Be Careful Out There!

If you're going to be out and about this evening, don't forget that it's Halloween.  Small ghosts and goblins are excited (and probably on an intense sugar high).  They may or may not be watching for you, so please watch out for them. 

Later on, you may come across a bigger ghost or goblin on another type of high.  Watch out for them too.

We want everyone to have a safe and enjoyable holiday.

Online Training is Plentiful and Inexpensive (Maybe Even Free)

We live in a changing world.  It seems like every day we hear about some new technology that has an effect on our business.  Either it's some new tool to help us operate more efficiently or it's some new advance in the products we sell that benefits our customers.  Either way, if we're not learning we're not just standing still.  We're actually falling behind.

Once upon a time, just a few years ago, the only way to learn about new developments in our industry was to attend industry trade shows and other events.  It was expensive and time-consuming.  Our sales reps might be able to give us the Reader's Digest version at your place of business, but if you wanted real in-depth training you had to go to where the products and the experts were.

Today, that's all changed.  The amount of training that's available on the web is amazing.  There's virtually nothing that can be learned that can't be learned over the Internet.  All you have to do is run a Google search to find it.

For example, this morning I sat in on an on-line sales training presentation on sewing products.  Using a product called WebEx, our Baby Lock Training Director, Doug Thompson was able to hold a two-way conversation with dealers and walk them through the steps necessary to troubleshoot and repair one of our hi-tech Baby Lock sewing machines.  Think about that.  In the past, the dealer would have had to spend the time and the money to come to St. Louis for the same training.  Because of the expense involved, the training would have to be intense, covering as much material as possible in a short amount of time. The high cost made it unlikely that a retailer would bring his entire staff to a training event, meaning only some would get the necessary training.

Software like WebEx and GoToMeetings, to name just two, allows the presenter to transmit video and graphics from his computer screen to yours.  It's even possible to download files for the presenter's computer.  It's truly amazing.  The software is inexpensive, making it possible for just about anyone, including you, to conduct on-line meetings.

The Baby Lock WebEx training is conducted in bite-size segments, with small groups of dealers.  It can be spread over time, giving the dealer a chance to absorb each segment before moving on to the next.  As the Irish would say, It's brilliant!  Everyone wins. 

This on-line training isn't restricted to just products and service.  Whatever aspect of your business you want to learn about is available somewhere.  If you want to learn about Microsoft software, they offer on-line instruction, as do other software manufacturers.  If you want to learn about sales, or marketing, or advertising, or any other skill you need to be successful, chances are someone has a seminar just waiting for you to attend.

Product-based seminars, like our Baby Lock sessions, are usually restricted to dealers.  Others, like Microsoft, often require you to register which puts you on the sponsor's mailing list.  But if you're interested in the topic, and the sponsor provides a product or service that's connected to that topic, receiving a few selling emails is a small price to pay.  My experience is that once you tell them you're not interested, they usually leave you alone. 

Here's the thing.  There's plenty of down time in most retail businesses, especially now with a weak economy and between selling seasons.  Taking an hour to improve your business skills, or letting your staff spend time in on-line training just makes good sense.  Continuing education is always a good investment.  When the education is free, how can you afford to pass it up?

Something else to think about:  Is there a way you could use on-line meetings to increase your

Yet Another twitter Post

I promise this will be the last post on twitter for a while, but I came across a short e-book on the subject that you should check out.  It's called "" by Luke Razzell. 

I like the analogy that twitter is "the railroad tracks…of the 21st century."  Very appropriate for a tool that is used to bring people together.  The ebook is a short ten pages and is very well done.  Read it on-screen because it contains a lot of links.

Luke points out that twitter's 140 character limitation makes tweeting very much like normal human conversation.  Unlike "normal" conversation, the limit is hard and fast making it necessary to actually think about what you're saying before you hit the "post" button.  You're forced to use words economically (or abbreviate creatively).  Type 141 characters and the last one is dropped.

Take a look at "".  It's a good use of a small amount of your time.

[Thanks to Lee Hopkins for pointing this out.  Speaking of Lee, don't forget that you have until 10/31 to take advantage of his 1/2 price sale.]

The WSJ on twitter

Jessica E. Vascellaro put together an interesting article for yesterday's Wall Street Journal called "Twitter Goes Mainstream".  She points out that the micro-blogging service has enjoyed phenomenal growth over the last few years.  While twitter doesn't release usage figures, they do say that the number of users has increased sevenfold in the last year. 

Vascellaro cites several cases where businesses are using twitter to communicate internally, to communicate with customers, or as one way of keeping track of what's being said about them online.

So, how does it work?  As usual, Common Craft has an excellent tutorial which I've included here.  We've posted here before on how twitter works ("So What's this 'twitter' I Keep Hearing About?" and "More on Twitter), but the WSJ article and the Common Craft video offer some good additional points.

Now’s the Time to Invest in Your Brand

Amber Naslund is a principal of Altitude, a social media and marketing consultancy.  She offers an interesting take on the current economy on the Altitude blog.  She writes that rather than panic if business is a little soft, we should be using this time to build up the value of our brand. 

Some of Amber's suggestions:

Use this time to learn more about your business.  Are there unmet needs that your business can fill? 

Find out what's being said about you online.  Set up Google alerts.  If you have a web site, keep tabs on traffic with Google Analytics.

Refocus.  Who are you?  How is your business positioned?

"Take the Social Media plunge."  See, I'm not the only one who thinks you should.  Check the tag cloud on the left under "Social Media" for past posts on the subject.

Be "a source of positive energy to those around you……Invest in the people who have invested in you."

In my humble opinion you have two goals in this strange, unprecedented economic climate.  One is to focus on the short term, getting as much business as you can.  The second is to position yourself to take advantage of the recovery, which will come.

Obama & McCain in Their Cups

Happy Monday!

You've probably already heard about this, but you may not have thought about how to apply it to your business.  From Andy Sernovitz's Damn! I Wish I'd Have Thought of That! website!  (I wish I'd have thought of that name!) comes the story of 7-11's "7-Election '08".  Here's the idea.  When you buy your 7-11 coffee, you choose either an blue Obama cup or a red McCain cup.  I guess Barr and Nader fans don't drink coffee. 

Your cup choice is sure to generate conversation and every conversation benefits the 7-11 brand.  If you're curious about the highly-unscientific results, you can check them out at the 7-Election web site. 

Andy concludes his post:

"Ask yourself this question:  What can I do that guarantees that
everyone who walks out of my door will talk about me to the next person
they see?

Something to think about on a Monday morning.  Have a great week!

Godin, Peters, and Fleener

Happy Friday!  Today I thought I'd point you to a couple of excellent free resources. 

Regular readers will recognize the three names in the headline because we refer to each of them from time to time.  Seth Godin and Tom Peters, marketing gurus and best selling authors got together recently at a forum called "Inside the Entrepreneurial Mind".  You can watch short video segments from the program at the Open Forum website.  Don't expect any definitive answers because Godin and Peters don't necessarily agree with one another but the insights are good and the short videos are entertaining.  You can watch all fourteen in one sitting or spread them out over several days.

The ones that I particularly enjoyed were "No One Cares About You" and the two on Social Networking.  Check 'em out.

Something with a little more staying power is Doug Fleener's Daily Retail Quote.  Sign up free and receive daily motivational quotes which can be printed and posted in your back room, break room, or by the time clock.  Some are even suitable for the sales floor.  We're living in a scary time.  Every little bit of motivation helps.

Have a great weekend!

McCain, Obama, and the Subtle Power of Suggestion

I was reading an excellent ebook today called "The Psychological Power of Suggestion" by Lee Hopkins (more on Lee in a minute) that is very timely here in the US.  While it's always best to stay away from political discussions in a business forum, as marketers, there's a lot we can learn from the candidates and their campaigns.  After all, our desire to sell a few more widgets is nothing compared to their desire to be the Commander in Chief of the most powerful country in the free world.  Surely they must have the most creative marketing minds on the planet working on their campaigns, don't they?

According to Lee, "The psychological basis of suggestibility is simply a tendency in human nature to believe any statement that is repeated a great number of times."  He goes on, "statements which rely solely on suggestion for their acceptance must be simply expressed, confident in tone, and repeated often if they are to be effective."

Take a look at the two major party presidential candidates.  What are their brands?  Obama = Change.  McCain = Experience.  That's the message each man is trying to convey.  It's simple.  It's proclaimed confidently.  And it's repeated, not just often, but ad infinitum.  Change vs. Experience.  Experience vs. Change. 

Forget the fact that both men have chosen running mates that represent exactly the opposite of their stated brand.  Forget the fact that both men's former oponents in the primaries are now stumping for them trumpeting as virtues the very same things that they called fatal flaws just a few months ago.  With everyone on the "blue" side shouting "change" and everyone on the "red" side yeling "experience", both campaigns are counting on the power of suggestion to drive voters to punch, press, or otherwise mark their candidate's name on the ballot on November 4.

The lesson here is pretty simple.  In all your marketing, whether it's traditional advertising or web 2.0, you must have a consistant theme, simply expressed, confident in tone, and repeated often.  If it works when the stakes are as high as the job of President of the United States, it will certainly work for us.

I said I'd tell you more about Lee Hopkins and here it is.  You can download the aforementioned ebook from his web site, along with several other excellent articles for free.  He also has some very good stuff that you have to pay for.  During the month of October, Lee is offering all his materials for 1/2 price.  For example, his "Better Business Writing", which normally sets you back $69.95 is just $34.07 for the rest of this month.  You can only take advantage of this offer by going to his special sale web page.  Besides the BBW program, you also get a plethora of free stuff by Lee and some other very good writers.

MYOB doesn't normally promote or sell other people's products, but we do want to help you save money on worthwhile tools whenever we can and this is a good investment.  [FYI, we aren't affiliated with Lee Hopkins in any way, shape, or form, except as a fan.  Your humble blogger paid $34.97 of his own hard-earned cash to download "Better Business Writing".]  Check it out.

IRS Appoints New Small Business Commisioner

I know you’ve been waiting impatiently for this news so here it is.  According to the Washington Post, the IRS has appointed Christopher Wagner to the post of Commissioner of the Small Business and Self-Employed Division (SB/SE).  Wagner replaces Kathy Petronchak, who retired in August.

From the IRS Press Release:

"SB/SE is one of four operating divisions of the IRS, has about 28,000
employees and serves roughly 55 million taxpayers. SB/SE is a major
part of IRS enforcement activities, focusing on promoters of abusive
tax schemes, high-income non-filers and other serious tax compliance

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  There are 28,000 IRS agents looking over your shoulder.

Social Media and Your Customer

Thanks to Ben McConnell and the Church of the Customer blog for pointing out the results of a recent survey conducted by Opinion Research Corporation.  Ben gives a good summary of the results and here’s a link to the original survey.  You can review the specific results there, but to make a long story short, consumers who use social media expect business to use social media.

Some highlights:

  • 93% of social media users think you should have a social media presence.
  • 85% expect you to not just have a presence, but that you should actually interact with them.

And, in my opinion, here’s the biggie.  More than half of the respondents say they feel a stronger connection with a company when they can interact with it using social media.

Those are some mighty strong reasons to consider blogging, podcasting, twittering, Facebook, and any other social media tool that your customers are using.