Category Archives: Inspiration

Creative Tips for Running a Business Without a Central Office

by Jenna Smith

When most think of businesses, they imagine offices, meetings and memos. Increasingly, however, more businesses are moving their activities online and using a decentralized model that eliminates the need for a main office.

Although many still view this model as radical, the technology exists to help make this vision a reality. Here are some of the technologies that enable what some envision as the future of business.

Internet Communication 

Email is a great tool to communicate, but it is not sufficient for the type of communication that businesses need to work effectively. Fast broadband connections, high-quality video hardware and clever software are able to replicate the standard business model.

Business that adopt the decentralized model are using audio conference calling and virtual meetings to communicate in a manner similar to that of standard offices, and communication platforms encourage staff communication. Document sharing and visual tools fill the gap that older methods of Internet communication lacked.

Collaboration platforms 

New platforms allow businesses to plan and track projects in real time. These platforms enable employees to log their activities and work on files in a central location. Changes are documented instantly, and version control allows managers to view how documents change over time.

Further, chat capabilities and integration with tools used for communication help employees work together wherever they are located. Many of these platforms function as a web app, so users simply need a standard web browser and Internet access to work.

Cloud platforms 

The cloud paradigm allows businesses to use a centralized data store for their business purposes. It also take the centralization a step further and serves applications over a network. Businesses can use these platforms to allow workers to access business programs and software from anywhere.

In conjunction with collaboration platforms, cloud programs can be used to accomplish tasks that typically demand an office computer. With the increasing speed of Internet connections, advanced network deliver methods and good software design, cloud platforms can replicate a typical office experience through a web browser.

Working without a centralized located places demands on employees. Working from home requires self-discipline and the ability to work in a solitary environment. The benefits of being able to hire employees across the nation, however, let employers to hire talented employees without having to worry about where they are located. While many business will continue to operate from a centralized location, certain projects can be best accomplished over the Internet.

Try This Powerful Boost for Your Marketing Personality

by-combined-media-via-flickr1
It’s amazing how much control we have over our lives, experiences and outcomes.  When it seems that everything is out of my control – I like to make a list of all the things that I actually do control.

For example:

  • When I get up
  • Whether to wash my hair today
  • What to wear
  • What to have for breakfast or whether TO have breakfast
  • When to leave the house
  • Which route to take, etc

I can take this list further and further down.  Another thing I control is how I’m going to be today.  In fact, although we can’t control other people – we can influence how they are going to be by our own actions.

So what’s that got to do with your marketing personality?

Everything.

You.  Your employees.  The conversations you have on the phone today – are all advertisements and hence, your marketing.

You can choose what experience you’re going to give to your customers and the people who will refer business to your company – just by the way you choose to be today.

So – CHOOSE SOMETHING POWERFUL!

I choose creativity today.  I’m going to be extra creative in coming up with solutions.  I’m going to be extra creative in bringing new opportunities and possibilities to my clients.

What will YOU choose today?

Think Differently About the Economy and Bootstrap with Style

Over the last few weeks I’ve written several articles on the economy for the American Express Open Forum blog. Every article offered some practical advice that any sized business could benefit from.

I contributed “Bootstrapping is Hip.” I outline some reasons why it’s GOOD to be low on cash and then give you some easy marketing tactics to get you going for low dollars.

John Jantsch from Duct Tape Marketing, wrote about the possibility that it’s our attitude toward money was in a recession. Whew, I’m glad I’m not the only one who believes that our thoughts and attitudes toward money effect how much of it comes through.

Kyle Hunt (Your Marketing Guy), another Duct Tape Marketing expert pulled together a wonderful article that focused on marketing as a two-step process; let’s get to know each other — then let’s get married. I feel sorry for anyone who gets those two reversed.

So, if you’re feeling down about the economy – check out the AMEX Open Forum blog and adjust your attitude, pull yourself up and give it the old one-two punch.

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Great Brain Starters for Marketing Ideas

By_combined_media_via_flickr I’ve had a bit of a run of what I call "empty-head."  This is where your brain feels a little hungry for something fun to think or muse about.

When that happens I take a journey through my blog feeds and stumble around for things that I think are somewhat useful and "brain-starters" on a slow day.

Here they are.

  1. 193 Creative Marketing Ideas: Every business owner, sales and/or marketing professional should have a file of stuff like this.  Read it over from time to time.  Ask yourself "In what ways can I use this strategy to build profit and revenue?"  I also like to read stuff like this and think about ways to use my unique position (selling proposition) to put a creative twist on a simple strategy.  This is a keeper.
  2. Scribd (Publish Yourself Online): So, while discovering and reading through "193 creative marketing strategies" I notice that it’s on this cool tool called "Scribd"  You upload documents, share them with groups, download, ertc.  It’s a great viral marketing tool.
  3. Work by Result by Adversity University: I absolutely LOVE Stephen Hopson and this blog.  Today’s story on work by result will get you thinking how you can put your focus on your desired, true-quality result.  He says it all with a joke which will make you think.
  4. Wendy Piersall’s New Sparkplugging: I got to know about Wendy Piersall through Anita Campbell at SmallBizTrends first, and then via Twitter. If you’re a mom, or parent even, you will find lots of good tidbits in Sparkplugging.  First, I absolutely LOVE the logo.  I love the site and how it very intelligently and professionally combines business with the fun and challenge of working from home.  Check it out and see what you think. 
  5. Diversification as a strategy by AnyWired.  As you’ve probabvly guessed, I really enjoy any blog or information that gives me a useful list and allows me the creativity to think about how to apply what they’ve written to any current challenge.  One of my pet topics is what they’re calling "Diversification."  The concept is to look at your business as a table or a chair – and then build "legs" that serve as conduits for revenue.  The more "legs" you have, the more stable the business.  But – don’t forget.  Too many legs just don’t work.  So, overall great Ideas on building revenue.  See what you get from it.

An so, there you have my morning musings on cool stuff I’ve found.  I’m off right now, but I’ll be thinking about these through the day.

Let me know if you’ve got some cool stuff that you’ve found.

(photo by combined media via www.flickr.com)

Are You Flexing Your Mental Muscles?

Csm107511 I had a severe case of "empty-head" this morning.  It’s going to be a busy day; on-site client meetings, project work and an evening event.  I had to make arrangements for day care, prep my husband for the homework that will need to be done in my absence and generally get myself ready for the day.  Too much stuff going on and not enough time for some of the most important preparation — the growth and profitability of my business.

Thankfully the brains at Small Business Trends have been on the job.  My visit this morning was fruitful because I read this wonderfully thought provoking post by Scott Shane where he talks about the entrepreneurial ability to spot fresh new opportunities in all kinds of economic environments.

This prompted me to focus on the entrepreneurial mindset and the fact that much of it is nothing more than working that mental muscle.  So, I thought I’d start a list of brain-flexing, opportunity spotting questions — and you can add your own.  How fun would it be if we actually were able to come up with some useful entrepreneurial opportunities?

The set ups is this; every trend and economic event breeds both winners and losers. Foreclosures are up, some brilliant entrepreneurial real estate agents decided to run bus tours.

So here’s my economic bad news bit and some brain-flexing questions to go with it. 

Gas prices are up.  Transportation costs, travel costs, and the cost of getting from here to there is way up.

  • What’s missing?  I wish there were a way to map out all the things I have to do so that I don’t waste time and money back-tracking?….
  • What do we need more of?
  • What assumptions am I making?  I’m making the assumption that we should travel and move less.
  • Reverse the assumptions.  Transportation costs are up, we will travel more….

OK – gotta run and start the day – can’t wait to see what you guys add to this.

Why are Good Taglines so Hard to Write?

4218214418I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that a good tagline is just about the most powerful element of your marketing strategy.  A good tagline is better than a logo because it can be searched and found.  A good tagline can permanantly position your organization in your buyers mind so that you are the first person they think of when the want or need for your offering arises.  A good tagline is priceless.

And like all things priceless, a good tagline can be downright elusive.  At this writing there are 1.5 million search results on Google for the phrase "how to write a good tagline" and almost 20,000 search results on Google blog search.  Not all are applicable, but here are some:

Shira Linden has some practical suggestions.  I like anything that literally tells me what to do.  The brainstorming section in here I think is very good.

Liz Strauss – Liz has compiled a wonderful list that you can explore and perhaps some element will resonate with you in your journey to the perfect tag.

Mike Blaney – Here are a few other interesting ideas from Mike who is interviewing an expert on taglines and writing.

One thing that you will notice is you’ve clicked around is that everyone has the same recommendations as to what makes a good tagline and how to get one for yourself. Yet, we still see way too many esoteric, general taglines that make us wrinkle our nose and thing "What?"

What makes some taglines stick and others fall flat?  I’ve been reading the book "Made to Stick" and this is what’s stuck with me.

Surprising and Unexpected.  If you want people to really remember and pass something on, it needs to have an element of surpise.  Back when FedEx got started, getting something there overnight was unexpected.

Concrete, Visual and Easy Enough for a Kid to Understand.  Test your tagline on a 6-year old.  If they understand what you do, chances are other people will too.  The more concrete and detailed the description, the more legs it will have.

Have a story around your tag.  This is a wonderful idea.  If you can incorporate the elements above into a story, all the more powerful and easy it is to pass your name on to others.  The book uses the example of Frank Sinatra’s song "New York, New York" with the lyrics "If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere"  your story has to have that same halo effect.

My How-to Process for a Great Tag

  1. Get some index cards.  Buy a whole pack or two, trust me, you’ll use them all. You can also use sticky notes.
  2. Write a category on each card.  For example: My Ideal Customer, My promise to the customer, Benefits to the customer, Features, How I (or we) do what we do, Why we do what we do, What sets us apart or  makes me (or us) different from any other alternative?, Why customers choose us, What do our ideal customers really want,How we give customers what they want …any of the categories discussed in the links above.
  3. Write 1 (one) item per card under each category.  You can start this yourself, or do it with a group. Write out as many of these under each category as you can.
  4. Simplify, Concretize, Visualize.  Now go through each of the individual cards you wrote and start editing what you wrote for simplicity.  If there is a word on there that a 6-year old wouldn’t understand, pick a simpler word.  In what ways can you make this statement more visual?  Can you make a comparison against something that your audience already knows, understands and feels emotional about?
  5. Write out some tags.
  6. Test for simplicity again.
  7. Write out some more tags
  8. Test with some kids.  Write each tag on a separate index card and ask a kid what he or she thinks this person does.  What would they call this person for?  When would they call this person?
  9. Once you’ve got something that works, think of some good stories you can use that illustrate your benefits.
  10. Test and tweak.
  11. Launch.

I’m dying to know what you think about this.

Why You Should Want to Lose More Than You Win

Cb100463  I was at a conference last year where they asked that "Your most embarassing moment" question.  I had a hard time thinking of one.  As they went around the room and one person after another regailed the group with stories that were good enough to leave us all in stitches, I just sat there.

My brain was spinning.  I just couldn’t think of anything that came even close to some of the gems that people were sharing.  Then I noticed something interesting.  The most successful people in the room not only had the best stories, but had enough embarassing moments to share for the session and some left over for dinner.

That’s not at all what I expected.  I thought for certain, that the most successful people were the ones that did it all right.  Yet, quite the opposite was true.

I learned that I was playing it too safe.  I wasn’t taking enough risk.  I wasn’t putting myself out there often enough to actually create an embarassing moment that I could learn from.  And who knows, some of those embarassing moments could have been opportunities.  But I’ll never know, because I didn’t take the risk.

If you stop and think about it, if you want to win, you have to experience a lot of loss along the way.

One of my first clients, Mr. Excel more than quadrupled his revenue in about two years.  Everyone wanted to know how we did it.  The answer is always the same.  We tried a lot of things.  And we failed at a lot of things, but the few things that were a hit, were really, really good.

When I ran direct mail campaigns, and sent out 5,000 mailing pieces and only 500 responded, you could say that I failed reaching 4,500 people.  But if the 500 I did reach responded and purchased $1,000 worth of services each, then my campaign wasn’t such a failure after all.

What are we really afraid of, rejection? Failure?  Not getting what we want?  One of my favorite prospecting motivators is to calculate the cost per rejection.  Let’s say that for every 100 conversations that you have 10 people say "yes" to your offer.  If each offer is worth $1000, then each of those 100 conversations is worth $100.  Each "no" brings you closer to a "yes."

Don’t be afraid.  Put yourself out there and lose to win.

The Role of Gratitude in Your Marketing Strategy

Gratitude Developing and running a successful marketing strategy has a lot to do with how well you manage gratitude.

Seems odd to use those two words together, doesn’t it — "Manage Gratitude."  But there’s a method to my madness.

Gratitude is not something that should "come upon you,"  Whether you acknowledge it or not, your level of gratitude on any given day impacts the quality of the experience your customers and clients have with you.

If your response to "How’s your day?" is "It would be great, if we didn’t have all these pesky customers to deal with…" Then, every action you take in running your business on that day, has that little ingredient in it, that little bit of attitude that comes through in everything you do.

I talked to one of my client’s customers and she literally said "I can’t stand calling in to them, because I always feel like I’m interrupting something."

Think about that.

Likewise taking a few minutes in the morning and during your morning "production meeting" or debrief with your team, sprinkle comments filled with gratitude about the tasks you’re completing for customers or clients.  You’ll notice that by simply predisposing yourselves to the good things that these customers bring to your organization will improve your level of performance and more importantly, improve the quality of their experience with you.

Set Yourself Up for Success

Firewalk2In the process of cleaning my office I found these pictures from a firewalk I did in 2000. 

The top picture is of me breaking a slab of wood in two. I don’t consider myself particularly strong, nor have I had a single minute of martial arts training and yet… I closed my eyes, lifted my hand and brought it down with a "Thwap!" I remembered to exhale, and when I opened my eyes and looked down. Two pieces of wood lay on the table instead of one!  I had done it!

There is a picture missing; it’s one of me actually breaking an arrow against my throat.  It’s an exercise called arrow breaking

The picture on the bottom is of me walking a 20 foot stretch of 1200 degree coals.  That was supposed to be the "big event" of the evening.  But none of these events was as big as three lessons I learned about getting what you want.

  1. Be clear about what it is that you want.  It’s impossible to focus on getting more customers if you aren’t sure exactly what those customers look like.  It’s a lot like stepping into a crowded room and trying to find your "blind date" if you don’t know anything about them.  The more clearly you define your ideal customer; how they look, how they behave, what they want, where they hang out, and what they had for breakfast, the more likely you will be to find them.
  2. Physically set your environment up for your success.  Breaking the arrow with my neck was not a miracle.  At the base of your neck, there is a very strong muscle when you tighten that muscle and place that arrow so that it is perfectly perpendicular to the wall and walk straight toward the wall – the arrow will break.  It’s all about arrow placement, muscle control and physics does the rest.
  3. You must start and not stop until you’re done.  Once you start that 20 foot trek along 1200 degree hot coals, the last thing you want to do 10 feet in is take a moment to question your decision. I remember it took me a while to decide to start walking.  The facilitator told us it was important to focus on the goal, to walk at a slow steady pace and to look directly ahead envisioning your goal at the end of the path.  Starting a new marketing strategy or program is a lot like that.  You have to focus on the goal, walk a slow steady pace and just keep working it until you come to the end of the track.

You don’t have to walk over hot coals to figure any of this out, just think back to an experience you had that taught you about how to control your own success.  Write back and let me know what it is.