Two Reasons….

why people say no to your idea

"It’s been done before"
"It’s never been done before"

Even though neither one is truthful, accurate or useful, you need to be prepared for both.

From Seth’s Blog.  As usual, Mr. Godin gets it right.

Signs of Spring

It’s spring!!  Flowers are blooming.  Birds are singing.  "Real" baseball starts this weekend.  The days are longer thanks to mother nature and the federal government.  What could possibly spoil a wonderful season like spring? 

Sorry to bring this up, but the same government that brings us an additional hour of evening daylight is expecting to hear from you in the next two weeks.  It’s time to make our annual contribution better known as income tax.

I truly believe that most Americans have no problem with paying taxes.  Politics aside, we live in a pretty great country and somebody has to pay the bills.  That’s you and me.  Unfortunately our tax system has gotten entirely too complicated.  And the cost of that complication hits small business particularly hard.

According to The Small Business Advocate, a publication of the Small Business Administration, "Small businesses with fewer than 20 employees spent $1,304 per employee to comply with federal income taxes in 2004.  This amount is almost two times as much (per employee) as businesses with more than 500 employees spent."

The reason for this disproportionate spending?  The level of complexity of the tax code.  Big companies spread the costs of record keeping and other compliance-related expenses over a large number of employees where the smaller employer, who has fewer workers, can’t do that.  Just keeping up with the year-to-year changes can be a daunting task, especially for someone  who wears as many hats as the small  business owner.

According to the article, "The lack of emphasis on simplicity in recent times has led to a bloated tax code where compliance costs have become a significant portion of many taxpayers’ overall tax burden."  The theory is that the more complicated the tax code becomes, the fairer it is.  Every time a new deduction is added, the code gets a little more complicated.

So, what if you wade through all the forms, figure out what you owe, and you can’t pay?  Is there an orange jumpsuit in your future?  According to an AP article in today’s St. Louis Post Dispatch, there are options.  Paying your taxes with your Master Card isn’t the best choice.  The interest rates are way too high.  Tapping into your retirement account or taking out a second mortgage on your home are also options.  These can also be dangerous. 

The IRS wants your money, not your freedom.  They want you to keep the business going so you can pay more taxes next year.  If necessary, they’re willing to wait for you to pay up.  They offer installment plans for taxpayers short on cash.  Of course there are costs involved, so weigh your options carefully.

Even more important, if you find yourself in such a situation, it’s critical that you get the help you need to avoid a similar situation in the future.

Keep it Simple!

"Keep it simple!  No matter how "sophisticated" the product.  If you can’t explain it in a phrase, a page, or to your 14-year old…you haven’t got it right yet."

Tom Peters
111 Ridiculously Obviously Obvious Thoughts ON SELLING

Peters is very good at following his own advice, up to a point.  His 111 thoughts could probably have been communicated in fewer than the seventeen pages of this "manifesto".  But this point, number 46, is one we should all keep in mind (especially long-winded bloggers). 

We all sell sophisticated products that we work with every day.  More than ever, with the huge amount of information available on the Internet, our customers may be very knowledgeable about what we sell.  Or they may not.  It’s up to us to find out how much they know and tailor our presentation accordingly.

If it’s obvious that they’ve done their homework, then it’s ok to use some industry jargon.  In fact, giving this customer credit for what they know can be a huge ego-builder for them.  They become part of the "club", an insider, when you speak to them on this higher level.

But, there’s still a huge number of people out there who couldn’t care less about specs.  They don’t really want to buy what our product is, they want to buy what our product does. Watts, amps, air flow, CFM, BTUs, etc.  mean nothing to this customer.  As Peters says, how would you explain the product to a fourteen-year old?

For example, I have several chores that need to be done at home.  I’ve decided that a pressure washer would make my life easier.  But, picking one out is turning out to be a bigger project than the jobs themselves.  I’m beginning to understand why they’re called "pressure" washers.

There are electric and gas models.  Performance is measured by gallons per minute, pressure per square inch, horsepower, and some magical number called cleaning units.  If a unit isn’t powerful enough, it won’t do the job, or it will take forever.  If it’s too powerful, you’re wasting your money and you might end up doing some serious damage.  Another consideration is that I don’t have unlimited storage space for a tool that I’ll only use a few times per year.  I need someone to tell me "here’s the machine that will do what you want it to do."  So far, no luck.

Bottom line?  Qualify the customer.  Find out what they need and what they know.  Use your expertise to gently guide them to the item that will do the best job for them and then explain it in a language that they understand. 

Thought for the Day

"If a man is
called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo
painted, or Beethoven played music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep
streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here
lived a great street sweeper who did his job well."

Martin Luther
King, Jr.

Thanks to the Walk the Talk newsletter.

Customer Problems

Happy Friday!  Today I’ve got two different items for you to check out on the subject ofSwa_toy consumer
problems.  First, from the New York Times is an article about Southwest Airlines.  As you probably know, I’m a big fan of SWA.  They do their jobs.  They keep things simple.  Their prices are low.  And, they actually make a profit!!!  They’re definitely unique in the air travel industry.  The Times reports that Southwest actually has a "chief apology officer".  His name is Fred Taylor.  His actual title is senior manager of proactive customer communications, but his job is to proactively apologize when something goes wrong.  He doesn’t wait until someone complains, he sends out letters of apology before they have the chance.  He mails roughly 20,000 letters per year.

Think about that.  You’ve just gotten back from a trip.  Your flight was delayed by weather.  You’re mildly  annoyed but you know it wasn’t the airline’s fault.  In a few days you get a letter from Taylor apologizing for the inconvenience and a voucher for a discount on your next flight.  What’s your reaction?  I’ll bet it’s something way beyond simple satisfaction.

Now for the key question:  How can you employ a similar strategy in your business?  If you’re aware (and you should be) of something unusual that’s happened in your store, why not follow Southwest’s lead and send a simple note to customers who were affected?  Maybe you had a power outage, or someone called in sick leaving you short-handed and maybe a little slower to get to customers than usual.  Send a note.  Offer them something of value, maybe a discount on a future purchase.  How do you think the typical customer will react?  How would you react?  Think about it.

The second item that you might find interesting is from The Dilbert Blog by Scott Adams called "The Joy of Righteous Indignation".  Adams describes his training as a desk clerk at a resort in the Catskills during his college days.  His manager taught him how to handle "recreational complainers".  Recreational complainers are people who just like to complain.  If there’s nothing wrong they’ll make something up, just because they like to complain.  You handle them by listening politely, promising to take care of the non-existent problem, then moving on.

Anyone who works with other people is going to run into recreational complainers.  It just goes with the territory.  Strange as it may seem, if you make them feel valued, if you let them know that you care, they can be some of your best customers.


Yesterday was the first full day of spring, at last!  If you’re fortunate enough to live in a place where it’s warm year-round, this isn’t such a big deal.  But for most of us, spring means no more cold and snow (at least not much more).  The NCAA tournament is going strong and baseball begins for real in just a few weeks.  It’s a pleasure to drive home from work while the sun is still shining.

Of course, spring is also a time for "spring cleaning".  For many of our dealers, that means an increase in business.  For all of us, it’s a great time to take a look at our places of business.  When we look at the same thing day after day, it’s easy to overlook things that a customer won’t miss.  That broken floor tile or crack in a window may be under our personal radar, but a customer will see it and it won’t leave a good impression.

Before you go home tonight, or before the end of the week for sure, take a walk outside your store.  Look at everything through a customer’s eyes.  Do you see anything that a good cleaning, or a coat of paint might improve?  Is some landscaping in order?  Are the windows clean?  Are there holes in the parking lot or sidewalk?  Take a notepad along and make a list.   If you see things that the landlord should take care of, let her know.

Once you’ve given the outside of the store a good look, go back inside.  Again, look at the store as a customer might.  Is everything clean and fresh?  Are your signs and tags informative and not shop-worn?  How’s the lighting?  Do any bulbs or flourescent tubes need to be replaced?  You’d be surprised what a negative impression a burned-out bulb makes on a customer.

You wouldn’t invite friends over to your house without making sure everything was neat and clean.  Your customers are your guests.  Don’t they deserve the same kind of care?

Good Help is Hard to Find

In a comment on the post Don’t Do This reader Jen mentioned that it’s very hard to find good employees.  This is an age-old problem and I don’t know of an easy solution.  One thing that does work is to look to your best customers. 

I have a friend who works part time for a local sewing retailer.  She’s retired, so her hours are flexible and she can always use a few extra dollars.  But the real reason she took the job is so that she can spend time talking to other people who share her interest in sewing.  She also gets to play with all the new "toys" when they come in and gets a discount on the things that she would be buying anyway.

As Jen pointed out, independent retailers need staff that can do more than just run the cash register.  A part-timer who uses your products regularly fills the bill.  Whatever you’re selling, you have customers who are interested in your products and might appreciate a chance to spend more time in your store.

Another Carnival Heard From

MYOB is on a roll.  The Carnival of Entrepreneurs has picked up our post "Don’t Do This".  As you can guess from the name, C of E is a collection of blog posts on the subject of owning your own business.  There are some good articles there this week.  Check it out!

Carnival of the Capitalists

Carnival of the Capitalists was born in September of 2003, the first of the niche blog carnivals.  If you’re not familiar with blog carnivals, I suggest you click on this link to see what they’re all about.  As the name suggests, COTC is about capitalism, in other words business and other related topics.  If you’re pressed for time (and who isn’t) following one or more blog carnivals will lead you to some excellent articles that you might miss otherwise.

This week’s COTC contains some excellent posts and also shows amazing insight in its choice of entries.  If I may quote:

"Mine Your Own Business brings us quite possibly the best entry this week, innocuously titled Don’t Do This!
It’s not a new tale in business and customer service, just new details,
and always worth revisiting.  Sounds like Foolish more likely has a
management problem than an employee attitude problem existing in a
vacuum.  No pun intended."

Seriously, there are some good posts this week that you may find interesting.  In particular, check these out:

Recession Management:  Contrarian Thinking.  Wayne Hurlbert, someone we’ve quoted here before, writes on the advantages of approaching business downturns with a positive attitude.

You’ll get a chuckle from Six Self-Employment Myths You Need To Know Before Striking Out On Your own.  While it’s intended for people considering starting their own businesses, as an experienced business owner, you’ll see through the "myths" very quickly.  For example, #Myth #4:  I’ll have more vacation time and get to set my own hours."  I’m sure you can add several to the list

Go to Carnival of the Capitalists to see all of this week’s selections.


Are You Listening?

There’s an old saying that we have two ears and only one mouth for a very good reason.  We should listen twice as much as we talk.  Like most old sayings there are exceptions but, for the most part, it’s true.  Listening seems to be a lost art.

When we’re in a conversation are we listening to what the other person is saying or are we planning what we’re going to say when they finally shut up?  I’m afraid that salespeople are especially guilty of this.  We’re concentrating so hard on our selling message that sometimes we actually miss signals from the prospect that say "I’ll take it."  Have you ever sold something and then bought it back because you talked right past the ideal closing moment?  I know I have.

Listening is a skill that can be learned.  All it really takes is practice.  Most of us live in a world of constant noise.  We’re bombarded by television, radio, iPods, streamed audio on the internet, and the ever-present cell phone.  There are very few places where we can go for real peace and quiet, so our mind begins to ignore the background noise which can cause us to become immune to what may be important aural cues.  In our business, for example, our customers and employees may be giving us clues to what’s on their minds.  If we’re not actively listening, we could miss them. 

Here’s a suggestion. Set aside some time each day to just listen to what’s going on around you.  What are your customers saying?  What product benefits are they asking for?  What is your staff saying?   Are they  giving the customers the right information?  Are they selling effectively or could you coach them in some new techniques?  Time spent improving your listening skills could be time well spent.