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Monthly Archives: August 2009

Five Uses for the Yellow Pages

The Yellow Pages landed on our doorstep and it is truly stunning how many small business owners are still advertising in it.

I don’t use it to find my local (fill in the blank) and a lot of people I know don’t use it either. But I have found some other uses for it.

Here are five:

1. As a primer to teach my children the history of advertising. See kids? This is what ads looked like when your grandmother was a little girl.

2. Bring it to the gym and offer $100 to the biggest lughead who can tear it in half. It used to be hard, it may not be anymore.

3. Booster seat for the toddler.
And it’s mobile. Throw it in the car and use it for the next family outing.

4. Hidden weapon in case of home invasion robbery.
Getting hit on the side of the head with pages and pages of pest control and plumber ads can do some damage.

5. Archive it. The traditional use. Let it sit at the bottom of some drawer or cabinet or closet until the next one comes along.

Word to the small business owner – they are saying this internets thing could take off real soon…

Are You a Time Teller or a Clock Builder?

builttolastSome business books just stick with you.

Jim Collins wrote Built to Last in 1994. He followed it up with Good to Great, which is even better.

If you are starting a business and have Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs, as Collins calls them), get these two books and plow through them.

So what does being a Time Teller mean?

It means that you are building and running your company around you and not creating something that can last.

You are the sun of your solar system, Helios, all powerful and all-knowing.

Only you can tell others what time it is, what needs to be done, who needs to do it.

All decisions and strategies must pass through you, because you are the font of all wisdom.

Baloney.

If you are in business to stay in business and create value, then it’s time to build a clock. A clock that everyone can rely on, so you can tell the time no matter who is around.

It will not be easy.

It requires, thinking, planning and executing.

And snapping out of a dream-like state of existence that it is ALL ABOUT YOU.

In this whole personal branding, everyone is self-employed, you-are-on-your-own-now, world of ours, we are getting sucked into the insane notion that we can do it ALL ON OUR OWN.

But I reach out!

I have “conversations”!

I ask for help!

I’m not a Time Teller.

Really?

You want to cut a deal with a big player, who could take your company to the next level, and you don’t want to bring the guy who created the relationship (and knows their business better than you), to the meeting?

Time Teller.

You say you have a potential $100 million business and you don’t want to create any policies or procedures or clearly defined roles and responsibilities for your ever-increasing payroll?

Time Teller.

You think your company can grow without hiring people smarter than you?

Time Teller.

You think you can do a handshake deal that puts your entire company at risk?

Time Teller.

People want to be inspired. And they want their work to provide some of that inspiration. And nothing gets people more pumped up than feeling like they are a part of something that is worthwhile and moving in unison. Time Tellers create the worst culture imaginable because no one ever truly knows what is going on. No one knows what time it is until the Time Teller tells them.

Don’t do it. Don’t be a Time Teller.

Get humble. Get organized. Get out of your head.

Get Swiss.

Build a clock.

One Big Lesson from an Egomaniacal Wall Street Workaholic

charging-bull-wall-streetThe best boss I ever had was an absolute madman.

We all called him Madman Jack.

I worked for him out of the World Financial Center in New York when I was an analyst in the investment banking unit of Merrill Lynch.

He worked endless hours, was always in over his head and had 10 things going on at once.

He was always disheveled, in his unorganized paper-strewn office and I usually found him changing into a new shirt at 8 in the morning because he had slept in the one he wore the day before.

Every other office like his, with a Statue of Liberty view, was inhabited by calm, cool, clinical types with nothing out of place and a sense of studious seriousness and decorum.

And they all hated Madman Jack.

For one big reason.

He made things happen.

The guy took action like nobody I had ever seen then or since.

Whereas every other banker would have one or two grunt analysts like me in their office at a time, he would have six.

If there was a new area of opportunity to carve out he would take it.

And I would protest.

The conversation usually went like this…

I would say “But, we don’t do…” or “I don’t have…” or “How do I..”

and he would reply with…

“Just get it done!”

“Make it happen!”

“Find out!”

It was both frightening and inspiring.

We would go to meetings with clients and do presentations that I knew were less than good but it didn’t matter.

Because we would get there first.

While our competitors would be making everything perfect and just so, we would just show up.

And Madman Jack would lead the meeting and say things that were flat out wrong WRONG! but it didn’t matter because he would learn and never make that same mistake again.

One day he came into my office and said, “I’m sending you to London to analyze financial institution merger and acquisition trends…”

“But I don’t know…”

“Find out!”

I did and he joined me later and Merrill Lynch established their first M&A unit overseas.

I have never forgotten the lesson, which I sometimes fail at miserably, that above all else, what is most important for business success, is to TO DO SOMETHING.

Anything.

Even if it’s wrong.

Even if people laugh and make fun of you.

Like Madman Jack’s fellow bankers.

Oh boy did they.

But that all ended.

On the day they were all working for him.

Dare to Be Different or Die a Slow Death


Like almost every article here, the topic of this post comes directly from a conversation with an Orange County small business owner.

So why would you care about that?

Because there is a massive small business marketing echo chamber out there and OCBizBlog does everything it can to stay away from it.

We know we need to offer something different or no one will bother coming back.

The Orange County small business I met with last week is in a very boring space but doing a respectable amount of business.

They are now looking to grow by attracting some big clients who they have done some small projects for.

We met for an hour and came away with four conclusions:

1.  If they want to stand out from the competition, they have got to do one big thing that is different from their competitors.

2.  They have to communicate that differentiation relentlessly and take unrestrained credit for it.

3.  They need to consistently manage the relationships of key decision makers.

4.  They need to deliver on the results that they promise.

None of this is earth shattering until you think about execution.  When the rubber meets the road it all tends to fall apart.

That is where commitment to the “be different or die” belief must kick in.

Consider our Orange County friends from UC Irvine in the above video.

Think about how many YouTube views they would have had if they didn’t totally commit to what they were doing.

A lot less than the more than 18 million they’ve already received.

Why did this video go viral?

Because the bride and groom broke a major social taboo.

Everyone knows you’re supposed to play the boring wedding march music when you walk down the aisle.

They said nope, it’s just not us and apparently it’s not their friends either.

So they choreographed the whole thing to perfection.

The result is pure inspiration.

When was the last time a wedding ceremony inspired you?

Take what you do that is boringly successful and step it up to the next level with one cool idea and the will to execute it.

The results will astonish you.

That Giant Sucking Sound is Your Time on Social Media

nielsen-landscape-time-spent-increase-video-social-media-february-2009Most small business owners are interested in social media.

If they are active on a few sites, they want to know if what they are doing is working.  If they are not active at all, they want to know what all the fuss is about.

It struck me yesterday, at a talk I gave at SCORE Orange County (at the invite of Morgan Smith, owner of Boneheads Restaurant and Tom Patty, retired President of TBWA\Chiat\Day) that we should begin every discussion on social media with one huge warning.

Social media could kill your business.

There are two ways this can happen:

1.  You overpay an “expert” to run a social media campaign you can not afford, or

2.  You take the DIY approach and kiss your valuable selling and marketing time goodbye.

In this environment, every small business owner (especially those just starting out) needs to be devoting 50% or more of their time selling and marketing their business.

And if you think that you can just set up a bunch of accounts everywhere and take advantage of automation apps and scripts, you will do more harm than good.

The hands-down best approach for small business owners and social media is to be a tortoise.

A well-meaning, interested, caring, genuine, plodding tortoise.

Go one at a time and learn from your experience before moving on to the next network.

There are plenty of stories of small businesses who just use Twitter for example and have had tremendous success.

But for every one of those, there are many others who quickly get lost in the vortex of distraction that social media can create.

I speak from experience when I say you must avoid the easy thing and carve out a set amount of time for your social media efforts.

It is just way too easy to get sucked into one more conversation or interesting article.

Pick your blog or Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn and just kill it there before you move on to the next one.

That’s my advice.

And yours?

To Blog or Not To Blog is the Small Business Question

 

Should we have a blog?

It’s a question posed by many small business owners.

At Waxpoetix and Mobo Media we hear it a lot.

And the answer is…

It depends.

It depends on your business, on your level of commitment to blogging and on whether or not you think you have something to say.

Blogging is not for everyone and it’s pretty crowded out there (more than 100 million blogs), but if your business is set up as a service where you need to establish yourself as an expert, it makes sense.

It also makes sense if you are positioning your product as a tie-in to a movement or social cause.

The key thing is that there has to be enough to talk about and enough people to be interested in your topic.

If there is a lifestyle that exists around your product or service, like Voluntourism, it makes sense.

If there is a steep learning curve on your subject matter, like wine, it makes sense.

If you can show off a portfolio of work it makes sense.

But you must have a strategy and you can’t get too worked up if you hit a few stumbling blocks.

The key thing is to be helpful and keep offering useful information while you build a readership.

Ask your readers (once you get beyond your mom and your cat) what they would like to see.

And don’t get all hung up on writing brilliant posts all the time.  It’s better to post than to have a stagnant blog which will be guaranteed to die a slow ugly death.

If you have a blogging story (success or failure) which you would like to share here, let me know!