Posts Tagged ‘Mondays with Mike’


Mondays with Mike: Take A Lesson From The Marketing Masters

4-20 Marketing Experts smallThere’s something to be said for trusting the experts, and also for taking the time to do a little research.  Rather than believing you have to come up with all the answers on your own, sit back and learn from the real masters of marketing.  Who are the folk you should pay attention to?  Read on.

  1. Walt Disney.  Not only was Walt Disney the master of sales and advertising, but he was also one of the first true marketing masters.  One of the most important things I’ve learned from studying up on Disney is his belief that the people who design something should also use it.  Only when a designer fully understands the needs and desires of customers, can he or she build an experience perfectly.  Disney had all of his ride designers for his amusement parks ride every ride, over and over, until each detail was just right.  Even details as small as the fireflies on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride were carefully managed.
  2. Mary Kay Ash.  If we can learn anything from the pink-hued world of the woman who built an amazing cosmetics empire, it’s the power of multi-level marketing.  Women all over the country earned their pink Cadillacs simply by selling to their friends and family, building a network and recruiting other sellers.
  3. Steve Jobs.  Jobs didn’t just want to produce machines that did new things.  He understood the huge impact of intuitive design and super stylish packaging.  Rather than selling a smartphone that took a PhD to operate, instead, Apple launched a phone that didn’t even require an instruction manual.  Packaging products with stickers that identify users to other users is also a masterful tactic in image marketing.
  4. Tim Ferriss.  Ferriss is nothing if not a big ideas guy.  He teaches us that a claim needn’t necessarily be one hundred percent true in order to be a powerful selling tool.  While we don’t literally believe we can work just four hours a week, or become a chef in four hours, we’re still lured in by the idea that we can be substantially more efficient or more educated in a short period of time.  Ferriss operates on the principle that we all want to improve, and none of us has boatloads of free time to do it in.  Wild claims can work.
  5. David Ogilvy.  Whether you’re a new entrepreneur or a veteran, the most important lesson you can learn from Ogilvy still holds true.  Split testing pays dividends.  Make sure you’re making the very best decisions by testing variations and alternatives.  Try two versions of the same email offer and track the results, or run two versions of a new ad, each in a different zip code.  The point is we may think a move is successful, but unless we test it, we don’t know for sure.
  6. Michael Phelps.  Though we don’t necessarily think of the Olympic golden boy as an entrepreneur, he can certainly teach us a thing or two about brand building.  Phelps shows us the benefit at working all out, with single-minded dedication to becoming the very best at just one thing.  Phelps is focus personified.
  7. Seth Godin.  Godin gave us the purple cow – his term for a remarkable product, one that stands out from the crowd.  What Godin teaches is the benefit of making your brand distinct from everyone else.  Be your own, unique thing, and do it better than anyone else.

There’s so much entrepreneurial literature out there, you could spend your entire career simply reading, rather than working.  Since none of us has that luxury, it’s essential that we extract the heart of the very best advice out there.  Following the examples of the very best – the marketing masters – sets you up for success.


Mondays with Mike: How Ripple Innovation Can Invigorate Your Business

4-13 Ripple effectIt always hits me the same time every year.  I don’t know whether it’s a craving for warmer weather, or the realization that it’s time to dig deep and get started making the year a successful one, but the end of the first quarter is always a tough time for me.  I’m tired of winter in New Jersey, and my summer vacation is too far off to lift my spirits.

 Whatever the reason, by the end of March, I feel like I’m in a slump.  My strategy to shake off the winter doldrums, though, works every time.  I find a problem in my business – something I simply haven’t tackled yet, and I set out to make things better.  One of the most effective ways I’ve found to fix something that’s broken, and brighten my spirits at the same time, is to use ripple innovation.  Here’s how it works:

  1. Ripple 1:  Find the solution within your own company.  Far too often we can’t see a solution because we’re stuck in our own head – blinded by our compartmentalized approach to problem solving.  So you’re looking for ways to improve your IT support?  Ask your sales force.  Not only will they have situational awareness your IT guys and gals don’t, but you never know – they might also have more tech skills than you realize.  Look outside the department you’re trying to revitalize.
  2. Ripple 2:  Find the solution inside your industry.  Look to your competitors (who typically face the same challenges you do,) and see how they do business.  Maybe your competitor’s Facebook page brings in tons of new business.  Maybe the guy down the street has found a sharper price on office supplies.  Look around to find best practices among your competition.
  3. Ripple 3:  Find the solution in any industry.  You may think your business is industry specific, but you’ll be surprised what you can learn from broadening your perspective.  The food truck that moves around town, yet always manages to have a line when they pull in?  They might be using Twitter in a way you can imitate.  The jewelry store with a reputation for the best customer service in the world?  You can learn something about consumer loyalty that will translate to your company, too.
  4. Ripple 4:  Find the solution in nature.  If you’re really stuck, try zooming out even further, to look at the way the natural world works.  Say you’re having trouble retaining employees, even though you pay great wages.  You might need to look at animals who spend a little longer nurturing their young before sending them off into the world.  After all, animals who hatch and have to fend for themselves right away often have rather high mortality rates.  Try implementing a longer training period, so when you turn your employees loose, they’re able to thrive on their own.

The basic idea of ripple innovation is that you have a whole world to learn from.  Broadening your perspective to include other departments, companies, industries, and even other creatures can only benefit you and help inspire a new period of growth. 


Mondays with Mike: 7 Ways To Cut Costs Without Stifling Growth

4-6 Cost Cutting  smallToo often, we discover a new way to reduce our expenditures, only to find out it’s not ultimately good for our bottom line.  The trick is to manage our costs, while still flourishing.  I know – that’s easier to say than do.  But here are seven sure-fire ways to keep your business growing on the cheap.

  1. Pool your resources.  You and other local businesses share many of the same needs.  You need things like ink for your printers, paper towels for the kitchen, and health insurance coverage for your staff.  If you can come together, assess your needs, and approach your providers for these goods and services, you can often negotiate for a better group rate.  Your ink supplier, for example, will likely win some new customers, and you’ll all save money.
  2. Hire contractors.  Take a step back from your staff and assess your real staffing needs.  Often it’s advantageous to hire contractors for certain jobs, paying them a much higher hourly rate, but only using them as needed.  Your staff gets more flexible work days, and you save money in the end.
  3. Free advertising.  So one of your competitors goes out of business, but their billboard on the edge of town is still standing, inviting prospective customers to call their now-out-of-service number.  Call the phone company and arrange to have that old phone number forward to your line.  When the phone rings, you can explain the situation and detail what you’re willing to do to earn that customer’s business.  Why pay for a billboard when you can get one for free?
  4. Cut phone costs.  Most business owners don’t realize how much money they spend annually on their phone services.  Explore lower cost – or even no cost – options like Nextiva.  You may find better call quality and services for far less than you’re paying now.
  5. Assess your office space.  Over the life of your business, you may find that you expand or contract from time to time.  When you’re paying for a space that’s larger than you need, you’re wasting money.  See if sharing a space with another company makes sense, or look for options with shared public areas – kitchens or restrooms.  Make the most of your rent dollars.  Also keep in mind that landlords with space that’s been vacant for a long period of time are far more willing to negotiate rates.
  6. Train your own talent.  Superstar, experienced employees command high wages – no two ways about it.  If you hire raw talent, and take the time to bring your staff up to speed on your own, you can realize huge staffing savings.  Whether you take a chance on an intern or find a diamond in the rough worth taking a chance on, training staff not only saves you money, but also lets your mold your staff to work the way you want.
  7. Get your staff involved.  One of the best moves I ever made was to have a sit-down with my employees and solicit their help in finding ways to trim unnecessary expenses.  They came up with ideas that would never have occurred to me, and when they pitched in, we had a whole team of people working to improve the bottom line.

Cutting costs doesn’t have to be painful.  Finding creative, win-win approaches is the key to making successful, long-term changes without inhibiting your company’s growth. 


Mondays with Mike: 5 Stellar Tips For Landing Great Customers

3-30 Landing New Customers smallAssuming you’re delivering a great product at a fair price, and assuming you’re making sure your customers get outstanding service, one of the simplest ways to generate more revenue is to land new customers.  But you don’t want just any customer.  You want the big fish – the ones who generate the best revenue.  Here are my top tips for finding those clients, sometimes where you least expect them.

  1. Look for year-end opportunities.  Whether it’s the end of a calendar or a fiscal year, many companies find themselves in the position of scrambling to spend funds so they don’t lose them for the following year.  While other companies coast from mid-December to New Year’s, if you hustle and look for those year-end dollars, you’ll be surprised what you can land.  Even if you get a trial period agreement, you’re setting yourself up to over deliver and score the longer contract when the short-term funds have been exhausted.  Check in with clients who have upcoming fiscal year ends as well, and you’ll often find the same opportunities.
  2. Leverage tax savings for small businesses.  Particularly useful both at the end of the calendar year and around tax time, pitching your product to a client can be even more compelling if you include not just the initial investment cost, but also highlight the potential tax savings that investment can create.  So while your product is certainly a good value on its own, a business who purchases it is also reducing – through the expense – their tax liability.  It’s just going the extra step to think it through for your clients.
  3. Video Sales Page.  I can’t believe how few companies use this tactic, especially given how cost effective it is.  Say you’re making a pitch – could be virtual or in person.  You’re moving through a slide show presentation that highlights all the benefits you can provide.  If you add a slide with a brief video, customized with your prospect’s name and details that matter to her business, you’re taking your pitch from the abstract to the very concrete – and that’s a good thing!  Making a video costs you nothing but a little time, and it’s a personal touch that will separate your company from the crowd.
  4. Build the vendor well.  This tip sounds counterintuitive at first, but it really works.  Instead of asking a great client for referrals to other clients, ask for referrals to their vendors.  The idea is to work with other suppliers to find efficiencies, share customers, and ultimately deliver better service.  You’re broadening your network, while focusing on what matters to your existing clients – great service!
  5. Throw a party.  Take the time to invite your very best clients – along with top new prospects – to a huge celebration.  Whether you grill out for a summer bash or pour champagne at the end of the year, putting your happy clients in contact with prospects lets everyone see how much you value your relationships.  You’ll bring in new customers, and you’ll be able to thank your existing ones.  It’s a win-win.

While generating new business is only part of what we do in a given day or week, it’s important to focus our efforts on those customers who will bring the best returns.


Mondays with Mike: 10 Crazy and Successful Crowdfunding Campaigns

Rolls of US one hundred dollar billsI’m always intrigued to research the offbeat business concepts that find success in the increasingly popular crowdfunding arena.  It’s an endless supply of inspirational stories, as well as encouragement to find ways to follow your dream.  Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Chatype.  If you have any doubt that people have visceral, emotional relationships with fonts, look up some of the reactions to Comic Sans.  The Chatype campaign raised funds to cover the licensing of the official font of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and now the distinctive lettering can be found on everything from bike lanes to library flyers.
  2. Pizza Brain.  Located in Philadelphia, Pennyslvania, Pizza Brain is the world’s first pizza museum and restaurant. It houses the largest collection of pizza memorabilia – like a pizza cutter shaped like the USS Enterprise.  It’s also serving up award-winning pizza.
  3. Inman Park Squirrel Census.  Yep.  Squirrel counting.  What may seem like a trivial and mundane endeavor not only united an Atlanta, Georgia community, but it also inspired a line of census-themed t-shirts and infographics.
  4. Griz Coat.  Add this garment to the list of things you didn’t know you needed.  According to the campaign, “It’s not a costume.  It’s a lifestyle.”  You can embrace your inner grizzly with the original design, or you can opt for the newer wolf or polar bear designs.
  5. Let’s Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum.  In response to the shocking (pardon the play on words) lack of a museum dedicated to the brilliance of inventor Nikola Tesla, this Indiegogo campaign raised over $1.3 million!
  6. Bug-a-salt.  Begone, flies and mosquitoes!  This wildly successful Indiegogo campaign funded the production of air-powered guns that blow away bugs using ordinary table salt as ammunition.  The original campaign sold more than 20,000 guns, and a new campaign is underway to build the new and improved Bug-a-salt 2.0.
  7. Rob Ford Crackstarter.  The Website Gawker created an Indiegogo campaign in order to raise the funds necessary to purchase the video of Toronto mayor, Rob Ford smoking crack.  Although Gawker lost contact with the owner of the video, the funds they raised were donated to Canadian charities that work to deal with the problems associated with illegal drug abuse.
  8. Breathometer.  An app that’s both a party game and a safety measure, this campaign enables users to turn their smartphones into a breathalyzer.  You can determine your BAC, record, and track your results.
  9. Yellow Jacket.  Based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, this campaign – started by a former member of the US Army – funded the production of an iPhone case that not only protects your phone, but also turns it into a 650,000-volt stun gun.  Intended to be used for personal protection, the Yellow Jacket was built after the campaign raised over $100,000.
  10. Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium.  London’s first cat emporium, Lady Dinah’s provides a home for rescued cats, as well as a way for visitors to enjoy a relaxing cuppa with the resident felines.  The venue provides pet first aid courses, as well as yoga classes, and it is currently taking reservations for tea up to 50 days in advance.

In addition to providing simple entertainment, this list of successful crowdfunding campaigns is a reminder that you can find success in unusual niches, as long as you tell your story in a compelling way.


Mondays with Mike: 7 Tips For Improving Office Morale

3-16 Employee Hapiness smallEvery office goes through cycles – from motivated, focused productivity, to the doldrums of boredom and complaints.  When you see the need for a collective boost in spirits, try out these tips, guaranteed to get your staff back on track.

  1. Daily Huddle.  Try conducting brief, daily meetings designed to keep your team collectively focused.  Identify challenges and goals, then get right back to work.  I like to conduct these meetings with the entire team standing, so there’s no temptation to get too comfortable.
  2. Schedule change-up.  In nearly all cases, there’s really no reason to require every single member of your staff to work the same set hours.  If it makes sense for some folks to work unique schedules and manage their personal lives better, you’ll discover they’re more focused and ready to be productive when they’re on the clock.
  3. Focus on the Why, rather than the What.  Remembering why you started your business – and reminding your staff of your purpose – can help employees redirect their energy toward accomplishing big picture goals.  Look at the benefits you provide your community if you need inspiration to keep going.
  4. Say thank you.  It doesn’t cost you a cent to express your appreciation.  Make sure your staff knows how much you appreciate them, and they’re more likely to go the extra mile for you and your customers.
  5. Listen.  Just like dealing with an irate customer, you need to provide a private way for dissatisfied employees to air their grievances.  Getting the problem out in the open lets you manage office problems, and it keeps your employee from spreading dissatisfaction to the rest of the staff.  If your staff thinks you don’t care about their concerns, their productivity and morale will inevitably suffer.
  6. Take the bullet.  While you don’t want to fall into the trap of being the number one troubleshooter for your company, sometimes the very best thing you can do is swoop in to save the day.  Letting your staff know you’re prepared to roll up your sleeves and do the hard work will inspire them to greater heights.  If they know you have their backs, they’re more willing to be creative and innovative.
  7. Provide a change of scenery.  Monotony is the slayer of creativity.  When your staff tires of staring at their cubicle walls, take a field trip!  Whether you reward your employees with a day at the baseball park, or you band together for a community service day, sometimes giving your staff a change of scenery is all you need to reinvigorate them.

Most of us are operating on a budget and have more work to do than we have hours in a day, but you’ll be surprised at how effective an investment in your staff’s collective happiness can be for your company.  Keep ‘em focused.  Keep ‘em on track, and you’ll reap the benefits. 


Mondays with Mike: 10 Interview Questions That Find Great Employees

Job InterviewWe all know prospective employees spend hours prepping for important interviews.  They research the company they’re applying to, and they try to anticipate tricky questions they’ll be asked.  What surprises me is how little time many entrepreneurs spend preparing to interview their prospective hires.  If you take the time to think through what you want to learn from an interview, you’ll make the most of your time and effort.

The basic premise behind this list of questions is that you want to evoke genuine – rather than scripted – responses that reveal patterns of behavior in your applicants.  The way they’ve behaved in the past is the best indicator of how they’ll behave in the future, and as expensive and time consuming as it is to hire, train, and sometimes fire new staff, you want to get it right.

Here’s what to ask:

  1. What is your purpose in life?  The folks who have thought about the answer to this question are the ones less likely to be motivated solely by money, meaning they are less likely to jump ship for a higher wage.  Since staff turnover costs you money, you want to identify candidates with long term potential.
  2. How do you make decisions?  This question is a two-parter:  you want to assess your prospects’ decision making process, but you also want to ask for examples of decisions prospects have made in order to determine if their actions support their words.
  3. Show me how…  Ask applicants to demonstrate some of the skills they’ll be using in their new job.  They may feel like you’re putting them on the spot, and in truth, you are.  Whether you ask them to show you how they’d answer the phone, pitch your product, or resolve a customer complaint, you’ll get an idea of how they’ll handle the work they’ll be doing.
  4. How did you go about researching our company?  Serious candidates take the time to learn something about the places they apply.
  5. Tell me something about me you think is interesting.  Again, you’re putting an applicant on the spot, seeing how they think on their feet, and testing the extent of their research.  Do they understand your goals and values?
  6. Tell me about your past bosses.  This is a particularly powerful question, as it gives you insight into candidates’ relationship to authority, and it also tells you how they like to be managed.  Keep an eye out for applicants who complain about every single boss they’ve ever had;  they’re revealing more about their struggle with authority than they realize.
  7. What is your greatest fear about this position?  This question sifts out dishonest applicants, as every single one of them has fears, whether they own up to them or not.  It also lets you identify areas that will need extra attention when you hire.  You’ll be able to start off on the right foot by addressing concerns on the very first day.
  8. If money were no object, what would your ideal job be?  In a perfect world, you want to hire long term employees, and finding out what candidates really want to be doing lets you know if they’ll be around for the long haul.  If the position you’re hiring for isn’t at least a stepping stone, then you may be looking at a short-timer.
  9. Who are the biggest jerks you’ve ever dealt with?  What you’re looking for in this answer is a reveal of candidates’ conflict resolution skills.  How do they see people who cause them problems, and how do they deal with the conflict that will inevitably occur?
  10. What parts of work drive you nuts?  This question offers another way to catch a glimpse of applicants’ weaknesses and insecurities, letting you weed out inadequate candidates or address challenges early on.

Hiring new staff is too important for you to walk into an interview unprepared, but sometimes you’re still uncertain whether prospects are a good long term fit for your company’s goals and values.  When that’s the case, I advise you to hire on a temporary basis – say three months.  At the end of the trial period – assuming you’re pleased with the work – offer the employee a chance to stay on for a full time position or walk away with a $500 check.  The folks who jump at the check aren’t likely to be committed to your long-term success, and the ones who rip up your check are proving their dedication to you.


Mondays with Mike: 15 Email Mistakes To Eliminate

Man Writing an E-Mail on a LaptopGiven that many of us can conduct business without ever touching a piece of paper, email has become the single most important method of business communication.  Appointments, negotiations, confirmations, even billing can be handled via email, which means it’s more important than ever to ensure you’re communicating carefully and professionally.  Here are 15 mistakes you should never make in your business emails:

  1. Irrelevant (or missing) signature lines.  Your signature line should contain your contact information and nothing else.  That inspirational quote from your favorite author is just clutter in business communications.
  2. Cutesy emoticons.  Just don’t. 
  3. Using “Reply All” for every message.  Think about whether your reply really needs to go to everyone on the list.  Send information only to those recipients who really need it.
  4. Speling and gramer erors.  Nothing makes professional correspondence look sloppier than misspelled words and careless grammar errors.  If your email program doesn’t have spellcheck, take the time to copy and paste your messages into a word processing program to clean up any mistakes.  Put your best foot forward.
  5. Including long previous conversations.  Forwarding irrelevant portions of earlier conversations just means folks have to wade through more noise.  Strive to keep your emails clutter-free.
  6. Being too long-winded.  Email is supposed to make us more efficient.  Get to the point and wrap it up.  Don’t get bogged down in unnecessary information.
  7. Altering previous conversations.  Never, ever, ever should you edit earlier conversations to alter their meaning.  Not only is it completely unethical, but you’re likely to be called out for pulling an underhanded stunt.
  8.  Revealing you’ve been BCCed.  If you’re blind copied, it’s for a reason.  If you hit “Reply All,” you’re outing the sender of the original email.  Make sure you’re careful if there’s under-the-radar communication occurring.
  9. Irrelevant or vague subject lines.  If you’re sending an email, it’s because you have important information to share.  Using specific subject lines helps your colleagues wade through their inboxes and identify the emails which need their attention first.  A subject line like “Oh, by the way” is far less effective than “Change in meeting time.”  Be clear.
  10. Burying your point.  In the cases in which you do need to send a lengthy email, make sure your main point is covered early on.  You want to avoid the TL;DR effect – Too Long; Didn’t Read – by getting to the point right away.  Don’t make folks wade through a bunch of fluff to figure out what’s important.
  11. Babysitting your email.  It works just fine, even if you’re not watching it.  Email is supposed to enhance efficiency, but it doesn’t work that way if you’re interrupting your day every time you hear a “ding.”  Similarly, I see people pretending to be busy with their inboxes when they really could be doing something far more productive.  It’s a tool.  Use it at your convenience.
  12. Ignoring critical emails.  Don’t be a lousy correspondent.  So often we read an email and intend to come back to it later.  What ends up happening, though, is we forget, or when we do get back to it, we have to reread it to refresh our memories.  It’s far more efficient to handle important emails right away, or if you can’t, flag them so you don’t miss them when you’re reviewing your inbox.
  13. Replying too quickly.  We often get sucked into the trap of replying in a less than professional manner, simply because email is so quick.  Just because you’ve read a message doesn’t mean you have to answer it right that minute, though.  If you’re upset or confused, sometimes all you need is to take a little time and handle the email when you’re better equipped to do it calmly.
  14. Using a gushy closing.  These are business communications, and there’s really no place for flowery sign-offs.  Keep in mind that if your sig line has your name and contact information, you may not even need to sign off at all.
  15. Attaching enormous files.  Bear in mind that email has limits.  If you absolutely must send a large, critical file, compress or zip it so it doesn’t fill up the recipient’s inbox.

In short: be concise, be professional, and be clear. 


Mondays with Mike: 6 Steps to Building Better Proposals

2-16 business proposal smallWhether you do it many times a day or only occasionally, we all use written proposals from time to time in order to land new clients.  As important as generating revenue is, I’m consistently surprised by how little time many entrepreneurs spend on perfecting these opportunities to shine.  Here are six concrete ways you can make your proposal stand out from the crowd.

  1. Put your pricing options in the right order.  Your best bet is to start with your highest priced option and descend from there.  Why?  Your prospective clients know how much they’re willing to spend, and you want them making comparisons against your high figure first.  That way, every other option looks like a comparative bargain.
  2. Offer three options.  More than three choices can give your prospect analysis paralysis – an inability to decide when faced with an overload of information.  Fewer than three options can make a prospect feel forced into a decision.  Three is the perfect number.  It lets your clients select one option that’s the best fit and discard the options that don’t suit their needs as well.
  3. Include a partially completed contract.  In short, you want to make it as easy as possible for a prospect to say yes.  Doing as much of the paperwork as you can in advance not only makes it easy, but it also gives them a sense of progress toward a goal – in this case, the completed contract.  We’re much more likely to finish a task if we feel like we’re getting somewhere.  Don’t overwhelm your client with a mountain of blank pages to fill out.
  4. Use the power of font size.  I am not suggesting you hide important details in fine print.  What I am suggesting is that tiny modifications of font size can influence the way your prospects read a proposal.  Making the font just one point larger when you mention their name or their company’s name or highlight a key benefit makes the appealing stuff just slightly more apparent.  Reducing the font size one point for discussion of price – the less fun stuff – can minimize the impact of the cost.
  5. Personalize your proposal.  Odds are good that your prospect is receiving proposals from other businesses, and one sure way to make your stand out is by customizing it to reflect unique details just for your client.  If you send off boilerplate wording, it’s going to be less compelling.  If you use your client’s name and refer to specific attributes or benefits for their particular situation, you’re making a connection between your company and the client that’s hard to ignore.
  6.  Use good quality paper.  So many proposals are delivered electronically that seizing the opportunity to present a polished hard copy on heavy, substantial paper will always make you stand out among the other contenders.  You’re showing the client how important their business is to you, and you’re demonstrating your willingness to go above and beyond to ensure high quality results.

Whether you own a construction company that regularly writes high dollar proposals, or you’re a catering company who sends out occasional quotes, making sure you get your proposals right makes a big difference in your bottom line.




 
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