Weird Managers

weird_ma2Having left the corporate world behind, I can safely say that “weird managers” is often an oxymoron.  But Anita Bruzzese wrote an excellent piece on her “On The JOb” blog this week about why managers should get weird.

What Anita is promoting is out-of-the-box thinking for managers and I couldn’t agree more.  Face it, times are tough right now and we could all use a little more fun in our lives.  If we can make that fun part of the job, everyone wins.

My favorite of her suggestions it the idea of “reverse mentoring“.  Of course older, more experienced employees can be a great help to their younger coworkers, but generation X and Y have a lot to offer as well, especially when it comes to technology.  Don’t let that knowledge go to waste.

At the risk of repeating myself (repeating myself) the current economic situation offers a wealth of opportunities to small businesses who agressively and creatively go after the business.

Good Luck!

MTS isn’t a political blog, but this really isn’t a political picture. I hope you find it as funny as I do. [And thanks to Mike Anderson for posting this on his St. Louis Media web site.]

photo-goodluck

Small Business Television

sbtvHere’s a resource you might find useful.  It’s called Small Business Television, or sbtv.  The site features a daily set of news highlights related to small biz along with a library of short video programs covering everything from Wellness in the Workplace to the best businesss to start if you’re an outsized baby boomer.

I haven’t looked at everything yet, but I’ve bookmarked the site as a good reference tool.

A free membership to SmallBiz Central hooks you up to other members-only areas of the site.  I’ve joined myself and I’ll let you know how that works.

Winning Isn’t Everything

After the untimely demise of my iPod, I’ve been trying to get caught up on all my favorite podcasts.  I’m making progress, but still have a way to go.  Unlike yours truly, most podcasters are pretty faithful about getting their programs out on schedule, which makes catching up that much more difficult.

Yesterday I was listening to one of my favorite shows, The Podcast Sisters.  Episode 67 features a discussion on Heather Gorringe’s company, Wiggly Wigglers, and their recent win of the Global Del Small Business Excellence Award.  This is a biggy and well-deserved.  The award includes a lot of free Dell computer merchandise, free public relations service, and other goodies.

But as I’ve pointed out previously, on my former blog, the process of applying for an award  can often be worth much more than the award itself.  For example, the Malcolm Baldrige Award, the one I’m most familiar with, begins with a section of self-description.  The applicant must tell the award examiners who they are, what they do, what their marketplace looks like, and who their competitors are.  Also included in this first section are the company’s mission, vision, and core values.

If the company never goes further than this Organizational Profile section, they will still be substantially ahead of their competitors.  Describing you organization in such detail is a real eye-opener for most owners and managers.

While you may think that such a process is only for large companies, think again.  Small organizations can benefit even more than large ones through this process.  If you’re not familiar with the Baldrige criteria, you can download a copy of the application booklet from their web site.   There is other good material there as well.

Most states also have  a local program based on the Baldrige Award and usually offer assitance at little or no cost.  Check it out.  It could be the best time you’ve ever spent on your business.  Even if you don’t win a trophy, the improvement in your business could be priceless.

New Look

You may have noticed that I’ve been playing around with the look of Mining the Store over the last few days.  Why?  Two reasons.  First, I’m working on a new web site and I want the theme of the blog to be similar.  Second, I’m striving for simplicity (not to be confused with the vacuum cleaners manufactured by my former employer).

In these difficult economic times, I believe the solution to many of our problems lies in trimming things down, eliminating the unnecessary, and emphasising efficiency.  I like the picture of the mine (I took it myself) and the rather garish header that we’ve used until now.  But I had to ask myself if they contributed anything that benefits YOU, the reader.  I decided the answer is “No!”  So, they’re gone.

As we move forward all of us are going to have to make some tough decisions.  The decisions may be tough but the ramifications can be exciting.  In the last post we saw how one company was able to renegotiate with a vendor to save four employee jobs.  That’s the kind of creative solutions we should all be looking for.

More on that later, but for now I hope you like the new look.  Keep watching for the announcement of the new web site very soon.

Small Businesses Cut Costs by Renegotiation

It’s days like today that I appreciate being an independent blogger rather than a corporate employee.  I doubt that I would have covered this topic in my past position.  As it is, I may step on a few toes with this post, but I’m not worried about that.  My job is to help you.

In an article at the Wall Street Journal online, Raymond Flandez points out that in the current economy almost anything is negotiable.  In a recent survey, 15% of small business owners and managers said that they had recently renegotiated long-range fixed-cost supply contracts.

As Flandez points out, money talks.  If you have traditionally paid on time you stand a better chance of cutting a better deal. Vendors have inventory and they need cash, making it a buyers’ market for companies with good payment history and cash flow.

Here’s where I may rub some people the wrong way.  Now is the time to ask your vendors for concessions. They need sales to pay their own bills, especially fixed-costs like rent.  They also have payroll to meet.  If you can help them turn inventory into cash, you’re in the drivers’ seat.

The Journal piece offers some case studies of companies who got very creative in their negotiations with key suppliers, including Atlanta Refrigeration Company who got their supplier, Heritage Food Service Equipment, to actually hire four Atlanta Refrigeration employees in exchange for an exclusive supplier agreement.

The key thing to remember here is that every negotiation should end in a win/win situation.  Atlanta Referigeration saved four employees jobs while Heritage Food got additional business right away and the promise of much more when the economy improves.

The days of “us vs. them” negotiations are over.  But, if you can put together a package that reduces your costs and offers an advantage to your suppliers, you stand a good chance of saving a lot of money, if the suppliers can count on you to pay your bills.  If your current suppliers balk, then maybe it’s time to shop around.

Mallard Fillmore on Small Business

In case you missed it, here’s a link to the  Mallard Fillmore’s comic strip from yesterday.  As my kids like to say, “It’s funny because it’s true.”

Circuit City Short Circuits

This just in.  Circuit City which has been operating under Chapter 11 protection since November reached an agreement today with liquidators to sell the contents of its remaining 567 US stores.  The company has more than 30,000 employees.

Read more at msnbc.

A Brand Called You

As regular readers know, my iPod passed away in a tragic lawn mower accident a while back.  My thoughtful children went together and bought me a new one for Christmas.  But between the destruction of the mp3 player, Christmas, “retirement” and some other things too numerous to mention, I’m way behind in my podcast listening.

That’s why I was listening yesterday to episode 209 of Anna Farmery’s “The Engaging Brand“, dated December 19, 2008.  Normally I wouldn’t publicly admit to being so far behind, but I wanted to bring this episode to your attention.

The Brand Called You by Peter Montoya

Anna’s guest was Peter Montoya, author of a book called “A Brand Called You“.  As you can tell from the title, it’s a book about personal branding.  [Note:  I haven’t read the book so this isn’t a book report.  I’d like to hear from anyone who has read it.]

Montoya made some excellent points in the interview and I want to share a couple of them with you.  He suggests that you specialize your product/service to fit your chosen market.  For example, name an American manufacturer of high-end motorcycles.  Or, name a national chain of gourmet (?) coffee shops where people like to gather and linger over their double-chocolate mocha lattes with double diet steam sugar-free milk.  Or simply name your favorite search engine.

Chances are most of you said, in this order, Harley Davidson, Starbucks, and Google.  Those are brands that are specialized to fit their market place.

Next, build a relationship with your customers.  The combination of specialization and relationships equals your brand. When you look at it that way, it’s fairly simple.

You’re probably thinking, “Wait a minute.  I can’t afford to spend the money to become a Starbucks.”  Maybe not, but you can build a brand in your local market that’s equally recognizable in that market.  In fact, if you haven’t done that, you’d better get started right away because there may be somebody else in your area who’s looking to build the same brand that you covet.  And it’s always best to be first.

Another thing that Montoya stresses is the importance of a web site.  People are surfing the net for information before they shop.  If they don’t find you, you’re out of the race before you even start.  You site doesn’t have to be fancy.  You don’t need a lot of expensive effects.  All you need is a site that gives your potential customer the information she needs to drive her into your business.

Rather than take this any further, I suggest you listen to the podcast and hear directly from Montoya.  The podcast runs just about half an hour so you can easily listen to it while you eat lunch.

Have a great weekend!

Ask for the Sale!

In yesterday’s post, I suggested that you find a reason for your customers and potential customers to find your business indispensible in this weak economy.  I hope you’re taking that advice seriously.

Here’s another suggestion:  Ask every customer for the sale.  Today at the Retail Contrarian blog, my friend Doug Fleener suggests six ways to conquer the “I’m only buying what’s on sale” mentality.  His sixth and final point is so simple that you wouldn’t think it necessary to repeat it, but I guess we all have to be reminded once-in-a-while to get back to the basics.  He says,

Give the customer an opportunity to make the purchase. It’s as simple as asking the customer to buy it. The more bad economic news there is, the less likely your competitors will ask for the sale. Do you?”

He’s absolutely right, when times are tough it’s easy to get discouraged and fall  into a mindset that the customer isn’t going to buy.  To succeed in this market, don’t let it happen.  You and your staff should ask every customer who walks into the store to buy something.  You’ll be surprised at the results.