Doing a Personal SWOT Analsis

Anita Bruzzese has written a post called “Do People Draw a Blank When it Comes to Your Personal Brand?” at her 45 Things blog that made me stop and think.  Having worked in the corporate world in marketing and sales, I’ve often done SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analyses for various products and programs.  Anita quotes Catherine Kaputa, author of a new book, “The Female Brand: Using the Female Mindset to Succeed in Business.”

Kaputa suggests that we do a SWOT analysis of ourselves.  And, why not?  We all have personal strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in our personal life.  Identifying these things and writing them down as a basis for a personal plan makes perfect sense.

You and I have things that we’re good at and enjoy doing.  Those are our strengths.  Likewise, we have things that we’re not so good at.  Those are our weaknesses.

What opportunities are out there for us?  Spend some time looking at your opportunities and use your strengths to pursue them.

Threats are all around us.  Some of them we can do something about. Some, not so much.  But identifying the things that stand in our way is the first step to overcoming those threats, either by getting rid of them or learning to work around them.

As the famous “Serenity Prayer says, “God grant me the serenety to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”

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Buy American-How Can We Help?

There’s an interesting article at Embarq.com reporting on the “Buy China” rules that Bejing has imposed on government-funded stimulus projects.  China has instituted the rules, similar to the “Buy American” provisions of our own stimulus package.  It doesn’t take a degree in political science to expect other countries, especially China, to retaliate against US policies that encourage the large-scale purchase of domestic goods.  In fact, both China and the United States already  have “buy domestic” rules in place for all government purchases.

In reality, there are enough loopholes in the American laws to allow the purchase of imports in many, if not most cases.  Given the usual price difference between American-made and Chinese-made goods, it would seem that Washington’s “Buy American” rules have less teeth than Bejing’s policy, especially with the Chinese governments financial support of its domestic manufacturers.

Let’s be honest.  Washington is not the answer to shoring up domestic manufacturing. China, and other countries, may retaliate against any government “Buy American” initiative.  The real answer to the problem lies with you and me. As consumers, we should do our homework and buy domestic products whenever possible.  As business owners, we must offer our customers an American-made option whenever possible.

You may think that domestic products are more expensive to buy, and in many cases you’re correct.  But when you consider the total cost of ownership, American-made merchandise has the edge, more often than not. The $5.00 Chinese widget you buy from Wally World may have a usable life measured in months while its American-made $10.00 counterpart’s life is measured in years.  Our landfills are full of “bargains” that were manufactured in the People’s Republic and other third-world countries.

While government-imposed “Buy American” regulations may prompt retaliation from foreign governments, you and I deciding to buy domestically-produced products, on our own, for the right reasons, isn’t likely to inspire the same response.  Let the market choose higher-quality American-made goods and offshore competitors will be forced to increase their quality in order to compete.  On a level-playing-field our manufacturers will win every time.

Here’s something that bothers me. I’m no expert on international economics, or military materiel, but I’m surprised that no one else seems to be talking about this.  When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the United States was ill-prepared to fight a world war on two fronts, especially with the massive destruction of our Pacific fleet.  We won the war because we were able to quickly convert domestic manufacturing to build ships, airplanes, tanks, guns, and other necessary military equipment.

While the men went off to fight, Rosie the Riveter stayed at home making the tools to wage war.  It was an American team effort that led to total victory in Japan and Europe.  Hopefully there will never be another World War, but it’s always a possibility.

If such a conflict were to break out, where would we turn for the tools of war?  Would we buy planes from China?  Would we expect Italian-owned Chrysler to convert from auto manufacturing to building military vehicles?  Would Toyota and Nissan be willing to build tanks and humvees in their US plants?  Or would we rely on American factories that make toasters and coffee pots to product the necessary guns and ammunition?

Hopefully there will never be another large-scale military conflict, but with North Korea threatening to fire a nuclear missile aimed at Hawaii, we have to be prepared.

We can’t be paranoid, but it’s definitely something to think about every time you shop for a new car or pick up anything marked “Made in China.”

The Art of Listening

hearing aidI was speaking to a friend the other day.  He was very excited by his new hearing aid.  He said he can carry on a conversation now, without having to ask the other person to repeat anything.  He can hear birds singing and even crickets chirping.  He said “I can actually hear a pin drop.”  It was expensive, but well worth it.  He said he thought it was the greatest hearing aid in the whole world.

So I asked him, “What kind is it?”

He looked at his watch and said “12:30”

I know it’s a corny story, but it makes a good point.  Even with perfect hearing, we often don’t hear what the other person is saying.  We may think we do, but somewhere between the speaker’s lips and our brain, the message gets short-circuited.  “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

As business people we have to know what our customers want.  Barring a psychic gift, the only way to do that is to listen to what they’re saying.  But sometimes you have to read between the lines.  It’s been said that people have two reasons for doing something.  One is the real reason.  The other is the one that sounds good.  Sometimes, but not always, they’re the same.

For example, a customer may tell you that you don’t have the item that they’re looking for.  They may cite some feature or other that your offering lacks.  That sounds good.  But maybe their real reason for not buying is that they can’t afford something with the quality that you offer.  They’re over their budget, but they don’t want to admit that.  They save face by putting up a smoke screen.

You may have exactly what they want, but if you don’t ask questions to get through the smoke, you’ll never make the sale.  You can’t overcome an objection that doesn’t really exist.

The same is true with your employees.  Let’s say your best person comes into your office and give you notice.  “Why?” you ask.  And he gives you a reason.  Maybe he says he needs more money.  You offer him a raise but he still says “no”.

Maybe the real reason is that his wife wants him to take a bigger part in raising the kids.  Maybe she’s missing too much work.  But rather than admit that his wife is making him quit, he uses money as a smokescreen.  Again, a few probing questions might get you to the real reason.  By offering an additional day off, or more flexible hours, you might just retain a good employee and not have to give him a raise.

Here’s the thing.  Information is vital in running any business, especially a small one.  The key to good information is good listening.  And the key to good listening is asking the right questions and paying attention to the answers.

Small Business Imperatives

Charles Brad Reynolds, a Warwick Business School MBA candidate asked the following question on LinkedIn.

What do you see as the top 5 innovations that businesses can access, cost-effectively, today that will be imperative for survival and profit maximization in the future.

My vote goes to
1.) Internet facilities for communication, marketing and purchase ordering
2.) Online and electronic banking facilities
3.) Lean Thinking concepts and practices
4.) Business use technologies (laptops, mobile phones, blackberries)
5.) Expanding network (customers, competitors, labour, suppliers, civil, etc)

What do you see as being the top innovations that businesses should be more actively trying to leverage or develop for the future.

There were a number of good answers, many of them focused on the internet and new technology.  Here’s my answer:

“I’m going to take a slightly different approach. You may or may not consider these “innovations” since they’re hardly new. But since they may be overlooked in favor of the latest electronic “toy”, their use can be considered innovative and they’re definitely going to be imperative tomorrow.

1. Relationships. If you’re going to stand out, then you must have strong relationships with your customers and other business partners.

2. Communications. Here’s where the “toys” come in. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and others. Use them IF they help your business.

3. Empowerment. Unless you want to work yourself to death, you have to have people working for you that you trust and you must give them everything they need to excel, including the ability to make mistakes.

4. Knowledge. Never before have your customers had access to knowledge as they do today. You MUST stay ahead of them or be left behind.

5. Customer Service. This is really a combination of the other four. Find out what your customers want and let them know that you have it. Empower your people to give the customer what she wants and then get out of their way.

I personally have nothing against MBA’s (well, maybe I do.  But that’s a topic for another day.) but, there’s a lot more to running a small business than the things they teach you in B-School.

Treat people the way you’d like to be treated and you’ll have a sound foundation, regardless of the tools you use to get there.

Post Card Marketing for Small Business

As important as it is for small businesses to get involved in social media and web advertising, sometimes you just have to go to the Postal Service to deliver your message.  Computer-savy types like you and me may forget that there are a lot of folks who just don’t use a computer.  If we focus all our attention online, we’re going to miss a lot of people.

Over the weekend, I listened to my friend Krishna De’s podcast interview with Joy Gendusa, Founder of Postcardmania.com.   At a little over an hour, it’s a bit long but well worth your time.  Download it to your iPod and listen to it on your daily commute, or do what I do and listen as you bicycle, walk, cut the grass, or however you spend your outdoor time

Gendusa discusses the history of her business and offers some very valuable tips on things like selecting mailing lists, determining the size of your postcard, and what the message should look like.

Here’s the thing.  We all get a lot of direct mail at home and at work.  Often it goes right into the circular file unopened and the message is lost.  With a postcard you save on printing costs but you also ensure that your message will at least be seen.  As Gendusa points out, frequency is important.  The message may not register the first time, but after a few exposures it will.  Frankly I can’t imagine why more businesses don’t use postcards on a regular basis.

Check out the podcast, check out Krishna’s other stuff at her website, and take a look at the Postcard Mania web site.

Mike Buckley (2nd from right) and his wife Jan (right) meet with Irish Minister John McGuinness (left) and Krishna De (2nd from left)

Mike Buckley (2nd from right) and his wife Jan (right) meet with Irish Minister John McGuinness (left) and Krishna De (2nd from left)

Small Business–The 3/50 Project Is Taking Off

3_50 project smallI hate to repeat myself (I hate to repeat myself) but I wanted to update you on something I wrote about a few weeks back (Saving the Economy 3 Stores at a Time),  The 3/50 Project.  In case you missed it, the idea of the project is to support local business by choosing three locally-owned businesses that you can’t live without and spending $50 with them.  That’s $50 total, not $50 each.

It’s a win/win deal with virtually no cost to anyone.  The customer gets to help ensure that her favorite business will stay in business and all she has to do is spend money she was going to spend anyway.  She doesn’t have to spend anything extra–not one penny.

Local business wins by getting more business.  And the cost is virtually nothing.  All the materials for the project are available online at no cost.  The only expense is the paper and ink to print bag stuffers and window signs.  There are some promotional items that have a cost but they’re strictly optional.   The cost to enroll in the program?  Zero.

The local community also wins by having a strong merchant community.  The town is more vibrant and alive.  And, local merchants live and pay taxes there as well. (I guess that makes it a win/win/win.)

The good news is that this thing is really taking off.  Community organizations and local Chambers of Commerce are getting on board.  The member list is growing.  Lots of local news media are getting the story out.

As far as I can see, there’s absolutely no downside to the 3/50 project (unless you’re a big box store).  If you haven’t already, check it out.  You could be up and running literally in a matter of minutes.

Links:

Former Retailer Provides Her Own Economic Stimulus Plan for Main Street

The 3/50 Project Goes Viral

The 3/50 Project Hits 5,000 Supporters Mark

Small Business Retail–More on Store Hours

As a follow up to Tuesday’s post, “Small Business Retail–Setting Store Hours” some readers have commented that it’s just too hard to find qualified employees and that they probably wouldn’t be that good anyway.  In other words, it’s better to be closed than to disappoint the customer with poor service.  While I can appreciate the thought, I have to respectfully disagree.

After all, isn’t the high unemployment rate the top story on nearly every newscast?  As I understand it, millions of quality people are looking for jobs, even part-time ones.  Many of them are middle-aged white collar workers who would be more than willing to make the effort to learn your business.   Their savings, pensions, buy-outs, or other assets may be almost enough to get by, but they’d sure like a few extra dollars each week to pay for their golf habit, to get their hair done,  or for an occasional restaurant dinner.

A case in point.  I have a friend who loves to sew.  She and her husband are retired but she works part-time for a local sewing machine shop.  The extra money is nice, but she’s also very motivated to be around all the newest and best sewing machines and accessories.  Her hours are flexible.  She’s the perfect part-time relief for the owners when they want to spend some time away from the shop.  Besides, it’s not like you don’t have the tools to stay in constant communication with the store, even if you’re lying on the beach.

An hourly worker is never going to replace the store owner, and that’s not what most of you are looking for.  But the idea that you’re indespensible, even in your own business can lead to exhaustion, depression, and who knows what else.

As I said Tuesday, if you’re satisfied with the hours you’re working and the money you’re making, then keep doing what you’re doing.  But if you’d like more time off, or if you’d like to fatten up the bottom line, then you’re not going to be able to do it by yourself.

Hopefully you’re not planning to work in the store until you drop dead of old age.  You’d like to think that the equity in the business will allow you to retire some day.  But if the business can’t be run properly without you’re being there every hour the store is open, then your “equity” is only the building, fixtures, and inventory.

Jesus said that the hired hand doesn’t care for the sheep as well as the shepherd does.  Of couse he was right.  But it doesn’t hurt to have the hired hand fill in once in a while so the shepherd can have a weekend off.

A good reference on this subject is Michael E. Gerber’s excellent book, “The E Myth Revisited.”