Book Review: The Entrepreneur Equation

I have had the privilege of reading through Carol Roth’s about-to-be-released book, chock full of very valuable advice for anyone thinking about starting a new business. The Entrepreneur Equation is a must-read if you’re looking at becoming an entrepreneur.

My video review is below. This is a no-nonsense, highly practical reality check from a gal who knows her stuff. Highly recommended.

It’s also quite well-written, and funny. Because that’s who Carol is. You can pre-order your copy here.

(btw, I am a huge advocate of taking ideas and distilling them down to their core essence – yes, I’m a bit OCD about that. One of the coolest items in this book is the “Cheat Sheet” section in the back, where Carol gives a 1-3 sentence summary of each chapter. You can only do that when there is clarity and cohesion of thought…good job, Carol!)

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Where is My Business Coming From?

You.

And, if I have anything to say about it, some of yours is going to come from me (if you’re competent and trustworthy, that is!)

Every entrepreneur, contractor, and business owner knows that one of the biggest challenges is finding new business. Or, as I discussed on the phone last week with Canadian networker Kneale Mann (@knealemann), even if you have enough clients, you can always hope to gain better clients.

Now we all know that the best clients come by referrals. A recommendation by a trusted source is gold, both for the client and the supplier. But by and large, this happens only haphazardly. We’re still stuck marketing and selling ourselves constantly, sucking away potentially productive time in the scramble to acquire new clients.

Stop and think about what we so often take for granted. What we have resigned ourselves to. Do you realize what percentage of our time is spent in this gross inefficiency? Now, think from a client perspective – how much time and effort gets drained away trying to find the best supplier, and how much money is wasted when bad decisions are made?

Do you see the billions of dollars, the billions of hours of lost productivity, flying out the window every week of every year? We don’t even see it anymore, just chalking it up to the cost of doing business.

This status quo stinks. I’m tired of seeing good people not have enough work to achieve escape velocity, and tired of seeing clients and suppliers hemorrhage away money in the clumsy dance that is “normal” business development.

My company is built on a network of business matchmaking. And, joining together with other like-minded folks, we’re building a new business reality – where trusted recommendations are the norm, not the exception. Where good people and companies find each other through a purpose-built trust network. Think of it as the Connection Agency.

Stay tuned. There’s a lot more to come…

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Leadership by Amputation

In this week’s #LeadershipChat on Twitter (theme for the week: Courage in Business), the idea popped up about how courageous leadership sometimes involves letting go an underperformer – for the sake of the morale of the team.

Exit: Randy Moss, from the Minnesota Vikings.

The bottom line is, a leader has to constantly weigh the cost/benefit ratio of someone who has talent, but who either:

  • doesn’t perform up to it,
  • is in a mismatched role,
  • puts on a prima donna act,
  • refuses to follow the rules,
  • …or some combination thereof.

Randy Moss is not the first full-of-myself athlete to be cut from a team, and he won’t be the last. The Vikings took a risk signing him, but they did the right thing by getting rid of him quickly. A good lesson for all business leaders who know in their gut that they have someone on-board who is a net negative.

Amputate, before the infection spreads.

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Can We Re-Make Business via Social Networking?

I think so. You?

Our goal should not be so small as to get corporations to adopt a social media strategy. That’s fine – but, frankly, I want to transform how business gets done. Who’s with me?

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Wanted: Find. Not Search.

Search engines (esp. Google) are ubiquitous. Search is critical to any communications strategy. But there’s one major problem with it.

We want Find. Search is just the means to the end.

If there is a person, a resource, a piece of information, a product out there, it’s a marvelous thing that now we can often get to it via search functions. But search isn’t what we want. We want the target we’re after. As some have put it, people don’t want a 3/4 inch drill – they want a hole (I would actually disagree – they don’t just want the hole, they want to hang a picture!).

What if a trusted resource could FIND what we want, and deliver it to our doorstep? Saving you the time and effort of searching, vetting, evaluating, downloading, ordering, whatever? Wouldn’t that provide tremendous value in many cases, in a world increasingly drowning in “seachable” assets?

Furthermore, what if that trusted resource was you? What if you were the go-to person who found what was needed and made it easier for others to get on with their real work?

You know what you might have then? A business. Think about it…

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A New Venture – Impactiviti Talent Network

This week marks the official launch of something I’ve been working on for months – an On-line Job Board tied to Social Networking.

Maybe you can help us get it off the ground? Please read on.

My main money-making business has been in the pharma field – specifically, “matchmaking” pharma/biotech/med device client needs with optimal vendor/suppliers. It’s a wonderful business, being built on trust and networking – yet one of the (welcome) side effects is a constant behind the scenes effort to help people find new jobs, and clients find new talent. I’ve wanted for quite some time to find a way to meet this “matchmaking” need in a way that will build the business and help the most people.

Impactiviti Talent Network

I launched a Job Board (giving credit here to Twitter pal Jeremiah Owyang, who blazed this trail before me – thanks, Jeremiah!), but it was clear that the need was too large for me to take on without diluting the rest of my business.

So – I have brought on a business partner to run the Talent Network. On-line job posting will appear in a large searchable database (and in LinkedIn), AND be promoted throughout my extensive Impactiviti pharma social network. My partner Jan is making calls into the vast pool of organizations who could benefit from this broad and targeted approach to getting industry job listings noticed.

It’s a win-win-win business model, my favorite kind. Here’s the link to the overview and the Job Board.

How can you help? Well, by tweeting the link to this post, for one thing – I want to gain maximum exposure for this initiative. And especially, if you have any contacts in pharma/biotech/med devices HR organizations – staffing professionals who are looking for a recruiting edge – would you please send them the link (http://impactiviti.wordpress.com/impactiviti-job-board/)? There’s a downloadable .pdf file there that gives the basic info needed.

If you know people we should talk to who would benefit, please feel free to send me an e-mail (stevew at impactiviti dot com)

Also, any companies that service the pharma industry (agencies, vendors, etc.), and want to list jobs, can do so as well. And, of course, job seekers can go right to the Impactiviti Job Board and search for new positions.

Thank you in advance for being part of this new venture. It’s social networking being put to work!

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Why a Referral Business Works

My business model is referrals. I “matchmake” best in class vendors with clients looking for great partners.

Now, there are lots of ways to find suppliers. You can Google, make phone calls, field incoming sales calls, sit through capabilities presentations, go through an RFP process, vet vendors, pick one and hope it works….you know the drill. Inefficient, time-intensive, risky.

Or, you can get a referral from someone who understands both sides of the equation.

Here’s the non-secret: People are hungry to work with someone they trust. A referral from a trustworthy source can bypass all kinds of unnecessary effort and mitigate risk.

Can you build an entire win-win-win business on being trustworthy, knowledgeable, and helpfully connecting people? Yes – a very secure business. With very little competition. Either as a solo operator, or a trustworthy business.

Because trust is not a commodity.

You can settle for being a cog in someone else’s wheel, a commodity employee. But why? Can you create something for yourself, built on trust, on connections, on referrals? Something unique that puts to use what and who you know, and how you operate?

I’ll bet a lot of you can…

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More than Enough

A great product is not enough. People need to know why.

A great message is not enough. People want to be cared for.

Love is not enough. People need to see enough value to exchange dollars.

A great quarterly spreadsheet is not enough. People want you there for the long haul.

Put together a great offering, with a compelling message, delivered and supported with love – make your product or service both valuable and profitable – and you’ll have more than enough to succeed. Anywhere, anytime, always.

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The 90-Minute e-book

This was one of those mornings where I issued myself a weird creative challenge.

“Take the primary business lessons you’ve learned and turn them into a brief e-book. You have 90 minutes.”

Ninety minutes to distill years of experience and thought.

As you might expect, it’s rough around the edges. But hopefully these seven lessons learned (painfully) may be guideposts to spare you some wasted effort and professional discouragement.

Or not. You’ve undoubtedly learned a few nuggets along the way – what would you add?

It’ll only take you a few minutes to read. Maybe a bit longer to digest and apply!

Seven Profound Business Lessons (that you want to know sooner rather than later!)

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Each and Recently

The old marketing model emphasized “reach and frequency.”

Try to expose your message to as many as possible, as often as possible. A certain percentage will respond.

It’s a numbers game. And, it de-personalizes your audience. They’re a target. A demographic. Occupiers of a business funnel.

Been there. Done that.

Instead, let’s think in terms of “each and recently.” There is a growing pool of people who rely on you for information, connections, and services. They become customers, friends, collaborators, and, in a wonderful way, the most effective sales force you could possibly have.

Touch each of them. Make sure, as their names come to mind, that you’ve somehow touched them recently. And don’t worry a whole lot about the reach and frequency numbers game.

They’ll do that for you.

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Why Should I…?

My car needed an oil change. And instead of suffering through the rigamarole that often occurs when going to the dealership (even with a coupon for a freebie), I decided to use the Valvoline “Instant Oil Change” joint not far away. You don’t even get out of your car – they have a remarkably efficient system for knocking out quick stuff like this.

And knock it out they did. Very friendly and crisp service. Zoom-zoom and it was done (yes, I have a Mazda). I was very happy with Vince and the gang up in Kinnelon until the very end – when he pointed out a section on the receipt and asked if I would make a phone call (“only about 4 1/2 minutes!”) to tell Valvoline about how they did.

Just plug in that 17-digit number and go through a series of questions. Ummm…yeah. I just saved a bunch of time by using their service, then I want to take more minutes of my time to get immersed in an automated phone survey…with no incentive to do so? Why should I?

Oh – I had a chance to win $500.00. Right.

As I drove home, I mused on this – what would motivate me to actually make that call? What would make me WANT to do something so optional and non-rewarding, even if (as a marketing guy) I know why they’re doing it and I benefited from the good service?

Well, when totaling up the bill, Vince asked if I had any coupons. Ummm…no. There is a seemingly random appearance at times of such coupons for Valvoline but I can never keep track. Well – what if the incentive to make the phone call was to receive a coupon for $7.00 off the next oil change? And furthermore – what if I could do the survey on-line, and specify whether I wanted to print it out immediately, OR have them e-mail it to me at an interval I choose – say, in 3 months as a reminder, just when I’m due for the next oil change?

That, I would do. And really – isn’t it better to provide coupons to already-existing customers, in a way that actually helps ensure their return? Seems like a no-brainer to me.

So, Valvoline or other-purveyors-of-similar-services – Tell you about my visit? Sure – it was fine, but can be better for both you and me. So here’s an idea for you, from a customer/marketer who won’t make that phone call for no reason, but will spend 15 minutes blogging about how to improve the experience. Hope to see you again in 3 months or so (if I remember…!)

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Getting a GRIP on ROI

ROI and social media? It matters, of course.  It’s important to measure what a specific investment of dollars has returned by way of dollars – but ultimately, this is a post-hoc measurement, right? When people demand ROI calculations up front, what we’re really talking about is projections – and we need to project more than that.

Looking to try some new initiative? Don’t simply talk about ROI. You should talk about anticipated or estimated impact on goals for something you do or do not do. Thinking about “return” in the direct financial sense is too narrow. Ultimately, aren’t you really all about attaining specific goals?

Let’s change the conversation. Don’t we really just want to get a GRIPGoal Realization Impact Projection – on everything we consider doing?

Take a business considering the use of social media. For most for-profit entities, the goal is business growth. What we really want to know is, how will our involvement (or non-involvement) in social media impact our growth? Based on trends, case studies, market opportunities, and common sense, what do we project will occur if we invest (or fail to)? Potential ROI is part of this – but it is not the entire pie.

One reason it is important to think this way is that it is impossible, in most cases, to make direct/accurate correlations between specific activities and specific results. Why did that person call a certain realtor to list their house? Was it the billboard they saw that morning, the accumulation of ad impressions in the local paper, the business card found in a drawer, the recommendation of a friend, a 2nd level connection on Facebook, or some or all or none of the above? What’s the ROI on a radio spot at 7:48 am Thursday – or the one on Friday?

Another main difficulty with a more narrow ROI approach is the focus on short-term thinking. But many initiatives have to be designed for impact over the long haul. How many people will try Loveless Cafe in Nashville because of this – 28 years later? And while we’re at it, what about the positive (or negative) non-financial impact that occurs? See Olivier Blanchard’s very smart ROI posts for more on this theme.

On the other hand, getting a GRIP is a much more holistic and sensible approach to evaluating the relative value of any initiative. GRIP can include ROI estimates, but as generally practiced right now, viewing everything through ROI spectacles doesn’t do a great job taking into account the broader issues at play.

One way to “grid it out”:

…or something like that.

My friend Olivier Blanchard (who has been critiquing my thought process with this post) brings up a great point – what is the currency or measure that one would use in the GRIP model? My sense is: that depends (don’t you love consultants?). Because the issues and applications go beyond business and dollars, the measures can have quite a variety.

So, here’s a non-financial / non-biz example – someone wants to know if they should set up a personal Facebook page. Main goal: keeping in better touch with family/old friends. Getting a GRIP on this could be as simple as identifying the main factors (benefits/drawbacks/resources), and setting up sliders as a relative scale. What will emerge is that, while there will be a short-term extra effort learning the platform and setting up, the long-term savings of time and effort will far outweigh it.

Similarly, for business, short and long-term financial return, the PR value/risk, the internal resources, the potential direct and indirect “reach,” and other factors all can be put on scales to help figure out the potential for better realizing goals.

The model is still soft clay – what do you think of such an approach? Valuable? Useless? Tweaks? Add your thoughts in the comments…

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Enlightenment in 4 Slides

OK, I’m sure that headline is overstating it a bit…!

Nonetheless, those of use who believe that social networking is transforming business have an ongoing challenge: helping people who are most familiar with traditional business communications “get” what is happening with social media, and understand why it will touch all areas of business.

Here is my “first draft” attempt to distill it down to 4 slides (on Slideshare). How would you express it? Add comments or link to your own Slideshare/blog post!

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Building your Small Business

So, you have (or are starting) a small business. Now the big challenges are: How do I do this right? and, How do I get noticed?

Here’s a collection of posts I’ve put up over time, based on my experience. Since they are scattered over various venues, I decided to pull them together. Maybe they’ll be of some help:

Getting started

- 10 Lessons Learned Starting a Business

- How I Became a Consultant

Determining your focus

- What’s the Point?

- I’m Pursuing Niche Domination

- Who Needs You?

Personal Branding

- You – Projected

- Personal Branding: What’s your Value-Add?

Naming

- Don’t Make a Name for Yourself

- Product: Winner. Name: Loser

Branding/Marketing your business

- Do you Pass the T-shirt Test?

- Laundry List Marketing

- How to be Unremarkable

Using social networking

- Do you Have an Opportunity Network?

- Getting Started with Social Networking

- The Strategic Serendipity of Social Media

- Feed People

Storytelling

- Telling the Company Story

- What’s in a Name?

Core principles

- Ask the Right Questions

The right people

- Picking Bad Apples

- Hiring for Virtue

Customer Service

- Eat Mor Chikin

- A Boy and his Legos

- Greetings…Done Right

The ultimate goal

- A cult following

Wanting to start your own business, but still working toward the goal? This is for you: Time. Talent. And Magic.

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Hiring for Virtue

trustsummitThis morning, I had the privilege of attending the “Trust Summit” breakfast meeting, featuring Chris Brogan (@chrisbrogan), Julien Smith (@julien), David Maister (davidmaister.com), and Charlie Green (@charleshgreen). The panel was very engaging, and it was refreshing to hear people of substance and experience reinforcing the idea that the core of business is doing things right, and caring about people.

At one point during the session, as the discussion turned to the type of people who are trustworthy, I put out the following series of tweets:

    I don’t think you can teach virtue. You model it, and you hire virtuous people. Then you train specific behaviors. My 2 cents
    I’d hold that if someone doesn’t have a virtuous approach by the time you’re looking to hire them for biz, it’s too late.
    We should hire FOR basic virtue, not with the hope of imparting what isn’t there. Otherwise, trust will never occur.

Since two of my favorite on-line people,  Jane Chin and Jon Swanson, were interacting with me on these thoughts, I thought it might be best to elaborate in something other than 140 characters.

Let’s take a step back – we live in an age of subjectivity where words are often drained of meaning, so by virtuous character, I mean a person with a clear, well-founded, internally-embraced and externally practiced code of conduct that conforms to norms of ethical uprightness. Unfortunately, many will dispute what ethical uprightness actually IS, but an honest person who practices the Golden Rule smells an awful lot like what I’m talking about.

I don’t believe it is the role of a business to teach virtuous character to its employees. I believe that leaders should model it, encourage it, and train for specific behaviors that align with a virtuous and ethical approach to business. But we’re in business to do business, to serve and to perform – we should HIRE people with virtuous character and then give them the specific pathways to walk in.

I guess I should also say that we’re all “in progress”, and very few people have their virtue muscles fully exercised. But even though our character is still under development, there’s a core of “rightness” in the soul that cannot be imparted by teaching and management. External forces can shape and sharpen, can water and cultivate – but until someone is ready to be BE virtuous, they’ll never become trust-worthy.

Can and should virtue and character be taught? Yes. But that should be done in the formative years, but parents and other members of the surrounding community. It is not the role of a business to put in virtuous character, but to hire the best people who actually possess it.

I believe that, by practicing the principles found in books like Trust Agents and The Trusted Advisor (books authored by the panelists mentioned above) we can encourage the people who have virtuous character (in bud or in full flower) to create or find the types of businesses that will have an ethical core – businesses that will do good and succeed over the long haul because the people leading them are GOOD PEOPLE.

What we don’t need is “check off the box” training programs on ethics. We need virtuous people – in business, in government, in churches, and everywhere else. That is our greatest challenge. Talent and brains are cheap. People with a heart and a conscience and a spine – that’s pure gold.

Am I some off-base idealist? Or is this the way it oughta be?

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Time. Talent. And Magic.

After 10 years in one job (sales and marketing in medical devices), and 10 years in another (sales/marketing/biz dev/consulting with a software provider for pharma), I ventured out on my own. That was over three years ago; Chris Brogan hadn’t yet co-written Trust Agents, but in fact, the business model was a “make your own game” approach as a client/vendor matchmaker, built on networking.

So what was I doing for the 20 years before that? Setting the table.

I wasn’t ready to be an entrepreneur out of the gate. There was raw talent there, but it needed a long period of refining through experience. Most everybody has an area or two of serious talent – but for many of us, it takes years of exercising and honing those abilities before you are ready for new levels of influence and opportunities, including going out on your own as an entrepreneur.

In the meantime, you have to look at your current jobs as setting the table for better things ahead.

Now I absolutely rejoice when young people work their talents and their opportunities quickly and skillfully, moving through a much shorter preparation curve and rapidly launching entrepreneurial endeavors. People like Scott Bradley, Sarah Evans, Kirsten Wright. I love seeing that because these folks will shape the future. But for many, the trajectory upward is going to be slower, and sometimes less direct.

magic_dustJust be sure you’re setting your table. Specifically:

    1. Only move into and stay in positions that will challenge and grow your skills. Stagnation for a paycheck is not a luxury you can afford.
    2. Do such a good job that your employer and co-workers hate to see you go, and can only say good things about you. Leave a very sweet reputation aroma in your wake.
    3. Network. Constantly. On-line and off-line. It is very likely that your next opportunity will come from that extended “family” of supporters.

At the right time, the “magic” will occur (by magic, I actually mean providence, but some prefer to believe in luck or chance, so we’ll Harry Potter it for now and just say “magic” as a catch-all!). You’ll be restless in your current position, ready for something new, and a confluence of events and people will occur such that a new challenge is opened up. Sometimes you’ve strategically pulled levers to help make it happen, but often it’s the wonderful serendipity of being a networked person who is well-regarded and worthy of the next step.

It’s very common, in your late 20′s, 30′s, and 40′s to feel restless in your professional development. Keep honing your talent. Keep putting in productive time. Keep setting the table. And keep your eyes open for the magic!

Update: And, as Brogan would say here and here, there’s no overnight success!

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Telling the Company Story

I’m going to tell you a story about a company telling its story. It’s…well, quite a story about networking, serendipity, and marketing!

This spring, while attending the MarketingProfs B2B Forum, I had the good fortune of sitting next to a pleasant young lady with whom I quickly found two things in common: 1) she was working at a company in central CT, only a few miles from where I grew up; 2) this company provided supplies to the radiation oncology community, a field in which I had a 10-year history in a prior professional role.

Beekley2Mary told me about this box of historical “stuff” that she had inherited, which contained a lot of archival material from the company’s multi-decade past. We talked about ways to tell the company story, and how those materials could be used. And life went on…

Fast forward to last week, just before I was scheduled to leave for Connecticut, for a quick visit with Mom before gathering together with my brothers for a New Hampshire adventure. Out of the blue, I get an e-mail from Mary Lang of Beekley Corporation, Bristol, CT – she had seen my recent post about how Ben & Jerry’s told their story on the HQ walls. Well, now the story-telling panels were done in Beekley’s new offices, and would I like to come by “some day” and see the end result?

I love the serendipity of social networking. I had a couple hours open after a lunch in western CT – how about TODAY, Mary – like, say, 2:00pm??

So I included Bristol on my drive up. And I was not disappointed.

Beekley1Not only was the series of panels (mounted on walls throughout the office) extremely attractive and well-designed, but they had a great story to tell. The story of a company that had a distinctive culture right from the get-go, with a strong focus on employee development and excellence in execution. This culture could be seen through the statements, news clippings, and historical documents that now “told the story” to every employee in the office. And the culture could be palpably felt in interactions with Beekley employees.

A consistent graphical design was woven throughout all the various pieces and panels, and the business philosophy of the founding family was also a common thread. Maybe a lot of people throughout the business world have never heard of Beekley (the company or its founders/leaders). But now visitors and employees certainly get an eyeful!

Beekley4This was a company that had evolved over time, starting with a printing business and moving, as customer needs manifested themselves, into medical supplies and other areas. However, with each change in direction, the company distinctives remained.

Beekley believes in exceeding expectations, in having the right people on the bus and developing them (10-15% of employee time is spend on professional development), and in creating an environment that is pleasant, professional, and supportive. Right down to the design of maximum window space to contribute to a cheerful feel in the office.

Beekley3

I walked out of there impressed by the internal marketing storytelling, but even more by the story itself. A little company, doing its thing in its niche, practicing excellence and growing steadily, hiring smart and telling its story.

May such companies increase in numbers and influence!

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The No Drone Zone at Netflix

Drone1I’d heard good things over the months about Netflix’s unique corporate culture, so my curiosity was piqued when someone linked to a Slideshare about it. I clicked on over.

Seeing that it was 128 slides, my interest in delving further wavered. I have a philosophical bias against mega-slide presentations! However, I started anyway, and soon found myself going through the entire thing. The idealist in me was astonished – here was a company actually adhering to (not just mouthing) many tremendous business principles that are the ingredients for long-term success. Count me impressed.

Here’s the bottom line: Netflix is determined to have only dedicated and talented employees. No drones.

Many companies tolerate sub-par performers as long as they don’t mess up too badly. In this way, companies end up with lots of deadwood – drones who muddle their way onward and upward, and serve as a source of discouragement and irritation for hard-working and creative employees who really want to make a difference.

Read it for yourself – yes, it’ll take a few minutes, but it’s well worth it for the inspiration given and example set: Freedom and Responsibility Culture

Is your company a No Drone Zone? Can it become one?

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Ask the Right Questions

Quick – think of businesses that have imploded in recent years. What names come to mind?

A lot, unfortunately. Enron. AIG. GM. And loads of others.

All of it could have been avoided if these businesses were founded on the right answers to three simple questions. Questions that, if rightly asked and answered, will save any company from a world of hurt:

    1. What are the real needs of our customers?
    2. How can we add value, immediately and in the long-term?
    3. How would our practices look on the front page of the newspaper?

Instead, many companies are founded on and driven by other concerns, which override any fine-sounding sentiments in their mission statements:

    1. What do we want?
    2. How can we maximize “the numbers”?
    3. What can we get away with?

Selfish, shady, short-term business practices are the bane of our economy, leading to lost money, cynical markets, and increased regulation. But – it opens up a wide vista of opportunity for honest, truly customer-centric business people. People who have a conscience and a heart.

Ask the right questions. Then give the right answers. Over the long haul, you’ll be rewarded.

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Bring it!

If you travel, you know that horrible feeling when you’ve forgotten stuff.

Here’s a handful of stuff you should put together in a travel kit that ALWAYS goes with  you:

1. A spare smartphone charger

2. A compact umbrella

3. A pair of sunglasses in a hard case

4. Some gum and/or mints

5. …and, if you’re going to a conference, consider bringing a power strip.

What would you add??

Feed People

If you’re involved in Social Media/Networked Communications as a marketer or businessperson, one of the key questions you ask yourself is: How can I add value to my community?

Take that question and look behind it to see this (more important) query: What are the unmet needs that I can address?

Always, a big need is targeted information. So, feed people.

Here are a few starting points:

    1. Almost every audience needs consolidated and/or curated content. Did you know that with a few hours work, you can create a public information portal using free (& quite simple) tools such as Pageflakes or Netvibes? And by subscribing to targeted blog and news feeds, you can filter out the most important information and post or e-mail it to your target audience. Doesn’t take much time, but adds tremendous value.
    2. And speaking of e-mail, don’t overlook this tried-and-true method of communicating. Many of us assume that our audiences are as tech-savvy as we’re trying to be. Usually, they’re nowhere close. So as you find technology and solutions* that help move the needle for regular folks to become a bit more advanced in their use of tools, share…using good old-fashioned e-mail and a personal touch. With all the networked communication methods I use, I still tend to get the best response via targeted e-mails (and, if you want to add a new twist to this, use a webcam and send a free video e-mail using a service like Eyejot.) You can become valuable to your network by introducing them to new advances, but by still using the communication methods they know and understand.
    (*Good sources for this kind of info: Lifehacker. TechCrunch. AllTop.)
    3. We all like diversions. So find interesting stuff, and share it. What are some of my main sources for finding offbeat and interesting items that my audiences enjoy? Here’s a few: Neatorama. Book of Joe. Coudal Partners. PopURLs.

It doesn’t take any special talent to become an information aggregator, curator, and communicator. It just takes a relatively modest amount of daily time, and steady effort. Your audience and network will really appreciate it, because they often do not have the time, and when you become a trusted and interesting source, you win.

That’s a few suggestions. What ideas, and other helpful sites, would you add (use the Comments)?

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What’s in a Name?

Today, I received an unsolicited e-mail from a company looking to introduce themselves. Since this company at least was positioned somewhere near my sweet spot of interest, I went to the website to find out more.

And found a great way NOT to introduce yourself:

What’s in a name?
When we were thinking of what to call ourselves, we looked at both the approach to what we do and the context in which we do it. Not that earth shattering, but we think we came up with a great name. _______ covers both approach and context.

Lesson #1 – I don’t care what you think of your name, nor is the process by which you arrived at it of any significance. I’m there to learn WIIF Me. Taking these intro sentences and saying, “we…ourselves…we…we…we…we…we…” all with a note of self-congratulation, doesn’t inform me about what you do and why I should be engaged.

When you introduce your company, immediately tell me what the value is – what you can do for me. You have maybe 10 seconds to make your first impression, so give me one powerful sound bite that addresses a real business need. Save the historical explanations for a footnote. Because what’s in your name doesn’t address my pain.

“Social Media”, Business, and Matchmaking

This is a “part 2″ post, growing out of the principles outlined here in part 1, where we enjoyed a lively discussion about how, in business, social media (or Community Networking/Networked Communications) is part of the larger category of Communications, along with a lot of other traditionally silo’ed disciplines such as PR, Marketing, and Advertising. We also discussed how the usage of two-way communication networks in business will lead to a more relational, rather than transactional, approach to gaining and keeping customers.

Now let’s turn to another fundamental perspective. This one has a lot of tentacles so we’ll try to outline a general principle here, and then we can carry on in the Comments. I believe that healthy business<–>customer relationships will increasingly be marked by a matchmaking approach. That is, we can steadily shift from a view of the potential customer world as a mass of demographics, and the potential supplier world as a bunch of faceless commodity providers. The first questions in a provider’s mind should no longer be, “How can I get MORE customers?” “How can I reach MORE of my target audience?” “How can I get my numbers up?” We should shift to, “How can we use networked communications to find the right people for whom we are the right fit (and vice-versa)?”

Let’s take a simple analogy, from the social media world. You can use Twitter as a “follower accumulation engine”, and in a few month’s time have thousands of subscribers, but how many of those are really a “match” for your interests, perspectives, business direction, resource needs, etc.? In social media, as in life and business, you’ll find that a relatively small number of folks are a “fit”, and when you spend time cultivating them, they will help you find others who fit.  Some business owners pursue anything or anyone that will be a revenue producer, but I’ve learned over the years that “not all business is good business.”

Customers, too, are overwhelmed by choices, and gladly latch onto for providers of goods and services that are a good “match” – companies that make them feel like they’re getting consistent value, and that make life simpler by taking one more decision off the table. And now, with great social networking tools, many of these winning companies can have a “face” and carry on a dialogue with potential and existing customers, which strengthens the sense of relationship. If I have found a great “match” for, say, an on-line bookkeeping service, then I don’t have to think about who to use next time – and, I very readily pass on my recommendations through my network, especially if I feel like I’ve come to know the supplier more personally.

Of course, all of this has been going on before the era of web-enabled social networking – but the importance is much greater now, and the capacity to weave matchmaking into the equation (from both sides) is wonderfully expanded. There are one-time buyers, there are occasional customers, and there are matches. Businesses should be aggressively using networked communications to identify and invest in the latter, rather than constantly trolling for any new revenue that can be found. The customer network thus built will, in the long term, generate far more new and repeat business. It will even give you the luxury of “firing” unprofitable and troublesome customers (b-to-b or b-to-c).

What do you think? How do you weave a matchmaking perspective (and practices) into your business model?

Matchmaking is not merely employing a set of business tactics and tools. It’s a mindset. It can also be the foundation for an entire business model, which will be the subject of my final post (part 3) in this series, on Marketing Profs DailyFix.

Five in the Morning 030409

From WSJ: Social Networking goes Professional. How focused professional communities are using social networking tools to better their work.

The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur (yep, not a misprint) gives us 32 Ways to Cut Costs in Business. And while you’re at it, this post from TPE on How to do Everything is also pretty good!

Matt Dickman - the Techno//Marketer – gives us the scoop on Radian6 with one of his patented thorough semi-geekish reviews. If you’re not reading Matt’s blog regularly, what are you thinking?

Shaping your blog’s brand. Good stuff from Darren Rowse over at Problogger.

Jon Swanson reviews two books on success. Which one was more life-changing?

PLUS: Tom Peters recommends a new book from Steve Farber, called Greater than Yourself. As I recall, Drew McLellan speaks highly of Farber, so with those 2 witnesses, it must be good!

AND: This was just too funny not to include. Really. Just click. Thanks, Jaffe!

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(Image credit)

Can you help me try something new?

With this request, I’m seriously going to eat my own dog food. Let me explain.

opportunitywebI’ve got two parallel networking endeavors going. One pays the bills – that’s my pharmaceutical consultancy (Impactiviti), through which I help pharmaceutical clients find ideal vendor/partners (mostly for sales training). My business model: I’m the walking eHarmony of pharma outsourcing!

The parallel universe of my marketing/branding/social media involvement is actually a hobby (so to speak), though I have sought to build this network with the idea of potential business at some point down the road, in some form or another. An Opportunity Network.

As it turns out, some of the corporate training vendors that are now part of my Impactiviti Preferred Partner Network have offerings that are quite valuable outside the pharmaceutical industry. I’ve confined my efforts to pharma thus far, but feel that it’s time to start reaching out to my broader community and see if there’s some “matchmaking” that can occur in lots of other industries that need training programs.

Here’s the deal. Do you know of people in corporate training who are responsible for identifying vendor/providers for training solutions? If so, I may be able to help in some specific areas. Here’s a post on my Impactiviti blog about one exciting solution that can be used in all sorts of situations. And here’s a list of other areas where I know of great providers:

  • Diversity/Sexual Harassment training
  • Negotiation skills/Sales Negotiation/Selling Higher
  • Speaker/Communication/Presentation training
  • Business Acumen
  • Compliance/Ethics
  • Coaching/Managing/Interviewing skills
  • Gaming
  • Simulation Development (off-line and on-line)
  • Audience Response Systems
  • Learning Management Systems
  • On-line Assessment Systems
  • Custom eLearning development
  • Webcasting/Video streaming
  • Event Management

If you, your colleagues, or your clients have needs in these areas, would you please send them my way (stevew at impactiviti dot com)? I’ll be glad to make targeted recommendations with some very talented and proven providers. Thanks for being part of my network – maybe we can do good and do business together at the same time!

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