more memorable and, in some cases, unanticipated opportunities might arise. Additionally, with more people watching a demo or receiving samples a customer may be more likely to be influenced by their peers. Events can be a more direct and influential sales strategy.
  5. Do you ever see your customers face to face? For a lot of people a little face time can do wonders in building their comfort with a company’s products or services. Often, that comfort will lead to sales and, if the relationship is maintained, a long term loyal relationship.

Of course, there are more factors you will need to consider once you’ve decided an event is something your company could benefit from like budget, theme, delivery etc. Hopefully this list will get your thinking about the possibility of event marketing.


"Good Customer Service Is Good Social Media Marketing"

I came across this phrase in one of Tamar Weinberg’s posts about using Facebook for business & marketing and it really stuck with me. This statement captures a unique point where traditional and progressive business mindsets find harmony. I am a huge proponent of providing high quality customer service, subscribing to the old business philosophy “it’s easier to keep an existing customer than find a new one” as a founding principle for my work. However, a lot of business owners I have spoken to are so caught up in marketing to new customers –increasingly using social media- they have overlooked providing their existing customers with impeccable service to maintain their business. Weinberg’s philosophy though, brings attention to the potential relationship between marketing and customer service in a social media world. In the age of “Yelping,” “checking in” and “liking” marketing and customer service are becoming more and more mutually inclusive.

Establishing a traditional customer service approach – follow up calls, service support, frequent user incentives – can now result in the customer expressing appreciation on social media sites like Yelp, Facebook or Twitter. A positive review or endorsement on any of these sites can help build new customer awareness of your products and services. Or, you can incorporate customer service initiatives in your social media marketing strategy – promote incentives for people who “check in” to your store, maintain a Twitter presence to monitor Twitter feeds to address anyone’s complaints, create a Facebook page that encourages customers to provide feedback (good and bad) – all of which can strengthen your relationship with existing customers; ideally, a satisfied customer will then spread their praise to friends continuing the mutually beneficial relationship.

Good customer service is good social media marketing; keep this in mind as you continue to pursue new customers and provide stellar service to your existing customers.


Be A Better Student

When I was in college I was the student who took color coded class notes, always had questions and made good use of professor’s office hours. What can I say, I have always loved learning (i.e. been a geek) and because of a childhood ADD diagnosis I had a well structured set of coping mechanisms to ensure I was absorbing everything I could from my education. In the years since leaving the world of formal education and entering the professional training & education industry I have slowly adjusted my set of learning tricks to adapt to the less formal learning opportunities I encounter. I have recently been observing people who attend conferences, webinars, training and presentations and thought perhaps sharing a few of my basic rules of thumb for making the most of an educational opportunity. 

  • Before the event (conference, keynote address, webinar) identify three things you’d like to take away from the experience. Whether you have a particular question about the event’s focus or simply want to expand your horizons putting some forethought into the topics at hand will prime your brain for learning. You don’t need to be too specific; unless you have so many goals you want to make sure you hit them all, in which plan away! Some examples of pre-event goals I’ve had recently:
    • Listen for/ask about social media case studies
    • Try to meet session leader, at the very least introduce myself
    • Gather trend information
    • Find this new product and get the “pitch” (trade show goal)
  • Take notes. You don’t need to go the color coded route but you should jot down a few observances or ideas that are inspired by the content being presented. Being an active note taker will make you a much more engaged listener and therefore more likely to acquire new knowledge. If a handout is provided then highlight facts/ideas that resonated with you in the moment but, it’s a good idea to always bring a pen and paper just in case.
  • During the event ask questions and provide input, if it is solicited. Speakers put a lot of time and thought into the content and structure of their presentations. When they ask for questions or input it is because they sincerely want to integrate your thoughts into their message. Plus, it is a chance to make sure the goals you set going into the event are satisfied.
  • While the issues, ideas and news is still fresh in your head try to find at least two ways it relates to your current work. Sometimes these opportunities are informational oasis in an otherwise static routine. If you’re able to tie the information acquired during these events to your everyday work you’ll be more likely to retain the new perspective. 
  • Once the event is over follow up; either by filling out a comment card or sending a note to the organizer/presenter. Be sure to identify what you took away from the event and, if necessary what additional information would have been useful. This gives you the opportunity to summarize the event succinctly and help the organizer/speaker continue to improve their content.

A lot of money and planning go into creating events and learning opportunities; using these tips will make sure you make the most of that investment. 


Take A Curiosity Break

Earlier this week I came across an excellent article about the link between curiosity and living a happy healthy life. It outlines the ways being consistently inquisitive can contribute to healthier brain activity, IQ and relationships, as well as, increased happiness and personal satisfaction. I am a huge proponent of creative thinking and would like to think curiosity has fueled some of my more inspired moments so, the correlation presented in this article weren’t a huge surprise. However, the article did get me thinking about the benefits of incorporating “curiosity breaks” into a personal workflow.

New Business Opportunities:

Allowing yourself a bit of time each day/week/month dedicated to pursuing new interests or random thoughts may lead to the new business opportunities you’ve been attempting to discovering through more traditional channels. Learning about a new hobby, culture or experience can reveal a new industry/audience in need of your products or services or a new solution you can adopt to expand your offerings and attract new clients.

Reinvigorated Approach To Existing Business:

Exposing yourself to alternate environments and processes can shake up the way you approach your existing projects and customers. We all tend to fall into a pattern of thinking about how we do our work and the methods we use to solve problems. Investigating new topics – as assorted as they may be- can break up cyclical thinking and unconsciously new context and mindset can sneak in, breathing fresh life into a stale routine. Even something as simple as observing someone else do their job in an entirely different professional sphere can inspire new ideas for improving your own work. A “curiosity break” could also be the fix for a mental rut, those periods – sometimes weeks long- when you can’t seem to operate as productively as you’d like. Allowing yourself the leisure of curiosity replenishes mental creativity and energy.

More Enlightened Holistic Perspective:

On a larger scale embracing curiosity can help you become more satisfied with your life & work. Building your knowledge and familiarity with an assortment of activities, cultures, hobbies, place or wherever your interests lead brings more opportunities for enjoyment into your daily reality. The more you engage your mind and it’s curiosities the more energized your overall outlook will become. Investing in an intentional curiosity practice and truly integrating creative wonder into your routine will unleash a ripple of fulfilling satisfaction through your entire perspective.

In the process of writing this post I have reminded myself how important my varied professional interests have been to creating a rich, dynamic and satiating career. I would encourage you to start making time for “curiosity breaks” in your routine.

For some simple ideas on how to start feeding your curiosity refer to "The Power Of Curiosity"