Do You Have an Hour to Spend on Your Business?

Here's some good, practical advice from Becky McRae at the Small Biz Survival blog.  She points out that there are more resources for you to improve your business than ever before.  Most of them are either free or cheap and you can take advantage of them without ever leaving your computer.  Why do so many of these resources go unused?  McRae cites a lack of time, focus, and attention.

Her suggested solution, set aside an amount of time each week, no less than an hour, to find these resources, study them, and put good practices into action.  She writes:

"At first, you assignment is:

  • Figure out what areas need improvement.
  • Set goals.
  • Decide how you can measure progress.
  • Find people who can help.

Once you are going, and have made the habit, focus on:

  • Review your performance for the past week. How did you do? What can you improve? How are you progressing toward goals? Check your measurements.
  • Learn about one of your improvement areas. Read blogs, read ebooks; read, read, read!
  • Check in with one of your mentors."

Simple but difficult, but if you're going to grow your business (or just stay even in this difficult time) it's a necessary step.  As we often say at MYOB, you have to work on your business, not just in your business.

Have a great weekend!

Hug Your Customers

Cat_and_bear
There's a really good article today on American Express' Open Forum about customer referrals by John Jantsch (Duct Tape Marketing).  It's short so I won't recap it here except to quote one paragraph that I thought was very good.

"Once a quarter or once a year invite some or all of your customers to
enjoy a great speaker, lunch, drinks or to paint the day care center at
the local community center. There is something magical about this type
of community building and it always produces loyalty and referrals as a
side benefit." 

What a great idea, especially the last one.  Doing a community service event puts something back into the community, builds good will with your customers, and could be the source of some really positive publicity.  You may not have time for something like this between now and Christmas, but think what a great way this would be to use some of that slow time in January and February.

[The great picture is by "infinitely majikal" on flickr.]

Are You Ready for Christmas?

I posted the following on the VacHeads forum this morning on a discussion about Christmas sales.  I thought I'd share it here. 

Santa
With the current state of the economy, it's very likely that folks will
opt for more practical gifts which puts you guys and gals in a good
position. Don't wait for "Black Friday" to start promoting Christmas
sales. Put up the decorations, turn on the holiday tunes, and remind
everyone you talk to that it's only xx days until Christmas.

One suggestion, if you don't have one already, start a Lay-Away
program
. The BBs are doing it and you should too. I may not have the
money today, and I may not want to run up my credit card bills, but I
CAN afford to make a weekly payment on a gift that I can pick up on Dec
24. Plus, I don't have to hide it. You can sweeten the deal by offering
free gift wrap.

Also, whatever you do, don't let yourself get dragged into
conversations about politics, the economy, or any other negative stuff.
For the next seven weeks, you've got to be jollier than old Santa
himself

Veterans’ Day, 2008

American_flag_eagle
The following was found in the pocket of a slain Confederate soldier after the battle of Gettysburg.  The author is unknown, but his words live on.

As you go about your business today, please remember that it's our veterans, living and dead, whose sacrifices have made, and continue to make it possible for us to enjoy our freedom.  We owe them a debt of gratitude that we can never repay.

I asked for strength, that I might achieve,
He made me weak that I might learn
humbly to obey…
I asked for health, that I might do greater things,
I was given infirmity, that I might do
better things…
I asked for riches, that I might be happy,
I was given poverty, that I might be wise…
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men,
I was given weakness that I might feel
the need of God…
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life,
I was given life, that I may enjoy all things…
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything that I had hoped for,
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered,
I am among all men, most richly blessed.

Christmas Has Not Been Cancelled!

It's always important, especially in tough times, to surround yourself with positive people.  One of the most positive people I know is Bob Negen of Whiz Bang Training.  He's put together a short video, just six and a half minutes long, called "They Haven't Canceled Christmas."  As you might guess from the title, the video is all about how you can make this a successful selling season.

Be aware that he's going to ask you a tough question:  "Are you a blamer, a hoper, or a doer?"  You'll have to watch the video to see what the question means, but I think you can probably guess.  Anyway, it's a good, positive video from a guy who's experienced retailing first hand, in the trenches, in good times and bad. He knows what he's talking about.

Oh, by the way, not to leave you hanging, Bob has also recorded a follow up video cleverly titled "They Haven't Canceled Christmas–Part 2".  Check it out by clicking the link.

Will It Mulch?

The following is brought to you as a public service by MTS:

By now you’ve most likely seen, or at least heard of, BlendTec’s amazingly viral video series called “Will It Blend?”  The star of the show is the BlendTec blender which gobbles up two-by-fours and golf balls and other seemingly unblendable stuff.  The videos are wildly popular and BlendTec has seen their sales increase exponentially because of them.

Well, not to be outdone, I may have discovered the next series of videos which I plan to call “Will It Mulch?”  Much like the idea for “Will It Blend”, my idea not something that I planned.  Yesterday I was cutting my mother-in-law’s very large back yard with her very old riding mower.  Flying along at breakneck speed (the leaves were falling faster than I could get to them) I was enjoying my favorite podcast (Click the link to see what it is.) when the voices suddenly went still and I heard what can only be described as a sickening sound.

My worst fears were realized when I looked down to see the plug from my earbuds dangling naked from its white cord.  Like Ralphie’s Christmas turkey, my iPod was “gone, all gone.”  As you can see from the photo, the same mower that needed two passes to grind up a leaf had anhialated my iPod in a single pass.

Unfortunately, no one was there with video camera to record the tragedy and I haven’t the desire or the cash to repeat it, so maybe my video series won’t come to be.  But keep this in mind.  The riding mower may not be able to make a decent Margarita, but when it comes to destroying electronic equipment, it takes a back seat to no one.  So if you must listen to podcasts while you mow, be sure your mp3 player is firmly attached to something.

R.I.P. iPod Nano

R.I.P. iPod Nano

A Big Award for Wiggly Wigglers

You may recall back in August we introduced you to Wiggly Wigglers, a garden supply business in Blakemere, a tiny village in Herefordshire, United Kingdom.  [A Small Business Owner Who Knows How to Use Social Media.]  Owner Heather Gorringe has used Web 2.0 to build a very successful small business selling worms, among other things.

Just in case you’re still not convinced that a small business can do big things online, Wigglers has just won the Global Dell Small Business Excellence Award.  The award is sponsored by Dell and the (US) National Federation of Independent Business.

In case you’re thinking, “Big deal.  I’m not into winning awards”, this one comes with $50,000 in Dell goodies and some other valuable perks.  Please take a few minutes (3:46 actually) to watch this video about the company.  I think you’ll enjoy it and find it interesting.

Congratulations to Heather and her Wiggly team!

Quality, not Quantity

Here it is, almost 5:00 in the afternoon in the Midwest.  Nothing special about that.  It happens every day at just about the same time.  But, today's different.  I've been watching the usual sources all day.  Twitter tweets.  Blog posts.  Emails.  FaceBook.  LinkedIn…..NOTHING!

I haven't come across a single thing today that I think is worth sharing with you.  And I never want to waste your time by posting something just for the sake of posting.

 So have a great Thursday evening!  I'll keep looking and I promise I'll have some good content for you tomorrow.

Working ON Your Business

Someone posted a question on LinkedIn yesterday asking the question "Do you spend more time working "in" your business, rather than "on" your business?"  It got my attention since the purpose of this blog from Day 1 has been to help you do just the opposite.  To succeed, particularly in today's economy, you must set time aside to work on the business.

Covey_quads
In his best-selling book "The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People" Steven Covey introduced the concept of the four quadrants of our daily activity.  Our natural tendency is to focus on the "urgent and important" and the "urgent and not important".  The "important but not urgent" always seems to suffer.  Most of the time, a ringing telephone trumps working on the business plan.  And that's where we get into trouble.  The phone never stops ringing and the business plan never gets done and a year later we've made little or no progress and we wonder what happened.

The fact that you're reading this blog shows that you do spend time on the non-urgent.  That's good.  Hopefully you follow other relevant blogs and podcasts too.  There's a wealth of good information on the Internet.  There's plenty of print material out there as well.  

Michael E. Gerber, in his book, "The E-Myth Revisited" strongly pushes for a Business Development Process.  According to Gerber, every business should be set up like a franchise.  Each process should be identified and documented so that anyone can do the things necessary to run the business.  Setting up a Business Development Process takes time, but in the long run, it's time well spent.  It means that you can duplicate the business as many times as you like, knowing that each location will be run exactly like the original. I've been to McDonald's restaurants all over the country, and even in other countries.  A Big Mac tastes the same in Taipei as it does in Chicago.  It also means that you can take time off for R & R without worrying about what's going on in your absence.

It's only natural for us to deal with emergencies as they happen.  But for the long-term health of the business we have to spend the time to work on it, not just in it.

Selling Stuff by Giving Stuff Away

Tribes
We're all familiar with the concept of free samples.  Go to the supermarket on a Saturday afternoon and you'll find nice aproned ladies handing out tiny meatballs on toothpicks, or little cups of ice cream with equally small plastic spoons.  At the duty-free shop at Boston's Logan Airport recently there was a man handing out small plastic glasses of Jameson.  Sweet!

The concept of a free sample must go back to the very first merchants in far off lands.  It's not new.  But the idea of giving away the entire product in hopes of making a sale is relatively new.  One of the leaders in this movement (if that's what you want to call it) is our pal Seth Godin.  Seth always seems to be giving things away and it must work because he's very successful.

Mr. Godin's most recent freebie is the audio book version of his new book "Tribes".  Go to Audible.com and you can download a 3/12 hour audio version absolutely free.  You do have to go through a not particularly consumer friendly sign-up process.  You also have to download a small piece of software, but once you get through all that, you have a brand-new, bright and shiny audio book that you can play on your iPod or other mp3 player.

So why would Seth give away his hard work?  What's in it for him?  Here are just a few reasons for being so generous:

  1. Audio books are a great time saver, but if you want to make notes, or highlight key passages, that's hard to do on an iPod.  Listening to the free audio book could drive you to purchase the print version.
  2. You may be so impressed with the work that you decide to buy copies of either the audio book or the print version to give as gifts.
  3. Maybe you're not familiar with Seth's work.  Listening to this free sample could send you off to your local book store to pick up some of his other books and audio.
  4. Since you have to sign up with Audible.com to get the free book, I'm sure they have a stake in this as well which translates into some income for Seth.
  5. Maybe Seth's just a good guy who wants to share his ideas with others.

So, the purpose of this post is twofold.  First, go to Audible.com and download the audio book.  Did I mention it's free?  I've not finished listening to it yet, but so far it seems to be excellent stuff.

Second, start thinking about this whole idea of giving things away.  How can you apply it to your business?  What can you give away?  Obviously, if you're in a high-ticket business, a free sample could be a little too costly.  But what about accessories?  What about gift certificates?  Give it some thought. 

If you come up with a good idea, please share it with your fellow readers by commenting below.