Keep On Marketing

If you're feeling the crunch of the economy, you're not alone. Everyone I've talked to, from clients to fellow small business owners, feels some pain. Many have asked me for advice (I'm not a small business guru, but I always have advice, it seems) and my reply is like a broken record: focus on marketing.

It may seem counterproductive to spend money now. Especially if your bottom line is not that great and the money you would spend on marketing could be better used as padding for the coffers.

Resist the urge to hide. This is the time to market. Yes, people are tightening their belts, but really, people are looking for a good reason to part with their money. Provide it to them.

  1. Video testimonials can provide that "good reason." Consumers are really into YouTube videos. Why not use that technology to prove how much better your product or service is? You can use free video capture (Camtasia) software and post the videos on your web site’s main page. Or create a testimonial page and do more than a few. The idea is to get the satisfied customers to say how your product or service made a difference to them. Don't have them speak in your terms, have them use their own terminology (see #2).
  2. A customer's terminology has to do with benefits. I tell clients at least once a day that their sales material is not going to make an impression as written. It's filled with features: "13 years in business, member of BNI" and this does not matter to someone who's looking at your photography services for their wedding. They want to know what’s in it for them. Will you capture the most important moments of their day? Are you easy to work with? And then you've got to prove it. "Award-winning photographer offers free consultation, 25 free pictures if you buy the gold package, and black and white or sepia options for any photographs, you choose." See what I mean?
  3. Give something worthwhile to customers for free. This doesn't have to be 25 free frames, as in the photography example above, but it must be worth something. Usually product business offer something extra, "if you order today, you get a free shipping," and services business offer information, "free white paper on marketing if you sign up now." And don’t think about the monetary value to you, but think about the monetary value to your customers. If I received a free white paper on marketing from a company I was considering, especially if it gave me good actionable ideas, I'd be much more likely to use their services. And I often order from a vendor to get free shipping, as that's a huge draw for me.

Try marketing today. It may surprise you how a small effort reaps big rewards.

How To Keep Up . . . And Get Ahead

Productivity is always a concern for business owners, especially during this time with rising gas and food prices, consumers tightening their belts, and the need to maintain a profit.

A few stories lately have discussed productivity and once again, the ideas aren't what you'd expect.

CNN talks about our "sleep-deprived nation" and points out that American employees work more than they sleep - a disturbing trend.

"One-third of those surveyed for the National Sleep Foundation's annual 'Sleep in America' poll had fallen asleep or become sleepy at work in the past month. The telephone survey questioned 1,000 adults in the continental United States and was conducted between September 25, 2007, and November 19, 2007.

The poll also found that Americans are working more and sleeping less. The average amount of sleep was six hours and 40 minutes a night. The average workday? Nine hours and 28 minutes."

The Chicago Tribune approaches productivity in a similar way.

"'To be honest, employers may not be aware of the impact the physical environment has on individuals,'" said Steve Schiavo, a Wellesley College psychology professor who has presented papers at the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA). 'Employers may only think of financial compensation as contributing to morale, but clearly there's more than that.'"

PCWorld suggests that letting employees take breaks (even if only to view Facebook) can improve productivity.

"Feeling guilty about checking out Facebook when you should be working? Well, don't -- because according to PopCap Games research, taking a 10-minute break to surf the Net will reduce stress and sharpen your mind.

The games manufacturer claims 'electronic breaks' actually increase staff efficiency and morale, warning that by stopping workers surfing the web, businesses are contributing to a loss to of productivity worth up to US$8 billion every year.

The research will come as a blow to companies that have banned access to social networking sites. According to employment law firm Peninsula, seven out of 10 companies already prohibit workers from visiting sites such as Facebook and are even considering banning personal Internet access altogether."

I know. You're thinking why in this economy would I let my employees look at Facebook, sleep, or enjoy their surroundings?

Because it works. Productivity was up in the first quarter of 2008, even as companies cut jobs. Many industry analysts point out that our services-oriented workforce is more resilient to economic highs and lows than we were in the 1970s. And why not make a few tweaks geared toward the comfort of your employees? If productivity continues to keep up and surge ahead, the resulting strong economy will take care of high prices and job losses.

Abandoned Shipping Containers – Another way to go Green

We have been following the recent stories of ways people are finding to go green. One of the most interesting is the way some builders and companies are using abandoned shipping containers to assemble structures ranging from homes to skyscrapers.

You've probably seen shipping containers before. They’re big boxes that look like the trailers the big rigs pull across our interstates, but they don't have any wheels. They come in varying colors and have different logos on them. They’re used by manufacturers to ship their good from overseas to the United States or anywhere else in the world. They’re stacked onboard huge ships then, once they arrive in port, they’re emptied and left abandoned.

Some ingenious minds have looked at these shipping containers and seen their real potential. It seems they can be used to construct single family homes that are strong, cost-effective, durable, and weather resistant. I thought this would look much like a mobile home until I saw one being built. Done by a knowledgeable builder, they look like normal fixed-based houses. It's remarkable what can be done. It’s recycling at its finest and it doesn’t stop there.

A European company FREITAG sells bags made from recycled tarps (a whole other issue), found that they could construct their office building using abandoned shipping containers. They’re unique way of producing their bags suggested that leaving the containers exposed and unchanged would make a one-of-a-kind office building. All of the containers are their original colors and show their company logos, but stacking and permanently joining them created a structurally sound and visually stimulating office building. They’re also very inexpensive.

FREITAG

What a great way to take unwanted objects and turning them into something beautiful and functional! It just takes someone with vision to see their true potential and bringing it to life.

How To (Really) Help Employees Stay Healthy

Workplace Wellness

Here's a smattering of news articles to prove it.

Keeping your employees healthy is good for business.

Channel 17 news in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill talks about local companies who are not just adding fitness rooms at the office to encourage employees to stay fit and healthy.

"[F]itness centers are no longer the backbone of corporate wellness programs, said Dave Gardner, manager of corporate and community health at WakeMed.

'Employers can look at policies and how their environment is structured,' said Gardner. 'Do they provide access to food and beverages? It may be just vending machines, but what's in the vending machines?'

Companies with on-site cafeterias are leading the charge with healthier menu items. A poster in Quintiles' cafeteria touts organic items and snacks with no trans fats."

The Economic Times in India touts helping employees with their stress as a path to workplace wellness.

"As industries mature, one of the fallouts has been that employees have been bombarded with excess workload to meet the water-tight deadlines. The outcome-stress, which takes a direct toll on productivity as people tend to slack when burdened with huge portions of work. Fortunately, organisations are waking up to this reality and are manifesting their concern for their employees' health by carving out several initiatives to build a stress-free environment for them."

A New York Times article focuses on politicians who are encouraging small businesses to focus on healthcare issues just as if they were a large company and able to offer multiple health benefits.

"Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, said smaller employers need to apply the same principles to health-care as they do to any other business.
'The question should be how do we get the best value for money,' Gingrich told the standing-room-only crowd of several hundred small-business owners.
He also prescribed changing workers' attitudes and behavior by offering healthy snacks in the workplace, access to wellness programs and fitness centers, and year-end bonuses based on a health assessment. At a panel discussion on small-business health-care costs, workplace wellness programs were seen as the most effective tool to cut rising prices."
In this age of rising prices (food, gas, health care) as well as the cost of doing business, companies may be tempted to scale back benefits, but perhaps the long-term effects of health and employee wellness should matter more.

Stay Smart and Stay Ahead

The Street looks at the recent Microsoft bid to acquire Yahoo and draws three very good tips out for current small business owners, summarized below.

  1. Do the basics very well: No matter what business you are in, you cannot take things to the next level, or withstand a recession, if that is your situation, if you are not handling the basics.
  2. We need to innovate: No business stays in business long if it does not adapt, change with the times and innovate. . . . One easy way to innovate is to just keep an eye on what your competition is doing. What is their Web site like? How do they market their business? Keep abreast of what others are doing and consider making changes accordingly.
  3. We need to change the game: [C]hanging the game means that the savvy small business person will also consider changing even essential ways of doing business when necessary.”

SearchEngineLand.com highlights a story about a small business that is not only surviving, but thriving in the midst of harsh times for businesses of all size.

"There's a battle going on in the floral industry, and many small, independent florists are losing. Like other small businesses, they don't have the time or knowledge to keep up with the latest marketing trends and tactics.

This month's small business online marketing success story is about a business owner who's using search marketing smarts to win this battle, along with some blogging and social media thrown in.
Meet Cathy Hillen-Rulloda, owner and Design Director at Avante Gardens, an award-winning florist in Anaheim, California. Cathy started working for a local florist during high school in West Virginia, and opened Avante Gardens in 1984 after helping design flowers for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

Since then, Cathy has become one of the floral industry's most accomplished Internet marketers. ‘She's a watchdog for the floral industry and keeps the rest of us aware,' says Ryan Freeman of Strider Inc, the operator of FlowerChat.com. ‘Her Web site ranks well and performs well, she blogs intelligently, has a smart mind for business and PR, and has enough chutzpah to take action when it's needed.'"

For small business owners like Hillen-Rulloda, it's about doing the basics well, using innovation to stay ahead, and changing the game when required. When those three elements are in place, small businesses will thrive.

How to Lead In Tough Times

Forbes discusses leading in tough times and gives five essentials "for leadership through difficult, and how to bring them to bear."

"Leading an organization through hard times is challenging by definition. It requires a deliberate focus and extra attention to a few critical areas that can make the difference between a quick rebound followed by sustained improvement in performance--or by a downward spiral that may become irreversible.
And it's in facing headwinds, of course, that the captain of the ship proves his or her mettle."

The five Forbes essentials include:

  1. Communicate continually and honestly.
  2. Hatch a plan based in reality.
  3. Hang on to your best talent.
  4. Act decisively.
  5. Alter your perspective.

There's a few more I would add:

  1. Don't try to be the superhero.

Nobody likes someone who tries to do it all and fails. Everyone will be in awe of you if you do what you do best and let others do the rest. A leader knows how to delegate to other members of his/her team so that she/he can focus on the essential core tasks of leadership. Trying to impress your team by agreeing to everything they request or point out will get you nowhere.

  1. Give out more praise than criticism.

This does not mean simple flattery or half-truths. There are ways to praise so that people realize what they missed or did wrong. Try rewarding strong work and recommending alternative ideas for less-strong work at the same time. And don't criticize. If you find this difficult, get Giving Feedback: Expert Solutions to Everyday Challenges, by Harvard Business School Press.

"Good feedback is essential to helping employees perform better at work. It lets people know when they are meeting or exceeding expectations, and when they need to get back on the right track. This practical guide shows managers how to develop and refine this necessary skill."

Feedback is communication. Are you giving feedback or a performance review? Are you wanting a different approach or just want to tweak the approach already taken? Learning to differentiate between what you want to accomplish and then saying it to accomplish that is a sure sign of a leader.

Anything else to add to this list? Feel free to add your thoughts.

Tips To Be A Better Manager Today

In a blog post that is now nearly three years old, Penelope Trunk writes succinct advice about how to not be "that manager" that everyone hates.

Trunk had four items on her list:

1. Focusing on tasks instead of people
2. Being slow to transition
3. Forgetting to manage up
4. Talking more than listening

And they're good. Right on the money. But we have a few more.

5. Failing to moderate two opposing forces

This could fall under any of the above four easily, but I wanted to make a distinction. There is nothing worse than being an employee and in a dispute with a colleague and willing to work out differences and the colleague wants to continue the dispute. And it happens a lot out in the business world.

A good manager refuses to take sides, but acts as moderator, soothing both sides with equal aplomb. And when that doesn't work, a good manager puts an end to behavior that only perpetuates the problem.

For example, two people on the same project are offended by each other. The one person demands the other be taken off the project, because "she just won't work with anyone."The other person retorts that perhaps it would be easier to work if "he would just quit running everyone around like a herd of cattle."

You need the two to work together and so you mediate a conversation. Help them let it all out. The one agrees that he has been rather bossy and agrees to change his attitude. The other, however, continues to push her point. And so, a good manager nips that in the bud. Enough is enough. The same would happen if the cattle herder had refused to change his ways. Don't play sides.

6. Agreeing to a complaint and making no action

If one of your team has complained to you about an issue, it does no one any good to simply push the paper around on the top of your desk for a week or so. It only lets the employee simmer a bit too long. See if you can't make at least one call about the matter, if only to let your employee know that you do consider it important and are willing to take at least one bit of action on it. It may take a week to solve, but your immediate action speaks volumes.

7. Forgetting everyone else's point of view but your own

Managers didn't get to their position by being as neutral as Switzerland on certain topics. However, the key to management is making sure you know more about your team's thoughts on a topic than your own. That is the power of a manager. A manager that can see the full scope of opinions on a team is a decision maker with many counselors and destined to make good decisions.

Measuring Productivity A Bit Differently These Days

Looking to improve productivity in your organization?

Check out a few of these recent news articles.

Reuters highlights a recent study on job flexibility as it relates to productivity and loyalty among employees.

"Researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, found that workers who enjoyed more work flexibility were also less likely to say health problems affected their performance at work. Offering a variety of alternative work arrangements and training managers and supervisors to be supportive of workers' personal lives may help in creating a culture of flexibility, researchers added."

In the UK, "a survey of 2,347 people, commissioned by employee wellbeing specialist Right Corecare, found that four in 10 respondents work extra hours in the office, with 21% pointing to their bosses' expectations as the main reason to do so."

The article reports, "A quarter of respondents admit to checking Facebook or surfing the net on company time, often after they have finished work, with 16% admitting they work late to be seen as hard working."

From Canada's Globe and Mail, a quick and helpful guide to picking and choosing productivity tools.

Productivity consultant Francis Wade writes, "With the flood of productivity tips and productivity tools assailing you, which ones should you choose? . . . [T]here are seven essential practices that we carry out as we do our work. Each tool should be assessed by whether it helps you to manage one or more of those steps better."

Your Message, Just Right

Get Your Message OutYou have an important message to get out. You need your clients/employees to receive that message. There are several methods to getting that message delivered.

  1. Email - this type is easy, however it requires the user to read it.Not everyone does that.Certain key points can be missed.
  2. Website/Message Board - another easy method, but also requires reading.
  3. Recording Broadcast/Conference Call - pre-record your message and make it available for your users anytime.

With a recording, you will be able to add personality and stress important points of your message. Hearing a voice is powerful and adds a personal touch to your message.Your clients/employees can listen to the recording anytime (on the road, excercising, etc). Another option is to setup an event (conference call) centered around the message. This gives you an opportunity to contact your participants and adds credibility to the event. Also, you can keep recording until the messagesounds exactly like you want it.

To accomplish this:

  1. Record your message.Useour conference bridge to pre-record what you want delivered.
  2. Setup a date/time for your conference call.
  3. Send out invites for your event.
  4. When you begin your conference, simply play the recording into the live call with the recording controls on your live call screen.

If you have additional questions, we would love to help you. Call anytime: 1.800.977.4607.