Quote of the Day

"We don’t want to be the ‘best of the best.’  We want to be the only ones who do what we do."

Jerry Garcia
The Grateful Dead

Sometimes good business advice comes from the most unlikely places.

Supreme Court Sides With Employees in Discrimination Case

Last Thursday the U.S.Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Tennessee railroad worker who claimed that her employer, Burlington Northern Railroad, had discriminated against her after she made a complaint of sexual harassment. 

The intent of the ruling appears to be to standardize the definition of retaliation.  In the past, the various circuit courts have applied different standards.  Some have ruled that only termination and demotion constituted retaliation while others have used a broader definition.  The Supreme Court ruling seems to favor the latter.

Obviously, the best way to avoid problems is to never allow discrimination in the workplace.  That goes without saying.  But, if someone does file a complaint, don’t take it lightly.  Get your attorney involved right away and follow his/her advice carefully.  Be especially careful that nothing you do has even the appearance of retaliation.  The future of your business could depend on it.

House Votes to Reduce Estate Taxes

Last Thursday the House of Representatives passed a bill (H.R. 5638) that would drastically reduce estate taxes.  Under the new bill estates valued at less than $5 million for an individual or $10 million for a couple would be permanently exempt from estate taxes after 2010.  Estates up to $25 million would be taxed at 15%, the same rate as capital gains.  Under current law the estate tax would be phased out by 2010, but return to a 55% rate in 2011.

The Senate is expected to take up the measure this week.  Inc.com has more details.

Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005

On May 17, President Bush signed into law the Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005.  The new law extends some tax provisions that were set to expire and creates some new tax breaks.  The provisions apply to both individuals and businesses.  You can read about the new law here and here.

Of course, when in doubt, speak to your accountant or tax professional.

The New Influencers

Karl Long writes today in MarketingProfs: Daily Fix on the subject of influence in the age of social media and new marketing.  A web site, Heat.Eat.Review offers reviews of microwave heat & eat meals.  It’s just one
example of how third-party reviewers can influence potential customers.  For instance, the reviewer says Star
Kist Lunch to-Go
smells like cat food.  Ouch!  Sorry Charlie.

In the "good old days" we knew who the influencers were and acted
accordingly.  Some years back, one of our dealers here in St.
Louis sold some ceiling fans to a local TV anchorman.  He had a
problem with one of them.  The dealer moved heaven and earth to
make sure the guy was happy.  Everything worked out ok. 

Whether a celebrity deserves any better treatment than anyone else
is open to debate, but the point is, today everybody has
influence.  Anyone with an internet connection can set up a blog
or post to any number of on-line consumer sites.  We have the
technology to spread the word, both good and bad, instantaneously
around the world, not just to our limited circle of acquaintances.

Where a TV personality in a medium-sized market like St. Louis can
influence thousands of people, a kid with a computer has the potential
to influence millions.  Scary, isn’t it?

To protect our reputations and our businesses in the twenty-first century, there are two things we must do:

1.  Treat every customer as if they could make or break our business, because they can.

2.  Take the time to find out what people are saying about us. 

To expand on number two, when was the last time you Googled
yourself?  Enter your business name, enclosed in quotation marks,
into the one or more of the major search engines, like Google or Yahoo.  Do the same for your major product lines.  If you
find anything, take care of it!  Don’t forget to search Google News and Google Groups.  Do the same with one or more of the major blog search engines like technorati
or feedster.  Again, if you get any hits, follow up on
them.  Your reputation is too important to leave it up to

By the way, I like  Lunch  To-Go.

Your Elevator Speech

Have you heard the expression "elevator speech."  In case you haven’t, it’s a brief explanation of what you do for a living, or what your company does, given in the time it takes for an elevator ride.  Preparing an elevator speech forces you to really think about what you do that’s different from your competitors, and to distill it down into a short statement.  The goal of a good elevator speech is to get the listener to ask you for more information.

While you may not spend a lot of time in elevators, you certainly meet people all the time who ask you what you do.  It’s a perfect opportunity to plant the seeds for future business and referrals. "I sell widgets"  isn’t likely to make much of an impression but  "I’m in the business of saving homeowners hundreds of dollars each year on their energy bills" is sure to invite the question, "How do you do that?"

John Jantsch, in his "Duct Tape Marketing Newsletter" calls it a "personal marketing message" or a "talking logo".  He offers the following formula: 

" Here’s the pattern: Action verb, (I show, I teach, I help) target
market, (business owners, homeowners, teachers, divorced women, Fortune
500 companies) how to xxxx = solve a problem or meet a need that you
know your marketing has.


Now ask yourself, "Who wouldn’t want to know more when you heard a
talking logo that spoke directly to you?" Communicating a powerful
message like this will get you referral appointments too."

As Jantsch points out, the next step is to be prepared to answer the "How do you do that?" question.  Once you’re asked for more information, that’s your invitation to explain how you can help THEM.  Try it.  It works.  And the best part, it costs absolutely nothing!

No More Bad News

My wife had a bad customer service experience over the weekend.  So did my son.  Both experiences involved the same transaction, which was a Fathers’ Day gift for me.  My wife had a problem buying the item and my son had trouble picking it up.  Both swear that they’ll never return to the store in question.

When I heard their stories, my first thought was, "Aha!  A good topic for a blog post."  But, I don’t know about you, but I’m getting tired of hearing about bad customer service.  It’s so much the rule, rather than the exception, that it isn’t news anymore. 

It seems so simple.  If you want to stand out from the crowd, treat people the way you would like to be treated.  It’s not new.  It’s not revolutionary.  It’s just common sense.  It’s a shame that so few people do it anymore, but that gives us an opportunity to distance ourselves from the competition. 

So, from now on, if you want to read about bad service, you’ll have to look somewhere else.  Bad service stories aren’t worth our time.

Have a great day!Smiley

Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie, and CPAs???

Joyce M. Rosenberg writes for the Associated Press that in addition to the normal summertime activities, it’s the time of the year when you should sit down with your accountant, not for a barbecue, but for a mid-year review of your business.

The start of summer is still a few days away, but it’s never too early to look at where you are now and at where you want to be at the end of the year.  Rosenberg writes, "Taxes, cash flow, capital spending and employee benefits are among the many topics that should be discussed."

Estimated tax payments are one of the first areas you should look at.  You don’t want to pay too much because the IRS is a notoriously bad place to invest your money.  On the other hand, pay too little and you’ll be hit with a penalty.  Half way through the year is a good time to review.

The article also discusses investments in capital equipment and employee benefits. 

Mid year is also a good time to look at your inventory.  What’s selling?  What’s not?  Generate some excitement in your store by reducing prices on items that may not be flying off the shelves.  It’s an opportunity to create some additional business and to make room for new merchandise for fall. How about a sidewalk sale? 

While you’re at it, spring cleaning may be in order, even though spring is almost over.  Are your displays fresh and inviting?  Is everything neat and clean?  How’s your signage?  If you use price tags, are they fresh and acccurate? 

If your traffic is off during the summer months, it’s a good time to get those non-selling jobs done and it’s even more important that you turn every shopper into a buyer.

Fun, Fun, Fun

Hopefully you’re one of those people who hop out of bed in
the morning with a smile on your face, ready to greet the day. After all, we live in the greatest country in
the world. We have the freedom to make
our livings any way we choose. For the
most part, the economy is good and people are spending money.

 As an entrepreneur, you have a great deal of freedom, but as
with all freedoms, you also have responsibilities. You have bills to pay, payroll to meet, and a
host of other little things to do that can sometimes be overwhelming. [The word  “overwhelmed” literally means covered by
water.]  For the sake of argument, let’s assume that
the plusses outnumber the minuses or you wouldn’t be in business. But, there may be days…………

 Two bloggers who’ve been quoted here before, Tom Peters and
John Jantsch, have written in the last two days on the subject of being happy
on the job.

In a post called “Att-i-tude!”,
Peters writes on the pleasant people he found at Starbucks and Whole Foods. It’s a short post which concludes, “I remain
amazed.” and that’s too bad. It’s not
too bad that these two companies hire and train happy, pleasant people. It’s too bad that it’s “amazing”. Shouldn’t being nice to the customers be the
first line on everyone’s job description? Why would anyone leave their most important asset, their customers, in
the hands of someone who doesn’t have a positive attitude?

Jantsch’s post is called
The Secret of Marketing is Enjoying the Ride". John is a small business marketing consultant
so naturally, his topic is marketing. But, his
main point is similar to Peters’: “Lighten
up, bottle your enthusiasm, make it easy for people to experience your
expertise and then hit the phones (or virtual pavement.) Fun in contagious and
its counters, fear, hesitation and cynicism are real marketing turn-offs.
Prospects are drawn to people and companies that exude enthusiasm — everyone
wants a piece of that.”

Modern society doesn’t
encourage one-on-one personal contact. You can buy just about anything you want over the internet. You can fill up your gas tank paying at the
pump so that even this most basic transaction can be carried out without the
necessity of speaking to another human being. You can even order groceries on-line, pay by credit card, and have them
delivered to your house with a notation to leave them on the front step.

When we do get the
chance to meet one another in person, all any of us really want if a pleasant
experience. Sadly, in many retail
establishments, this may not happen. If
you really want to set yourself apart, make shopping with you fun. Word of mouth marketing is free
marketing. Treat your customer so well
that she can’t wait to tell her friends, “You’ll never guess what happened to
me today…..”

There’s a local chain of discount liquor stores in St. Louis whose tag line is "Cheap, Cheap, Fun, Fun!"  Their "spokesperson" is someone dressed up in a tacky chicken suit.  (Cheep, Cheep.  Get it?)  They may be a little cheaper than their competitors, I’m not sure, but their employees are always pleasant and helpful and their stores are always busy. 

So, happy employees (and owners) lead to happy customers who tell their friends.  Guess what else? If you encourage a happy, fun, friendly
environment, you’re going to attract and retain the best employees. And, your own life will be a lot more
pleasant, too.



What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt You

Susan Miller writes in the Columbus (Georgia) Ledger-Enquirer on the subject of dissatified customers.  You may have read some of these statistics before, maybe you haven’t, but they’re certainly worth thinking about.

Ninety-six percent of discontented customers never complain.

Ninety percent of these customers will not buy from you again and won’t even bother to tell you why.

Dissatisfied customers tell an average of 10 other people about their bad experience.

12% tell up to 20 people.

Miller continues, "And here’s the not-so funny part about that — as the story spreads,
it’s usually embellished along the way. Imagine that. Research by
Stephen J. Hoch at the University of Virginia found that more people
avoid a store because of someone else’s negative opinion than because
of their own experience with the business. ‘This storytelling has even
more impact on the people the story is told to than the people who told
the story,’ says Hoch. Now that’s scary."

The point of the article is this:  You should be asking every cusomer for feedback.  Did they find what they were looking for?  Did they have a pleasant experience in your store?  Was there anything you could have done to serve the customer better?

The big chains spend millions of dollars each year to get customer feedback.  All you have to do is ask.  Could there possibly be a better time to do your own "market research" than right there, on the spot, while the customer is still in your store?  No one should ever leave your place of business without answering these basic questions.  And, if any of the answers are negative, they shouldn’t leave until they’ve been satisfied.

Finally, don’t forget to add a sincere "Thank you for shopping with us".  We want that customer leaving with a smile on her face and that’s the message we want her to give her friends.