Monday, December 6, 2010
The next day before we left, we stopped in the Dunn Brothers rather than Starbucks. I told the owner behind the counter that we were surprised he was closed Thanksgiving, especially since Starbucks was open.
He remarked that he didn't know that the Starbucks was open, and that he took three days off a year, and Thanksgiving was one of them.
I bring up this story for two reasons. First, if you are a block away from a competitor on a very busy day is it worth being closed? I do not want to minimize the fact that this small business owner gets three days off a year (and a coffee shop opens early every day), so if he were open on Thanksgiving (and Christmas), that would be one less day he is open.
Second, how could he not have checked whether his competitor was open on these days? At worst he could have passed by the shop just to see what was going on, and noticed the cars lined up at Starbucks.
Finally, here is an opportunity for a small business owner - put a sign out at the street saying fresh coffee and we are open (and do the same with early morning opening for Black Thursday, say at 4am). Then close at noon those days. I bet he would be way ahead for the overall weekend, and the marketing cost: couple signs.
Enjoy your holiday, but don't forget to pry some of those hard earned $ from your customers during the holiday season!
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Today his latest post is about Microsoft Windows 7 phones.
I want to focus on his comment that, "the rule of thumb is you need two or more clearly superior points of differentiation in order to gain share from an underdog position in a technology market."
It seems natural that a new product in an existing market will have some cool - incredible - wow! - feature that clearly differentiates it from the other products. But is that enough? His rule of thumb says you need a second item. Why?
The first item grabs your attention - "you mean the Ultramizer 1.0 can do Xbar1?" But then you ask, "what else does it do?" If the answer is "nothing", then there is insufficient momentum to get them to change (with all the constituent difficulties in change).
The entrepreneur devotes so much of her time to the first most distinctive difference, there is not enough 'else' to make it persuasive. Her competitors can say they will add that one feature in the next release - now what?
So when you come it to discuss your new technology, don't be surprised if I ask, "what else differentiates it from the other products".
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
The best way to gain credibility is through long experience with a person. Over time, you come to trust that she will carry out what she is supposed to do, and you are willing to trust them with important items.
But if you are a startup - none of your clients or early customers have any experience with you. So how to create credibility in that situation?
Let's use an analogy: a job interview. How do you know that the person you are interviewing knows the job? How do you decide on the credibility of a candidate? If the candidate seems to know the industry, ask useful questions, can explain how things are done - in this and a myriad of ways, she demonstrates competence in the role.
Likewise, you gain credibility in your prospective customer's eye, by doing the same: asking good questions, show understanding of the industry - pay attention to the issues they are interested in. These are ways you can bank 'knowledge' credibility (credibility based on what you know).
Another way to base credibility is in 'who you know'. If Jones always trusts you to do the job, and I trust Jones, then there is a transitive relationship. This 'transitive' credibility is harder to build, since presumably there are not other customers you can refer to. But there are people who know the industry and are interested in your work. Be sure they can help you.
I will leave you to work out how you can lose credibility - but suffice to say, both lack of knowledge and lack of transitiveness cause it.
As you build your business: are you building credibility?
Thursday, September 23, 2010
"Grab a 3x5 card and one topic, such as the front entry of your business. Now list not more than 3 affordable items that would improve the appearance or functionality of what most customers deal with first...carry the card with you until all 3 items are accomplished."Concentrating solely on overwhelming issues to handle at work often leads to paralysis. By tackling a few smaller items, you can gain momentum on the big issues. Start small. Fix the simple items.
When you are done with a card - tear it up and start another.
Monday, August 30, 2010
Lunchtime Tech Talk: The Good, the Bad, and the “Oh My” Web Sites
Bring an appetite for learning technology tips that will make today’s computer technology work for you!
The Lunchtime Tech Talk series will meet from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. in the Center for Business Development building room 104N on the Meridian Technology Center’s campus the first Friday each month:
Sept. 03 - The Good, the Bad and the “Oh My” Web Sites
Oct. 01 - Excel 2007 Tips & Techniques
Nov. 05 - Media Integration in PowerPoint 2007
Dec. 03 - Be on the Edge of 2010
You pick and choose the luncheons you want to attend. The price for each luncheon is only $10 and includes a box lunch.
Our first presentation in this lunch hour series will highlight the common mistakes made in Web site design as well as recommended planning guidelines.
Computer Training Services is providing this lunch hour training series.
The deadline to register is 5 p.m. on Tuesday, August 31.
For more information call Kim Strom at (405) 377-3333 X265; or to enroll, visit www.meridian-technology.com or call (405) 377-3333 or toll-free at (888) 607-2509.
Location: Meridian Technology Center, Center for Business Development room 104N.
Oftentimes it is easy to forget your local technology center offers a wide variety of computer and training courses. The class instructors are always well trained and the courses are usually very inexpensive. Rather than the training class booklet that came in your mail unbidden, remember your Technology Center!
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Jason Cohen on his "A Smart Bear" blog states what he looks for: 10 customers. 10 people willing to give you money for your product/service (even if it is not ready).
It is a useful question. If the prospective business owner can't show anyone is interested in paying for his product - then why go forward?
Since I am not dealing only with software startups, I might be able to weaken the requirement a bit, but the principle ("Who is buying your product?") is so critical to success that it could function as a single question to get started.
So - who is buying your product?
Monday, August 16, 2010
Are they benign, but unhelpful? Are they going to push your business in directions you don't want to go? What experience do they have to bring to the table?
There is a good posting on Finding A Quality Business Incubator which I would recommend to you. It covers a number of areas to review.
Also, is the incubator a member of NBIA (National Business Incubator Association)?
Just like when you are hiring a contractor for your house remodeling - the best way to know if they are any good is to ask previous clients. For incubators, the same holds. Get a list of clients. But since those lists tend to be cherry-picked for good referrals - be sure to do some searching on Google, or ask those clients what other businesses were in the incubator when they were resident - then go ask those.
Incubators can be a fantastic way to help your business get off the ground, but as always, a bit of considered evaluation can put you in the right incubator for your business.
Monday, July 26, 2010
In retailing, even the most benign rules you give to your employees can go awry.
On my way home today for lunch, I stopped in our local big box store to pick up a bag of ice. I bought a bag of ice and as I was leaving the store, the greeter called me back inside and asked to see my receipt for the bag of ice. The greeter was an older lady in a motorized chair - she had to drive up to me. So I went back in, showed her a receipt and was able to leave. As I did, the man behind me remarked on the absurdity of this situation and laughed.
I am sure this greeter was told to 'check all receipts' for ice. I suppose that occasionally someone walks out with a $2.14 bag of ice that they did not pay for. I doubt they are in business attire on a Monday morning at 11am. And if I had been wanting to steal the ice, I could have easily outdistanced the greeter on the scooter merely by walking away!
When you give your employees a rule and no exceptions you are likely to get results in ways you probably wouldn't want.
I like to buy ice at the big box store as it is cheaper than the local gas station and not too inconvenient. But if I have to worry about checking out with the greeter if I run in for a bag - I will go somewhere else. So a 5 cent bag and a bit of water are sufficient to stalk people as they leave the building?
Nothing cools the enthusiasm of your customers than rules that make them seem like they are a crook. Be sure to balance your need for stock control with their freedom to shop. You might need to allow a bit of ice leave - melt away so to speak - rather than risk losing future sales.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
A few weeks earlier, we went to a local frozen yogurt shop. You may have seen one of these stores which have 15 soft serve spigots with different flavored yogurt, and then a large selection of toppings. You grab a cardboard bowl and then fill it with yogurt and toppings. The resulting sundae was also weighed and the price set accordingly. The price was a bit higher than we wanted, but we felt like if we returned we would know how much to get.
Two retail stores, both using weight as a method for charging customers.
I would argue the chocolate shop is making a serious error in charging by weight. Since a chocolate is discrete, you wouldn't normally think about it as something whose value is in the weight. Moreover, this particular chocolate is very high quality - but weight is not usually a sign of quality. If your customers are unable to gain a sense of what something will cost going in, they are likely to shy away from the shop. Consider a father with his kids - he certainly does not want to get caught with a large bill for a small amount.
Finally, since there was no signage that the chocolates were going to be weighed, I had no way to know what they would cost. Nor do I have any sense of what a chocolate weighs.
But in the case of the frozen yogurt, I know how big a bowl I eat of ice cream - by going once and creating my sundae, even if it is more expensive than I thought it would be, I can now size future sundaes appropriately. How could I do the same with a single chocolate?
The moral of this is not to go have dessert with me.
Perhaps a more useful moral is that as a retailer, be sure that your pricing model fits with your customer expectations. My example of a doughnut shop above is instructive - we all know that doughnuts are sold per piece. I, as an experienced doughnut eater, also know roughly what a doughnut would cost.
If you are going to break that expectation, you had better make sure right up front that the customer understands what you are doing, and in a way that he can know roughly what it is going to cost him to get out of the store. No matter how good your chocolate.
Monday, June 28, 2010
Derek Sivers has a great post today about how to hire a programmer to make your ideas happen.
Key takeaway pointer - #7: Hire more than one team or person. Having more than one team working independently on your initial project allows you to pick the better implementation - and protects you and your schedule by not allowing one team to hijack or just disappear.
Even within a company, this is probably a great idea for a new product (if you can sneak it past mgmt.)
Thursday, June 24, 2010
It is operated under the auspices of the Tulsa Metro Chamber's Young Professionals group, and its director is an executive on loan from Arvest Bank.
There will be room for up to 8 companies in the incubator.
I was a bit surprised to learn they had about 6500 people in the Young Professionals group, or at least that many in their database. I wouldn't be surprised if the incubator clients are all members of the group.
One of the hardest characteristics of a business incubator to develop is the networking that goes on in the hallways and after hours. By its very nature, it occurs on its own, not due to formal programming. And with the Forge operated by and for young professionals, this common set of interests could give it a step up on other incubators.
So welcome aboard Tulsa's Forge incubator! We look forward to hearing great things from you.
Monday, June 21, 2010
I had a boss once who pulled me aside and said he didn't like cars! (So my metaphors were failing to describe the situation and caused him to not listen as well to my comments.)
If you catch yourself using the same metaphor - consider trying something different. People may be more responsive to your comments, and in thinking of another metaphor, it may cause you to rethink the underlying issue.
If all your metaphors are about war or battle - then every situation is combative. If all your metaphors are about cars, then what of friendliness or empathy or warmth. Those qualities are not easily represented by the metaphor.
Try a different metaphor.
Thursday, June 3, 2010
- The most useful skill for Incubator Managers is the ability to manage stakeholders.
- 7 People every Entrepreneur should know: banker, accountant, attorney, coach, technologist, insurance agent and marketer.
- Give your advisory board a goal of bringing/sending X number of prospects per quarter to the incubator.
- Homesite.com can do background checks for $25. (Have to check on that one!)
- Be sure to invite local politicians and legislature representatives to your incubator events - even if they don't come, they will note your activities.
- Understand the differences between the SBA 504 program and 7a loans
More important to this readership, if as a small business your greatest growth opportunity is a difficult and 'dangerous' market...what to do?
One strategy is to carve out a beachhead - a small part of the market - and develop from it.
Microsoft is trying to concentrate on business users in China, since they are probably more cognizant of IP rights than of the general public.
Likewise, find a small subset of your market that limits your exposure; for example a particular industry, and expand from it. It makes it easier for you to market and also develop.
Get a beachhead!
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
He uses the example of George, an aquaintance who lost his job as associate partner at a technology and consulting company - probably a company like EDS or IBM Consulting. George sounds like he is in his mid- to late- career. George is self-employed, doing "exactly what he used to do, for less money, and no benefits - no health care, no 401(k) match, no sick leave, no paid vacation."
My brother Bryan is in much the same situation. Bryan is a mid-career creative Art Director. Good agency experience, great portfolio. Having a devil of a time catching back on in Texas. He too is doing free-lance work work less than he did before.
So what can we draw from this - what if we are a reluctant entrepreneur?
First, there is no easy answer and I will refrain from platitudes about 'keeping your chin up'.
If you have one client who is paying you, can you get a second? Is there any way to carve out a few hours a week to call on a second prospective client? Can you partner with another person slogging away just as you?
Leverage your experience to allow you to do more work in less time, so you can get a second and third client paying you at the same time. You have to free some excess labor from the contract. They are paying you to complete some objective, not piece work.
Not at all easy, but the only way to get yourself back into some control or the feeling of control.
And, if you need a crackerjack creative marketing guy - let me know. I will get you in touch with Bryan.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
All the spectacular is located in the last 11%. (I use 11% over 10 since a 90 is usually still an A!)
Doing something fine - that's B work. B work is good work. So much of what we experience is so dismal, that B looks pretty good.
But to knock your customers out - you need to do A work. And A work is not just a percentage better, it is logarithmically better.
An A employee is logarithmically better than a B employee
An A product is logarithmically better than a B product
You want your business to be in a place where price is not a problem - you got to have an A product...and A people.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
If you always describe what you do as handling you are too going to be constantly disappointed.
Entrepreneurs often bemoan the fact that none of their employees handle things like (they would have done so). Duh!
Handling, fixing and removing problems is of course something that has to be done on occasion, but if it is your management style, your organization will act fitfully and never take on its own responsibility for what happens.
Try to create and sustain processes and an environment where the employees can individually take on what happens as their own. That is managing.
Stop handling; start managing.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Reflecting on the class, there is a sense of completion from a class that you do not normally have in business - the class ends, you get a grade, you sell the textbook back. At work, even if you are on a specific project, it seems there is always more which happens even after the deadline. Often, the deadline shifts, and you track onto the new one.
Given the level of exhaustion that you feel at the end of a semester's worth of work, I wonder if 16 weeks is about as long as someone can keep sustained effort on a given project? When working on a software application with release time lines stretching over a year, it is hard to stay focused.
Any way, I have a couple posts lined up and ready to get back at it! Thanks for reading.
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Microsoft has had a great rollout with Windows 7 and Wall Street says, "meh". Apple has an iPad and everyone is excited (even Wall Street).
Likewise in a startup, your valuation is not based on where you are now, but where you will be in the future. If prospective funders seem to hold your company in low value - it may be that they do not understand your market, or they may not understand your product, etc. It could just as well be that they very well understand, and that is why they have valued you as they did.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
A quote to leave with you, "the best teachers do not lecture students on what they should know, but ask questions that guide students to learn on their own." Pfeffer, Sutton, p. 237.
I need to remember not to just tell them what they need to know, but give them the skills to go find out what they need to do.
Friday, March 5, 2010
But before you rush back from your trip and start making changes, you might just take a moment and reflect on whether the prescriptions are worse than the disease.
Pfeffer and Sutton give five questions to ask before trying a business idea or practice:
- what assumptions does the idea or practice make about people and organizations? What would have to be true about people and organizations for the idea or practice to be effective?
- which of these assumptions seem reasonable and correct to you and your colleagues? Which seem wrong or suspect?
- could this idea or practice still succeed if the assumptions turned out to be wrong?
- how might you and your colleagues quickly and inexpensively gather some data to test the reasonableness of the underlying assumptions?
- what other ideas or management practices can you think of that would address the same problem or issue and be more consistent with what you believe to be true about people and organizations?
Otherwise you may find your employees giving you books to read while on the plane!
Thursday, February 18, 2010
- If employees come to you with a hang dog look, when they are coming to say they screwed up, how do you react?
- If you blast them like J.C. Dithers does Dagwood, how often do you think they are going to bring up projects that are starting to go awry?
- If you claim to have an open door, but woe the person who comes in with a problem...
- If you are known for your 'moods' and the employees seem to be away when you are angry...
- (If your management team is guilty of any or all of the above, it reflects on you as well!)
The only employees who never make mistakes are those who do nothing at all.
If you don't know the answer of what happens when people fail, have a friend come in and ask the employees. You might not want to hear the answer - but your company will be better off if you do.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
The E-BASIC provides small grants up to $5000 to new businesses in the Stillwater and Ponca City areas. There is a simple proposal/application required. The funds are to assist in startup expenses.
Also included with the grant for Stillwater company's is a 6 month virtual tenancy in the local business incubator, providing business consulting expertise, conference rooms and access to our programs and training sessions.
More information regarding the program.
Applications are due by April 9th. The program is very competitive and there are only a limited number of grants - so get your submissions in!
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Anyway, he had just finished doing a very minor adjustment to a piano he had tuned the previous summer. So it was an account he already had. The issue is whether to charge the church for 20 minutes of work, or just tell them thanks and hope they do another piano tuning this next summer? In a service business - is your time always something you charge for?
On the 'always charge' side, support includes:
- there are costs of time and effort getting to the client;
- your knowledge is what makes the job easy/short, so why should you discount it;
- if a client gets used to you fixing things for free, they won't pay later for larger items (or 'forget' your free service).
On the 'sometimes not charge' side, support includes:
- if you nickel and dime them, they are more likely not to call on something small - then when the big expense hits, they will balk at your cost;
- there is a perception, unfair though it is, that if it takes you 5 minutes to solve something, it should not cost or cost very little;
- service businesses are run on repeat business and so you take care of them to keep them long term;
- it costs more to gain a new account than keep a current one happy.
I lean towards not charging someone for small services. If they expect to be charged, and you don't, their surprise might just jar them into recommending you! Give them an invoice for what the work would be, and mark 'PAID: thanks for your continued support!' on it. I want them to think of me whenever they think of the service I offer. Think of a person whose heater needs a minor service and the cost of a service call will be difficult to handle (we've all been there) - and you all say no charge.
If you don't charge, put it down as a marketing expense and track it - be sure you are not giving away too much. You won't be any help if you are out of business.
That said, some services are irregular and you might not see the same customer ever or rarely. In those cases, a middle road might be to charge a nominal amount for quick jobs - $10 for 10 minutes up to 30 minutes, then standard hourly rate.
Be clear on how your business operates and you will come to a decision you can feel good about.
The title of the post refers to the old adage about you can't sell a cow if you give the milk away for free.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Two qualities common to entrepreneurs are they show perseverance and flexibility. One participant asked how can you be both?
As an entrepreneur you persevere in working to make the business a success. You persevere in the face of difficulties; you persevere when prospects say no.
You are flexible in reacting to what happens once you get started in the business; you learn from your mistakes and you adapt to changing circumstances.
Often, I observe prospective entrepreneurs swapping these two - they are too flexible in reacting to difficulties ("well maybe I won't start my own business" or "here is another idea I have for a business"), and over persevere in their initial business idea ("these customers are so stupid to not see how wonderful my idea/product/service is").
Further, the qualities of perseverance and flexibility are reflections of your behavior, not actions. It is not about saying "I am going to be flexible on this", rather how you behave in the face of an issue. You would not want to print up big printed letters "Persevere" and "Flexible" and hang on the wall in your office, as IBM used to hang "Think". If the terms are useful at all, they can't be so vague as "persevere unless you need to change, and be flexible, except when important not to be".
Our next Business 101 will be February 15th, so if you are still interested in starting your own business, persevere and come to our next meeting!
Friday, January 8, 2010
When you are a small business competing in a market with well established competitors, or if you are in some way 'the little guy' - you have to be ready to try something different than just competing in the same areas, products and services.
Consider professional baseball. There are a couple large market teams who have much more $ to be spent on payrolls than many of the small market teams. If a small market team tries to match the management strategy of the wealthier teams (hiring expensive stars, bidding on A+ players), it will fall behind: they cannot keep up with the advantages of the wealthier teams.The baseball writer Joe Poznanski had a great column where he recommends that smaller market teams (he lives in Kansas City) have to consider being unconventional - doing something different than the other teams in terms of hiring players or strategy in the game - if they want to have a chance to break away from mediocrity.
Returning to business, if you do not have the same resources as your competition, why go and compete on exactly those points the competitor is strongest? Why not discover where they are weakest (reaction time, extending hours, policies) and consider something unconventional.
For example, if you run a guitar store, why not be closed until 3pm everyday, but then be open from 3-11pm (or midnight), since presumably musicians and business people who have the $ to spend on a guitar are more likely to be available in the evening? And a musician on his way to a gig might realize he needs a microphone or cable on the way.
As Seth Godin says, "The scalable, profitable strategy is to change the game, not to become the most average."