Small Business Attorneys Revisited

Back in November, we wrote about the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) going after an ambulance company for firing an employee over Facebook comments she made about the company and another employee.

Avoiding a letter from a federal agency like the NLRB is enough to justify an attorney’s expense.   I had the opportunity recently to consult with a local tech company on their employee handbook, but even a big document like that isn’t effective insulation.  The feds decided in in this instance that the company’s rules regarding all the after-hours activity like Facebook and blogging were too broad.  This was a case where the decision was justified by the company’s internal documents that the US government decided was unacceptable.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is that the company involved in this issue is not a small business, but a company with a billion in annual revenue.  The Internet and globalization is already democratizing the playing field between small and big business.   Don’t give away your advantage by not working with an attorney.  This company will keep rolling.  Yours may not faced with a similar financial settlement.

Source:  ”Why You Should Consult…“, Silver Beacon Marketing, 11/4/10
Source:  ”Settlement Reached…“, NLRB.gov, 2/8/11

Small Business Service With Groupon

Groupon is enduring some well-deserved criticism this week for its edgy Super Bowl commercial featuring actor Timothy Hutton that made light of Tibet’s struggles with China.  American consumers overwhelmingly rejected the ad while continuing to use the service (herein called The GoDaddy Effect) and the company best known for being the startup that earlier spurned $6 billion of Google’s money created another head-scratching moment.

But what impact does this company have on a small business, maybe your small business, when one of those 50% offers launches?

Almost all Groupon customers ask for a second promotion according to a video on the company’s website.   Local merchants now receive mobile applications, free marketing copywriters and tools like a capacity planner. But business owners often go online to complain about margins or are cautioned about exceeding capacity and cutting into margin.   WebProNews did a splendid piece about Groupon tackling the capacity issue head-on and suggested that Groupon should be able to help a small business plan for lots of new customers.

Capacity was the issue I experienced with local merchants.  The worst was a camera store with an offer that swayed me to convert some old film to DVD .  My son picked up the order and paid with the Groupon, which was about $6 more than the cost.  The cashier did not offer a store credit or offer to sell a second conversion an apply a $6 credit.  Nearly half of the $15 savings evaporated so I called the store.

Pause and reflect.

Groupon brought me in when I wouldn’t have looked around for that old birthday party footage.  Then the store had a chance to wow me with their services anf pick up a second conversion plus who knows how many more future orders?

Instead the clerk said no.  The manager went further, telling me that “Not everything is free just because you have Groupon”.  Those frustrated line staff comments are common on web complaint boards.  But now I had a mission so I called the small chain’s headquarters and was told there was no customer service department and “these questions”  were best handled at the store level.  But now I was more focused on the store manager’s attitude and I ended up in the voice mail of someone in store operations.  That person never called back even after a second message was left.

So the fallout for the store is even worse.  Now I’m not only dissatisfied, but when someone comments on the DVD, I tell them to buy online because the local chain has “awful service”.

That is the essence of a merchant’s Groupon dilemma.  The company says all will be well if the merchant is “honest” about their ability to handle big volumes and convert casual consumers to long-term customers.  Your takeaway as a small business leader is to think strategically, not about cash flow or other tactical matters, when considering any coupon service. If you don’t have an upselling, customer-centric culture and your business has tight margins, inviting a horde of discount-loving customers who have no loyalty to your business is an ineffective strategy.

Source:  ”Groupon.com“, ComplaintsBoard.com, 1/26/2011
Source:  ”Hey, Ellen, Should We Do Groupon?” Restaurant Intelligence, 9/18/2009
Source: “Groupon Talks Managing Capacity…“, Web Pro News, 1/17/2011
Source: “Groupon Rejects $6 Billion Offer From Google“, MSNBC, 12/4/2010
Image:  Eugene Peretz via CC 2.0

Google To Display More Product Info


Looking for product specs and descriptions? Google plans to list them directly on their site without sending the consumer to your site.

Google will begin using information compiled by data aggregators to provide information to consumers in the growing Google Products area.

The company has done this before, but things are different now.  The search engine once tried walling off internal information from products like Froogle and Google Product.  Now comes Google Product Search with product pages that compile “all the information” Google has on a product.

Google manager Brian Lam blogged yesterday that the company would “[work] with suppliers and manufacturers to get product data straight from the source.”   The company chose Edgenet, a data company that organizes information from thousands of companies in multiple sectors, including consumer electronics, furniture and “general merchandise”.
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Resolutions Are Called Goals

Today is the day when people infamously promise themselves to change things.  You might have found yourself mentally agreeing to save more money, lose weight, work less often, attend church or change something.

As a small business leader, your resolutions are called goals.  You hopefully have a goal process, create strategies to reach them, measure them and update your business with new ones.

If you don’t have a goal process, you need one right now.  Stop everything after you read this blog and ask yourself this critical question:

What one thing can I do in the next month while still running my business that will improve profits?

Remember that profits are made up of revenue and expenses.  So your question is really what one meaningful thing can you do in the next 30 days to bring in more revenue or spend less money?

Make your goal reasonable and measurable.  Write it as a promise to yourself:

In the next 30 days, I am going to do this thing and it will result in $X of saved expenses or additional revenue.

Then create your strategy by continuing in a checklist:

To do this thing in 30 days, the following has to happen.

Go make it happen.

Just try creating the goal and the measure and schedule time each day to work on your goal and check on its progress.   Give yourself something you can accomplish fast that has true profit implications.   Hold yourself accountable every workday to that goal.  Plan for it in your budget, your processes and throughout your organization.

By making this commitment, you avoid procrastination and assign real money to the goal.  This is one reason resolutions fail.  There is no clear measurement, strategy or integration into your life. The resolutions that succeed?  Those people did these things in your personal life.

Go now.   Think hard.  Create the 30 day profit-driven goal.  Then in February, create another short-term goal and a medium term goal.  Repeat this strategic exercise until you are constantly working on immediate, short-term and long-term goals related to your organization’s profitability.

Delegate, bring in contractors if you can, test, strategize, think–make something happen.

Then come back here on February 1 and tell us how much profit you generated.

Image:  manos by xololounge via morguefile

comScore Shows Why Search Is More Than Google

4.3 billion searches in the United States during July 2010.

That’s how many searches were handled at Yahoo! and Microsoft controlled sites for the month. Both saw modest gains while Google saw a slight decrease but the biggest message is in comScore’s new “Explicit Core Search Query Report“.

As Yahoo and Microsoft increasingly intertwine their search businesses, the companies combined for nearly 1/3 of all US searches.  And there are studies that suggest certain product categories convert better for sales or leads than a Google search or advertisement.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is that Google remains synonymous with search, but ignoring a combined 33% of the market is bad strategy.  The advertising formats and frameworks are different for Google and the new Microsoft adCenter Search Alliance.  Facebook adds a third, complicating wrinkle, but search advertising is no longer Google and 5 smaller competitors.  There are three platforms with opportunities, and the small business leader will have a stake at all three.

Delighted By A Doctor

If you can make a customer look this delighted, your business will enter hypergrowth

A doctor asked me to obtain a medical record from another doctor who had seen one of my children in 1997.  A toddler then, my son is about to enter his senior year in high school.

Leave the flowers and “blink of an eye” stuff to Father’s Day.  1997 was a long time ago.

First I had to find the doctor.  I found him practicing with someone else in another town.  He was on vacation when I called, but had private voice mail so I was able to detail the situation for him.

His follow up and his recall were the stuff of service legend.

His first call buzzed my office phone at 9 a.m. on Monday the day he returned.  I had started work, but had gone for coffee.  We played phone tag and he called me a second time before 10:30.

Vendors I pay lots of money to don’t follow up that fast.

“I don’t have easy access to records that old,” he told me, and I immediately began thinking about how I could meet the new doctor’s requirement.

Then the original doctor astonished me.

He told me where I had worked when he first saw my child.  It was a new job, he remembered, and I groaned because I must have really gone on a lot for him to remember that. Then he told me about my two other children.  He got their sexes and approximate ages correct. When he told me we had been house hunting, I almost accused him of having a chart there.

Nope.

He got a couple of facts close but wrong.  But he clearly remembered his patient from 13 years ago.  He placed my life in context then–something I hadn’t been able to do as well in the new situation.

And then he offered to write a letter describing his original impressions and confirming that he had treated my son. That letter arrived less than 3 days after we spoke.

He did all of this–the lightning fast phone calls, the letter writing–free. There is no hope for repeat business, little chance of a referral that far away and certainly little upside in making these return calls a priority on his first day back in the office.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is to consider what it would take to delight people so much they write a blog about you.

Our world continues a frantic pace of interconnected information.   What used to be called “user generated content” in the dark days of two years ago is now simply one of thousands of local review sites.

If you delight people, not just customers but anyone interacting with your business, your business will grow faster than any other way imaginable.

And you get to like what you do.  Because only people who love what they do can pull this off and not burn out before next Thursday.

This is more than word-of-mouth.  It’s delight.

Size Matters For YouTube

The axiom of recall and comprehension rising when more senses are engaged has a factual basis.    A Harvard Medical School publication urges subscribers to actively engage, stating “The more senses you use when you learn something, the more of your brain will be involved in retaining the memory.”

That’s one reason why YouTube clips go viral more than plain HTML pages.

You may read something you want to share, but when a video plays and engages you with video and sound, the effect is much more pronounced.  And experts say that’s what helps boost memory and retention.

Now YouTube has announced that the new limit for videos is 15 minutes.   Five extra minutes of video is huge.

Success stories surrounding video are all over the web.

A company selling $400 blenders for the home market made its case with a funny viral series and laughed all the way to the bank.

The debut album from an amateur singer pushing 50 years old outsold Lady Gaga and Rihanna on both sides of the ocean.

A teenage and her friends began uploading makeup videos.  Their tutorials go viral and a19 year old becomes Lancome’s video makeup artist.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is that you are probably not doing enough video outreach.   How-tos are big.  So is anything entertaining.  An entertaining how-to is a ticket for success.  Consider these examples:

  • A catering service could shoot video on how to frill up a table for an intimate dinner for two.  How do you get the napkins to do that?  What about the candles?  And, of course, the food.
  • A towing service might show a series of simulated roadside problems and how to deal with each.
  • A consultant can upload past talks that they’ve given to public audiences.
  • Any retail store can give product demonstrations of any merchandise.

We know that big television networks used pretty people, but YouTube has the been great democratizing force in video.  If you have something worthwhile to say, there’s an audience for you no matter what you look or sound like.

And now you have 5 minutes more to get your message across.

More Opportunity Than Ever in Back to School Sales

Back to school sales represent bigger opportunities than ever for merchants willing to discount and appeal to a broader market.

sale signThat projection from a Google Retail study says that school-type supplies are bought for more purposes than school supplies.  Every good office manager knows that.

What might not be as clear is that parents are using the opportunity to search for items for other family members and they are price sensitive.   How could they not be?

Google’s study found that 90% of back-to-school shoppers were influenced by price. That’s not the surprise.  Those are table stakes.  You have to know that. What you may not know is that 60% reported they would be influenced by coupons.

The macro economy is sluggishly grinding to a recovery.  The micro economy has tens of millions of folks out of work and struggling to stretch every dollar.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is that multiple retailers with multi-million budgets are going to bombard consumer markets in a few weeks with coupons and discount pricing.  Even though you may not even sell back-to-school type items, even for college students, your marketing messages are going to be in the mix with the discounts.

Unless you’re a premium brand,  you might want to consider the global consumer mindset and ride the back-to-school discount wave.

Blowing Credibility When You Miss The Facts

I subscribe to a blog/newsletter via email.   I’ve learned a few tidbits over time and get some chuckles every so often.  My impression before Saturday was that it was an email I would regularly open.

They published a story last week about the big UFC match between Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin.  I forwarded a copy to my friend Roheblius who knows everything about boxing, MMA and other fighting sports.  Roheblius has been following this stuff for years and knows the fight game inside out.  His response floored me.

Some of the information in that newsletter was wrong!

I don’t mean disputed information like “Who discovered America?”, but factually inaccurate.   Not typos either.  I would be most forgiving of those.  I had suggested to Roheblius that he might want to subscribe.

Now I’m wondering if I put too much faith in a usually unsourced publication and if I’m comfortable ever sending a copy to anyone else or even reading the information.

The doubt that entered my mind is the same kind of doubt you can unknowingly pass along to a prospect with misinformation in your marketing or on your website.  Your advertising claims, your website copy and your images need to be spot-on accurate.  Your takeaway as a small businessperson is that a lack of accuracy kills credibility.  You can’t guess or use folklore or street knowledge or any other guesswork.  If you print it, you have to know.

Without credibility, your small business won’t last long when there are plenty of alternative businesses that can do the same things and be factually accurate while doing so.

Google Proves SEO Is Ongoing Effort

Search engine optimization is not set-it-and-forget-it.   You can hire any number of capable individuals and agencies (including Silver Beacon!) that can analyze your website and either make recommendations or do work to optimize your site to receive profitable visitors.   You see, that’s what real search engine optimization is about: profitability.

The snake oil salespeople who guarantee that your site will rank #1 at Google are poseurs to avoid.  Even Google warns about these people.  ”Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings, allege a “special relationship” with Google, or advertise a “priority submit”, writes Google about SEO on its site.

Just this year, Google took its own steps toward transparency by auditing its own SEO efforts in report card format on various “organic” ranking factors.  Breathe easy.  That’s a link to the blog about the effort, not the actual 49 page report.    Google said it looked 100 of its properties across a dozen common SEO dimensions, and the search giant didn’t always give itself good marks.   That’s fair because some of Google’s SEO is reminiscent of the adage about the cobbler’s children’s shoes.

Critical in this post, however, is Google’s statement that they would continue measuring its performance and might use some different measurements in the future, but that Google itself would keep monitoring its own search engine optimization.

Almost any effort atrophies if left unused.  If you exercise, you know what begins happening after even a short layoff.  And if you don’t monitor your car’s fluids and the condition of its hoses, tires and belts, the mechanic may be your new best friend.  The same issues occur with SEO, but only more so because search engine best practices change all the time.

I spoke this week with a well known CTO whose decades of experience pre-date Google.   “I know when major changes happen,” he said in referring to Google’s “Caffeine” update,  but you SEO folks are like surfers riding each new wave.”

The analogy is apt.  The waves continue.   They don’t stop.  Neither does search engine optimization.  Even if Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL and Ask all decided to stop making any changes for six months, that doesn’t mean that the millions of other businesses will also stop their efforts.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is that just like a person needs a physical, an eye exam and a dental checkup every year, your website needs the same checkup.    Don’t surf the SEO waves without one.