How to Read MYOB (and other blogs)

No matter what field we’re in, it’s easy to take it for granted that everyone knows what we know.  But a couple of recent emails have made us realize that everyone might not know all the ways to follow a blog.  Obviously you know how to find us, or else you wouldn’t be reading this.  But you may not be aware of all the options available.  Here are some of the most popular ways to keep up with the news.

Rss
RSS feeds.
  One of the things that make a blog a blog is the RSS feed.  Simply put, an RSS feed delivers the content of a web site automatically, whenever the site changes, to anyone who subscribes to it .  That way there’s no need to check a web site every day to see if there’s anything new.  A quick look at your feed reader will tell you which, if any, of the blogs you’re following have anything new for you. 

Feed readers.  One of the most popular feed readers is Bloglines.  Bloglines allows you to subscribe to lots of feeds and even lets you set your feeds up in folders.  When there’s something new, the blog’s listing shows up in bold type with the number of new items in parentheses ( ).  There’s a search tool that lets you look for a post or a feed by key word.  If you click on the  "Subscribe to my feed" link on the right side of this page, you’ll be taken to a page that lets you sign up for the RSS feed very easily.  Every blog should have a similar link.

Another popular choice is the Google Reader.  Google Reader works much like Bloglines with one big advantage.  You can subscribe to all your favorite blogs just like you can with Bloglines, with many of the same features.  But, if you have a personal Google home page, you can add the reader to your homepage and see your new blog posts right there.

Both Bloglines and Google Reader are online feed readers.  That means there is no software to install on your computer.  If you’d rather use an offline reader, there are several available.  Most of them are free, but some aren’t.  There’s no single best choice.  It just depends on what you like best.

Email notification.  Another way to keep up with Mine Your Own Business is to enter your email address in the box on the right under the heading "Get Email Updates from MYOB".  If you subscribe using this tool, you’ll receive an email every day that there’s been a new post or posts.  This is especially handy if you don’t want to use an RSS reader.  Each email contains a link to that days post(s).

Like everything else on the Internet, blog readers are constantly being upgraded and new ones introduced.  Just recently Bloglines has introduced a new interface that has some neat features.  You can opt for the new version on their homepage. About.com offers a list of their top 10 choices here.  Of course, different people have different opinions about which ones are best.  Search Google for "RSS Readers" for more opinions.

Browsers. Even the newest version of Internet Explorer (IE 7)has a built-in RSS utility.  The RSS logo on the IE7 toolbar turns from grey to orange when a page you’re visiting has an RSS feed.  All you have to do is click that orange icon and the page will be added to your list of feeds.  To check the feeds you’ve subscribed to, just click the drop-down arrow next to the icon.

Mozilla’s Firefox browser also offers an RSS reader that integrates into the browser.   It’s called Sage.   Sage is an add-in that turns the browser into a feed reader.  Sage’s list of subscribed sits appears in the Firefox sidebar.  Clicking on a bold link opens the feed in the main browser window.

There are a lot of options for reading your favorite blogs.  Experiment with a few and decide which one’s best for you.  Just be sure that whatever method you use to grab your favorite feeds that Mine Your Own Business is one of them.

Year-end Tax Help from Your Uncle

From the Small Business Administration:

"Thomas P. Ochsenschlager, Vice President of Taxation with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, will host the December Web chat on "Year-end Tax Savings for Your Small Business." Chat participants will be able to get tax tips and answers to questions on year-end tax preparation for small business owners. Ochsenschlager will take your questions to help you learn more about the importance of year-end planning."

Check out the SBA’s web site for more information on this FREE web chat which takes place Thursday, December 20, 2007 at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time.  You can submit questions in advance by clicking on this link.

Say it ain’t so, Joe

Dimaggio
By now you’ve heard about the release of the Mitchell Report on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball.  In case you’re interested, you can read the report, all 409 pages of it, here.

MYOB isn’t a sports blog or a political blog, and by now there’s not much we can add to everything that’s already been said and written about the sorry state of sports in general, and baseball in particular. 

But, as business people, this official acknowledgment of something we knew all along, that integrity and honesty are becoming the exception, rather than the rule should be a wake up call for all of us.  When our sports "heroes" are found to be cheating in the name of making more millions of dollars, we have to realize that something we once took for granted has become a rare commodity.

It would be naive to assume that baseball is the only professional sport that has an ethics problem.  It would be even more naive to think that it’s exclusively a sports problem.  The fact is that many of us accept this behavior and even expect it.  Was the Mitchell Report really a surprise to anyone?

As we reported here this past summer (Consumer Confidence), Americans trust small business more than any other American institution with the exception of the military.  That’s a statistic to be proud of, but it’s not something to take for granted.  It’s extremely important to guard that trust like gold, because that’s what it is. 

We may all wonder when our favorite player hits a home run whether he did it honestly, or if his performance was enhanced by modern science, but we can’t afford for even one of our customers to wonder if we’ve treated them fairly; if we’ve played by the rules. 

Back in the days when everyone lived by the Golden Rule, integrity was part of the deal.  It was expected.  Toys didn’t poison our kids.  Medicine didn’t make us sick.  It made us well.  We could buy something with our credit card and not worry about our identity being stolen. 

As the Gallup Poll showed, small business still enjoys Americans’ trust.  Only one in four people trusts TV news.  Only 14% trust Congress.  But 59% of Americans trust you. Whatever you do, don’t violate that trust.

The Blog Council

Recently a dozen corporate bloggers got together to form the "Blog Council".  The companies involved are AccuQuote, Cisco Systems, The Coca-Cola Company, Dell, Gemstar-TV Guide, General Motors, Kaiser Permanente, Microsoft, Nokia, SAP, and Wells Fargo.

According to the council’s web site, "The Blog Council exists as a forum for executives to meet one another in a private, vendor-free environment and share tactics, offer advice based on past experience, and develop standards-based best practices as a model for other corporate blogs.

"Major corporations use blogs differently while abiding by the same rules and etiquette," said Blog Council CEO Andy Sernovitz.  "Individual and small-business bloggers don’t face the same issues.  For example, we still need to deliver a responsible and effective corporate message, but we need to do it in the complicated environment of the blogosphere.  We have to speak for a corporation, but never sound ‘corporate.’  And we have to learn to do it live, and in real-time."

Not to nit pick, but does that mean that bloggers for smaller companies don’t deliver a responsible and effective corporate message?"  Is the blogosphere more complicated for a General Motors than it is for a Tacony Corporation, or for you if you have a blog?

Sorry, but the blogosphere isn’t all that complicated.  If you deliver a consistent, honest message and quality content, you’ll be accepted.  But, the blogosphere has a built-in BS detector that will spot a phony in a nanosecond.  And, as many have found out, once you’ve been outed for trying to pull a fast one, your credibility is gone.

Blogging is a conversation.  That’s why we’re always asking you to comment (hint, hint).  It’s a personal, semi-spontaneous medium.  Somehow a "corporate blogging council" just doesn’t sound right.  "Tactics", and "standards-based best practices"?  Really?

Maybe we’re just spoiled here at MYOB, but here’s the thing.  Anything that you put out in the name of your company, whether you have 500 employees or 500,000 becomes part of your "personal brand".  (See yesterday’s post.)  There’s a huge element of trust between management and the person fortunate enough to be given the task of blogging. 

You’re reading post number 413 of Mine Your Own Business, going back to April, 2006.  In all that time, no one in senior management has ever questioned anything we’ve posted.  There are occasional suggestions of topics that you might find interesting, but there’s been no censorship EVER

There are no "tactics".  There are no "standards-based best practices."  Our "standards" are posted on the left in our corporate mission statement, number one being "to build long lasting relationships that are based on trust and feel like family", which is really the definition of blogging.

Ironically, Microsoft, one of the twelve charter members of the council, made a big splash early on by letting Robert Scoble blog on anything Microsoft, either good or bad.  Scoble has since left the company.

To their credit, Wal*Mart has recently started a blog called Checkout.  It’s written by a number of different employees.  Whether it catches on remains to be seen, but as long as they let the bloggers blog without looking over their shoulders, it could be a good addition to the conversation.  Whether the blogosphere will forgive them their past indiscretions remains to be seen.

We’ll keep watching the "blog council" to see what effect, if any, they have on their members’ blogs.  Meanwhile, we’ll keep doing what we do, guided by your thoughts and suggestions. 

Thanks for your support.

Personal Branding

Personal branding isn’t a new thing.  It’s as old as sales and marketing.  But right now it’s hot.  The current fascination with personal branding seems to have begun when Fast Company magazine published an article titled "The Brand Called You", by Tom Peters in August, 1997.   So, why is PB the current hot topic?  What’s different in 2007?  That’s easy.  You don’t have to spend a ton of money today to establish your personal brand.

To sum up Peters’ article, one question stands out; "What makes you different?"  That’s really your personal brand.  It’s your particular set of qualities and personality traits that makes people want to be around you; that makes them want to do business with you.  Or, conversely, it could be the traits that make people want to avoid you like the plague. 

For example, Abraham Lincoln had a personal brand; "Honest Abe".  Whether you agreed with him or not, you knew that Lincoln would never lie to you.  Al Capone also had a personal brand.  It was very different.   The thing is that both men cultivated that branding.  Capone was just as proud of his brand as Lincoln was of his, maybe more.

Pitchman
Personal branding took a giant step in the 1950’s when Americans started buying a new gadget called the television.  This new medium gave birth to a new breed of salesman called the "pitch man".  Every town had at least one.  They were usually in the car business or the furniture and appliance business.  They latched onto television as a way to draw customers into their stores, usually by acting as goofy as humanly possible for the camera.  They became local celebrities.  Some even became legends.

Here in St. Louis Steve Mizerany became famous for wearing roller skates in his store and on his TV commercials and for once setting a TV station on fire during a live spot.  It cost him a lot of money to establish his personal brand.  In reality, Mizerany was a shrewd business man and philanthropist who’s true personality was very different from the "brand" he created for himself.  Earl "Madman" Muntz and "Crazy" Eddie

The thing that makes personal branding so different today is the ease of establishing your brand in the markets you desire.  The Internet has made it possible for someone with little or no money to promote their brand to their target audience.  Emails, blogs, podcasts, YouTube, and other social media make it simple and inexpensive to establish your brand.

To commemorate the tenth anniversary of "The Brand Called You", a unique event was held recently.  It was called "A Brand You World".  It featured twenty-four one hour presentations on personal branding presented by experts from all around the world.  The programs ran on two separate tracks, making it impossible to listen live to all twenty-four.  But all of the sessions were recorded and are available on-line.

Some of the topics include writing a business blog (Yes, your humble blogger did listen to that one); how to help your employees develop a personal brand; three steps to a winning brand; podcasting; and many others.  Phil Gerbyshak’s program, "Identity You", is especially good.  There’s also a very interesting interview with Richard Nelson Bolles, the author of "What Color is Your Parachute."  The story of how he went from being fired to developing one of the most famous brands in the world without really trying is very interesting.

You can listen to the programs directly through your computer.  You can also download them onto your mp3 player or you can use iTunes to load them on your iPod. 

You’re probably not going to be interested in all of the programs, especially since several of them are on the topic of job hunting, but you’re sure to find something that interests you.  Best of all?  They’re free.

Promotion Calendar

Just in case you’re wondering when to celebrate "Clean Up Your Computer Month" (January) or "Umbrella Day" (February 10), or "National Frozen Food Month" (March) MissouriBusiness.net has just the thing for you, their "2008 Retail Promotion Calendar".  It’s available for free download on their web site.

Seriously, it’s a handy thing to have around when you’re searching for an idea for a promotion and you’re drawing a blank.  There’s also a link to an article on "Making the Calendar Work for Your Business."Gingerbread

Plus, if you need something for the next couple of weeks, there’s also a link to the 2007 calendar.  [Hint:  Tomorrow is Gingerbread House Day.]

Monkeys??

From our "You Think You’ve Got Problems?" department,
I70_monkeys_2
this is an actual traffic bulletin.  "Traffic is jammed on westbound Interstate 70 in St. Charles due to stuffed monkeys on the roadway."

Loyal Employees

We frequently write here about getting and keeping loyal customers.  No company can survive for long without them.  But, today we’re going to suggest that loyal employees are even more important than loyal customers.  This may sound like retail heresy, but it’s based on the concept that raving, fanatical staff will lead to raving, fanatical customers while grumpy, unsatisfied employees can potentially drive customers away.  If you agree with the necessity of a loyal staff, read on.

Tim is a twenty-nine year-old graduate school student.  He also works part-time for REI.  If you’re not familiar with them, REI is an outdoor outfitter, based in Kent, WA, with 90 stores from coast to coast.  According to their web site, "What drives our business is our employees’ passion for the outdoors."  Tim’s job is a typical part-time retail position, but he loves his job.  Not only does Tim love his job, but his fellow part-timers, many of them college graduates working toward advanced degrees or professionals moonlighting evenings and weekends love their jobs too.

How do you get and keep college-educated men and women to work in a retail store, at retail wages, and turn them into evangelists for your business?  We asked Tim, "Why do you love your job?"  Surprisingly most of the "perks" of working for REI cost the company little or nothing, yet they’re the key to the company’s success.

In case you’re going through Top 10 withdrawal because of the writers’ strike, here are Tim’s Top 10 Reasons Why He Loves Working at REI.

10.  The customers are great.  The stores sell merchandise that people enjoy using.  Buying the equipment or the clothing is part of the overall experience of the sport. 

9.   Free coffee for employees.

8.  REI only hires customers.  The staff are passionate about their sports so they’re passionate about what they sell.  In a world where it’s often difficult to get retail staff, REI has a waiting list.

7. Work schedules are flexible to accommodate staff’s school or full-time job.

6.  During the Christmas season when neighboring restaurants are packed, the store brings in meals for the employees.  They don’t have to spend their lunch breaks waiting in line.

5.  Generous discount program.  Some of the staff actually put their entire paycheck back into REI merchandise.  Employees get to save money on their favorite activities and become evangelists for REI products.

4.  Employee benefits.  Even part-time staff receive better-than-average benefits, including health insurance.

3.  Working at REI is fun.  The merchandise is fun.  The customers are fun.  It’s just a fun place to work.

2.  The managers are accessible.  You don’t have to make an appointment to talk to your boss.  And, there’s no pressure to sell additional merchandise.  REI wants the customer to leave the store with the items that they need.  As Tim says, "You don’t need a $500 backpack to take a walk in the park.

And the number 1 reason why Tim loves his job at REI, they let him do his job.  When a customer-satisfaction decision needs to be made, they let the front-line employee make it.  Remember, many of the REI staff are college graduates, some hold advanced degrees.  They shouldn’t have to ask permission to take back a pair of socks. 

There you have it, the top ten reasons why an employee loves his job, straight from the employee.  Notice that only 4, 6, and 9 actually cost the company money and only number 4 is a large expense.  Yet they’re able to retain a staff of mature, educated, knowledgeable employees who give their customers great service.   It’s all about the culture of the company and the respect they have for their customers and for their employees.

How many of these ideas can you adopt to your business?  Better yet, are there any others you’d like to add?

Tragedy at the Mall

Doug Fleener at the Retail Contrarian blog comments today on our post from yesterday about being prepared for disasters. Reflecting on yesterday’s shootings at the Westroads Mall in Omaha, he writes,

"Mike Buckley of Tacony Corporation has a retail blog called MINE Your Own Business. Yesterday, before the shooting occurred, I was reading a new post of his called “Be Prepared”. Mike was sharing some resources for companies to prepare for – and recover from – disasters. The first sentence is almost haunting now. ‘Disasters come in all sizes and shapes.’

"As I was reading it I was thinking that I would link to the post so to remind retailers that they need to have a disaster plan for every store. It’s important that managers know what to do in case of tornado, fire, or god forbid the unthinkable, something like what happened in Omaha.

"Every retail organization should review its disaster policies and procedures with their stores and ensure that every employee knows what to do if a disaster occurs. Yes it’s the holiday season. Yes the stores are incredibly busy. But believe me, your employees are already discussing what happened in Omaha. It doesn’t matter where they live and work, this event has hit home for them. They will truly appreciate knowing that you care enough to talk with them about the unspeakable."

Normally we’d be ecstatic to be mentioned in a such a highly regarded blog, but there’s no way to see yesterday’s events as anything but a gut-wrenching tragedy.  The fact that something like this happened on the very day that we posted about disaster preparedness is more than a little scary.  Of course,  a mass-murderer opening fire in a crowded mall was not one of the disasters that we had in mind. 

Lives have been forever changed by one individual’s unexplainable actions.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the victims and to everyone involved.  Retailing and shopping shouldn’t be hazardous occupations.  Especially during this normally happy time of the year, we shouldn’t have to fear for our lives every time we leave the house.  It’s all very sad and confusing. 

I agree with Doug.  If you haven’t already, you should take the time to discuss yesterday’s events with your staff.  Let them get their fears out in the open, and discuss what you would do is such a thing were to happen in your store. 

You can read Doug’s post and our response here.

Showing Appreciation

Here are some tips from MyRagan.com on showing appreciation to your staff.  Unfortunately, I’ve lost the link to the original article, but you can read a copy of it here.  The Ragan article is adapted from "Retaining Talented Employees", by Russ Giles, on the Allies Consulting web site.

  • Think about the effort, not just the results.  A big sale is great and worthy of praise.  But what went into that sale?  Be sure you recognize it.
  • Be specific.  Take time to thank employees for the nights they worked late, the hysterical customer they helped to calm down, the kids’ activities they missed. Let them know that you understand what it took to achieve the accomplishment.
  • Don’t let them deflect your praise.  We all tend to minimize our own accomplishments.  Don’t let them do it.  Let them bask in the glory of a job well done.
  • Ask them to share their success story. Ask for details.  You may learn something yourself.
  • Offer to lend a helping hand.  Ask if there’s anything you can to to make the job easier in the future.  Offering to simplify their lives is a real, tangible show of appreciation.