We Need Your Help

After nearly a year and a half (345 posts) of Mine Your Own Business, we want to thank you for your support.  The number of page views and the number of you who have subscribed, either to the RSS feed or via email have been steadily growing.

But, one thing has been a little disappointing.  While a lot of you are reading MYOB every day, we get very few comments.  We need your input!  A blog should be about two-way communications.  We really want to know what you think.

We know that our readers come from all of Tacony Corporation’s various industries and that’s where we think this can be a very powerful tool, something that you can’t get anywhere else.  No matter what industry we’re in, we can always learn something from someone in another. 

We want to help you share your thoughts, both within your industry and outside of it.  What works for you?  What are your problems?  Better yet, what are your solutions?  Let us know.  If you prefer to be anonymous, use the email link on the left and we’ll include your question or comment in a future post without identifying you.

It’s very simple.  At the end of this, and every other post there’s a link that says comments.  All you have to do is click the link and let us know what’s on your mind.

We’re waiting to hear from you.

Jott

Here’s something new that you may find very useful.  How many times have you had a great idea and couldn’t write it down?  Maybe you were driving down the interstate, or you couldn’t find a pencil and paper.  You were sure you’d remember it, but you didn’t and it was gone forever. As long as you have cell phone service, Jott solves the problem.

Here’s how it works.  You set up a free Jott account and program Jott’s toll-free number into your cell phone.  Then when you have that terrific idea, you call Jott.  If you have voice-actuated dialing, then all you have to do is say "Jott".  The automated operator asks who you want to "Jott" and you answer "me" or "myself".  Then you dictate your idea into the phone.  Jott then converts the message to text and emails it to you.  Simple.  It’s all done by voice commands. 

You can also program your family, friends, business associates or anyone else into Jott and send them email messages just by speaking into your cell phone.  The service allows you to set up groups so you could put all of your employees into a  group called "staff" and send an email message to all of them with just one call.

That group function definitely puts Jott into the social media category, but the memo function makes it a great personal utility.  Jott is currently in the "public beta" stage, which means there may still be some bugs in the software, but so far it’s worked perfectly for me.  Check it out at their web site.

Oh, did I mention that it’s free?

 

You Tube

"We have for the first time an economy based on a key resource [information] that is not only renewable, but self-generating. Running out of it is not a problem, but drowning in it is." John Naisbitt, author of Megatrends.

Naisbitt’s words were never more true.  You could easily drown in information.  But information is really our stock and trade.  Face it, just about anything you sell can be bought somewhere else at a lower price.  The difference, the thing that makes you stand out from your competition is information. 

You sell better, higher-margin products by informing the customer of the additional benefits to be gained in exchange for the extra price.  Unless we’re talking about a very basic commodity item, your customers are coming to you because you have the information they need.

As Naisbitt says, we’re not going to run out of information.  But how do we separate the good stuff from the junk?  You have to be very selective.  So do your customers.  If you gain a reputation as a source for valuable information, delivered in a timely efficient way, you’ll become the "go-to" person.  That’s what these "social media" or "social networking" tools we’ve been looking at can do for you;  give you a way to share information.

In the past "broadcasting" was the thing.  Information flowed one way; top to bottom.  Consumers of products were also consumers of information.  Today it’s all about two-way communication.  Your customers want relationships.  They want to be partners in the process.  They want to be informed, but they want it on their terms, not yours.  That’s "social media".

Whether you’ve ever used it or not, you’ve probably heard of You Tube.  It’s the place where anyone can share video clips with fellow Internet users.  The original intention of You Tube was to provide a place for individuals to share their home-made videos   For example, You like cats?  Search You Tube for the word kitten and you’ll find 33,000 clips.  That’s a lot of cute kitties.

Do a lot of people use You Tube?  Well, In October 2006, Google, Inc. acquired the company for $1.65 billion.  The people who run Google know what they’re doing.  The site still features a lot of home-made videos, but it’s grown into a place to find clips of television shows and movies, and most important to us, a place for companies to post videos about themselves and their products.

Do you have a television commercial that features a video of your store?  Post it on You Tube.  But the videos don’t have to be professionally made.  A lot of the material on the site was made with a simple fixed-focus web cam or even with a cell phone.  It’s the content, not the production quality that makes You Tube popular.

Does anyone actually look at the videos on You Tube?  Here’s a really awful video showing a guy installing a ceiling fan. It was posted on January 27, 2007 and it’s been viewed almost 2,000 times!  (Click on the arrow to view it.)

 

Did we mention that people like videos of cats?  Here’s one of a cat being groomed with a vacuum cleaner.  Posted just five months ago, 14,000 plus people have looked at it.

You get the idea.  If you’re the least bit creative, you can come up with a video that promotes your business and people will watch it.  You Tube is loaded with excerpts from Home Shopping Network and QVC, so people WILL watch commercials.

This spot for Mr. Appliance has been seen 2,640 times.

Decide what your customers are interested in and create a video.  It’s that simple.  If you do, be sure to promote the video on your web site and in other communications with your customers.  You may be surprised at the reaction.  And You Tube is FREE.

A Sweet Lesson

The following is from our company newsletter, the "Tacony News".  It is adapted from "A Lifetime of Success"–Pat Williams.

Years ago, a 10 year old boy approached the counter of a soda shop and climbed on to a stool.  "What does an ice cream sundae cost?" he asked the waitress.

"Fifty cents", she answered.

The youngster reached deep in his pockets and pulled out an assortment of change, counting it carefully as the waitress grew impatient.  She had "bigger" customers to wait on.

"Well, how much would just plain ice cream be?" the boy asked.

The waitress responded with noticeable irritation in her voice, "Thirty-five cents".

Again, the boy slowly counted his money.  "May I have some plain ice cream in a dish then, please?"  He gave the waitress the correct amount, and she brought the ice cream.

Later, the waitress returned to clear the boy’s dish and when she picked it up she felt a lump in her throat.  There on the counter the boy had left two nickels and five pennies.  She realized that he had had enough money for the sundae, but he sacrificed it so he could leave her a tip.

The moral:  Before passing judgment, first treat others with courtesy, dignity, and respect.

Wikipedia

Wiki who?  Wikipedia.  If you’re not familiar with the name, here’s how the Wikipedia web site describes itself:   

"a multilingual, web-based, free content encyclopedia project, operated by the Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit organization.  It is the largest, most extensive and fastest growing encyclopedia currently available on the Internet."

The important thing about Wikipedia is that with very few limits, anyone can post a definition and anyone can edit a definition on the site.  It’s sort of an encyclopedia by the people and for the people.  But, what does this have to do with business?  How can I use the site to help me generate traffic?

Frankly, Wikipedia can’t do much to build up your business.  It’s an encyclopedia. But the business model, if that’s what you want to call it, can tell us a lot about user-generated content, and in the future that may be very important to your business.  Every one of your customers is a potential web author and so are you.

But isn’t a user-generated encyclopedia chaotic?  If anyone can post and edit, how can we trust the content?  Those are good questions and understanding the answer will help us understand other types of social media.  Yes, the openness of Wikipedia makes it possible for me to post anything I want to, whether it’s true or not, just like the rest of the Internet.  But the huge number of Wikipedia users, along with safeguards built into the system, make it highly unlikely that false information will remain on the site for very long.  Thousands of potential editors keep the authors in line.  Again, according to the Wikipedia web site,

"As of September, 2007
Wikipedia had approximately 8.2 million articles in 253 languages,
comprising a combined total of over 1.41 billion words for all
wikipedias. The English Wikipedia edition passed the 2,000,000 article mark on September 9, 2007 with a total of over 609 million words, roughly fifteen times as many as the largest edition of Encyclopedia Britannica." 

That’s a tremendous amount of information and it’s all created by Internet users, not by big media companies, or PR firms, or by other vested interests. 

Which brings us back to why Wikipedia is important.  It’s a model for many of the other social media that are available today.  As politicians are learning, often the hard way, ordinary people have a lot of power on the web.  Bloggers had a serious impact on the last election and will have even more of an impact in the next one.  Once the major candidates only had to make the rounds of the Sunday morning news shows to get their message out to a captive audience.  You and I got our news, and the commentary that went with it, from CBS, NBC and ABC.  Today, not so much.

Literally thousands of bloggers are commenting on politics and the most famous ones are getting a lot of attention.  How does a blogger get attention?  By word-of-mouth (or keyboard).  Quality posts are passed along the web and a good blogger will gain a big following.  But it doesn’t stop with politics.

Your customers are blogging, and using other social media that we’ll be looking at in future posts.  Make a customer angry and you may be unpleasantly surprised to find out how many people hear about it.  On the other hand, do something outstanding and the word spreads just as fast.

You may not have the time or the desire to author Wikipedia articles, or to blog, or to get involved in other types of social media, but you’d better be aware of what’s going on and how it could affect you.  For example, you can use a tool like Google Alerts to let you know when something is being said about you online.  Each day Alerts will search thousands of web sites and blogs looking for the key words that you’ve selected, and send you an email when it finds something.  Your name may never come up, but it might and it could be negative or positive.  Either way, you don’t want to be the last to know.

Social media, social networks, and user-created content all mean one thing.  The balance of information power is shifting in the direction of the user and away from the mass media outlets.  And that means the way we do business is also changing.  As more people get their information on-line and not from the traditional sources, marketing (especially advertising) is going to change dramatically.  The good news is that this new media is more focused, more niche oriented.  That means you can target your efforts to the people you want to reach, making your marketing more efficient, more effective, and less expensive.

Next time:  YouTube

 

A City That Gets It Right

Huntsville, AL

Huntsville_wifi
I’m posting this from the Big Spring Park in Huntsville, AL, where they actually offer free wireless internet service.  Wi-Fi at our hotel costs $10 per day, but you can sit in the park, enjoy the beautiful weather, AND check your email for free.

As we’ve been discussing, the Internet is everywhere, but wi-fi in the park is a great idea.  Instead of being tethered to an ethernet cable or a phone line, in a hotel room with too little work space and not enough light, in Huntsville you can enjoy the fresh air and the scenery while you check your email.

Jogging in the park isn’t my cup of tea (or glass of sweet tea here in the South) but blogging in the park is something I could get use to.

I imagine the presence of NASA in Huntsville, and the high tech industry that supports the space program might have something to do with having the Internet in the park, but I predict that the day isn’t far off when every city will have it.

Meanwhile, your intrepid blogger will continue working hard for you, even on vacation.

Blogging_in_the_park

Blogging (about blogging)

Continuing our discussion on social networking, today we look at blogs.  Literally…You’re looking at a blog.  What’s a blog?  A simple definition is "a website that’s updated on a regular basis.  The content is usually arranged from newest to oldest."  Many, but not all blogs allow readers to make comments.

According to our recent computer survey, 14%, or about one in seven of you have a blog.  Obviously, 100% of you read at least one blog.  (Thank you.)  A recent consumer survey showed that 80% of Americans know what a blog is and almost one half visit blogs on a regular basis

According to Technorati, a blog search engine, there are 99.9 million blogs in the "blogosphere" (the place where blogs and bloggers are) on any topic you can possibly imagine and some you probably can’t imagine.  For example, a search of Technorati for the phrase "sewing machine" returns 40,531 blog posts.  "Vacuum cleaner" returns 26,008.  "Ceiling fan" produces 19,825 hits and"Floor care" 1,036.  The phrase "small business" finds 148,721 posts.  (You may have noticed that at the end of each of our posts is a list of things called "Technorati Tags".  They’re there to help Technorati find us when someone uses their search engine.)

Blogging, or web logging as it was originally called, is incredibly easy!  You don’t have to know anything about computers.

A blog reader (like bloglines, or even Google or Yahoo) lets you subscribe to blogs that you’re interested in.  Instead of you searching for new content, the blog reader automatically goes out and gets any new feeds for the blogs you’re subscribed to.  It’s like Tivo for the Internet.

Sites like Blogger, which is free and Typepad, which is free for the basic utility but which charges for the good stuff, will host your blog.  They’ll automatically send your new posts out to the readers who are subscribed to your blog. (We use Typepad’s premium service for MYOB.  It has nice features and is fairly easy to use.)

Once you’re set up with a service, if you can type, you can blog.  Once you’re happily blogging away, who’s going to read it?  That’s up to you.  If your content is good and your subject is popular, people may find you.  Notice I said "may find you".  They also may not find you.  Remember there are 99.9 million other blogs out there. 

Word of mouth is important. People who like your blog will tell others.  That’s the "social" part of "social networking".  If you can get other popular bloggers to talk about you, or even better to link to your blog, your traffic will grow.  How do you do that?  We’ll get back to that in a minute.

If you’ve been following Mine Your Business for any length of time, you’ve read about blog carnivals.  These are blogs that republish blog posts that fit into a particular category.  They chose the best posts that they receive each week for inclusion.  Get your words of wisdom into some blog carnivals and you’ll see your visitor count go up.  Again, it’s the social part of "social networking".

Of course, as a business, a good way to grow your blog traffic is to invite your customers to your blog.  That’s how we do it here.  You may have noticed that about once each month or so we send out an email reminding you that we’re still here.  It’s amazing really.  We get a huge bump in visitors when we send out an email.  Then, the count slowly begins to drop.  After a few weeks, usually when the count gets below the normal average for a few days, we send out another email and Bam!! we’re right back up there again.  (You’d save us a lot of trouble if you’d just keep reading MYOB every day.)

Hopefully you’re beginning to see a pattern here.  Social networking is all about being sociable.  It’s person to person communication using a medium that can reach millions.  And, because the cost is ridiculously low, a niche blog aimed at computerized embroidery machine owners in southwestern Illinois is just as practical as a blog aimed at Chevrolet owners all over the world.

Getting back to the question of how do you persuade the proprietors of popular blogs to talk about you, the one-word answer is "comments".  If you don’t have one already, get yourself a blog reader, or use your Google or Yahoo home page to subscribe to some blogs that share your interests.  Read them every day.  When the spirit moves you, or even when it doesn’t, make some comments.  Warning:  Make good comments!  Don’t waste people’s time with repetitive statements, or things like "I agree with you 100%.  Blogs are about communicating.  You want to become known as a good communicator.  And of course, your comments always contain a link back to your blog.  That’s how you get yourself known as an expert.

You may notice at the end of our posts there’s something called a "permalink".  If you click it, it takes you to a page that contains just that one post.  On that "permalink" page, there’s something called a "trackback address".  When you quote someone else’s blog on your blog, blog etiquette requires that you leave a trackback which is good for both of you.  The benefit for you is that when you put the trackback address into your post, your blog will be listed on the other person’s blog as a "post commenting on this post."  You quote them.  They link to you.  Neat!  And very social.

Admit it, you’re an expert in your field.  People pay money for your expertise when they shop in your store.  The more people who recognize the value of your knowledge, the more people are going to come into your store.  You get that recognition through social media.

One final warning, and this is tricky.  Never, never, never try to sell anything on your blog.  This is post number 340 of Mine Your Own Business.  Not once in those 340 posts have we ever tried to sell you anything.  That’s not what blogging is about.  But, if you decide to blog about a project, or a way to use your particular products to solve a problem, then it’s ok to mention that you do sell the necessary items.  Let’s say you’re in the lawn and garden business.  It’s September and time to be thinking about getting your lawn ready for winter.  A how-to post on fall yard care would be a great idea.  If you happen to suggest that a particular type of chemical is a good thing to spread in the yard, you can mention that you carry it.  But the commercial has to be a small part of the overall information piece.

Put up a post that just says "Fall is coming and it’s time to dump some XYZ Fertilizer on your grass.  We have it on sale for $19.99 a bag." and people will hit "delete" and "unsubscribe" so fast it will make your head spin.  Remember, social networking can also work in reverse.
 

Remember, you’re building credibility.  It’s SOCIAL networking, not sales.  When you blog, you’re talking to a friend.  And they’re talking to their friends, and so on and so on.  It’s a beautiful thing.

Monday:  Wikipedia

Social Media

On April 30, 1939,
Franklin Roosevelt became the first American president to appear on television
at the New York World’s
Fair. The first TV sets went on sale the
next day and RCA/NBC began regular daily broadcasts.

According to the US Census Bureau, as of 2004, the last year
for which figures are available, there were 268 million televisions in the United States. Zero to more than ¼ billion in just 68 years. Not bad.

It’s hard to say exactly when the Internet actually began,
but let’s say that the introduction of the first web browser, Mosaic, which
made the web usable to non-technical types is as good a date as any. That would be 1993, just fourteen years
ago.

According to Internet World Stats, 69% of Americans now use
the Internet.  That’s 232.6 million people. There are more than a billion Internet users
in the world. Just as our kids and
grandkids can’t imagine a time when there wasn’t television, a whole new
generation is coming up who can’t remember when there wasn’t an Internet.

The amazing thing is the rapid pace of hardware and software
development and the obsolescence of existing technology. Where that first 1939 RCA television would
still work if you could find one, computers built just a few years ago don’t
have the hard drive capacity or the memory to run today’s programs.  Microsoft recommends 1228 megabytes of RAM
and at least 1.5 gigabytes of disc space just to run Windows XP/

Disposal of obsolete computers is becoming a huge problem,
or a huge opportunity depending on if you’re a glass half-full or half-empty
kind of person.

 So, what’s the point, Mr. Wizard? Why the history lesson?

Here’s the thing. Your customers, especially your future customers, are power users of the
latest technology. They don’t read the
newspaper. They don’t watch the news on
television. They watch MTV and ESPN, but
mostly they get their information from the web. And not from the traditional news machines, they get their news from one
another. It’s called “social networking”
or “social media”.

 Wikipedia
(a social media tool itself) defines social media as” the online  technologies and practices that people use to share content, opinions, insights,
experiences, perspectives, and media themselves.

Social
media can take many different forms, including text, images, audio, and video.
The social media sites typically use tools like message boards, forums, podcasts, bookmarks, communities, wikis, weblogs, etc.   

While
young people are embracing this new technology, you don’t have to be a “teenage
techie” to get on the social media bandwagon. In fact, a lot of the users of this new technology are anything but kids. Blogging is a form of social media
and you’re reading a blog right now!

Many
of us “old timers” are listening to podcasts, subscribing to FaceBook, and using
Wikipedia to find answers to our questions every single day. Based on the past growth history of the
Internet, there’s no telling where the new technology is going to take us.

Over
the next several days we’ll be looking at some of these new tools. Even if you don’t own an iPod, or if you have
no interest in looking at video clips on every subject imaginable, stay with us. These things WILL find their way into your
business sooner or later and if you have some knowledge of what’s going on, you’ll
be way ahead of your competition.

Tomorrow:  Blogs

A New Resource

Wsj_entrepreneur
The Wall Street Journal Online has redesigned its small business web site, now called Entrepreneur.  The new site features a variety of articles that you may fine helpful, columns on small business, and links to other resources including small business help sites by state and a trade show look-up by industry.

Check it out.  I think you’ll want to add it to your bookmarks.

Survey Says!

Apologies to Richard Dawson of Family Feud for stealing his famous phrase, but we have the results of our computer usage survey.  Many thanks to all of you who took the time to participate.  As promised, here are some of the highlights of your responses.

More than half of you have point-of-sale systems (54%).

  • Of those who have p-o-s, 59% use it to track sales and/or manage inventory, but only one in three use it to place orders with suppliers.
  • Less than half, (48%) use p-o-s to generate reports and just one in four (26%) take advantage of your system to send targeted mailings.

In the area of communications:

  • Two out of three of you use email to contact customers but only one in three has an electronic newsletter.
  • A whopping 86% of you have a web site but just 14% have a blog.
  • Only 24% of you own an iPod or other mp3 player.
  • 82% of you never listen to podcasts.

One out of two survey responses included a comment and there were a lot of questions raised.  Surprisingly, there were only a few duplicates.

I’ll be going over your responses with our management and IT department.  Your input will help us in selecting future topics for MYOB, additional communications tools, and areas where we can improve our service to you.

A free copy of Bob and Susan Negin’s book, "Marketing Your Retail Store
in the Internet Age" is on it’s way to Sew With Sue in Houma, LA,
chosen at random from all of you who contributed to the survey.  Watch
your mailbox.