December 20, 2011

ARE YOU SICK OF SOCIAL MEDIA TOO?

can't take any more
Would you attend a session on how to use an air conditioner (or question the ROI)? Stay cool when it’s hot! How about a workshop on five reasons to get a mobile phone? Make calls wherever you are! How about an all day course on how to use email? No more stamps to lick!

We take those things for granted.

Social media has become routine for me (and perhaps you?). It's part of daily business life — like checking email and answering phone calls. And air conditioning (though not in the Canadian winter).

Skeptics

If you're unconvinced about the merits of social media, maybe you’re a late adopter. Think back. How quick were you to
  • get an email address?
  • put your email address on your business card?
  • answer email from your smartphone?
That's fine. Innovation isn't for all. Not everyone wants to explore or risk making mistakes in public. Some people aren't generous.

Social media is the best tool to demonstrate consistent persistent generosity to the world. You can't fake this for long and quitters are easily spotted. When the focus is on sharing for free, does the question of ROI arise?

Converts

If you "get" the benefits of generosity, you just need to use the tools. As with exercise and diet, good habits take time to develop and discipline to maintain.

The real benefits come after mastery. The real opportunities arise after you routinely use tools like LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs, Facebook, YouTube, Meetup and Google Plus. You can then think about what's next now that your clients' expectations have changed.

This Year

This year I wrote about social media extensively because I was doing live presentations on the "why". That was my final attempt to convince the skeptics and congratulate the converts. I've got speaking engagements for the next four months and am not seeking any more.

It's time to move on. I'm not planning any more posts specifically about social media. That's my New Year's Resolution. Let's see if it sticks.

This is the final post of 2011.

The best to you and yours during the holidays.
May your 2012 be swell, swell, swell!

Links

These posts from 2008 and later are related to social media.
  1. How can your clients find you?
  2. How to organize your events like Harvard and IBM
  3. Create your web presence in three easy steps
  4. Why Twitter finally makes sense for your business
  5. Two simple steps to endless referrals
  6. Where’s your Google Profile?
  7. A proven technique to expand your LinkedIn network
  8. How to apply consistent persistent generosity
  9. Measurement matters: Free tools
  10. The easiest way to catch up with social media as the web fades in importance
  11. Picking the best medium for your message
  12. How to hire a social media expert
  13. Make your views public to stand out
  14. LinkedIn’s Jonathan Lister discusses social media
  15. The ROI on social media, reputation and a hungry rabbit
  16. Building trust with social media (video)
  17. Arranging the perfect social media workshop
  18. Signs of the wrong social media expert
  19. Are you a parrot or a pundit?
  20. Building trust with blogging at Word11
  21. How much time does social media take each week?
  22. How many explorers discovered you today?
  23. image courtesy of Martin Walls (UK)
PS If you're not a social media master, the holidays are a great time to catch up.

December 13, 2011

HOW MANY EXPLORERS DISCOVERED YOU TODAY?

attracting explorersThe days of explorers on the quest for uncharted lands have passed. Now a search takes an Internet connection and a comfortable chair. Progress!

Now that sites encourage visitor comments, you'll discover people everywhere. You may be attracted by a particular person’s photo or message. A quick click shows you more about them. Maybe you’d like to stay in contact?

Maybe they’d like to stay in touch with you/

Found

In the beginning, there’s satisfaction in getting discovered. Over time, the “gee whiz” fades. Traffic is good but for results, you want the right explorers to discover you.

Some techniques help you get found. Analytics show you which ones. The problem is that you rarely know who your visitors are. That’s where LinkedIn helps. You can see who some of the explorers (more with a paid account) and then visit their profiles. Maybe you’d like to stay in touch with some of them.

Hello

Can you reach out to them? They will appreciate this and often say yes. I've experimented on LinkedIn and still find that over 91% of my requests to connect are accepted by strangers. What do they know about me? Little beyond what my profile shows.

If they visited my profile and then I invite them, the rate is still 100.0%. It's as if they are happy that I took the time to reach out. Some say they wanted to contact me but were reluctant. Some of these connections even led to business, though that was not the goal. It's a nice side benefit, though.

Pruning

Since my LinkedIn network has grown larger than intended. I’ve taken steps to show up in fewer searches. For instance, I’ve removed some keywords and made my profile more specific.

Since we’re judged by the company we keep, I’ve started pruning and pulling out weeds. Here are examples of disappointing behaviour that’s likely to break a connection without warning:
  • too salesy: their goal is to take money from your wallet and fast
  • lack of generosity: they don’t helping others by curating or creating original content (neither parrots nor pundits)
  • inconsistency: they start and then quit
  • incompetence: they say things that are incorrect or misleading
There are exceptions for most silent connections. They aren’t doing anything offensive. They aren’t doing much at all. Some may be strategic. Others may eventually start sharing. You may have different criteria.

What are you doing to attract and get discovered by the right explorers?

Links

PS If you’re uncharted territory, leave clues for the explorers ... unless you don’t want more business.

December 6, 2011

FIVE PRESENTATION LESSONS FROM SETH GODIN

Seth Godin autographing Poke The Box at The Art of Sales (Nov 22, 2011)
 In less than two years, I've seen Seth live four times: twice in New York City and twice in Toronto (most recently at The Art of Sales on November 22nd). That's more than I've seen any other speaker.  I didn't buy any t-shirts but did pick up five presentation lessons we can use. Here they are:
  1. recycle
  2. show
  3. give
  4. inspire
  5. follow-up
Need more detail? Read on.

Recycle

When you see Springsteen, you expect to hear Born To Run (and do). Seth doesn't have such a staple. I don't think he mentioned Purple Cow at all but he did wear a purple tie. Yet Seth reused some content and slides. That's because they are still effective.

In contrast, other presenters recycled out of laziness. Keith Ferrazzi yakked about his tough upbringing which was unmoving in his 2005 book Never Eat Alone. Sally Hogshead again used vile-tasting J├Ągermeister as mildly amusing filler (video clip). In each case, we can predict the outcomes. Wake me up when you’re done.

Seth’s content improves with age. He's building on what worked before and is still relevant for tomorrow. You get a sense of continuity and see his growth. He's certainly not in a rut or out of ideas.

Do you recycle — and for the right reasons?

Show

Seth uses lots of visuals (mainly photos) and many stories. He has the knack of connecting what seems disparate into a larger theme. That shows craftsmanship. The visuals don't always match what he's saying but add to the effect. Either the slides play by themselves (which seems unlikely) or Seth practices a lot.

Seth uses very few slides with words. Compare that with typical business presentations where the slides with visuals are rare (and rarely effective).

You'll see Seth's style in this TED Talk about the tribes we lead.


Are your presentations engaging and easy to follow?

Give

We remember generosity (and notice the absence).

Jerry Greenfield of Ben and Jerry's was the final speaker. He talked about how giving the company was but what did he give us that a video recording would not? He could have wowed us by handing out free ice cream. That would have been unexpected and appreciated. Think of the word of mouth. How much does ice cream cost when you buy in bulk from your own factory?

Seth gave us brain food. Our souvenir was a hardcover copy of Poke The Box (Amazon.com). Isn't that brilliant? You're not going to throw the book away. You'll probably show it to others. Once you've read it, maybe you'll pass it on. In the worst case, you can re-gift it.

Also, Seth took questions from the audience for about 30 minutes. Interaction brings a session alive and shows whether the speaker is also a thinker.

How do you show your generosity beyond what’s expected?

Inspire

You need excellent content that’s fresh and delivered in a way no one else can match. Seth does research (and gives credit) but what you see is his unique creation.

In the corporate world, I used to develop presentations that the marketing team could use across the country. Since the slides were also the speaker notes and the handouts, the content was a tad bland and corporate. I then started creating presentations with zing that only I could deliver. This was much better for the company and me (except for the travelling).

Do you inspire? How do you know if you are?

The Art Of Sales schedule (Nov 22, 2011)Follow-up

The follow-up is where presenters usually flop. The messages they bring are easily forgotten, especially when they're part of a daylong speaker series. If your goal is to take the money and skedaddle, that's fine. If your goal is to truly help people, you need a follow-up system. No, I don't mean a seminar or book. Something free.

Seth blogs daily. His content is there waiting. If you're interested, you subscribe. He has no mechanism to put you on a mailing list because he doesn't have one. Seth had no slide with contact info. If you want to reach him, you must be interested enough to do a web search. Tough huh? In contrast, Keith Ferrazzi was trying to build a database via email and texting.

What do you offer for follow-up that's free and opt-in?

Overall, Seth gave another excellent presentation. I especially liked his hidden lessons on presenting.

Links

PS Which amazing speakers have you seen lately (live or online)?

November 29, 2011

THE STEP BEFORE YOUR MARKETING

queue lineup crowd 500x500
From the outside, marketing looks like magic, especially using social media.

It's a snap to create newsletters but you don't have permission to send them to strangers.

It's easy to create a website or blog but you need fresh compelling content to attract traffic.

You can create tweets in seconds but you can't make anyone get them.

You might nab media mentions but how do you leverage that recognition unless you have a proven deliverable?

Poof

Some companies get amazing results with little effort. Or so we like to think. A firecracker creates a bang but extinguishes quickly.

As the boy who cried wolf learned, when you get attention the first time, you better deliver. Earning revenue takes ongoing attention and that takes a strategy.

The Trap

You first need to know you have a product or service for which there is
  • actual demand (e.g., peace of mind), or
  • latent demand (e.g., iPad)
Self-deception is the trap. You think you’d wow the world ... if only they knew what you have. Not quite. Your target market often has reasonable-to-them options like doing nothing or using your competitors. Those options make your marketing tougher to develop.

There are lots of great ideas. Some are even executed well. That doesn't guarantee success or a sustainable competitive advantage. The Apple iOS used on iPods, iPhones and iPads works extremely well. Despite recent innovations like iCloud, Android is catching up. Casual users already seem indifferent.

You can't tell predict what will work. Even Hollywood makes flops. Monty Python's cheese shop (YouTube) was the cleanest but that’s not want customers wanted.

In The Beginning

In the beginning, marketing is about watching and listening. You absorb information. You think about your message and then develop one. This is when you create the branding basics to look legitimate (e.g., brand, logo, business cards, website).

Once you have a prototype that seems to work, you’re still not ready to start your marketing campaign. You don’t yet have independent external evidence of success.

Focus Groups

You can take the focus group route if you have the time, money and believe the results. Would a focus group predict the success of smartphones, Starbucks or Facebook? Even working prototypes may not be enough for them to tell.

How we behave in theory is not how we behave in real life. The focus group is not actually buying with their own money, which limits the value of their opinions. They could even be paid. Your real customers might not be the target you envisioned. How would you include them in a focus group?

Field Testing

Another approach — the one I use — is to field test your prototype and fine tune. Start with prospects or influencers you know. See who will pay you with attention. Next make or initiate several sales. You now have promising signs of success.

If you provide a service, it might close to what your competitors have or could easily copy. If you claim you’re superior, you’re like Rogers vs. Bell. No one wins. Finding the right positioning is challenging and may take iterations before you explain how you’re different.

You’re now ready to scale up your marketing with interviews, articles, blogs, tweets and maybe even advertising.

The Risk

A wind-proof fire starts with a spark but you first need to prepare and get the timing right. Marketing takes savvy — and something worth marketing.

Links


PS Best wishes with your initiatives

November 22, 2011

THE MYTH OF SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION

SEO and youSearch engines work hard to give us relevant results to our queries. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) uses techniques to get your content ranked higher. Doesn't that mean you are trying to trick Google?

Guess who will win? Google is on the constant lookout for attempts at manipulation and punishes abusers. Your penalty might be invisibility.
Deciding to hire an SEO is a big decision that can potentially improve your site and save time, but you can also risk damage to your site and reputation. Make sure to research the potential advantages as well as the damage that an irresponsible SEO can do to your site. — Google
I keep seeing people claiming they are experts in SEO. Their presentations make SEO look
  • complicated which implies you need to hire them
  • slow which means you need to hire them for six months are more

Other Ways

There three free ways to rank high in search results in your niche
  1. create compelling content
  2. follow conventions
  3. help Google find you

Create Compelling Content

You need great content. This takes time to create and time to impact your search rankings. Quit and you start slipping. Using social media regularly keeps reminding Google about you. Using Google tools can't hurt either. This blog uses Google Blogger (instead of WordPress) and is syndicated via Google Feedburner (instead of FeedBlitz).

Word of mouth will then boost your popularity. That takes the form of comments on your blog posts, Likes, Google "+1" and links from other credible sites (essentially testimonials).

Follow Conventions

When you're writing, you benefit by following norms. Make your content easier for readers and you'll help Google too. You'll want a sensible heading and subheadings. You'll want to write posts of a reasonable minimum length (e.g., 300 words). You'll want to use simple, common words because they are more likely to be search queries.

You might not get much credit for good grammar but you won't be penalized either. Maybe Google can (or will) check grammar.

Help Google Find You

Google wants to find you. You help by telling Google about yourself. Your Google Profile is the perfect place to link to your different sites. Google Analytics also marks your sites (you can only track what you own). Google offers Webmaster Tools to show you what Google sees. Don't forget Google+ either.

There's plenty of free online help too.

The Wrong Focus?

SEO focuses on websites but you may not need one anymore. You can rely on social media instead. You'll want a destination like a blog or personal website (which can be on a blog platform). If you are on LinkedIn, have a Google Profile or using Google+, you're increasing your chances of showing up on page one.

One search engine “expert” had a Klout reputation score of 13 out of 100. Another has only 22 tweets. That’s proof of inability.

Impatient?

If you want to be found right now, you can buy attention with Google Adwords and other advertising techniques.

I've got nothing against hiring SEO experts. I have never used one but they may be ideal for you. Lasting results take more than money.

Links

PS What do you think of SEO?

November 15, 2011

WHAT MATTERS MORE THAN WINNING AN AWARD?

Award - smoke dissipatesCongratulations to winners of the Business Excellence Awards from the Toronto Board of Trade! The gala took place on November 9, 2011. I was nominated and ... lost.

Is that why I'm saying something else matters more than winning an award? You may think so but I drafted this post well before the outcome was known.

The Winner Is ...

I used to love awards. The best album of all time. The Academy Award for Best Picture. The Car of the Year. Over time, I started finding that I could make my own decisions and did not always agree with the judges. I started to question authority (the third universal principle of influence).

Instead, I turned to what James Surowiecki calls the wisdom of crowds: as a group, we're smarter than the smartest amongst us. I started to rely on consensus (the fifth universal principle of influence), rather than authority

The Crowd

The Internet gives us instant access to lots of relevant crowds. Goodbye Consumer Reports.  I'll now look at Amazon, IMDB or other sites depending on what I'm evaluating.
Where are you getting advice these days? What about your customers? Are you visible where they are looking?
Netflix gives personalized recommendations based on your past viewing preferences. You see how others rated a film and even a prediction of your rating. That's nifty and works surprisingly well. You can also read reviews from other Netflix members. There's no need to see what newspaper reviewers say or to visit IMDB.

Inconsistency

I was recently invited to judge a Toastmasters speech contest and declined. However, I attended and saw 13 contestants in two categories. Since we were given blank scoring sheets, I used them. The real judges selected different winners every time. This suggests the outcome could easily have changed with different judges. That's comforting and discomforting.

I also noticed that I formed impressions of the contestants before they even spoke. Malcolm Gladwell investigates snap judgments in Blink.

If other attendees also judged the contestants, their combined scores could have shown the collective wisdom of the room. Would the outcome have differed?

Causality

An award shows the decision of the judge(s) at one point in time. Awards needn't translate directly into an ongoing increase in revenue. Prospects may not notice or care. Would an award entice you to switch between Coke/Pepsi, pizza chains or realtors? Is an award from last year, still relevant today?

More Important

Awards are given on the basis of objective criteria but we don't make buying decisions logically. Trends matter more than winning an award.

Trends show patterns. If you earned other forms of recognition, the new award is further evidence of your excellence. If you only have the one award, your win could be seen as an anomaly, like a small lottery prize.

Suppose that The Tipping Point was a success but Malcolm Gladwell's other books flopped: Blink, Outliers and What The Dog Saw. How eagerly would you await his next title? Since all his books were well-received, the trend raises expectations for the next book.  The successes build upon each other. Malcolm was awarded the Order of Canada earlier this year. That's noteworthy by itself and consistent with his other accomplishments.

In the absence of a trend, an award winner might be a one-hit wonder.

Links

PS Winning awards is nice too :)

November 8, 2011

THE PERFECT TRIO FOR A SERVICE BUSINESS

RGB colour spectrumbass / drums /guitar
red / green / blue
With the right trio you can do wonders. A service business needs this team:
  1. a salesperson
  2. a technician
  3. a marketer
If you're working solo, you may be able to outsource what you do poorly (or disdain). In some situations, you might need a larger team at the outset or as the business grows.

Who Matters Most?

A car needs an engine, an interior and brakes. Each element matters but the relative importance keeps changing. Your prospects will vary in what they value. For example,  spelling mistakes could go unnoticed or quash a deal.

Since each team member contributes differently, you can’t tell if everyone is contributing their fair share? If you agree that 1+1+1 > 3, a simple solution is to equally divide the revenue after expenses.

The Salesperson

The salesperson finds the prospects, follows up and closes the sales. Here, we'll say the salesperson also provides the ongoing service since that's also a form of additional sales and referrals.

The salesperson is the toughest to replace. This may lead to some arrogance about who is most important on the team. This may be the main reason why the other two want to join the team.

A salesperson may be better at talking and promising than delivering. The other team members can offset those tendencies.

The Technician

The technician does the actual work in an error-free way that is compliant with the relevant rules and regulations. I’ve primarily worked with accountants, lawyers and actuaries. Since change is relentless, the technician must stay current and avoid biases about what is "right" for the client.

In the past, technicians were essential. Nowadays, they can often be replaced or their work outsourced. You could even have a stable of external suppliers. Going outside lets you to scale up your business since the technician is often the bottleneck. However, having an internal technician gives more consistency and helps keep your "secret sauce" private. As the business grows, the technician could review the work that gets outsourced.

The risk of financial innovation. Click to read.To show their importance (and justify their cost), technicians may add complexity and downplay risk when innovating. They may be unwilling to admit mistakes.

The Marketer

In the past, the marketer was not deemed necessary in a team. However, expectations have changed. There's a greater need for polish and continual visibility online using today's tools.

You could look at Steve Jobs as primarily a marketer and what Malcolm Gladwell calls a “tweaker”.

Marketing isn't finished when the website goes live and the business cards have been printed. Marketing evolves. Refinements may be needed after meetings with the initial 5-10 prospects take place. This is why having a marketer on the team is more effective than outsourcing.

Since what the marketer does is intangible, it's difficult to see a direct connection with sales. Also, the marketing works is done in the beginning and can easily get taken for granted when the sales start.

Overlap

There is overlap among team members and their roles. The specifics will depend on the actual people. The marketer refines the positioning, which helps the salesperson setup meetings. The salesperson and marketer help simplify the technician's content, which helps close deals.

The role of each member may not be valued equally, but each matters. As long as there are sales, that might be enough.

Links

PS When disagreements arise, a trio always has a tiebreaker.

November 1, 2011

GENTLY REMIND OTHERS ABOUT WHAT YOU DO

others need reminding tooHave you noticed that people don't remember things you know you told them? This normal in families (at least mine) but a problem in business. Your carefully crafted messages can easily get overlooked. Even with repetition. Why?

There can be many reasons:
  • They forgot
  • They didn't notice
  • Your timing is wrong
  • Your message is unclear
  • Your delivery is not engaging

String Theory

Earl Nightingale said we all need reminding. You can’t tie string to their fingers but you can keep reminding them in different ways (without telling them you already told them).

For example, I conduct actuarial insurance reviews and have for ages. Days ago, I realized — shock! — this isn't well known.

Revelation

Selling your wisdom makes complete sense but for-fee work is rare in the financial world. Instead commissions get paid and create conflicts of interest which lower trust. If your competitors work for “free”, who would pay you? I decided to find out.

This summer, I started charging for my analyses. This fundamental change has boosted the perceived value of the diagnoses and also increased compliance with the prescriptions. That's a win for all.

When I started describing the for-fee change, I found that people didn't know about the reviews in the first place. I hadn't reminded them because I thought they knew. Maybe they didn't ask because they  thought they knew too (even if they were misunderstanding). What sticks is that I'm an actuary and less boring than they expected. It's easy to beat low expectations.

What do people remember about you? Maybe you can build on those memories to remind them about what you do.

Modesty

You may be reluctant to promote yourself after you've delivered your powerful 10 second commercial. Assuming that your golden words will stick is passive and risky.

I've met some people more than once and still don't know what they do. I may remember some words but not understand the meaning. For instance, I've heard of a "Human Resources Consultant" but don't really know who might need one or why. That means no referrals. The people you meet can face the same confusion. How would you know? Ask connections to describe what you do. You'll test their knowledge and spot ways to clarify your message. Just remember to ask.

Links

PS What's new with you? The answer could give you a reason to reach out and reconnect.

October 25, 2011

THE FOLLY OF ROGERS/BELL ATTACK ADS

Rogers cable beats Bell fibre ... according to Rogers (click to enlarge)Bell, Shaw and Rogers are charging consumers between 10 and 50 times what it costs them to deliver data.

Rather than ensuring consumers receive fair Internet pricing, the CRTC seems content to line the pockets of Cable and telecommunications companies by forcing Canadian consumers to pay Internet data rates that have no basis in reality.
Globe & Mail (Feb 2011)

We demand reliable Internet access. When the services work, we don't notice. When there's a problem, we gripe and spread the negative news (see What’s up with Roger’s high-speed Internet? from four days ago). Criticism is predictable since Canadians pay very high prices.

Marketing

Bell beats Rogers ... according to Bell (click to enlarge)Marketing makes the problems worse. Click to enlarge the latest Rogers ad which attacks Bell Fibe directly. Naturally, Bell claims that Fibe Internet rules because of fibre optics. According to Digital Home, “you will never receive the true benefits of a fibre optic network until you have a fibre optic cable inside your home”. That’s not happening anytime soon.

The Claims

Rogers beats Bell ... according to Rogers (click to enlarge)Making outlandish or subjective claims give us more reasons to be cynical. For instance, Rogers offers SpeedBoost, which temporarily gives you free faster downloads when capacity is available. What an amazing idea. That's like getting bumped to first class when there's an empty seat. What's not to like?

The fine print says that the boost is only for the first 10 MB of a file. If you were downloading the 700 MB iOS 5 update, there would be no noticeable benefit. More fine print says "Actual speed may vary based on network traffic, amount of data transferred and the length of time since the last boost and other factors."

Conclusion: SpeedBoost is of no real benefit (beyond the marketing hype).

Lessons

The perfect smartphone (click for article)Attacking your competitors directly is risky. Even if they don't respond, you're setting yourself up as a punching bag for the day something goes wrong.

Look at RIM. Why would you tolerate a behind-the-times smartphone with a miniscule keyboard, tiny screen and very few apps? Because of the security and reliability. The recent multi-day, multi-continent outages may have changed your opinions of the perfect smartphone.

THE REAL ANSWER

There is another solution: understand your customers and give them increasing value. For Internet access, we want
  1. 100% uptime
  2. ever faster speeds
  3. unlimited bandwidth
  4. reasonable prices
  5. friendly customer service
For years, the answer has been Fibre optic To The Home (FTTH). That would boost speeds to 100 Mbps and skyrocket customer satisfaction:
Internet Source Very satisfied
FTTH 74%
Cable 54%
DSL (phone) 51%
In the US, 18% of homes already have FTTH capabilities. Neither Bell nor Rogers has even announced plans for a rollout here. That would be news. Instead, we get claims and counterclaims instead of world-leading Internet access. The target for Google Fiber experiment is 1,000 Mbps. Wouldn’t that be something?

What about you? Are you making real improvements that benefit your clients or just advertising that you are?

Links

PS Are you satisfied with your Internet service?

October 18, 2011

ARE YOU SCRIMPING OR SPLURGING IN THE WRONG PLACES?

extreme military cutbacksSaving money is worthwhile unless you hurt your results. Your clients often have other options. They could hire someone else, wait, or do it themselves.

Here are examples of scrimping that affect a reputation for quality:
  • a generic computer, netbook or tablet
  • a name brand computer (e.g., Lenovo) but a low end version (e.g., not ThinkPad)
  • a name brand but an outdated model (e.g., computer without built-in Wi-Fi antenna
  • out-of-date software (e.g., Office 2003)
Pirated software is a nonstarter too, even if no one would notice.

Scrimping Says

When you're scrimping, you're saying
  • cutting corners is acceptable: prospects may wonder about other shortcuts and whether they are saving from the shortcuts
  • you can't detect the difference (e.g., fresh orange juice vs. frozen) but you want prospects to see you as the “right” choice
  • you don't value the difference: a salesman replaced his Mercedes S-class with a Hyundai Genesis with better specifications

Show Your Ingredients

If you're using excellent ingredients, how would anyone know? For instance, you could be reading the latest books in your field and related fields.

I told a consultant to put brief summaries on her LinkedIn Reading List. She was afraid that her competitors would see. So what? Even if they read the same books, they would not apply the lessons in the same way (if at all). It's much better to focus on your helping your prospects choose you. They benefit from knowing what you're reading. They may even be willing to pay a premium for your current and extra knowledge.

Blogging shows your ingredients and how you combine them.

Same Ingredients

If you're using the same ingredients as your competitors (e.g., US FDA Blue #2), you might use them differently. Maybe you add a different amount or use a different method (e.g., frozen instead of liquid). Your process might differ (e.g., add 1/3 at three separate times). Maybe you include extra steps for quality assurance. Do your clients may care if you tell them and why your way matters.

Same Process

would you pay BMW $149 for snow tire balancing and installation?Even if your process is identical, your expertise may make the difference. For instance, installing winter tires is probably done the same way everywhere: remove summer tires, inflate and inspect winter tires, install winter tires. Prices vary from free to a "special offer" of $149 at BMW (including rebalancing).

I always go to the dealership, which costs more but gives peace of mind. BMW explained that when changing tires, they removed residue from the brake calipers using tools and techniques that other places wouldn't have. That seemed plausible and worth a premium. I didn't want to gamble with my tires or brakes — especially in the winter.

Your clients may not take the time to call you. Why not be proactive and tell them?

Same Price

Even if you sell at the same price as your competitors, spending more on quality in the right places will benefit your clients. Perhaps they get more reliability and less rework.

If you're taking shortcuts, your clients may notice. If you're over-delivering they may not. Either way, you're losing. What good is that?

Links

PS What examples of scrimping and splurging have you seen?

October 11, 2011

BOOST PRODUCTIVITY: THREE GADGETS GET THINGS DONE

Too much to lugYou’ll boost your business productivity by using separate devices to
  1. create content: workhorse PC or Mac
  2. view content: smartphone
  3. show content: tablet
Yes there is overlap. A tablet might be able to create much of your content too.

You could use one device for multiple purposes but as with a Swiss army knife, there are compromises. wouldn't you rather have the blade, spoon and screwdriver separate when you really want to use them?

View Content: Smartphone

Your smartphone is probably the gadget that's with you most of all. It's ideal for checking your calendar and phoning contacts. It's reasonable for taking photos and skimming email. It’s not so good for sending emails or web browsing.

Mistake: I wanted to read and compose email but the screen and keyboard are miniscule. They're usable but you waste time compared with a tablet.

Show Content: Tablet with 10+" screen

This may be all you need for business travel. You can now read and compose email easily. You can view websites too. You can do much more but you can't stuff an iPad sized-tablet into your pocket.

Mistake: I tried taking notes with my iPad. Paper and pen is much faster and easier.

Create Content: Computer

When you're creating content, a powerful computer with a large screen helps. This isn't needed if you're writing a blog post (an iPad is excellent for focus).

If you're working on a spreadsheet or editing video, you'll benefit from a large display, fast processor, spacious hard drive and lots of memory. Yet lug this machine around and you'll soon wish for something smaller and lighter.

Mistake: For the last two years, I was using a 12" ThinkPad X200 Tablet which is wonderfully portable but not ideal for creating content.

Now

New computer: To create content, I upgraded to a powerful ThinkPad W520 workstation with a 15.6" screen and 1600x900 resolution. This workhorse usually stays in the stable ... I mean, office.

New smartphone: I replaced my Blackberry Bold 9700 with a Motorola Droid 3 (Bell XT860) for the larger slide out keyboard and 4" screen. The battery life is short, which means I'm recharging while in the car. I might start taking a wall adapter with me too.

I ditched my MiFi cellular hotspot since the Droid 3 allows wireless tethering. That's one less device to carry and one less monthly plan to pay.

Old tablet: I still use my Wi-Fi iPad most of all. It's with me when I have my briefcase, which is most of the time. Depending on where I'm going, I may leave the Bluetooth keyboard at the office. The battery lasts all day, which provides peace of mind and freedom from electrical outlets.

The smartphone/tablet combination is portable and versatile. There's also redundancy since the Droid and iPad both have calendars, email, contacts, passwords and the ability to show presentations. They both turn on instantly. During a phone call, I can check my calendar on my iPad. While creating a mind map on my iPad, I can do a Google search on my Droid.

More screens means more productivity. Which screens are right for you?

Links

PS You can get gadgets from the same family (e.g., Mac, iPhone and iPad). I prefer the learning curve that comes from diversity: PC (Windows), smartphone (Android), tablet (iOS). Each platform has strengths/weaknesses and different apps.

October 4, 2011

A NOMINEE’S VIEW OF THE BUSINESS EXCELLENCE AWARDS FROM THE TORONTO BOARD OF TRADE

proud to be a nomineeThe Business Excellence Awards are perhaps the highest honours from the Toronto Board of Trade. Winning would be such an accomplishment. [Update: I lost but of the 49 nominees across 8 categories, I was the sole candidate from financial services.]

You may not be familiar with these awards since there's very little online at present. Nominees can say they've been nominated but there's no public list as proof yet. (If I'm wrong, please leave a comment with a link.)

I'll share what I've learned about the Business Excellence Awards. How would I know? I'm a nominee for Start-up/New Business. The other seven categories are Global Reach, Sustainability, Transition, Under 30, Local Economic Impact, Diversity and Entrepreneur of the Year.

The Process

Here are the steps:
  1. Nominations: complete forms (by Jun 30)
  2. Pre-screening: to confirm eligibility (Jul)
  3. Interviews: two interviewers (by Sep 30)
  4. Finalists informed: three per category (mid-Oct)
  5. Winners announced (Nov gala)
The process looks solid and impartial. For instance, the judges don't meet the nominees. Instead, they get reports from the interviewers. The judges might remain anonymous, which is fine.

The interviews are structured. Each nominee in a category answers the same questions and gets time to tell their story as they wish (e.g., a presentation, a tour of their facilities, etc). The questions are sent in advance to allow time to prepare. Nominees can answer using notes. This step felt friendly — not like a job interview or actuarial exam.

The Quandary

These awards let you nominate yourself. That might be normal but didn't feel quite right. Requiring third party nominations seems better but that's easy to circumvent: you nominate your pal and your pal nominates you (assuming you're in different categories). The current process is probably best and lets "unsung heroes" participate.
No Deluge
The Toronto Board of Trade has some 10,000 members but few likely got nominated. The process takes effort, which eliminates the lazy. Hurray for inertia! Also, there's no point competing unless you're confident you're good enough to win. Hurray for insecurity!

The Winner Is …

I got nominated for a Business Excellence Award in the Start-up/New Business category by someone who's judgment I value. I was touched. We like to think we're worthy of recognition, but we're biased. An outside perspective helps.

Though I was delighted to be nominated, I wanted to tell my story my way. Would you expect any less from a blogger or Toastmaster? I self-nominated. Once I passed the pre-screening, I told someone who ... smirked. The implication was that I wasn't good enough for an outside nomination. I didn't say I had a credible one.

proud to be a nomineeYesterday, I got the graphics. Now, I'm publicly announcing that I'm proud to be a nominee.

Initially, I didn't think that winning would matter. Now I realize it does. The envelope please …

Links

PS If you’re in the GTA, why not attend the gala and see local business excellence?

September 27, 2011

HOW MUCH TIME DOES SOCIAL MEDIA TAKE EACH WEEK?

stopwatchHere’s a question from a recent email:

Promod,
Thank you for the feedback. It is appreciated and always welcome. I have taken on a colleague, and we are developing a marketing strategy. I looked at both your sites [personal and business], and they are equally impressive. I am curious - how much time in a given week do you spend on social media and your website, blog etc.? Hope to see you again soon.


I've been reluctant to answer the question of time. You may think the commitment is too high and decide against using social media. That’s the wrong conclusion.

What I do won't be ideal for you but may give you ideas. There are no "right" answers. I haven't searched for online benchmarks either. You might be much faster but the the real value comes when you keep going.

General

I don’t know web basics like HTML, CSS and Java. I made minor modifications to templates. Most of my time when into creating content. When I was happy with the substance, I hired
My goal is to create a strong positive first impression by exceeding what visitors expect to find (quality and quantity). Big businesses have large engines but keep both feet on the brakes by demanding compliance. They prevent their staff from exuding their personalities and using social media effectively. Those restriction create tremendous opportunities for small business.

Websites

My websites are static and take no time to maintain. I mainly built promodsharma.com in 2006 and taxevity.com in 2010. Each took months of elapsed time but I wanted solid destinations. Since each site is a wiki (like Wikipedia), content went live instantly, even when incomplete.

An incremental approach might scare you since you're continually shipping  before you’re finished. I found this process liberating and didn't mind making refinements afterwards. Even major elements like navigation changed as I proceeded.

Total

In total, I invest a day per week on online marketing. That may seem like a lot but I switched to a low noise life in 2007. Just cutting out TV and other distractions could save you hours and hours.

Curating (Parrot)

Social media takes 10-15 minutes a day. On average, I post at least one link per day on LinkedIn and/or Twitter. Depending on workload and travel, I may be silent for several days. Most weeks I won't visit Facebook. I don't use Google+ much either. On Twitter, I broadcast but rarely read. You’ll likely have a different mix based on your interests and your target market.

Each comment on a blog or in LinkedIn groups take 5-10 minutes. I'll leave 2-5 comments per week (30-60 minutes in total). I'm strategic about when/where.

Creating (Pundit)

Ongoing blogging takes the most time but also gives the most benefits
  • sharpens thinking
  • hones communication skills
  • proves expertise
Here's how I rationalize that investment. I'm not keen to donate money because I worry about how it'll get spent. Instead, I donate time. Blogging is my way of sharing the best of what I know for free. Readers seem to sense that.

A post runs about 500 words and takes about three hours to prepare. Each week, I write two posts: one here and another at Riscario Insider. That’s about six hours in total.

Here’s the breakdown for one post:
  1. Draft: 15-30 minutes using two productivity enhancing tools
  2. Finding and editing the photo (each post has one): 15 minutes
  3. Polishing: the balance
Some posts flow and others are struggles. If I had training in writing, I might be better and faster. I didn’t use lack of experience as an excuse to do nothing. What about you?

Links

PS How do you allocate your social media time?

September 20, 2011

WHAT ABOUT BOB: IS YOUR NAME MEMORABLE?

HELLO my name is ...A household name has marketing power if it's unique and memorable but familiar. A last name might be enough.

In many cases, we’ll likely guess the same person even though others have the same name. Recognition depends on your age and upbringing. I'd have trouble with celebrities in sports and opera. For instance, I first heard of Lamar Odom this month but you may have followed him on Twitter for years.

Let's leave out the concocted names like Bono, Prince and Sting. Those might work for entertainers but deter your business prospects. The following names came from brainstorming.

Last Names

Bogart, Pitt, Daltrey, Bond, Hilfiger, Schiffer, Stallone, Lennon, McQueen, Branson, Harper, Jolie, Gretzky, Willis, Mulroney, Hemingway, Springsteen, Mellencamp, Hitchcock, Dylan, Einstein, Warhol, Timberlake, Feynman, Oppenheimer, Newton, Jobs, Secord, Houdini, Thatcher, Garfunkel, Nicholson, Zappa, Churchill, Wayne, Hope, Redenbacher, Barnum, Rowling, Streep.

First Names

Angelina, Orson, Eddie, Britney, Ringo, Grace, Quentin, Marilyn, Lenny, Elvis, Halle, Orville, Ezra, Rudyard, Julius, Augustus.

I had trouble coming up with more. Maybe that's because the media tends to report last names. “Bob” is much more common than “Newhart”. Since first names get used more often, why isn’t there more diversity in them? We inherit our last names but our parents choose our first or “given” name. An opportunity to stand out gets lost to the pressure to conform.

Today, an unusual name helps you stand out, though weird spellings get annoying. Like Anthonee for Anthony.

Maybe

Maybe some of the above names were changed from the common ones like “John”.  Some people may only be known locally ... for now. Many of the examples have international recognition. You probably don't need that level of fame.

Your Name

Who knows your name? What connotations are invoked? If you're invisible, you're at a disadvantage.  What does a Google search show? If you're not satisfied with the results, you can start building or augmenting your digital tapestry for free today.

When you search for your business’ name, do your competitors show up first? Could a prospect pick them by mistake? That’s not outlandish. Try remembering the name of movers or financial advisors (especially when they have abbreviated their company names).

Visibility breeds familiarity and familiarity breeds business. There’s a lot in a name.

Links

PS Consider more distinct names for your future children and pets. A domain name makes an unexpected gift!

September 13, 2011

9/13: PREPARE YOUR DISASTER RECOVERY PLAN NOW

banana peel 500x315
It’s 9/13 today. We don’t expect bad things to happen but that doesn’t stop bad luck.

What precautions have you taken to keep your business running should disaster strike?

The interruption might be caused by
  • fire or water damage
  • illness, disability or death (yours of a key employee's)
  • earthquake, hurricane or tornado
  • an extended power outage or gasoline shortage
  • an ice storm
  • shutdown of airspace
  • computer viruses
  • website shutdown
  • extended outage in your Internet or phone service
  • theft or burglary
  • a banana peel
So much could go wrong. The risks and probabilities vary. As a start, you can brainstorm and then prioritize. Aren't some vulnerabilities worth tackling now while you can? That's insurance.

Sympathy

You'll get some understanding from your clients if a calamity is widespread. Say, the northeast power outage on Aug 14, 2003 that affected 55 million (where where you?). Your clients could easily have been affected too.

Don’t expect much sympathy if: only your firm is affected, your clients are severely impacted and they have lawyers.

A Formal Plan

You might even want to develop a formal business resumption plan. The process has merits since you'll uncover vulnerabilities you previously overlooked or deferred addressing.

In the corporate world, I was part of the disaster recovery planning team for years. There were offsite facilities in alternate locations, copies of the plans on USB drives and updated contact lists. I even got the ultimate sign of seriousness — a golf shirt.

Your precautions may not need to be as elaborate or involve clothing giveaways. Simple actions like locking a drawer with client files might be a start. Maybe you need an automated online backup of your key files. Set and forget.

False Economy

Sometimes attempts at cost savings get in the way. If all your employees use the same mobile phone provider, what happens if there's a major disaster and you can’t reach your family or 911? That's what happened on 9/11. The main carriers, Bell and Rogers, were overloaded where I was. Yet my Fido was working fine. Now that Rogers owns Fido, there's more vulnerability.

Again, there are limits to what you can do but that's a poor excuse for inertia.

Marketing

Once you've taken actions or developed plans, get a marketing advantage. Communicate a summary of your plan so that clients and prospects know the kind of precautions you’re taking. That transparency builds confidence. Maybe you moderate expectations by pointing out limitations as warranties do.

Side Benefits

Planning helps you sell your business for a premium. The potential buyers see your level of preparation. Planning also helps you take extended vacations in peace.

Links

PS As you become great at planning, you can share the why and how with your clients and prospects. That's beneficial to them and great marketing.

September 6, 2011

CASE STUDY: OWN A SPECIAL MONTH FOR YOUR BUSINESS (LIKE #LIAM)

own this monthBusinesses celebrate special days such as their anniversary or hold “client appreciation” events. Maybe you do too.

Consider owning a special month instead.

Boring/Predictable

Celebrating the anniversary or birthday of your business is boring and predictable. Why would a client or prospect really care? Besides, special sales or free giveaways look self-serving since you win from additional revenue.

You're really celebrating yourself. It's your party and they can buy if they want to, buy if they want to. Are your customers aching for another shopping opportunity?

Why not celebrate a cause bigger than your company and longer than a day?

LIAM

This is Life Insurance Awareness Month (LIAM). We’ll use that as a case study.

Lamar Odom of the LA Lakers is the celebrity ambassador. Last year's was actress Leslie Bibb. They share their own personal stories to get others thinking about their own situations. Information makes the ideal gift for influence. You show liking for others and your authority (expertise). Giving invokes reciprocity.

LIAM looks well thought-out:
  • extendable: e.g., May is Disability Insurance Awareness Month (DIAM)
  • low key: focused on awareness, not time-is-running-out while-quantities-last selling
  • inexpensive: the gift is online information that’s shared via social media
  • month-long: not an expensive one-day, weather-dependent event
  • repeatable: as a regular annual event, planning is easier
  • not too often: annual works but quarterly would get annoying
Improvements
LIAM can be made more vibrant and spreadable by
  • publishing the videos in HD (no extra cost)
  • making the videos embeddable (no extra cost)
  • archiving content from previous years (no extra cost)
Consider those elements in your initiatives. You get more benefits at no extra cost.

LIFE

LIAM has the advantage of being run by LIFE, a nonprofit organization with support from the insurance industry. You can own your month with your own resources. Put information on your website. Add an intriguing PS to your emails (such as the one at the bottom of this post). Post relevant links via social media. Have a special issue of your newsletter.

What about content? You’ll find lots of linkable items online. Creating some of your own changes you from a parrot to a pundit.

You can share the month. Maybe you participate in a campaign your industry is promoting (as I am with LIAM). You can also piggyback on a bigger event such as Small Business Week by having your own Small Business Month.

The Right Month

Life Insurance Awareness Month is low key and nonthreatening. Who can argue against increasing awareness? There's no request to make donations, provide contact information or Like on Facebook. Instead, you get education and the opportunity to buy.

September is highly symbolic. This is back-to-school time. Routines return. Business gets back to business. September is also the anniversary of 9/11, a reminder that the unexpected happens.

Which month is right for your business?

Links

PS (example) September ‘11 is LIAM. Are you ready?

August 30, 2011

ARE YOU A PARROT OR A PUNDIT? (#word11)

(Supplementing my workshop at the Word11 blogging festival.)

When I talk about social media, I say that curating is an easy to way to prove your intent and build trust. That's true but not enough. I said that to nudge you to get shipping content. At Word11, I explained there's a higher level and shared the best tool.

Stage 1: Parrot

Wanna cracker?Like a parrot, you recirculate links that others have found. You simply press the button for Like (Facebook), +1 (Google+) or Retweet (Twitter).

Shortcut: If you want, you can focus entirely on LinkedIn for curating. That's an excellent environment to master. Connect Twitter, you can send your updates there too.

Stage 2: Pundit

As you parrot, you master the tools of social media. You get faster and better. You build a following. Continue your curating but now become a pundit too. Creating content is more valuable that repeating what others say. Your followers may parrot you.

Got a bright idea?Blogging is the best way to create content. Here are three reasons why blog posts rule.
  1. Easy to create
  2. Easy to find
  3. Easy to consume

Easy to create

You don't need special equipment to blog. That's assuming you already have a computer, netbook or tablet. If not, how are you reading this post?

You don't need to worry about having a good microphone or camera. You don't need to talk a course in Photoshop or digital video editing. You don't even need an Internet connection when you're writing.

Right now, I'm composing the initial draft at a desk at the Centre for Social Innovation Annex. There's noise and people are talking. That doesn't matter as I type on my iPad.
Easy To Find
Unless you're writing only for yourself, you might as well make your content easy to find. Google keeps getting better at indexing images and video, but they are best best at indexing text.
Easy To Consume
Blogs are easy to read on many devices. I’d have trouble listening to a podcast or watching a video where I am right now while writing but I can easily read text.

But ...

Creating content takes more time. That’s why there’s more value. Instead of writing this post, I could have Retweeted or Liked dozens of times. Those updates would quickly vanish in minutes, hours or days. Try finding an update from last week. A blog post lasts and makes a bigger mark on your digital tapestry.

If you're not convinced about the power of blogging, watch this short clip from Seth Godin and Tom Peters.


What do you think now and who will you tell?

Links

PS If video is more effective for your niche, consider having a transcript for readers and search engines.