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October 2007

Mission Statement Blues

44247164_d569e02af7 Picture this - you're on stage ready to share with the world why your company is so great.  The lights go on, the curtain is raised and the first thing that happens is this question - What is your company's mission statement?  It seems to be an impossible request.

Sadly, most of us really have no clue what our company mission statement is.  Even more depressing, it is not the fault of the employee or manager.  It is up to the leadership of the organization to initiate a process that makes a mission statement meaningful.

I know people that make thousands of dollars helping companies develop their mission statement.  The board, management, or key people spend days developing it and walk out of the session feeling that they have accomplished something phenomenal. 

Sometimes it is simple, others take pages, but the common problem is that the mission statement does not connect with employees.  In many cases these mission statements add to the resentment that employees feel towards the organization.

I do believe that mission statements can be valuable, but you need to do your homework and you must live the mission in your organization.  Words are cheap, actions are truths.  Is your mission statement based on words or actions?  I hope you choose action.

Flickr photo by Brian Indrelunas

Who can I be learning from?

We lived in Billings, Montana a few years ago. 

When we were there, we lived in an older established neighborhood and we had one of those neighbors.  You know -- the one with the perfectly manicured yard?  River_rock

One day as I drove by, I noticed that that neighbor had added some river rock to his perfectly sculpted landscaping.  I had to admit that it looked great. 

You know... rugged yet refined. 

My first instinct was to think: "I like that.  I'd like that for my yard."  My second instinct was to ponder, "How I could do it quick and cheap?"  (Can you identify?)

So that weekend, I decided to go get some rocks. 

I thought "Heck, I live in Montana.  Rocks are everywhere.  Why not?"

The result? 

I spent about 3 + hours loading rocks.  I spent $50 in gas not to mention $250 in repairs to the suspension on my truck.  And I spent $ 8 for a bottle of motrin to help my aching back! 

All of it... for a relatively small pile of rocks.

So, what did I do next?  Well, it's what I should have done first.

I went to the neighbor.  I asked him about his rocks.  I asked him how he'd done it.   

As it turned out, he was great.  He explained that there was a quarry outside of town and that they brought him a HUGE load of rocks for $50... in less than 24 hours! 

Yup... 50 bucks... and no heavy lifting!

What did I learn?  What was the lesson?

I learned that I need to always be asking the question: "Who could I be learning from?" 

Then... I need to seek out those people for help. 

I also learned that it sometimes helps to seek those people out BEFORE I try something new.

Again, can you identify?

A few weeks ago I challenged you to put together your "Love or Loathe" list.  How did it go?  Did you give it a try?

As a result, some of you might be thinking about making a change... or wondering whether you need to try something new.

  • Maybe you're thinking that you want to try a new hobby or sport.
  • Maybe some of you are thinking about a career change.
  • Maybe some are pondering the idea of buying a new business or selling an old one.
  • Maybe some of you were inspired to add something to the mix... a new challenge... a new idea.  You know... a new mountain to climb.

If that's the case why not take a next step and ask yourself the question: "Who could I learn from?"   

Why not look around and see if you can find someone doing what you think you might want to do? 

Then give them a call or buy them some coffee and pick their brain.   

I know, I know, it's almost too simple.  But if I had heeded this advice a little sooner it would have saved me some time, money, and... back pain!

What could it save you?

Think about it. Give it a try. And let me know how it goes!

What do you think?  Who are you going to call?

Photo credit: Cobalt123

Medical payments - and the trip to the store

Angry_parent The other day I was in the grocery store minding my own business when two children came out of nowhere and ran right into the side of me. 

I gave them that look any parent would give –  and they ran off around the aisle. I then heard a sneaker squeak, a thud, and then crying.  Under my breath I’m muttering, “where is their mother or father?” 

I quickly walk around the corner and see the young boy has fallen and cut his head on the shelving of the store.  His head is bleeding quite a bit and I’m not quite sure what I should do other than try and care for this little boy.

Do I shout 911 and make a scene?

Being an insurance agent my mind starts to wonder about the potential things that could happen in this situation. 

  • Did this boy slip on water? 
  • Was there something else that was in the area that caused this injury to occur? 
  • Am I going to be asked to testify? 
  • Maybe I shouldn’t be helping. 

Finally someone from the store comes over and pulls some items off another shelf and starts to clean up the child.  Further investigation reveals he is going to need some stitches.  Mom arrives after an announcement over the intercom asking for the guardian of the child to come to the aisle we are in.

What happens next?  Is the store going to be sued? 

The store will more than likely make sure the boy is taken care of and pay the medical expenses. 

Why would they do this? 

Medical payments coverage is not liability insurance. 

In that sense, medical payments are viewed as a means of making prompt settlements, satisfying potential liability claimants, and avoiding possibly larger liability claims. 

  • What does it cover?
  • First aid administered at the time of an accident.
  • Necessary medical, surgical, X-ray, and dental services, including prosthetic devices.
  • Necessary ambulance, hospital, professional nursing, and funeral services.

The only way I will ever know if the store is being sued is if I get a knock at the door. 

I have to tell you though that the floor was not wet. The children were horsing around and I could not see what exactly happened.  In this case I would think the store went out of its way to provide care and would not be sued.

Or will they?

De-Plane! De-Plane!

Fantasy_islandI'm currently in New Orleans, presenting at the LavaCon Project Conference workshops on Project Communication and Office Politics.  The Saturday morning trip was relatively uneventful... except for the layover in Chicago (gee, I wonder how many travelers' stories include that phrase?).  After we were all aboard our jet, and everyone was comfortably settled in, we were informed that there were "maintenance issues" with one of the de-icing valves and that there were two choices:

  1. Fix the valve (90 minute minimum)
  2. Find a new plane (God only knows how long)

Hence, to avoid the passenger-hostage-on-the-tarmac mistakes of Jet Blue, the kind folks at United encouraged us to disembark and to take all of our carry-on luggage with us. 

We didn't have to wait or go far.  As we left the ramp, two gates down, our flight was being announced to leave an hour later than our originally scheduled flight.

Occasionally, our projects work like this.  We may be plugging along, all comfortably working toward a goal when the brakes are hit... hard... and the project comes to a screeching halt.  And we have to "de-plane" while somebody assesses whether our project is flight-worthy. 

While this is often the work of executives lacking prioritization skills, it can sometimes be the legitimate result of a business environment change.  As James MacLennon writes on the Cazh1 blog:

If done correctly, this also allows a project to make significant course corrections, and even get canceled. If it made good business sense to start a project, it's reasonable to think that when conditions change, it can make good business sense to stop a project. Scheduled checkpoints are built-in escape hatches.

Good point, James.  So what happens next?  If you need to "de-plane" everybody from your project journey, how should it be done?  Here are a few pointers:

  • Document - ensure that all documentation up to that point is in one location and can be easily retrieved by the correct stakeholders if and when the project is to be restarted.
  • Release - formally let go of the resources working on this project, once their role has ended (i.e., their tasks to transition or end are done).
  • Celebrate (if necessary) - if the cancellation is outside the control of the project team, show them your appreciation for their hard work up to that point.  Nothing elaborate, but a little "thank you" goes a long way in building good will should they be called back.
  • Inform - let all of the stakeholders know that the project is in suspension, why it was put there, and set some expectation for follow-up (re ignition of the project or a simple touch point to assess the status).

As I was grateful to be on a working plane and be a little over an hour late, our project stakeholders will be grateful to complete a successful project, perhaps a little behind the original schedule.

Now Carpe Factum!

Give Customers a Reason NOT to Hang-up

040106_038lr_2 I was call coaching in a client's call center the other day. The Customer Service Representative (CSR) and I listened to a call that was technically proficient, but when it came time to close the customer hung up the phone before the CSR had a chance to say "You're welcome" or "Have a nice day."

"That happens to me all the time," the CSR said. "Customers just hang up before I can respond to their thanks."

As we dissected the call and the CSR's quality scores, it began to dawn on him that he wasn't giving the customer anything to stick around for. His tone was flat, he never used the customer's name, he didn't personalize the call in any way and he never said more than what was technically necessary. He came to realize that customers were hanging up on him because he didn't give them any reason not to do so.

Most customers want a courteous, friendly, personal service experience. Like the driver of the airport shuttle who remembered me from the previous week and welcomed me back with a smile, or the manager of the gas station in Clear Lake where I regularly stop for gas who remembers me by name and makes me feel like I'm dropping in on a friend - customers like to feel that they are more than just another "call", another  "transaction", or a number.

Together, the CSR and I devised a plan to improve his service delivery and make it more personable including, but not limited to (goodness, that last phrase made me sound like a lawyer - Rush and Brett will be proud):

  • Use your voice tone as a tool to communicate to the customer that you're happy to hear from them and enthusiastic about serving them.
  • Use the customer's name conversationally. Don't use it repeatedly with every sentence so that it sounds awkward or forced. Comfortably lace the conversation with it.
  • Tell the customer you're happy to help ("Sure, I can help you with that.")
  • Be courteous. When asking for information, turn what sounds like a demand ("Account number?") into a friendly request ("Could I have your account number, please, Mr. Fritterbottom?").

When you deliver a friendly, personable experience, customers are more likely to pick up on it, appreciate it, and respond in a friendly, personable way.

Take a Drive Along Web 2.0

Corolla_2 Many businesses are in a state of confusion over Web 2.0. Is it easy? Is it complicated? What's the ROI? What if we get negative feedback? Do we have to hire more IT people?

I'm not a big fan of the term 'Web 2.0' My new Corolla is the fourth I've owned (and one of two in my garage). I don't call the new one Corolla 4.0. It's simply a newer version of a tool I use often.

The primary focus of Web 2.0 is people.  Connecting people sharing thoughts, experiences and expertise through social interaction. 

If you think MySpace, YouTube, Delicious, Flickr and Facebook are for the lunatics -- think again. There are looneys out there, just as there are lunatics on the road.  But that doesn't stop me from hopping in my Corolla 3.0 (my wife drives 4.0)

A few thoughts on how to keep your Web 2.0 running smooth:

Think Simple, not easy
:  Most applications and networks are very simple to use. However, it's not easy. Web 2.0 strategies take time and effort. Strategy is more important than tactics, so make sure you have a plan going in (and be open to an organic plan).

Think dialogue, not monologue: Web 2.0 is a conversational space. Give and take.  If you're doing all the talking...you probably won't have much of an audience. Engage with your audience, nay...become part of the audience - then engage.

Think authentic, not glass-house: Transperancy is a buzz word amongst social media gurus, but it seems many are scared off by that word.  Rather than thinking you must wear the emporer's new clothes, just be real. Who you are offline, should be who you are online.

Web 2.0 is still in its early stages, so don't think you've missed the boat. Have a presence in all the tools, choose a few to be active in. But get out there. Consumers are already out there (as is usually the case). Be part of the conversation.

And if you're one of those that doesn't like the term "blog," get over it. It's short for "web log"  I don't like the term "car" but I drive one. And car is short for...it came from...how'd we come up with car from automobile?

Quality. Service. Value. Who needs them?

Picture_1 It's time to stop beating your chest in your marketing.

There are some words, like quality, service and value that are so overused in marketing materials that consumers just tune them out. 

They've lost all meaning and credibility and using them can actually hurt you. They don't enhance your message, they cloud it.

These words have been so watered down and are so generic that the consumer makes the assumption that you don't really have anything to tout, so you'll just pulling out the generic words to take up space.

That doesn't mean you cannot market your quality, commitment to service or value. 

Just find other ways to get the message across.   Let your customers talk about your quality.  Let satisfaction survey results brag about your high level or service.  Do price comparisons or a 110% price difference refund speak to your value.

Just don't use the words.

Don't Write Your Own Cease and Desist Letter

Donot Blowing up in your face.
When faced with someone stealing intellectual property, some companies opt to craft their own little witty missive to the perpetrator. Sometimes these letters work. More often they don’t. The problem is that when they don’t, the letter writer typically miscalculates the blast zone by a rather wide margin. Like Wile E. Coyote after a failed bombing, the scrivener stands addled and smoldering, wondering how things could possibly gone so horribly awry.

What is the point?
Getting an infringer to stop infringing is merely one, lesser, goal of a cease and desist letter. The primary goal of a cease and desist letter is to set the stage for a subsequent lawsuit. By laying out your rights and the application of the law to the infringer’s acts, a properly drafted cease and desist letter puts the infringer on notice of the alleged infringement. The better positioned you are to win a subsequent lawsuit, the more likely the other side is to settle.

Why write your own?
An improperly drafted cease and desist letter is a lawyer’s dream. While bad cease and desist letters rarely accomplish their intended goal, their unintended consequences can keep your lawyers busy for years. Most clients assume that the worst thing that can happen from a bad cease and desist letter is that they will have to try again with an attorney.  I find it strange that no one has the same perception about taking out their own appendix. Perhaps because not enough companies have legal insurance.

The Good . . .
A bad cease and desist letter, which convinces an infringer to stop infringing and drop a bag of pecuniary repentance, at your doorstep, may exist. The flying spaghetti monster might exist too. It’s just that I have never seen either one. 

. . . the Bad . . .
Unintentionally undermining your legal position, by providing the infringer ambiguous statements the infringer can twist to its advantage, is common. Often time the only thing the infringer has going for it is a poorly worded cease and desist letter. Infringers will even argue that a poorly drafted cease and desist letter actually gave them permission to continue with their infringing activities.  A bad letter can undermine your credibility with the jury, disclose your theory of the case (allowing the infringer time to reinvent its story), undermine licensing opportunities and encourage the recipient to start pulling an Ollie North on the which might otherwise have helped you.

.  . . and the Ugly.
One of the worst results of a bad cease and desist letter is that YOU sued in the infringer’s home courthouse. Infringers can find many causes of action to throw into a lawsuit. The obvious choice is a request for a Declaratory Judgment from the court that they are not infringing. Depending upon whom you send the cease and desist letter to, other claims may include misuse, defamation, interference with contractual relations and/or interference with prospective business advantage, just to name a few. The worst thing about the infringer suing YOU, is that you are no longer in control of the case. You can no longer decide to “just drop it” and go on your way. You are in until the infringer says you are out, which may be tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars, later.

Run the Numbers.
There is no “standard” cease and desist letter. There are hundreds of different types posted all over the Internet. The type of infringement, the licensing potential, the history between the parties, the likelihood of litigation and the damages at stake all bear upon whether the cease and desist letter is going to be soft, medium of hard. Before you write a cease and desist letter, find out how much it will cost to have one professionally drafted. Next, estimate what a bad cease and desist letter can cost you and your company in time and money (You might even want to factor in the potential that upon receipt of your adroitly worded cease and desist letter, the recipient might attempt to take out THEIR own appendix).

Brett Trout

Will your last quarter throw you into midquarter?

When you want to maximize your tax deductions -- very much a normal and healthy impulse, by the way -- usually you think in terms of spending more money.  In our last post, for example we talked about using "Section 179" to get current deductions for fixed assets placed in service before year-end.

20071022_2 Yet sometimes getting more fixed assets on the shop floor, can actually reduce your current deductions. 

Unless Section 179 applies, the tax law makes you capitalize your cost for long-lived assets and depreciate them over a period of years.  For property other than real-estate, the tax law normally computes depreciation for new property as if it were placed in service in the middle of the tax year.  This is called the "half-year convention."

But if you put 40% or more of your new personal property for the year in service in the last three months of the year, the "half-year convention" goes out the window.  You instead treat all property acquired during the year as if it were placed in service at the midpoint of the quarter in which it was placed in service - the "mid-quarter convention."

For example, lets say Bobby, a calendar year taxpayer, places in service $201,000 in fixed assets in the first quarter, $200,000 in the second, $200,000 in the third, and $399,000 in the fourth quarter - all "five year" property.  This means he put 39.9% of his new personal property fixed assets in service in the last three months of the year; as 39.9 is less than 40, this means the half year convention applies, and the depreciation deduction for the year under the current tax law (200% declining balance x 1/2 year) is $200,000.

If instead Bobby put only $200,000 in service in the first quarter and $400,000 in service in the fourth quarter, he would hit the magic 40% figure for the final three months.  That means the depreciation deduction for the year would work out instead to only $190,000.

Tip: Section 179 property doesn't count in figuring the mid-quarter convention; sometimes avoiding the mid-quarter convention is a simple as electing the Section 179 deduction for property placed in service in the last three months of the year.

The Moral?  Watch your fourth quarter fixed asset additions; sometimes saving some fixed asset additions to next year can actually increase your deductions this year.

Get Out Of Your Cave

Chain I wish I could take credit for the title of this post because it is so true when you speak of an entrepreneur and the necessity of a network. 

The title came from Matt Owen of US Rodeo Supply and he just happens to be the person I decided to interview for this post. 

He and his brother Nathan have built quite a business and their story is one that needs to be told.  His comments are in italics.

Question 1 - As a small business and an entrepreneur, you and Nathan have been fighting a hard battle.  Can you describe how plugging into outside resources and networks have helped to ease the pressure on you two operating the business? i.e. can you outsource certain things like financials, etc.

Initially it was difficult to embrace the concept of seeking outside resources. Each attempt we made tended to be a dead end or required unrealistic amounts of capital to have "expert" advisers. We became extremely frustrated and found ourselves reluctant to proactively look for outside advise. However once we had exhausted all of the traditional forms (Bank, SBA, SBDC, SCORE and others) it was a cross-roads and we needed to find a trusted source that could assess our situation and be able to advise us to either "Kill It" or "Double Down". Fortunately we were able to find this in part through a connection made during the SBA FastTrac Program. Kreamer Law offered us our first real "realistic" look at our business. We mapped out our plan and indicated that we did not believe at that stage that we could secure traditional financing. We needed to connect with resources that we could vet the Model to and see if we had a realistic shot at securing Angel Investors or Venture Capital. In hind site this was the first "networking" effort that we had engaged in. Since then we have been able to find numerous external resources to "outsource" expertise.

Question 2 - Could you briefly describe the benefit of accessing a mentor and/or vetting your business model to someone who has successfully exited a like kind business model?

We have been able to remove the "emotion" and drive the business based on facts. The confidence gained from being plugged into people who have done it before (failing or succeeding) has totally changed our use of time. We have since moved beyond the starting line and we are seeing traction with the business. The amazing part is we stopped being focused on securing capital and focused on driving the required changes internally and the sales doubled since the initial networking started.

Question 3 - Have the presentations/connecting you've done with SEMEE and the local universities prepared you for future presentations that involve direct capital growth for your business?

ABSOLUTELY. The opportunity to share our story and learn from others has been an amazing early stage proving ground. This exercise has allowed us to clarify our vision and define what steps we need to take to move the business to the next level. The personal confidence gained through a non-threatening "resource" environment positions us to bridge quickly into a "Road Show" if/when we do have a need to secure venture capital.

Question 4 - Looking back, what would you say the turning point in your business was, after you started your networking process, that validated your business model?

Finding others that can see the vision of creating an Enterprise Model has been difficult. However once plugged in, we have found an array of respected Executives that do see it. When you start to have resources align with the same shared vision (not blinded by capital~however interested in creating something impossible) I think that is when it starts to gel and gain traction.

Question 5 - If you had one piece of networking/collaborating advice for small business owners in Central Iowa... What would that be?

Opportunities are only wasted if you let them be. Get out of your cave. Be proud of what you do and share your story with others. Iowans want to help Iowans. Businesses enjoy helping other businesses. Go to events...even when they have nothing to do directly with what you do. Odds are someone there knows someone who can directly change your business. Don't go out looking to make Sales, go looking to find ways to help others.

Many thanks to Matt for taking the time to answer a few questions. I recommend that everyone take the steps necessary to get plugged into the community.  We live in an ever changing world and it will be our networks that ultimately cause us to succeed.

Employee Reviews: Is Everybody Really Above Average

Lake_wobegon I read with interest fellow IowaBiz author Victor Aspengren's article on Forget the Ratings in conducting annual performance reviews.  Victor points out that most companies use subjective rating systems in their performance reviews which leave everyone in the company, supervisors and employees alike, dreading the annual review process.

What happens next is what I call the Lake Wobegon effect:  Every employee becomes "above average" because supervisors are unwilling to hold employees accountable.  Then when it comes time to discipline or terminate employees companies are often shocked when I tell them it may be difficult to discipline or terminate an employee because of their employee evaluations.

Employee evaluations are valuable proof in an employment lawsuit.  Make sure poor performance is properly documented.  Otherwise, the judge or jury will not believe you when you say the employee performed poorly but all their evaluations are excellent.  You should conduct the evaluations on a regular basis, usually at least once per year.  And Victor's ideas on creating a dialogue with your employees is on the mark as long as that dialogue is open, honest and holds employees accountable for their performance.

See also:  Considerations for Your Performance Evaluation and Employee Evaluations are Critical to Firing Decisions.

photo on flickr by Krista76

Beware the Busy Manager Part II

Time_flies Have you ever noticed that some of the busiest people get the least results?  They are a flurry of activity, moving at a fast clip, multi-tasking like pros. I have felt like I was moving in slow motion when officing beside a "busy" manager.

But are these busy people really achieving all they could be achieving? And are they accomplishing the most important things?

Things which matter most should never be at the mercy of things which matter least.

~ GOETHE

Managers who are focused and committed epitomize GOETHE's advice. They don't squander time. Their behaviors are purposeful, planful and reflective. Watching them in action is like watching a finely tuned piece of equipment operate at peak efficiency. No wasted motion. Every action has purpose. And most importantly, all actions produce results.

So what do focused and committed managers DO that sets them apart from their peers?

1. They concentrate where they can achieve outstanding results. They don't have dozens of goals on their annual performance plan. They don't take on projects just because someone thinks it'd be a good idea. (Usually less that 5-10 percent of what we do accounts for most of our results.)They are selective in what they commit to, but once they've committed, they own it. They will do whatever it takes to see the initiative through to success.

2. They maintain a steady pace. They don't hurry or rush around frantically. They have an easy pace, working with a certain rhythm that allows them to achieve vastly more than the average person. And they don't multi-task. A hallmark behavior of successful managers and entrepreneurs is that they do one thing at a time.

3. They do the most important thing that needs doing, and they stick with it until it's done, or until they've done all they can do at that moment. They make deliberate choices, over and over again, asking themselves such questions as:

  • "What is my major goal or objective right now?"
  • "Is what I'm doing contributing to the accomplishment of my most important goals and objectives?"
  • "Why am I on the payroll?"

4. And finally, they have the self-discipline to manage some of life's biggest time wasters, like telephone interruptions, email, unexpected visitors and meetings. Focused and committed managers control their external environment, rather than letting their environment dictate their actions.

  • How many goals/projects/long-term to-do's are on your plan for this year?
  • At work, are you calm or tense?
  • Are your work habits productive habits?
  • Or, are you too busy?

Photo on flickr by gaurang

Forget the Ratings

247060780_b6132767e3  Do you dread the annual performance review process in your company?  If you do, I guarantee your employees do also. 

I would also venture to say that most companies use some form of  ratings scale in their performance reviews.  Why?  The common response is that is takes out the subjectivity and makes things measurable.  Well I am sorry to report that subjectivity remains. 

Who truly decides if someone is a 1 vs. 10, low vs. high, exceeds vs. does not meet - the employee, the supervisor, or human resources. 

If you boil it all down, it is all subjective.  I may be above average today, but if you hire talented employees I may soon be average.  The key is that I did not change, so why am I now average vs. above average?  See how subjectivity enters the equation?

I would encourage you to dump your ratings systems and think about implementing a system that encourages dialogue between employees and their supervisors. 

Imagine starting the review process with a question instead of laying down a ratings sheet.  I have experienced both and I can tell you with confidence that rating scales do not work.  Creating a dialogue that is meaningful does work.  If you do not believe me, check out this great site on performance reviews.

Performance reviews should be driving individual growth and performance, which then feeds company growth and performance.  The companies where employees and supervisors look forward to performance reviews, are the companies that are the leaders in their industries.

Flickr photo by joshhikes

Do you love it or loathe it?

Recently, Curt Rosegren pointed to a free e-book by Lori and Arnie Herz of Legal Sanity

It was about connecting more of what you do in work to what you are passionate about in life. 

In effect, they were asking the question: "What if your work... AND your life... flowed more out of your passions and sweet spot?  What could happen?  What would it be like?"

How does that sound?  Pretty good right?Journal_4

Now, shooting for a perfect utopia in the biz world with rainbow and butterflies isn't really realistic. 

But what if?

These authors make the point that if you know where your passions are and you align your work with those passions, it results in more meaningful work.  And I like their definition of "meaningful work:"

"Meaningful work is work that more often than not, fills us instead of depleting us."

Okay... so how do we get there?

The Herz's have some suggestions.  You can check them out in their e-book. 

I also like one of Marcus Buckingham's approaches to finding your passions and strengths.  He calls it a Love/Loathe list. 

You simply carry a notebook with you and draw a line down the middle of each page.  At the top of the first column, you write "LOVE."  On the top of the second column, you write "LOATHE."

Then, as you go about your daily activities you track each activity by putting it on the appropriate side.  You just keep asking yourself "Do I love this... or loathe it?"  And then write it down.  Don't judge it.  Don't even worry about how you'd get rid of it. 

At this point you just write it down.

After a week or so you'll have a pretty good list of the things you love to do and the things you... well... the things you don't love to do.

What activities would be on your list?  Which column would they go in?

Give it a try and next week we'll talk about some of the things that you can do with your list that might help you to move towards what the Herzs call "Meaningful work."

Sound good?  Let me know how it goes... as it goes!

Photo credit and kudos to: kat and aq

Time to Move - Maybe

Office_move The Excited Business Owner
Acme Printing has been waiting to get into their new office space that Tooltime Contractors is constructing for them.  The problem is, Acme’s current lease expires in a week and Tooltime Contractors is feeling the pressure to get the job done before Acme moves in.   

The Dilemma
You guessed it. Acme Printing decides that the office space is completed enough for them to move in over the weekend.  I know this doesn’t sound like much of a problem.  But for the insurance agent who does nothing but read policy language and have nightmares about losses this is an ulcer waiting to happen. 

Monday arrives, Tooltime Contractors shows up to work on the building and finds Acme Printing moved in and working away. 

This is not a good situation for the Tooltime Contractors but it does happen. 

At the end of the day, the owner of Acme Printing stays a little late and turns on the furnace because it is getting colder.  The problem is the exhaust vent is not hooked up and the owner gets very sick from the carbon monoxide.

Who should be concerned Tooltime Contractors or Acme Printing?  I know this doesn’t sound like a big deal but let’s look a little deeper.

You would think that Acme Printing would now assume responsibility if something went wrong but it is a completed operations hazard for Tooltime Contractors. 

Should Tooltime tell Acme they can’t be there because the work isn’t completed? As soon as Acme moves in, the work is considered completed because it is being put to its intended use - regardless of whether Tooltime Contractors has actually finished the work.

That means that Tooltime is liable for any mishaps that result from the work they were doing.

What’s the moral of the story? If you’re a contractor, you’ll need to make sure the work is completed on your terms. That may mean addressing some sticky situations with your customer who may feel rushed – or simply excited – about moving into their new or renovated space.

What Gets You Riled Up?

03presidential_debate0427Psst... I need to share a secret with you...

I'm playing a little trick on my blog readers at Carpe Factum.  I put out a post about the presidential campaign, but not because I really cared about the election, nor did I really want to know who is going to vote for whom.  I posted it because I wanted to test my readers' passion.  And it's working.  A mere 24 hours after posting, I had five responses, most of which reflected the commenters' passions (OK, so maybe one was just a smart-aleck buddy giving me a hard time).  But I did get their blood pumping about something.  Don't tell them I told you that, OK?

03debate600aBut this isn't about the election... or politics... it's about projects... and you.  What about you?  What about your teams?  It's Halloween season, but do you have trouble telling the Halloween zombies from the year-round zombies?  We push for projects, but where are we spending the energy capital to get from point A to point B?  Are people getting more excited about the result of the project, or are they burning each other out arguing about the means by which the project will be completed?  Phil Cubeta posed some interesting philosophical issues about clients, passion, and projects in a recent post:

I think we are passionate about means because our ends are so empty, so paltry, and so arbitrary, so unexamined that only by concentrating on the means to those ends can we avoid panic or despair.  The story of Diogenes and Alexander hits this off nicely.  Alexander visits the famous philosopher in his Dumpster, or at it was then called, his tub or barrel. When Diogenes asks Alexander the Great what he is up to, the general says, "I am off the conquer the world." When Diogenes asks what the general will do once he has achieved that goal, Alexander says he will rest. To which Diogenes replies, "See my dog sleeping in the sun? Why not lie down and rest with him now?"

The rest of his post, while emphasizing more philanthropic and estate planning issues, is worth the read because it applies to organizational projects as well.  When your teams give you the status on their projects, spend some time really LISTENING to them.  Test them with a couple of small bombshells, just to see what gets them riled up (note, these should be better passion-inducers than telling them that you're a Republican who's voting for Hillary):

  • "Do you think this project is really worth pursuing, given all of the effort you've put into it?  Do you think we should just cancel it right now so you can work on other things?"
  • "I've been reading this trade magazine about [insert whatever new fad is hitting your industry].  I think your project would be a perfect prototype to test this on."
  • "You know that new guy?  I like his project better than yours.  I'm diverting all of your resources to his project starting tomorrow.  If you want to continue with your project, you're on your own."
  • "Do you think your project would work better as a Six Sigma implementation or should we try Lean Manufacturing principles on it?"

How do you think they will react?  Will they fight for the end result of the project?  Or will they get more hyper about the means and effort expended on the project? 

The answer could tell you lots about them... and about your own leadership of the projects in your company. 

If your people care more about methodologies and measurements than they do about relevance and results, if they spend more money and energy on taking and talking than they do on achieving and accomplishing, you may need to step back and assess what your organization is really about... why are you in business... and do you have people who really want what you want? 

Where is your organizational project passion?  Is it in the means or the ends?

Think about it.  I know my Carpe Factum readers are.

Management Needs to "Get Dirty" in Customer Service

Csr Do you talk to your customers? Personally talk to them? Do you sit in an ivory tower or get down and dirty in the trenches?

Steve Krause had an interesting post about Craig Newmark (of Craig's list fame), who spends much of his time as a front-line Customer Service Representative - handling customers questions, concerns and issues. Steve goes on to explain why he thinks key people within the corporation should talk to customers - really talk to them.

I couldn't agree more.

There are three reasons I think top brass should regularly be in the trenches:

  1. It forces accountability and earns the respect of your colleagues. A manager at one of our clients demands that we monitor and analyze her calls the same as we do her people. Her team knows that she had higher quality scores than anyone on the team. She walks the talk. They respect her and follow her lead. By the way - they also have the highest, most consistent quality scores of any team we've measured in the past 15 years.
  2. You get to experience, first hand, what's working and not working. To hear complaints about the service delivery system is one thing. It's another thing to actually experience them as you sit with a headset on, or in front of a customer, trying to resolve a customer's issue. You will quickly learn what needs to happen for your customers if you spend some time working the customer service front-lines.
  3. You hear what your customers are saying and experiencing. There's no substitute for actually listening to the customer tell you about their experience, unfiltered, as you try to serve them. It is both humbling and empowering. Most executives think they know what their customers are experiencing, but those who spend time getting their hands dirty on the front-line have received it first-hand.

What difference would it make to your business if you spent a tithe of your time on the front-line?

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and NoPunyNerd.

Hire a Blog Today.

Helpwanted Is your company blog site simply a tool - or do you treat it like an employee?

I started working when I was 14 years old. A dishwasher in a French restaurant. I think I made like $2.00 per hour and shared tips from the nicer waitresses.

My grandfather said I was overpaid. I didn't understand that - so I worked harder. After a few short weeks, I got my first raise (four bits) and proudly told my grandpa about it.

He told me that everyone begins a job overvalued and underworked. It's part of the learning process. In time, things even out. Eventually, the great workers are undervalued and overworked - and sometimes overlooked.

When you begin working with your company blog, it will be like training a new employee. You'll be investing a good amount of time in:

  • Finding your writing voice
  • Commenting on other sites
  • Searching for like-minded blogs
  • Learning some of the tools of the blogosphere

Eventually, your blog will be running smooth and returning value in readership. It will help extend your company's reach and voice. It will help you become findable in places you hadn't expected.

But don't neglect this employee (or any of them for that matter). Periodically, have a review. What kind of perks can you give your blog site to assist it in doing its job?

  • A new design
  • Some widgets or navigation. Maybe some social bookmark tools in the footer.
  • A spotlight in your collateral material
  • A company car (okay - maybe a bit much there)

Loving your employees will compel them to be better, loyal, contagious, enthusiastic... They will become an advocate for you and your company.

How about your blog? Tool or employee? How about your company's web site?

Elsewhere:
- 5 Ways to Treat Your Website Like an Employee and Reap the Rewards

Choose your words carefully

Drycleaner Once or twice a week, I walk into my neighborhood dry cleaners with an armful of shirts.  As the clerk (and it doesn't matter which one) approaches the counter, they hopefully ask "just dropping off?"

And I always reply, "Nope, I need to pick up as well." 

Then, as if it was a choreographed part of their business, they take in a little breath and turn back to walk to the computer, to look up my order number.

I'm pretty sure they're completely unaware that they do it.  Or that it is so embedded in the culture of the company that they ALL do it.

But they message they transmit is "it's kind of a pain to have to get your stuff for you.  I wish you were just dropping off."

I never leave feeling as though they appreciate my business.  I leave feeling bad that I inconvenienced them.

Imagine how different it would feel if they approached the counter with a "do you have an order to pick up too?"

Tiny tweak.  Major difference.

Are you sure you're transmitting the message you want your customers to receive? Are you sure there's nothing in your company's culture/customer interaction that could use a tiny tweak?

Patent It and They Will Come (Maybe)

Hula Should I Get a Patent?
As a patent attorney, I get that question a lot. Unlike a lot of patent attorneys however, my first answer is typically not an emphatic "Yes." A good patent is like a safety deposit box.  Very valuable, assuming you have something valuable to protect. A patent is not going to sell your invention for you. The only thing a patent can do is to stop other people from selling your invention. If no one is interested in buying your invention, no one else is interested in selling it, making your patent rather useless.

If Not Me, Who?
I long ago gave up trying to guess whether a new invention was going to make money. I have had clients walk into my office, with  "can't miss" inventions, that missed by a rather wide margin. On the other hand, one of the most successful, albeit wacky, inventions I have ever had the pleasure to patent was invented by a client I nearly politely shuffled out of my office in my own misguided attempt to keep him from wasting his money. What changed my mind was the inventor's knowledge of marketing and his vast array of industry contacts, things the "can't miss" inventors never bothered to consider.

Will It Sell?
Now, much wiser (and wizened for that matter) when a client asks me if they should get a patent on an invention,  I typically respond with another question. "What kind of sales do you expect, and how do anticipate getting those sales?" If the inventor details prior successful performance in a similar market, filing a patent is probably a pretty good idea. If the inventor does not have the first clue about marketing, but figures he or she will "patent it and they will come" I encourage them to prepare a business plan detailing proposed marketing efforts and anticipated sales. In between those two extremes, my advice still leans in those directions, albeit to a lesser degree.

How Do I Get a Patent?
Obtaining a patent involves filing a patent application which describes the parameters of your invention. Even for a skilled patent attorney, drafting a patent application is a very time consuming process, often taking several weeks to complete. Once the application is completed, it is filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)  Two to three years later (yep you read that right), the USPTO examines the patent against all of the other seven million patents in the USPTO (well maybe not all). If your patent application is very broad (which it should be), it is very likely that the USPTO will reject most, if not all of the patent protection you are claiming. Assuming you indeed have something novel, you fight back and forth with the USPTO, possibly for years until you either give up, or the USPTO grants you a patent.

Can I Get My Patent Myself?
While it is theoretically possible to obtain a patent on your own, even the USPTO recommends obtaining the learned counsel of an experienced patent attorney. Patent attorney are attorneys with a science background, who have passed a separate "Patent Bar" exam, demonstrating their knowledge and skills in the patent drafting arena. Not all patent attorneys are created alike, just like all patents are not created alike. While you often get what you pay for, there are some inexpensive patent attorneys who draft very good patents and expensive patent attorneys who draft very bad patents. To find a good patent attorney, get a recommendation from someone who has actually obtained a patent with the attorney. The problem with drafting your patent yourself or hiring a bad patent attorney, is that by the time you realize you have made a grave mistake, the most valuable aspect of your invention may be irretrievably cast into the public domain.

It's All About The Marketing
It's much better to have a great marketing plan and a bad invention, than a great invention and a terrible marketing plan. Sound strange coming from someone who earns a living drafting patents and openly professes the inability to market inventions? Well that is the way it is. What about those invention promotion companies? I have yet to run across one that is not a scam or, at the very least extraordinarily ineffectual at parlaying an invention into pictures of dead presidents. If you believe in your invention, but know you are not a marketer, team up with someone who is. Better yet, find an investor with a strong marketing background, preferably with experience marketing your type of product. If you are lousy at marketing, at the very least, team up with someone who has access to marketers.

That Being Said

Patents can be quite valuable. Several are valued at over $1 billion apiece.  Also, patents can be marketing tools  themselves. Many advertisements tout the patented nature of the product as one of its most impressive features. Patents can be the source of revenue streams, generating millions of dollars in licensing fees from eager licensees. Patents also impress potential investors. Many investors require patent protection be in the works before they will even talk to you. Patents can do things money can't. Good patents can carve out a broad swath of exclusive sales territory and may even "buy" your way out of a potentially crippling cross-infringement suit by your closest competitor. Patents can be some of the most worthless or valuable assets on the planet.  Compiling an effective marketing strategy before diving into the patent process is often the difference between whether the "safe" your patent attorney constructs for you contains a lump of coal or the Hope diamond.

SECTION 179 - Buy Now, Deduct Now

Most of us are now beginning the last three months of our tax year.  If you are in the market for new business assets, the timing of your purchases could make a big difference in your tax picture next April.

The tax law doesn't treat purchases of fixed assets like other operating expenses.  You can deduct your employees' salaries when you pay for them, but not the desks they sit in.  The cost of fixed assets must be capitalized and depreciated over several years - seven years for a desk, for example.

20071011 As in so many parts of the tax law, there is an exception to this capitalized cost rule: Section 179 of the tax code.  If you qualify, you can elect to currently expense up to $125,000 in fixed asset costs in 2007 that you would otherwise have to depreciate. 

Section 179 is a great deal, so of course there's a catch.  Actually, several of them.  Some of the bigger ones:

- It doesn't work for real estate - land or buildings, or lodging assets

- It doesn't work for intangibles like patents or goodwill (but it does work for software!).

- If you buy more than $500,000 in qualifying assets during the year, you begin to lose the deduction, and it goes away entirely when your purchases hit $650,000 for the year.

- The Section 179 deduction passes through to the owners of pass-through entities - partnerships and S corporations.  If the owners don't qualify to use Section 179 - say, because they have no income or are a big company with lots of asset purchases - Section 179 is a bad deal for them; they don't get either a current deduction or depreciation.

- If you buy a business car, you can't do better under Section 179 than you can under the regular car depreciation rules.

Even with these limitations, you might still have a lot of room to use Section 179.  If you are planning some fixed asset purchases, moving them up to December might make a big difference next April.  But check with your tax advisor first -- the rules can be tricky, and we don't cover them all here.

Dear Central Iowa Businesses...what do you need?

Grow_2 Here's one thing we all share.  We want to grow our business.  Please tell me what you need as a business owner to become successful.  We're fortunate to be currently surrounded by the best human capital in the world.

According to StartUpNation, here are the ten steps they propose to grow your business. See if you agree.

  • Measure and analyze your current status
  • Get efficient through technology
  • Enhance your customer's experience
  • Cozy up with vendors
  • Maximize your niche, expand to a new one
  • Develop new channels
  • Acquire growth capital
  • Create a culture
  • Ramp up awareness and demand
  • Improve sales technique

So what do you think? Do you know where in Central Iowa to go find collaborators to help you strengthen your business in each of those areas?  It's a networking/connectivity process these days.

Want to hear a Central Iowa success story?  On my next post (the 22nd) I'm going to introduce you to US Rodeo Supply.  Matt & Nathan Owen will be interviewed for 'Get Out of Your Cave' one of the best stories of our time... (Yep... I'm 27 years old, which means nothing)

It will be worth the wait.

Is a Business Plan Necessary to Build a Successful Business?

Blueprint If you look at the statistics starting your own small business is risky at best.  The conventional wisdom says you need to write a business plan because your chances of success are greatly increased if you understand the challenges you'll face and develop a plan to meet those challenges.

But the problem for many new business owners is that writing a business plan seems like a daunting task.  Often new business owners want to make that plan absolutely PERFECT.  They spend so much time working on the plan they don't work on the business.  The reality is that no business is perfect and neither are business plans.  As Iowa patent attorney Brett Trout loves to point out:

When you start a business, who knows where you are going to end up?

Some experts, including Guy Kawasaki, question whether a business plan is even necessary.  Kawasaki points to a study from Babson College that shows there is no difference between the performance of new businesses launched with or without a business plan. 

The findings suggest that unless a would-be entrepreneur needs to raise to substantial startup capital from institutional investors or business angels, there is no compelling reason to write a detailed business plan before opening a new business.

So what do you think?  Do you agree with the study?  Is the "Just Do It" philosophy the way to go or is a written plan necessary to build a successful business?  What strategy has worked for you?

Beware the Busy Manager Part I

Time You're busy. I'm busy. We're all busy. In fact, if you ask most business people what they want more of -- in both their personal and professional lives -- they'll likely tell you they want more time. And then they'll bemoan the fact that they have to:

  • rush between back-to-back meetings,
  • check their emails constantly to be sure they don't miss important happenings,
  • put out fire after fire, and
  • make endless phone calls from the road.

Sound familiar? Yeah, me too. What most business people don't tell you, and may not even realize, is that all of that busyness IS the problem. Being busy is NOT synonymous with being effective. It's deceiving though because we can't imagine being effective any other way.

But there is another way. A better way in fact. The characteristics of managers who are most effective are: Focus and Commitment. Not one or the other. Effective managers display both.

  • Managers who are NOT focused OR committed will carry out their routine responsibilities because that's how they see their role. But don't count on them to be strategic or come up with new solutions requiring change.
  • Managers who are focused but not committed tend to start projects but seldom have the energy to see them through to completion. Organizations can even discourage new managers from being committed by not rewarding their initiative or their curiosity and creative ideas.
  • Managers who are committed but not focused do a lot of things. Their to-do lists are long and they're members of numerous task forces and teams. But they become easily overwhelmed and burn out rather than achieve significant results.
  • Managers who are focused AND committed achieve a short list of critical long-term goals with a vigor that is unstoppable. They're effective and achieve results.

You don't hear a lot of busyness in that last description, do you? In "Beware the Busy Manager Part II," we'll explore the behaviors of focused and committed managers. We'll look at how they spend that most precious of resources -- time-- that makes all the difference for themselves and their organizations.

Photo on flickr by mazsola

Conversation ≠ Working

458804357_0aa56ddba4_m When you see people conversing in your company, what runs through your mind?  Is it conversation ≠ working or conversation = working?  The vast majority of owners and managers pick the ≠ versus =. 

They immediately assume that conversation relates to gossip, personal stories, joking around and lack of performance.  This could be true, but what if they are discussing issues that could result in a better bottom line performance.

How many times have you assumed the worst and waded into the situation to stop the nonsense?  If I am the employee who was trying to help the company and you chastise me for it, then you have encouraged me to move to useless conversation.  The assumption of wasted time can be the spark that triggers a negative behavior cycle.

Just imagine if your company made the assumption that conversation = working.  Everyone would be focused on having conversations that add value to the company.  We all know that this reality is unachievable, but striving for it creates a culture that drives bottom line performance.  It also encourages a culture of trust, respect, and innovation.

I would encourage you to quit assuming and begin an evaluation of the conversations in your company.  The results may shock you enough to initiate a cultural change.

Flickr photo by manueb

What if you could travel the world or have a personal assistant for free?

Seriously.  How would that help your work-life balance?

Well... LitLiberation.org is launching a unique viral marketing campaign... and they're offering these (and other fun prizes) in exchange for some help from you.

I found out about it while I was checking out Tim Ferriss's blog today. 

He'd posted a video about the challenge from LitLiberation.

Click on the following video and find out more...

There are a few steps that you need to take... but again... with things like global travel... and help from a free assistant on the line... it might be worth 5 minutes.   

You just need to help LitLiberation a little (with spreading literacy around the world) AND remember that you only have until October 30th to get it done!

That's it.

So join in.  Get yourself a much needed vacation or personal assistant to help with that work/life balance.

What do you think?  Pretty cool huh?

Check it out... and let us know how it goes. 

Oh... and when you win the trip around the world... send us some pictures!

When Your Brand New Chair Breaks ...

Chair_4 This is a continuation of my prior post about Products and Completed Operations Coverage.

I want you to imagine that you went to your favorite furniture store to shop for a new desk chair. You’re giving a few of them a trial run and, as you sit in one plush leather chair you begin to put pressure on the back of the chair, it gives out on you. 

As you stand up, you notice that your back really hurts and you think you may have injured yourself.  You end up suing the furniture store for damages resulting from the accident in the store.

Is this a Products or a Premises Claim?

Here are some general guidelines for determining if it’s a products claim or a premises claim.

  • Was the chair in your possession (had you bought it when the mishap occurred)?
  • Or did you fall backwards out of the chair while “trying it out” in the store?

In the example above, this would be a premises claim against the furniture store because the chair:

  • Was on their premise
  • Was owned by the store

But what if you order the chair, it’s in your office and then it breaks when you sit in it?

Any claim payment would now be paid under products-completed operations.

What if a client is visiting your office and tumbles in one of your chairs? Or a table collapses on them? That’s another instance when Products and Completed Operations Coverage is important to have.

I know – fascinating stuff.  Just because insurance isn't always a scintillating topic, doesn't mean it isn't vital to your business.

Just wait until I cover Completed Operations. If you’re hiring a plumber, electrician or similar contractor – you’ll want to know about this coverage.

The Straight Poop on Implementations

Toilet_monsterIf you've been reading my blog over at Carpe Factum for any length of time, you'll know that in our house, we've been in the process of potty training a toddler.  Well, this week we began the official "cutover" implementation from pull-ups to underwear.  We're all holding our breath, but so far all of the training, reading, discussions and practicing appear to be working fine.  There has been minimal backsliding.

I started thinking about the parallels between potty training and project implementations.  Essentially, both involve weaning people from one (generally comfortable and probably low maintenance) way of doing things to a new, uncertain, and uncomfortable set of processes.  Nobody is immune from going through this.  I even ran across a church blog that is dealing with this issue.  In describing their issues, Chris writes:

"Boy, it’s a lot more convoluted than i thought it was going to be. Mostly we’re going to have to sandbox each ministry and see if we’re going to be able to really use it the way that we want to. We bought it about 3 months ago, and we’re realizing now that a straight cut over is basically impossible. We visited Rolling Hills church and talked to their implementations manager there, and got the scoop on all of the problems that they were having, what they worked through, and a list of improvements that need to be made."

See?  When implementing a project, nobody - even those doing the work of a Higher Power - is immune from the pain of cutting over from one thing to another.  But watching my daughter go through this process has been especially telling.  Here are my lessons learned on implementations:

  • Prepare your stakeholders:  We began reading stories about potty training to my daughter a year ago, and put the toilet seat in the bathroom so she would begin to get familiar with it.  Don't leave the change targets hanging until the last second.  Advertise your project and what it will do for them.
  • Make it a priority:  We're busy people in our house.  Potty training could have been a "whenever she's ready it will happen" mindset.  We inadvertently take that approach in organizations also.  As Paul Williams writes in the Think for a Change blog"Executives fear successful innovation programs because they look at their already overworked resource pool and wonder how in the world they are going to add more projects to the mix, even if they look extremely promising.  This fear leads to risk avoidance which then leads to either complete inaction or very slow action."
  • Train and test:  We gave our daughter demonstrations with her dolls about what to do.  We've let her see for herself what it will be like.  Your stakeholders would probably like the chance to pound on the new software or see what your latest product will be or know what the post-merger org chart looks like.  Give them hands-on experience... BEFORE they need it.
  • Accidents will happen:  We all have those oops moments.  We never get upset with our daughter, regardless of how inopportune the time is when the accident occurs.  We comfort her and let her know it's OK.  Nothing will kill a new organizational initiative faster than punishing those who find problems with it.  Debugging and solving problems should be praised.
  • Relevant Rewards:  In the end, it was all about my daughter's timing and finding the right thing to motivate her.  In her case, two of her friends beat her to potty training and were promoted to the next level classroom at daycare.  My daughter hates being left out.  You have to find the right motivational carrot to dangle in front of your change targets without letting them know you're dangling a motivational carrot.  But make it something worth while that will make them care about this initiative.

So, remember as you approach your implementation date:  you're potty training your organization.  Are you ready to handle it?

Carpe Factum!

Customer Service is a Trickle-Down Proposition

Boardroom_2 I have had the pleasure and privilege of working with companies of all shapes and sizes. It's an interesting opportunity to study what works, and what doesn't, inside of corporate cultures.

A classic story handed down through the generations in my company tells of two of our group members who were invited to make a presentation before the board of directors of a major retail business. The board was discussing strategic issues about their brand: who they were, who their customers were, and what their plan was for the future. One of the board members piped up:

"Let's face it. We sell [expletive deleted] to nerds!"

Our group ended up working with this company for a few years, and it was interesting to witness how the attitude of the board trickled-down through the entire organization. The corporate culture was never able to overcome an attitude of negativity surrounding their company, their products or their customers.

Great customer service begins inside the company. It begins inside the board room and the CEO's office. How a company values and treats its' employees sets the stage for how the employees treat the customers. Here's a few lessons that I've taken from this principle:

  1. If you want to work for a great company, look at who is running it, what they believe, and what they exemplify in their own actions.
  2. If the leadership of a company is not committed to creating a culture of customer service and continuous improvement then you will continually fight a losing battle on the front-lines.
  3. If a company is going to change it's culture, it has to begin at the top.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Alex

Social Bookmark Intelligence

In Do it Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes Old Marketing Rules, author Mike Moran says:

If you have a story to tell and make it easy to pass on, more people will provide that recommendation you crave.

Social Bookmarks allow your readers to provide, share and spread your message in many ways.

I've answered the question about whether social bookmarks are marketing tools elsewhere. Recently, one customer had been averaging just over 100 page views per day. One of their articles got "stumbled" and received a 300% spike in traffic. The spike lasted for two days and the post still gets activity from the StumbleUpon recommendation.

At The Simple Dollar, author Trent Hamm uses Feedburner's FeedFlare to equip his readers to share his content. Is it working?  With 1,698 Delicious Links and over 6,400 Blog Reactions pointing to the site...I'd say so.

One way to tap into social bookmarking is by using a service such as AddThis or SocialMarker (as found at Jason Falls SocialMediaExplorer site...can you find the bookmark button)

An example of AddThis comes from fellow Iowans CyberNetNews. As you mouse over a bookmark button, a tooltip-type pop-up appears:

Cybernetnews_2

Rather than just pass this (opportunity) up as a passing fancy, get intelligent about social bookmarking and employ it on every page of your site.

Related Posts:

- Video: Social Bookmarking in Plain English
- The Social Bookmarking Faceoff Reloaded
- A Complete Guide to What is Social Bookmarking Part I | Part II

Is your competition luring you off-track?

Fork Have you ever had the experience of driving along, paying attention to something off in the horizon and next thing you know, you've driven to that spot?  And it wasn't where you meant to go?

The same phenomenon can happen in your business.  Most business owners I met pay a lot of attention to what their competition is doing.  We definitely need to keep an eye on the competitive  landscape.  But there's a very fine line.

The danger in keeping track of the other guys is that you lose track of your own path.  We tend to move towards what we pay attention to.  And you don't want to let your competitors determine your marketing strategy.  That's a quick way to:

  • Deplete your resources
  • Look like you're playing the "us too" game
  • Lose the momentum of your key messages

You want to be the leader in your industry, not follow someone else.  The best way to beat your competition isn't watching what they do.  It's doing what you should be doing.

If you have and follow a marketing plan -- you can enjoy the best of both worlds.  The marketing plan keeps you on your course.  Heading in the direction you have determined.  When you know where you're headed and keep checking the map to see that you're on course, you can afford to peek at what the competitors are doing.

Just make sure you're following your course, not theirs.

This site is intended for informational and conversational purposes, not to provide specific legal, investment, or tax advice.  Articles and opinions posted here are those of the author(s). Links to and from other sites are for informational purposes and are not an endorsement by this site’s sponsor.