Business Opportunity

Are You Holding Your Bathroom for Ransom?

Are You Holding Your Bathroom for Ransom?

I was on the road over the weekend and found the stupid business idea of the week--no make that century. Driving on the interstate to Flagstaff, Arizona (beautiful place if you have never been there) and needed to stop for a bio break. Sign on the business establishment's front door: "Our Bathrooms are for Paying Customers Only!"

Now I know exactly where that sign came from. An employee, maybe the manager, maybe even the owner got tired of trying to keep the bathroom clean and seeing people walk in and out without buying anything. Simple conclusion and solution: "No more free loaders! The bathroom is a benefit reserved only for those people that buy! Toilet paper doesn't grow on trees! Let's get a sign up, that will save us some money and some time!" So up goes the sign telling potential customers that they are an annoyance and if they want relief, they've got to pay.

I would love to compete with the guy that made that decision. I'd make my bathrooms glisten and smell of sweet things. I'd hire a teenager to stand outside the bathroom door and hand road-weary travelers a warm towelette to refresh themselves. I'd invest in some big signs on the interstate that say "Come use our sweet smelling bathrooms--absolutely free!" Then I'd sit back and watch my suppliers try to keep up with the demand.

Would some travelers come and go without buying anything? Sure, but I would smile and thank them for using my bathroom. Why? Because I know there is no way they are going to be able to keep my remarkable bathroom a secret. When a person asks how their trip went, they are going to say, "It was long, but we found the greatest place to stop. They actually give you a warm towlette and then they thanked us for using their bathroom--and we didn't even buy anything!" And when it is time to make the return trip, where do you think they are going to stop? At my remarkable sweet-smelling bathroom and chances are this time they are going to buy a tank of gas, a bag of jerky, and a 32 oz soda!

Here is the point, whether your business is on the interstate, the internet or any location in between, the name of the game is traffic. The more people that walk through your door, the more you are going to sell. The best way to build traffic is not to hold free services for ransom. Have you ever seen anyone happy after paying a ransom--even if they get what was promised? No! More likely they feel violated and manipulated. So don't do it! Be the good guy and make more money at the same time. If you've got something free and remarkable you can offer, don't hold it ransom, get it out in front and use it to get more customers to walk through your door then make sure they have a remarkable experience. Soon your sweet-smelling bathroom will be world famous...

Find your happy customers and put a megaphone in their hand. Learn more

Listen and Grow!

Listen and Grow!

Jackie Huba from Church of the Customer, cites a study that concludes that customers that feel listened to are more likely to spread positive and unsolicited word of mouth. The study was done by Communispace, a company that creates and manages online communities. Key findings:

•82% of community members said they were more likely to recommend the company's product's than before joining the community.

•54% said they were more inclined to purchase the company's products since joining the community.

Though we've done no studies to prove it, we find the same thing to be true with our PromoterZ clients. Those companies that use the service to ask for customer feedback consistently generate more referrals than those that don't.

So do your customers feel like you are listening? Asking is certainly the first step, but I have personally completed a number of customer surveys and never felt like anyone was listening.

In my mind, the critical step to show you are listening is to respond. Simply acknowledging that you have received their feedback and are considering it will let your customers know that someone really is listening--and they in turn will start talking to others....

More happy customers. More repeat sales. More referrals. Learn more

A Better Mousetrap?

A Better Mousetrap?

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a couple of entrepreneurs that apparently came up with a better mousetrap--make that pen. For how many hundreds of years have we as human kind been using writing utensils that are straight like a stick? Been a few at least and before that the quill. Then in 1987 Colin Roche, a high school student at the time, gets sent to detention and dreams up a new design for a pen to relieve his writer's cramp (any guesses as to what he was writing 500 times?).

The first prototype was built in his dad's garage (see picture-first prototype on far left) and the company, called PenAgain, did nearly $2 million in sales last year. Now, according to the article, they've been given a shot at the big time--thirty days to prove it will sell in Wal-Mart. If 85% of the 48,000 pens ordered by Wal-Mart and placed in 500 test stores sell during the first thirty days, they are in. If not, they may stay on in some of the trial stores or be completely dropped.

Getting into Wal-Mart is a big deal. They have 138 million customers every week! Competition to get a product into that channel is stiff. According to the chain they see about 10,000 new suppliers every year. Of those only about 2% make it to the trial run stage and that is just the beginning. Suppliers to Wal-Mart have to adhere to strict packaging and shipping requirements, monitor the sales of the product in each store, and drive customers into Wal-Mart to buy the product.

So what is PenAgain planning to do to drive customers into Wal-Mart to buy their pen? Unable to afford print or TV ads they plan to do viral marketing. Over the past several years they have collected an email list of 10,000 customers who regularly buy their pens. Mr. Roche describes them as "people who really want to know what the heck is going on with us."

I hope they succeed. Next time I'm in Wal-Mart I'll look for one of their end caps and drop $3.76 to see how it works both because I'm curious but also because I learned a few things from them:

  1. It is possible to improve everyday things that we take for granted. I'll never look at a pen again the same way. A good paradigm shift.
  2. Though it would be easy to summarize this story by saying, "A kid came up with a new kind of pen while in high school detention and now it is selling in Wal-Mart," the fact is a lot more than just a better mousetrap has gone into their success so far. The article doesn't say how many small retailers they work with, but $2 million in sales is a lot of pens and I'm betting a lot of retailers. That's a lot of selling to get to this point.
  3. It doesn't matter what kind of business you are in, building a database or list of customers that want to know "what the heck is going on" with your business is vitally important. The world may not beat a path to your door if you build a better mousetrap, but your loyal customers will if you have a way to let them know. I checked out PenAgain's website, you can join their mailing list right on their front page.
  4. Public relations efforts do work. PenAgain is doing something right as far as PR goes. I was impressed they were in the Wall Street Journal, then I took a look at their site. They've been in Newsweek, Wired, Entrepreneur, and San Jose Mercury News just to name a few. Whatever they are doing, it works and their odds of selling 48,000 in the next 30 days is going up.

Innovation 101

Innovation 101

I've been doing some house repairs lately and faced one particular challenge that I think illustrates how the innovation process works, see what you think.

The Problem: Figure out a way to reduce the dust storms generated when sanding drywall "mud." This problem is especially frustrating when the mud guy (that would be me) lacks any recognizable skill, resulting in a process that must be repeated several times before arriving at an acceptable level of quality.

Constraints: This is strictly a do-it-yourself, teach-your-sons-how-to-work, project. Hiring professionals is not an option.

Any ideas? Here is what we came up with.

Idea #1: Contain the dust. Plastic sheeting is pretty cheap and we reasoned we could use it for a ground cover on future camping trips, so we bought plastic and hung it from the ceiling around the area we were preparing to sand. Remember the movie ET after the government guys moved into the house? It looked something like that.

Results: A whole lot of dust trapped in a very small space. Because the space was limited but the dust generated was not, it very quickly became impossible to even see the surface to be worked on. This, of course, added to our quality problems. Also, despite the use of breathing masks, our lungs are probably still coated with white stuff.

Idea #2: Instead of using an electric sander which generates a lot of dust and tends to "launch" the dust into the air, return to the old fashioned way and do it by hand. In theory, at least, the dust would gently fall to the ground and not coat surrounding areas.

Results: Depending on how you look at it, this is either a "wimp out" solution or a "muscle building" exercise. Either way, time commitment went way up and son involvement tended to drop off. Also, it didn't really solve the problem. Dust still settled everywhere just not at the volume or rate that the electric sander generated.

Idea #3: This idea came in the shower while attempting to wash the white dust from my hair. I tell you that only because that is where the best ideas seem to come. Here is the thought: what if you could connect the output of the electric sander to the hose of a shop vac? The dust would be whisked away before it could float or settle on anything.

Results: With the concept of attaching the sander to the shop vac in mind, the next challenge became figuring out how to hook the two together. It turns out the hose of the vacuum was of a much wider diameter than the output of the sander. We also wanted the attachment to be flexible enough so that it could handle various angles, but strong enough to keep the two firmly joined throughout the back and forth motion of sanding. Duct tape immediately came to mind. Unfortunately, my sons had recently made wallets out of duct tape and none could be found. So we settled for a masking tape prototype.

The masking tape prototype worked admirably and proved the concept. We did have to use two hands to keep the two together because the tape wasn't strong enough on its own, but the dust was immediately whisked away completely solving the original problem.

As we waited for yet another layer of mud to dry, we hit upon the idea of using an old bicycle tube to join the two together. What if we cut off a piece of the tube, attached one end to the vacuum hose and the other to the sander? Initially, we left the tube long for added reach and flexibility. But we quickly discovered that the inner tube kinked easily and blocked the air flow. We solved that problem by shortening the tube so that it was just long enough to go over the end of the vacuum hose and the output of the sander.

Eureka! The thing works like a dream. No dust launched in the air, no dust settling on the counter top. Everything goes straight in the vacuum.

Did we invent something new? Depends on how you look at it. After we got our sanding done we did a quick search and discovered several dust free sanders on the market. Everything from a hand sander that attaches to your vacuum for $17.89 to professional "systems" that cost up to $1,000. One thing we haven't found is anything that let's you hook up the electric sander you already have in your garage to the vacuum cleaner in your closet.

So how does this apply to your business? Innovation is an absolute necessity for growing a successful business, but it can be difficult to turn into a repeatable process. Here are some principles of innovation that, if applied consistently, will deliver breakthrough innovations:

  1. Identify the need clearly and in a specific way. Defining the problem may seem like a no-brainer, but it is in fact the most important step. It is best if you and the others working on the problem can experience it yourself. For example, be your own customer. See what it feels like.
  2. Identify and question your constraints. No sense wasting your time and resources on solutions that aren't an option. Having said that, don't allow assumptions to become constraints. List what you think are your constraints and then question every one of them to make sure they are real.
  3. Find as many perspectives as you can. If you think you, or anyone else in your organization, is the only source of all ideas worth pursuing you are doomed for failure. Involve everyone you can in your problem solving/brainstorming sessions and listen to what they have to say. Different perspectives combined is where the creative fireworks start.
  4. Prototype, prototype, prototype. The quicker you can try things out, the quicker you will learn and get on the right path. Many grand solutions have been planned and worked on for months or years only to find out that they will never work. The quicker you can test, the more likely you will get to a real solution quickly.
  5. Think about something different. Once you have identified the problem and spent some time trying to solve, don't be afraid to take a break. In fact, make it a point to take a break and think about something different. Our brains are amazing things. Some of the best ideas come when we're not focused directly on a problem but have thought about it and then stored it away for consideration. So go play with some toys, go for a run, take a shower, wash the dishes, mow the lawn, go for a drive. I've found routine activities that don't require my full attention provide the most fertile ground for new ideas.
  6. Have fun. As humans we do our most creative work when we are happy. Buy some toys, use crayons to doodle, do what ever it takes to remind yourself to relax and let the right side of your brain do it's work.

Oh, I almost forgot. To get your Amazing Dust-Free Sanding Coupler, send a check for $9.99 made out to Dave Free to P.O. Box....

Find your happy customers and put a megaphone in their hand. Learn more

Taking Care of the Golden Goose

Taking Care of the Golden Goose

Came upon an interesting post in the Life Insurance Agent Blog. The title of the entry is The Lie About Leads. Buying and selling leads is big business in the insurance industry. Do a Google search on "Insurance Leads" and you will see what I mean. Just like any other business, finding new customers can be an expensive and time consuming process. Here is a quick primer on lead terminology from the Life Insurance Agent blog:

Cold lead—this is worthless—it’s a name from a mailing list broker. The person may meet certain criteria—e.g., age, income or household value. Above that, it’s just a name, like a name from a phone book.

Warm lead—the person has requested information by completing a card, an Internet form or expressed interest with no coaxing. Your best prospects will always be the ones that take action on their own, with no one convincing, no coaxing, no call from a telemarketer.

Telemarketed lead. This is supposedly a warm lead with interest in meeting—they tell you that the prospect is waiting for your call. I doubt it. Few people have the time and inclination to talk to telemarketers on the phone and sales people.

Set appointment—this can be a very valuable lead but ask how the appointment was made. Did the prospect first call from an ad or direct mail offer and then a telemarketer set an appointment? That’s good because this prospect took the initiative.

I think he makes some great points but may have left off the most important lead of all: a referral from a happy customer. Even the most qualified lead listed above has no clue about you--your honesty, your integrity, your ability to deliver great service. On the other hand, a lead that comes from a happy customer, that lead comes with your customer's reputation attached. That is, your customer likes you enough that they are willing to put their reputation on the line with their friend on behalf of you and your business. Countless surveys have shown that referrals are without a doubt the most powerful influence on just about any purchasing decision.

Does that mean that there is no place for buying leads? No, not at all. Especially when you are getting started. You have to keep your funnel full. What it does mean, is that every lead that you successfully turn into a customer is a golden goose. Your highest priority should be to take care of that goose so that it continues to lay the golden eggs of referrals well into the future.

Think it doesn't work? Tyler Slade of Canyon Lands Insurance, one of our PromoterZ™ customers, gets a 9 or 10 from 95% of his clients when asked how likely it is they would recommend him to a friend. Not surprisingly, he has received referrals from 60% of his clients. It works.

So here is my blatant PromoterZ plug: Apply some modern technology to your client care tools to make sure your geese are being well tended. PromoterZ™ will make sure they are happy, send information to them regularly, send them a birthday greeting, and collect referrals. Check it out: www.promoterz.com. End of blantant plug.

Do you remember your customers on their birthday? On their anniversary? Do you give special notice to recently acquired customers? Promoterz does. Learn more
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We search the business blog world looking for posts that illustrate principles, or "Seeds", that if followed, or "planted", will help small businesses grow. We list them here for your convenience. Enjoy.

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