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CNNMoney on Innovation: Too Simplistic February 27, 2009

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, Innovation: Not Just for the Big Dogz, Retailer Store Strategies.
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David DirksThe headline on this CNNMoney posting dated February 26th, 2009 read, “On sale: Your brillant invention”.  The gist of this article is that some businesses, particularly retailers and some manufacturers, are scrambling to find the next ‘great product’ or invention that will help them manage their way through slow retail sales and worsening economy.  It suggests that businesses should be ‘mining the masses for fresh ideas’.  It also suggests  that you ask you customers for their ideas, which is always a good start.

But do you know what I call this?  I call it ‘drive-by-innovation’ as in ‘drive-by-shooting’.  While I applaud the note that businesses should be creating ways to innovate on services and products they provide their customers, it leaves the reader thinking it’s easy.  It isn’t easy.  And asking your customers might make sense on one level, you miss another level entirely.

I’ve been studying innovation and the Big Dogz who do it well, both large and small, for many years now.  I can assure you that truly innovative businesses have something the others don’t: a deep and binding organizational comittment to innovation.  From top to bottom and bottom to top, innovative companies have integrated the basis for innovation deep into the culture and roots of their organization.

To think that you can haul in some customers, get some ‘ideas’, and create something someone will want to pay for is woefully too simplistic!  Yes, talking to your customers is a good place to start but only a small piece of a larger innovation pie.

The long shot here is that you’ll actually find an idea that makes sense to develop.  The next long shot is figuring out how to go from idea to actual product or service.  If innovation was as easy as asking your customers for ideas, everyone would do it, right?  Please, my head hurts from thinking about this simplistic mindset.

Surely we encourage businesses of all sizes to innovate.  A truly innovative business has the capability of generating a consistent stream of product and service innovations on a regular basis.  It has the ability to bring them to market and make a profit.

Doing anything less will leave your business and your customers wondering what went wrong.

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Beating A Recession – 12: Blow Up the Brick & Mortar! February 23, 2009

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, e-Small Business Resources, Increasing Your Profitability, Innovation: Not Just for the Big Dogz, Recession: How to Beat It!, Retailer Store Strategies, Sales Strategy/Tactics.
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David DirksWant to save a significant amount of annual expense and increase your profitability…and lower your cost of goods and services so you can remain competitive?  Sure you do.  However, many of us are still married to the concept of having a retail or service space to conduct business. I’m challenging that right here and now.

First, instead of investing dollars in ‘brick and mortar’ retail or service space, invest heavily in transferring your ‘place of business assets’ to your website and create an intranet that allows your employees to work remotely.

The growing trend is for businesses to move their infrastructure investments into creating a better user experience on the web and being able to conduct their business via the web.  Invest and make your website so customer-friendly and seamless to use (navigation and purchase-orientations) that you no longer relay on a ‘physical’ presence in order to be able to conduct business.

Case in point.  I have a friend of mine who recently decided to close down her retail shop that sold hiking and camping equipment.  It wasn’t too long ago that she had expanded her ‘brick and mortar’ presence to increase her retail space.  Then the economy took a hit and gas prices jumped.  She then decided to close the retail business.  However, she didn’t give up.  She had maintained that retail space for over 10 years and had built up relationships with her customers, who were both local and national.  She already had a pretty good website that contained excellent information of value to her customer base.  On top of that, she and her husband have a gigantic amount of expertise (intellectual capital) built up based on years of experience in the outdoors.  Why waste those assets just because the retail space was bleeding the business?

So she decided to invest time into expanding their website so that customers were still able to come and tap into their expertise and knowledge but also make purchases on the web. She is in the process of transforming her business onto the web and creating a customer experience that made them popular for many years.  Note: She’s still refining the website to her satisfaction so I promised her that I wouldn’t reveal it.  Once she is operational, you’ll hear about it via this blog.

Before you say, “So what? Isn’t everybody doing that?”…the answer is no, few local business invest in creating a robust and powerful web vehicle to sell their expertise and products.

Sure, most businesses have a website (and there are a bunch that still don’t!) but the website was usually built as cheaply as possible.  Some are just awful and look like they were pasted on construction paper then slapped on the web (I wouldn’t bother then).

Here are a few things I want you to consider, even though it might creep you out to think of operating your business from your website:

1.  Can I sell what I’m selling now without having to carry the burden of a retail or office space? The common reaction is, “what?  and have no place for my customers to touch and feel the product?”.  Yup…that’s exactly right.

Let’s say you own a health food store.  Banishing the ‘brick and mortar’ seems like a trick, right?  I’m mean, customers are used to coming in and asking you what you recommend for this or that issue that affects them, right?  People like the personal service and the expertise you might have in the area of health foods and herbs that are designed to help with an ailment of some kind.

What if you could create that same personalized experience on your website?  What if you had the ability for people to ask you the same questions in realtime…both online and the phone?  You could ‘chat’ with them and make a few product recommendations.  Then they can purchase your goods either right from your easy to use and super secure website or via phone order.

2. Let’s take a shot at a service based business. No products but selling services.  Let’s say you are a CPA and have a few partners with some additional specialty accountants on the staff.  Most firms of this description would rather jump in front of a moving bus before giving up the office space.  What are they spending on space?  $3,000…$5,000 a month? Whatever it is, it’s a pretty hefty sum and doesn’t include the utility bills, liability insurance, etc.  that tack on additional expense.

Who said you have to carry expensive office space?  You do.  However, I’ll bet most of your business is conducted by phone and you probably meet them at their place of business for the face-to-face meetings that are needed (and sometimes necessary).  But what if you invested instead on the infrastructure that allowed your partners and other expert staff to work from the comfort of their own homes?  Shocking, huh?  I understand that nervous twitch you just got from the thought but I have to tell you that this kind of transfer of ‘conduct of business’ is already underway.

Listen folks, the technology is already here that allows you to work remotely and securely from any location that has access to high-speed internet.

What I’m suggesting here is that you close down your offices and work from a distributive environment.  Need to house files?  Sure.  You could still maintain some dramatically limited office space if you need to house phyisical files?  But what if you optically scanned those docs and made them available on a securely-accessed site, so you peeps could still work?  Yes you can.

I’m hard pressed to find too many businesses that couldn’t make this change from ‘brick and mortar’ retail or office space to a web-based, distributive work environment.

Let’s take a quick look at just a few of the key advantage:

1.  Dramatically reduced expenses (after an initial investment for upgrading your distributive work environment and your website experience) means you have more capital to work.  Freeing up cashflow is critical in any economy, let alone this one we’re in now.

2.  Lower operating expenses means you can re-direct those funds to build up cash reserves, lower you cost of goods/services, hire more people, and expand your product/service offerings without worrying about the cost of doing these same expansions with the limitations of the usual retail or office space.  Note: unless you can arrange drop shipping directly from the manufacturer or distributor of your products, you will of course need to access some physical storage space for warehousing and distribution of product to customers.  Usually that kind of space requirement is far less expensive to maintain than a premium retail space.

3.  No geographic limitations anymore.  Wow.  This is my favorite one of all.  The infrastructure investments you make to create a website that is customer-centric, user-friendly and seamlessly allows people to buy from you means you can do business any where in the world.  Think of that kind of website married to a distributive work environment takes the shackles off your ‘local’ business.  You’re not local anymore.

4.  You can now take the infrastructure savings of reduced or eliminated reliance on ‘brick and mortar’ and apply that to a powerful and robust marketing budget to expand both your ‘local’ and web-wide ability to sell products and services.

Take a white sheet paper out and begin thinking through how you could design a way to conduct business without the ‘brick and mortar’.  Force yourself to think it through with the attitude of “How can I do this” versus “How many excuses for not doing it can I come up with?”.

In succeeding postings we’ll take a look at some businesses that have been doing just this…and doing it well.

Beating a Recession -11 February 18, 2009

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, Buzz Marketing: Lowest Cost/Highest Payoff, Public Relations Strategies, Recession: How to Beat It!, Sales Strategy/Tactics.
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David DirksWhat if you could develop a product that could create excitement in your business and elevate your status as an expert in your field?  What if that product could be profitable and help you to get into the door for new business?  And, what if I told you that most of your competition, bar none, might think about it but never really execute on it.  Would you be interested in that?

You should be.  I don’t care if you’re a retailer or service-based provider, you can do more with that stuff that’s in your head.

Are you ready for the product?  Here it is:  write and publish a book. I can’t think of a better way to promote your and your business than by sharing it with customers and future customers.  I know and you know plenty of people who have a great body of knowledge but it’s all locked up in their heads.  In 99.9 percent of the time, it will never see the light of day in a book.  That’s completely your advantage if you commit  and invest the time to write and publish one.

“But I don’t know how or have the time to write a book”, someone might say.  From my perspective, you can’t afford NOT to do it.  In most cases, you can self-publish your book without spending a fortune on it.  As a matter of fact, with print-on-demand publishing capabilities today, almost anyone can publish a book.  I suggest you look at POD publishers like BookSurge (www.booksurge.com).

Let’s get one thing clear here: writing a book is not easy at all.  It takes a commitment of time and intellectual capital from you.  I know because I’ve already written three books and have more on the way.  It takes time and effort to produce a product you’ll be proud to showcase.

The rewards for the effort you make to publish your expertise are excellent.  First, I can almost guarantee that most business owners will never publish a book.  Might talk a good game but won’t do it.  A few might even atttempt it but never finish it.

A book that shares your expertise is a market differentiator.  If you’re looking for a way to survive in the long run and create some separation from you and your competition, write and publish a book.

I have a good friend of mine who is in the herbal business.  He’s already written two books that he sells at an amazing profit margin and he has created for himself a recognition for his expertise.  He promotes his business and his expertise everywhere he goes.  It clearly separates him from the crowd.

I don’t care what business you are in…you can do this.  Landscaping business?  Write a book about tips for keeping your yard looking like a million dollars.  CPA advisory firm?  If you haven’t written a book on a multiple number of topics to help your customers already, shame on you.  Own a resturant?  Share your favorite recipes and tricks/tips for making meals at home that are “5 Star Quality” but economical.  Own a heating business?  Graphic artist?  Whatever business, you need to consider writing and publishing a book.

“But I don’t know how to write”.  Then find someone who can write and help you develop an outline and draft.  If you want to do it bad enough, you’ll find someone who will help.  There are too many tools available out there to help you publish a book (and most are free).

Differentiate yourself from the crowd by sharing and selling your expertise.  I know it won’t solve your immediate problem of dealing with a slowdown in business but the investment of time will pay off in the long run.  Trust me on this, your competition isn’t going to do it.

Beating a Recession – 10 February 17, 2009

Posted by David Dirks in Recession: How to Beat It!, Retailer Store Strategies, Sales Strategy/Tactics, Small Business Advertising.
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David DirksI’ve written quite a bit about the fact that now is the time to keep some marketing and promotional steam instead of slashing and burning your marketing budget.  This time I thought we’d take a stab at how to bring some discipline to a marketing spend.  I would never advocate spending valuable dollars willy-nilly on just whatever strikes our fancy.

Here are my thoughts on marketing spend:

In-store merchandising: For most retailers, this is worth spending some money on but only if you are committed to keeping it fresh.  Stale merchandising signage is a quick way to see your sales go stale too.  If you have foot-traffic, make sure your in-store merchandising catches the eye and helps to create a sale. Keep it fresh but don’t go crazy and think you have to change it everyday or every week. Change up your merchandising schematic to keep your store looking fresh and a bit different for customers.

Promotional Items: Depending upon your business, most promotional items, which includes everything from branded pens to elaborate tool-like items, are not worth the money you spend on them.  I recently read an article written by someone who owns a promotional items firm.  The title of the article was something about ‘getting an ROI from promotional items’ or words to that effect.  I read the article and was left empty.  The article could give you all kinds of reason for buying promo items for your business but not one way to measure the “ROI”.  You know why?  You can’t very well measure the ROI of promotional items.

Look, here’s the deal: people will decide to do business with you because you offer them something they want or need at a price they are willing to pay…not because you gave them a pen.  When was the last time you bought something and could even remotely connect your purchase to the premium your received?  That’s what I thought.

Instead of buying premiums to ‘promote’ your business or brand, how about investing that money in more advertising or targeted direct mail instead?

Trade-shows: Whether you continue to invest in trade shows is really dependent on two things:  1) the type of business your are in and 2) whether you are able to track the results.  Some businesses, especially business who sell products or services to other businesses, trade shows are very important.

Here are my rules on tradeshows:

1.  It has to be a well-attended, well-promoted tradeshow.  Well-attended as defined as both currrent and potential customers.  Only do the best tradeshows and leave the marginal ones to everyone else.

2. Have a booth that is a magnet for data.  Design your booth so that people will be interested to stop by.  I don’t care if you have a gimmicky game they can play to win a prize or what.  What you’d better do is collect name, email, phone numbers, etc. from everyone you meet.  It works like this: Want to play our great game or win the iPod Nano?  Then give me your information please.

Advertising:  If you’ve been advertising for some time, you should have a good record of which media (print, radio, local TV, etc.) are the most effective for you.  Cut out everything else that isn’t effective.  If you haven’t kept records on your advertising performance, I can’t help you.

Here are my rules for advertising:

1.  If you can’t maintain a reasonable amount of frequency, don’t bother.  If you think running 2 ads a month in your daily paper will help, you’re wrong.

2. Every ad is trackable (in print in particular).  Make sure you offer the customer something in it and they have to bring the ad into the store to get the offer.

3.  Focus on the benefits of doing business with you, not the features.  In my area, there is one indoor shooting range.  The seem to be doing things right buy maintaining a very good frequency in their advertising and sometimes taking premium (like front page) positions.  Good except that they missed the boat to a degree.  Outside of explaining how nice and big their range is, they are flat.  How about a special offer to first time customers?  Or a coupon for X% off on your first purchase?  Maybe a special intro class for those interested in the shooting sports?

4.  Avoid free circulation media.  Everybody seems to like the paper that offers those great ad sizes for almost nothing.  You know why it’s almost nothing?  Because they can’t guarantee anyone is reading the thing.  If a publication has free circulation, run away.  It’s a mass-market rag that is more expensive than it sounds.   Why?  Because the sound you hear in the background are the crickets, not sales.

There’s more to advertising than this but this is a good start.

Direct mail: Do you capture the name, email, and mailing addresses of every customer for every purchase?  No?  Why?  Takes too much time?  Most retailers and other businesses fail this test miserably.  If you want to keep your current customers, one of the best ways is to communicate with them frequently enough where they remember you.

Here’s a case in point.  I recently purhased some furniture at a local store near my home.  It happens to be the place where we have purchased almost everything we own from them over time.  Yes, we check everyone else out but we come back to this store and end up getting better quality at a better price.  We’ve spent literally thousands of dollars there over the years and you know what?  They don’t know us.  They know where we live and have our address but don’t do anything with it?  How about a quarterly newsletter that had tips and ideas on room decoration and furniture care?  Some smart-aleck will say:  they don’t need a newsletter if you’re already coming back to buy from them?  Sure, that’s me but what about the customer sales they lose because they weren’t ‘top of mind’ when it came to a purchase?

So, do this:

1. Capture your customer data at the point of sale.  Most businesses I know miss this one completely.

2. Send them something that keeps your  name in front of them with enough frequency to stick.  I like newsletters (mailed or emailed) but you could do well with a simple postcard with some special messaging sent out once every quarter.

3. Work with a good graphic designer who can help you design direct mail items that are professional looking.  Unless your are a graphic designer, don’t try to save a few bucks here.

4.  Make your direct mail efforts trackable.  If you can’t track it, don’t do it.

Strategies for dealing with conflict February 11, 2009

Posted by rickbron in Bronder On People.
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War! Fight! Battle! Yuck!  We often associate these words with conflict. It is not surprising that the number one response to conflict is to avoid it. However, there are actually five different strategies for dealing with conflict.

 

  1. Avoid — run away, forget about it, hope it will go away
  2. Attack — lash out at the conflict, counter with aggressive behavior, try to destroy it
  3. Resolve — investigate the source, invoke problem solving skills, try to find a solution that works
  4. Prevent — anticipate potential conflict and take action to prevent it. This strategy is different than avoid since we are being proactive. It is preemptive resolution!
  5. Walk away — this conflict does not involve me or my goals, it is not important to me, I will not engage and will let it go

 

What are some of the implications of each of the conflict handling strategies?

 

Avoid

Lost productivity — both yours and others

Lost time spent talking about the conflict

Loss of respect by complaining about the conflict

Inappropriate action because you believe you were “hurt”

Trying to get even

Building up your emotions until some small event sets you off

 

Attack

Strained relationships

Win-lose mentality

Less than optimum solutions

High stress

Less professional

Defensiveness

 

Resolve

Higher quality solutions

Faster time to market

Less cost

Better relationships

Less stress

Higher energy

 

Prevent

High quality solutions

Respect

Leadership

Loyalty

Personal power

Cooperation

 

Walk away

Stay focused on what is important to me

Effective use of my time

Less involvement in arguments

Positive reputation

 

 

Which strategy is best for you? Well, that depends upon the conflict. The first step is to recognize there is actually a conflict! Conflict is easy to spot. We can sometimes see it, hear it or just plain sense it. The Big Dogz do not involve themselves unnecessarily in conflict. The question they ask when they encounter conflict is this one:

 

Do I have a dog in this fight?

 

Is this issue important to me? Do I want to spend the time and energy required to resolve this conflict?

 

If the answer is “no”, they use the walk away strategy. Walk away is different than avoid because in addition to putting it behind them, they also forget about it.

 

If the answer is “yes”, then the Big Dogz determine what the best strategy to use is. Here are some guidelines for selecting a strategy:

 

If you do not have a long-term relationship with this person, use the avoid strategy. Try to convince yourself that using walk away would be better for you. Continued use of the avoid strategy can result in damage to you.

 

If you have a long-term relationship with this person, then the resolve strategy is optimum.

 

If the resolve strategy does not work and the issue is very important to you, then go ahead and use the attack strategy.

 

If you anticipate possible conflict with a person, use the prevent strategy.

 

One of the characteristics that separate the Big Dogz from others in dealing with conflict is that they make a conscious decision on what strategy they will use to handle the conflict.

 

What strategies are you using to deal with conflict?

Innovation in the Newspaper Business – 1 February 7, 2009

Posted by David Dirks in Increasing Your Profitability, Innovation: Not Just for the Big Dogz, Recession: How to Beat It!, Sales Strategy/Tactics.
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David DirksFor quite some time now, I’ve been watching and musing over the struggle that the newspaper publishing business is going through.  Craigslist has usurped the leading role  of providing classified advertising that the newspaper once held.  They’ve done that by providing free classified ads that actually work.  They are geographically specific and apparently people read them…online that is.

Is online the answer?  Well, I’m not so sure about that in the sense that newsprint websites haven’t solved the revenue and profitability issues…at least not yet.  I was talking to a friend of mine recently who was on the mark when he said: newspapers had a huge window of opportunity to get into the web business years ago but they by and large left it behind.  It was a big window of opportunity that has since been taken over by blogs and other free portals to news like CNN, CNBC, and the like with their online websites.

What’s left?  Well, I think the win in publishing is this: don’t look for a big hit to bring revenues and profitability home.  Everybody seems bent in the industry to find the holy grail that will revitalize the publishing business model.  I have news for you: there is no such thing as a ‘big hit’ here.  The victory in the newspaper business I believe will come from incremental successes.  The victory will be many pieces of the revenue puzzle all coming together to create a healthier publishing model for the newspaper business.

What incremental pieces?  Already in play is the newspaper website that is tightly integrated with the print version and produces some level of revenues.  The cost to publish online should in fact be quite minimal compared to the infrastructure necessary to print a paper.  Selling advertising on both platforms has been well underway for a while now.  Not enough to rebuild the business model but important nonetheless.

What else can you sell if you’re in the newspaper business?  Try this one on for size: CONTENT.  Newspapers produce a ton of content daily, weekly, etc.  The current business model is publish today and forget tomorrow. 

There is always some excellent journalism that gets forgotten and never reused in any purposeful way as soon as the next edition hits the newstands.

Purposefully repackaging selected content is another way to create increment revenues and profits.  You already paid for journalists to create the copy that drives the content.  Why not get additional mileage from it?

How?  How about creating and selling special hard and softcover editions of specialized topics?  What editions?  How about “The HS Sports Year in Review 2008”?  Or “The Year in Review 2009 for (name your town/city here)”?  You could probably find many other specialized areas of interest that could be repackaged and sold in another format.  People like to see and hear about themselves, their local sports team,  in the newspaper?  What kid or parent wouldn’t want to buy the the “The Hudson Valley Sports Review 2008?” as a momento or gift?  With print-on-demand technology today, you don’t even need to keep a large inventory of these specialized editions.

I like the local sports repackaging.  You have basically 365 days of sports content and surely you can find enough great stories to fill a book.

You could also produce other digital products.  Many newspapers today use video to record special events and newsworthy items.  That content is repurposed mostly for the newspaper website.  But who says you can’t produce a ‘year in review’ dvd?  Same concept as the book only this time your adding live footage of sports and news events of the year…couple with some great photography.  What a great way to repackage video footage and digital photographs?  I’ll bet you could create a great ‘year in review’ just based on photography alone!

Yes, it’s the ‘Time-Life” version of repackaging great content to sell another day!

Repurpose your content.  Newspapers are great researching and writing it.  Let’s not waste the work of the excellent journalists who toil to create it.  Repackage and repurpose everything!

What do you think?  Am I crazy?  Let me know your thoughts!

Tips to survive a layoff February 3, 2009

Posted by rickbron in Bronder On People, business strategy, Confidence, Dealing with change, Getting what you want, Performance issues.
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Are you worried about your job? The Big Dogz know that sometimes it is just a matter of the economy, but you can take steps to improve your chances of keeping your job. Of course, you need to be a good performer to be considered a “keeper”.  When it comes time to decide who stays and who goes, here are some strategies that can help you keep your job.

 

Pay attention to the small stuff

It may not seem important that you get to work a little earlier or stay a little later than others, but your boss will notice it. Look for opportunities to make observations at meetings — observations that add value. Keep the boss thinking about how much value you add. If you have been delivery near perfect results, focus on that last little bit to make your deliverables perfect. Anticipate questions before you talk to the boss. It is much more powerful to have an answer than to say you have to check it out.

 

Be a financial resource

In these tough times, the focus is on money. How do we make more of it and how do we spend less of it. When you are the employee making suggestions on how to reduce costs or to generate more revenue, management views you as a team player that is part of the solution; not someone we need to layoff. Look around you. Where is the waste? Where can we do it cheaper? What new markets can we go into? Once you identify some money, let the boss know the opportunity, the result and the process for doing it. It is even better if you present the results already implemented!

 

Display a positive attitude

Things are tough; everyone is depressed. Nobody likes depressed. Start looking at the positives around you. Frame problems as opportunities. Provide creative solutions to those opportunities. When faced with a difficult challenge, respond with what you can do, not with what you cannot do. Focus on associating with positive people; avoid the negative folks. When people start complaining, find a reason to go somewhere else. I am not suggesting you be Captain Sunshine or Pollyanna, but be a positive force. You will find others associating with you. People will follow your lead. The boss will notice it!

 

Pump up your skills and credentials

Now is the time to take that evening course or to get certified in your profession. If you have some special knowledge, prepare a short presentation and invite people to a lunch time session to share your knowledge. Create a “best practices” group with your peers. If you work in a global company, learn a second language so that you become more valuable. If you have skills that are not normally used on your job, offer to use these skills at work. If you are the treasurer of the local PTO, then you could help your manager with the budget. The more skills you have, the more valuable you are to the boss.

 

Expand your job

Management is asking everyone to do more. This situation is an opportunity for you. Not only do you want to take on more responsibility when asked, you want to look for opportunities where you can take on more responsibility. Especially important are those critical functions that no one else wants to do. However, management will notice any activity that you perform outside of your responsibility.

 

Take credit

You can do all of these things, but if nobody notices, you are just like everyone else! Let management know you are taking action to increase your value. Let them know you are taking evening classes to sharpen your skills. Too often, we feel it is immodest to take credit. Taking credit can be the difference between having a job and looking for a job.

 

The Big Dogz assume a proactive role in keeping their job. You can also. If you have any other tips to help keep your job, please send them to me and I will publish them here.

 

rbronder@gmail.com