Business Innovation

Refreshing...

Refreshing...

Today, according to predictions, we will hit 112 degrees in Mesa, Arizona. The AC units are running, the kids are out of school, and the streets look like a ghost town. "Winter" is officially here. (you know that time when everyone stays indoors because of inclement weather?)

At this time of year the word "refreshing" is particularly meaningful. Whether it is a tall cool glass of lemonade or dip in a cool pool. Both bring relief from the ongoing stress of the heat.

It occurred to me recently that some people are "refreshing" as well. Just like the lemonade, they bring relief from the ongoing stress of making a business work.

These are people that just "get it". You know the ones? They seem to know what you know and you find yourself talking excitedly together and sharing ideas and experiences and just enjoying the conversation.

That's what happened when I met Adam Toren. We got together to discuss Promoterz, our online service that helps businesses give a megaphone to their happy customers, become aware of unhappy customers, and increase the happiness of all customers. As we talked it was as if we were partners working out how to help other businesses succeed. Turns out that is what Adam does.

Adam and his brother Matthew are serial entrepreneurs. Among the impressive list of their ventures is a website, YoungEntrepreneur.com. They initially created this site to help youth become entrepreneurs but over the years it has become more to mean those that are young or new at being an entrepreneur.

The site has tens of thousands of members actively participating in its forums (http://www.youngentrepreneur.com). They also have a "refreshing" blog (http://www.youngentrepreneur.com/blog) as well.

If you are a business owner sometimes what you need, besides more hours in every day, is just to be "refreshed" as you read of others shared experiences. Others who "get it". I guess it is a sort of therapy.

I enjoyed their "10 Mistakes People Make When Starting A Business" and an interview with an Ebay founder on persuing your passion. As you read you find yourself saying, yep, I remember how I learned that. But you also get reminded of things you might want to revisit and you feel more committed to succeeding.

In the end, just as you are refreshed and ready to go as you finish the last of the deliciously tart and cold lemonade, you will have some good ideas and the courage to succeed in this thing we call business.

The growth of your business will be determined by what your customers say about it. Do you know what they are saying? Learn more

The Cannonball Business Plan

The Cannonball Business Plan

Remember that old Burt Reynold’s movie Cannonball Run? It was probably just my age but at the time I thought it was pretty cool--an illegal race across the country in some very nice cars. It turns out the Cannonball Run is not just fictional. Wired Magazine recently ran a story about a guy named Alex Roy whose passion has been to break the 32 hour and 7 minute record for a coast to coast drive.

This is of course completely illegal and let me clearly state that I am not encouraging participation in this kind of activity—though it sounds kinda fun. Having said that, I think we can learn something from their experience.

Their challenge was not unlike that of every small business owner—they needed to accomplish something complex with limited resources (Their limited resource was time. Most of us are limited by funds which of course limit our time). The "Driveplan" they created impressed me. On it they listed every key milestone, targeted time of arrival, potential hazards, weather forecasts etc. Because they had this plan and knew where they were supposed to be every moment, they could immediately tell if they were in trouble and if they needed to make adjustments—including backing out.

Now compare that to your business plan. When was the last time you took it out and checked where you are against it? If you are anything like me, your business plan was something you forced yourself to put together to raise funds. Once that task was done the document went in the drawer to gather dust. Maybe that is due to the way we write the things—all that useless wordiness (kind of like this post). What if we created business plans that looked more like Alex Roy’s driveplan? Imagine clear milestones, expected results, time required, potential hazards each step of the way. Seems like if we created something like that we'd be much more likely to use it and reach our destination.

Promoterz is the hands-free, word-of-mouth marketing service that takes care of the details so you can focus on business. Learn more

Time to Pull a Few Heads?

Time to Pull a Few Heads?

I live in the arid southwestern region of the United States, Arizona, to be exact. I'm going on my third summer in my current home. The past two summers I have really struggled to keep my front lawn green. Yes, I have lawn. I know that some gravel and a few cacti would be more environmentally friendly, but a little patch of green lawn is more people friendly so I've kept it. Anyway, no matter what I did the sprinkler system for the front lawn never seemed to work right. The system uses little pop-up heads and they were constantly getting stuck, refusing to pop up and spray. Instead they would stay stuck in the down position, dribbling their water into a little puddle an d leaving the rest of the lawn to turn brown. I replaced many of them during the first two seasons thinking that they were just old and no longer worked. I also used my trimmer to shave the lawn directly around the heads thinking that maybe it was getting in the way. No good. The heads still refused to work.

This spring I decided to try a different tactic. It occurred to me that maybe the issue wasn't with the individual heads (they were all good heads) but with the overall system. More specifically, maybe I had too many heads resulting in not enough water pressure for the heads to perform correctly. I decided there would be no harm in testing that theory. I was ready to pull the whole system and start over with some different heads anyway. So I pulled 10 of the 23 heads. I pulled the heads and put a plug where they had been. I didn't move any of the remaining 13 around. I just strategically pulled 10 out of the midst of them. My lawn looks better than it has for the past 3 years! The remaining 13 heads all pop-up strong and have more than enough coverage to fill in for the 10 that are now in an old box in my garage.

What is the lesson for business? There are several, but I think the main one for entrepreneurs is to stay focused. There are a lot of opportunities out there--a lot of good opportunities--but being successful sometimes requires saying "no" even to good opportunities. So how is your focus? Too many sprinkler heads and not enough water pressure? Think about doing less--you could end up with a lot more green.

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

Customers Need Time to Learn

Customers Need Time to Learn

I had to make a late night run to our local grocery store the other night (thumb tacks for a seventh grade school project). After finding the thumb tacks I was disappointed to get to the front of the store and find that the "self-checkout" lines were closed. The only option was to go through a "normal" check out line. There was no wait but I was still disappointed.

Why is that blog worthy? Because when the self-checkout lines first got installed, I detested them. I hated that voice commanding me to put my groceries in the bag and refusing to let me do anything else until I did. I also detested having to wave my box of spaghetti (yeah, I still call it spaghetti--not pasta) five or six times over the bar code reader at every angle conceivable to get it to read. And I really hated trying to find my produce in all the little pictures (felt some kind of test).

Apparently my fellow shoppers felt the same way, because every time I was ready to check out, there were lines at the normal checkouts and nobody was using the 4 self-checkout machines. Maybe it is just me, but I hate doing nothing and I hate reading about what Brad and Angelina are doing to break Jen's heart and about who is too fat and who is too skinny. In fact, I hated it even more than the self-checkout process so I started using self checkout.

Just like anything new, there was a bit of a learning curve but it got easier. In fact, I think I can safely say I'm now as fast as Sandra down on cash register 3! Here is the amazing thing: I'm not alone. It is rare now to not see a line for the self-checkout machines. It turns out the machines gives us just what we wanted in the first place: faster checkout (or at least the perception of faster checkout).

The lessons? Well, first a better implementation of the checkout machines would probably have hastened their acceptance, but beyond that sometimes customers need time to learn and get comfortable with new innovations. Had store management reviewed the self-checkout performance after the first three months I'm sure they would have been seen as a dismal failure. Next time you're planning an innovation in your customer experience, don't forget to include learning time.

Customers who feel that you are listening to them are more likely to recommend you to a friend. How do your customers know that you are listening? Learn more

How does this work?

How does this work?

Imagine that your local grocery store just implemented some new policies. Here they are:

  • We don't want just anyone coming into our store so we are going to make all of our customers get a photo ID and we are going to check it at the door on the way in. Oh yea, and we are going to charge them $50+/year for it.
  • We are no longer going to be stocking every item. We are just going to stock whatever we want and can get a good deal on. People will have to come in and see what we have.
  • We have too many payment options. We are only going to accept American Express, our own credit card of course, and a PIN based debit card. No Visa, Mastercard or Discover card.
  • We are no longer going to give bags to our customers, in fact, we are not even going to have bags at all. We'll just use old boxes stuff came in, if we run out too bad we'll just put the groceries in their cart. Oh and we are not going to help anyone to their car, they can do it themselves.
  • We are concerned that even though we have IDs of our customers, we think they are ripping us off. So we will frisk them on the way out of the store and make sure things in their cart are on their receipt.

What do you think would happen to your local grocery store if they implemented these?

It is amazing that those policies loosely describe a very successful company that has very loyal customers, Costco.

Why does this work? Why do people do it? Is it the allure of being part of a club? Is it that it is an adventure to find out what is there and then be able to tell others about it? Is it that people like to tell others how much they saved? When I talk to people about Costco they often bring up the great food on the way out, the low gas prices, and the deal they recently found. They also always say they are saving money. A quick google search will reveal the arguable nature of that. But whether they save or not is not the point. They believe they are. Costco does that right.

I think they might qualify as one of Seth's "purple cows". They always have "deals", if you want something for less, look at costco. They don't pretend to be anything more and their customers like it that way. They know what their customers like and they give it to them. Not all people will like how they do it, but those are not the people they are after. The store is remarkable to its customers and they are always "remarking" to their friends about the deals they found. Those comments bring in other like minded folks and their business prospers.

Who are your loyal customers? What do they really like about your company and are willing to talk about? Are you trying to be all things to all people and end up not being remarkable? Discover what makes you remarkable and makes your customers talkative. It will lead to ideas on how to grow your company with a happy talkative customer base.

The average American consumer discusses brands 56 times a week. Are they discussing yours? Learn more
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