Small Business Week?

From the Small Business Week web site:

small_biz_week

Just because we’re small doesn’t mean our “week” should only be three days long, does it?

Customer Service–Washington Style

I consider myself a good citizen, certainly one who loves my country. But I have to admit that I have some trust issues with the current crowd in Washington, on both sides of the aisle. So, you can imagine my response when I received a letter over the weekend from the United States Department of State. I was born right here in the heartland of America, so I don’t think they can deport me.  It’s doubtful that the current administration would appoint me as ambassador to anything or any place.  So. I was a little apprehensive about the whole thing.

I opened the envelope and was relieved when it didn’t explode or spew any strange white powder.  In fact, it actually contained money–a money order for $8.48!

It was so long ago that I had almost forgotten it, but last summer, when I applied for a passport, to be blunt, they screwed it up.  My official US identification said that I was born in Hannibal, Maryland.  (MO vs MD)  It’s a simple mistake except for the fact that (1) there is no Hannibal, Maryland and (2) my previous passport had the correct information.

I had visions of myself returning to the US only to be told that my passport was invalid and that I would have to go back to Ireland (not an altogether unpleasant thought) but for the sake of my wife and kids, I decided I’d better get the thing straightened out.  So I sent everything back so they could try again.  The second time was the charm.  Of course I had to pay to have photos retaken and to mail everything back to South Carolina.

The letter I received this week was the government’s “mea culpa”.  Here’s what it said:

Dear Mr. Buckley:

The Charleston Passport Center deeply regrets the error that occurred during the processing of your passport.  Please accept the enclosed money order as reimbursement for your costs associated with this error.

We apologize for any inconvenience that you may have experienced, and hope that our next opportunity to serve your passport needs will be more proficient. [emphasis mine]

Sincerely yours,

Timothy M. Wiesnet

Director

Don’t get me wrong.  I appreciate the $8.48 and will put it to good use.  Obviously the government is trying to get its act together when it comes to customer service.  But they need to work on the time thing.  It’s been about nine months since the original mistake was made.

Fortunately for you and me, we can learn from others’ mistakes.  When we make a mistake, own up to it right away.  We should correct our errors in hours, not months.  Own up to it, apologize, do whatever it takes to restore the customer to their desired state (refund, replacement product or service, whatever it takes) and you end up with a loyal customer.  Anything less just isn’t good enough.

Of course, the next time I need to renew my passport I won’t be able to shop around.  The government is mother of all monopolies.  Give them points for doing something when they didn’t have to anything at all.  But, you and I aren’t that lucky. Our customers do have a choice.  We have to do everything we can to make sure that they choose us.

Help Fight a Killer!

tour_spoMore observant readers may notice that a new tab has been added at the top of the page.  It’s a page called “Help Fight Diabetes!”.  To make a long story short (and you can read the longer story by clicking the tab) my son and I will be riding in the Tour de Cure, a bike ride to raise money for the American Diabetes Association.

Here’s the thing.  Even though I have type 2 diabetes myself, my real reason for riding is to help raise money to keep other people from getting the disease and to help find a cure for those who already have it, especially the kids.  Most of us associate diabetes with eating too many sweets and with being overweight.  And that’s true.  But it can strike at any age, even in young children.  The idea of my grandkids or yours having to stick themselves two or three times a day to check their blood sugar and possibly taking insulin shots for the rest of their lives  scares the hell out of me.

So, here’s what I’m going to do.  First, I’m inviting you to participate by making a small donation.  Click on the page link above to do that (or click here).  Second, as a guy who promotes social media, I’m going to put the power of facebook, twitter, and other social media tools to work to ask for donations.  I have enough connections through these sites that I should be able to raise a nice amount of money.  Consider your donation as a gift to fight a deadly disease and a test of the power of the Internet.  I’d really appreciate it if you would encourage your friends to donate too.  Let’s show the world what a few committed geeks can do.

Third, and certainly not least, I want to encourage you to get yourself tested.  Nearly six million people have diabetes and don’t know it.  All it takes is a simple blood test to find out if you have the disease, or if you are in danger of getting it.  Do yourself and your family a huge favor by getting the test.  While it’s not curable (yet), diabetes is certainly controllable.  But you can’t control it if you don’t know you have it.

Thank you in advance for your help!

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Another Virus!

Just last month we were all concerned about a virus that might attack our computers. The April 1 date has come and gone but according to the experts we’re not out of the woods yet.

Now we’re being warned about a different type of virus. This time the target isn’t our computer, it’s us. We’re being warned about a potential “pandemic” of swine flu. “Pandemic” is a good example of an obscure term that can suddenly become a buzzword, seemingly overnight.

Obviously this is no laughing matter.  Like the conficker computer virus, swine flu may be an overblown threat. But since this one has killed people, it’s certainly worth our attention. Since it spreads by human contact, and since most of us are in the business of human contact, we should be careful.

There are a number of precautions that you can take and that’s beyond the scope of this blog. Check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site for more information. But at the very minimum, you should wash your hands frequently and make sure the things you touch often are squeeky clean. Cash registers, phones, counters, door knobs and handles, display merchandise, and any number of other surfaces should be kept clean with a disinfectant cleaner.

Waterless hand cleaner, can literally be a life saver. Make sure you have some at every work station and that you and your staff use it.

When in doubt, it’s always best to err on the side of caution.

Mea Culpa

One thing about the Internet, when you suck it’s right there for everyone to see.  Frankly, this has been a terrible blogging week.  There have just been too many things going on.  For starters, the weather here in the heartland has been awesome.  It’s been in the 70s with sun most of the time.  I haven’t been able to resist putting some serious (for me) miles on the bicycle.  It’s been a great chance to catch up on my podcast listening but it’s seriously cut into my writing time.

It’s also been a week of strange computer issues.  I can’t get onto Facebook and repeated requests for tech support have gone unanswered.   Then there’s TweetDeck.  I love TweetDeck.  It’s a neat way to access your Twitter feeds and frankly it’s spoiled me.  So, when a new version of the program came available, I jumped right on it.  Unfortunately, the new version doesn’t work on my machine.  Like the Facebook issue, I’ve tried several times to get help from TweetDeck tech support with no success.

None of these things is an excuse for not providing better content this week to you, my faithful readers and I promise to do better in the future.  But it does show how easy it is to get caught up in day-to-day stuff and get distracted from the important things.

But it also shows that social media isn’t the only thing in life.  Maybe it doesn’t hurt to step away once in a while to smell the roses, to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine, or to curse the gremlins that sometimes live inside our computers.

Let me leave you with something neat before we head into the weekend.  I received a notification this morning that KMZU Radio is following me on Twitter.  I tweeted them a thank you message and got the following message back:  Thank You, too, Mike Buckley! May the BLESSINGS truly Be! Have a great day.”

What a great, positive message.  We can all use more blessings and this one was greatly appreciated.  Another lesson learned from an unlikely source. 

To all of you, may the BLESSINGS truly Be!  Have a great day and weekend!

PS.  I spent a lot of time in my car during my days as a traveling salesman and I fell in love with small- to mid- market radio.  Just for fun, here’s a KMZU TV spot.

Sweating the Small Stuff

I know you’ve heard the expression, “don’t sweat the small stuff.” Sometimes it may be good advice, but in running our businesses, it’s often the small stuff that can make a big difference. From Seth Godin’s blog comes an interesting story about a bread shop. The shop opens every day at 6:00 am. That seems very early, especially in the small town where this business is located. But, every morning at 6:00, 20 to 50 people board a bus, headed for a day at the shore. That’s 20 to 50 potential customers who are on the bus, leaving town when the shop opens its doors. If the owner were to open just ten minutes earlier, the difference in sales would be substantial. Just 70 minutes of additional work per week (assuming the shop is open and the bus runs seven days per week) could yield as many as 350 more customers per week. Sometimes it pays to “sweat the small stuff.” Is there any small stuff that you might be overlooking in your business?

[This post originally appeared on “Mine Your Own Business“, May 30, 2006.]

Step Away From the Computer

This blog focuses on small business, quality, and social media.  We try to provide an equal balance of all three.  But as I look at the various blogs, podcasts, twitter streams, and other social media that I follow I’m noticing that there’s way too much coverage of social media.  I mean, how many posts about using Twitter in your small business can you read anyway.  My apologies for contributing to this glut of redundant information.

Today I’d like to offer a short, simple piece of advise for your business.  Close this page, get up from your chair, and go find a customer.  If you’re in retail it should be easy.  There’s probably a customer under your roof as you read this.  If you don’t operate out of a storefront, you may have to do a little more.  You may have to make a phone call.  You may have to actually leave the building.

As I write this many of you are past the half-way point of your work day.  Set the paperwork aside and actually communicate face-to-face, or at least by phone with another human being who might  buy your product or service or refer you to someone who will.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m still a big believer in using the internet, especially the web 2.0 tools, to market your business.  But you can fall into a viscious trap if you spend your whole day staring at a computer monitor.  Life is all about balance.

That’s it for today.  I’m outta here.

They Risked it All

declarationI’ve said it here before, this is a business blog, not a politiical blog.  This disclaimer is invariably  followed by something political.  Events over the last few days have convinced me that I’ve been mistaken.

This is a political blog.  Business and politics are two sides of the same coin and to pretend otherwise is foolish.  The number one political issue in the world today is the economy.  Poor business decisions and outright corruption have gotten us to where we are today and business, especially small business will help us turn things around.

I don’t care if you’re liberal or conservative, left or right, I know you have an opinion.  I realize that if I take a political stand here I may offend some of you and possibly lose some readers.  But blogs are supposed to be about conversation and if we all agree on everything, then the discussion becomes a series of agreements, not likely to inspire much thought or change.   And it’s very boring.

This lengthy preamble is here to prepare you for something that I think you should read.  I think you’ll find it fascinating and compelling  if you approach it with an open mind.  It’s a speech by Rush Limbaugh, Jr. Junior, not III.  Rush Jr. was the radio talk show host’s dad.  I know the Limbaugh name inspires a lot of opinions, good and bad, but this speech is excellent. The substance is patriotic, not political.

Be aware that the speech is on Rush III’s web site.  But don’t let that keep you from reading it.

Rush, Jr. discusses the signers of the Declaration of Independence, who they were, and what happened to them after they place their name on the treasonous document.  We’re all familiar with the more famous signers who went on to lead the new country, but there were 56 men who put their names on the Declaration, and to quote Mr. Limbaugh:

“Of those 56 who signed the Declaration of Independence, nine died of wounds or hardships during the war. Five were captured and imprisoned, in each case with brutal treatment. Several lost wives, sons or entire families. One lost his 13 children. Two wives were brutally treated. All were at one time or another the victims of manhunts and driven from their homes. Twelve signers had their homes completely burned. Seventeen lost everything they owned. Yet not one defected or went back on his pledged word. Their honor, and the nation they sacrificed so much to create is still intact.”

Follow the link.  Read the speech.  I think it will give you a new appreciation of what it means to be an American.  You and I enjoy more freedom than any other people on the planet, thanks to a small number of men who risked everything to follow a dream and a much larger number of men and women who have risked everything to defend that freedom ever since.  We’re free to run our own businesses, live our lives, and even to gather in peaceful protest against the government when we’re unhappy with the way things are going.

It doesn’t hurt to be reminded once in a while.

Have a great weekend!



Thoughts for the Day

One thing I really admire is the gift of brevity, something I obviously don’t have.  The ability to make a pithy statement in a very few words is truly admirable.  While bicycling and listening to podcasts today, I came across two wonderful examples:

Never chase the money.  Chase excellence and the money will chase you.

Pat Fraley

Blogging is a game for idiots.

Anna Farmery

Saving the Economy 3 Stores at a Time

3_50-project

Thanks to Jay Ehret, aka themarketingguy for pointing out this article from WCCO.com about the 3/50 Project.  The 3/50 project was launched by Cinda Baker, a small business consultant.  The whole thing is really simple.  Consumers pick three local, independent businesses that they’d hate to see disappear and spend $50 per month at those businesses ($50 total, not $50 each).

Consumers aren’t being asked to spend any additional money; just to redirect part of the money they’re already spending to their friends and neighbors who own local businesses.  Unlike some “buy local” campaigns, there is no cost for you to join the project, just a short registration.

Once you’re a member, you’ll be able to download a bag stuffer, counter cards and other promotional goodies.  Other non-downloadable stuff can be ordered at little or no cost.

If there’s no official “buy local” organization in your area, or if you’re running on a tight budget, here’s your chance to start something with virtually no out-of-pocket expense except for paper and ink to print the bag stuffers, counter cards, etc.  You’re inviting your friends and neighbors to support you and your fellow merchants just by spending a small amount of their monthly income with you instead of a national chain.  This is one of those win/win opportunities that can really add up.

You can make this happen today.  Go to the 3/50 web site.  Sign up.  Download the counter card and bag stuffer and put them into use immediately.  You have absolutely nothing to lose and a lot to gain.