Archive for September, 2004

What's in a trade show?

Thursday, September 30th, 2004

Not attendees, unless you promote, promote, promote. The Business & Technology Expo going on again today at Cleveland Convention Center is the local trade show company’s effort, they said, to get back the energy and excitement of the former Know Show–a staple in the Northeast Ohio business environment for many years that was suddenly canceled a few years ago because they couldn’t get enough vendors to sign up. The final vote’s not in from the vendors currently exhibiting, but I’ll pass it along when the show’s over.

What’s the future of trade shows? Niche. People don’t have time to go to general business shows anymore. But if you can put together a group of vendors that offer services and products specifically tailored to, say, the litigation attorney industry, or the industrial manufacturers (a la the upcoming Great Lakes Industrial Show at the I-X Center), you’re more likely to attract an audience that might be serious about evaluating and possibly buying the stuff they see at the show. It’s got to be a win-win proposition.

By the way, the new service we introduced at the show yesterday was bringing some very positive responses. If you haven’t taken a look, check out WriteBytes4You — when you need “just a little help” because you’re stuck on one of those small but tough writing challenges.

RANKING 97 – If you’re a small to midsize business owner, you may think trade shows are just for the big guys. But you’d be surprised at what you can accomplish if you handle it properly. Really taking your time with each visitor can sometimes be more effective than simply collecting a bunch of business cards. If you can get the show promoters to include a seminar spot, so much the better. By the way, good handling might include blogging about the show way ahead of time. Try to build some time into your schedule to promote the show to your own private list–and if possible introduce a new product or service in conjunction with the show.

For many kinds of products and services, by the way, vendors frequently can do business with each other. And of course they can also give each other referrals–the best way to get new customers.

Bright mind shines light on "affiliate" mystery

Monday, September 27th, 2004

You keep hearing about “affiliate” programs and you wonder, does this have any meaning for me? Well, it might, but you need to understand the ins and outs before you can make an intelligent decision. Fortunately, there’s an ebook that lays it all out for you–clear, simple, fun to read. It’s called Blogs to Riches and it’s by a marketing guru already helping companies make money on the web.

The cool thing is this isn’t just for companies–Joe and Harry and Sally can learn to use affiliate programs to make a little extra money every month–and who the heck doesn’t need that?

Here’s a quick overview of what you’ll learn from Blogs to Riches, by Jim Kukral. It’s basically about how to start making money with affiliate programs—which are programs in which you sign up to sell someone else’s products on your website. The benefits are that the maker gets sales from your visitors that he or she would never have gotten otherwise, and you make a few bucks on something you didn’t have to create. It’s a cool concept.

Kukral states unequivocally you can make money from affiliate programs—mostly not a lot, you understand, just some. But the tips in this book are also good for doing effective research on the web—use some of these tips and you’ll be an ace web researcher.

So where to start? Simple, he says—apply to the company you want to sell for and place their links on your page. Of course, there are a few details that need to be filled in. And he does a pretty good job of that—in clear, easy-to-read writing with a nice clean layout. His professional marketing background really shows…

First, in case you don’t already have one, you get simple instructions on how to create a weblog, the quickest way to get a place to post your affiliate links. Then he suggests what you should do to make your blog interesting—and hopefully therefore draw lots of visitors who might be interested in buying your cool affiliate merchandise. One valuable pointer: Gives lots of references for people to search on the web.

Next the Kukral gives a list of sources to learn about affiliate marketing and affiliate networks. He talks about the yellow pages of affiliate marketing—which put you and vendors and customers together. Then he gives a quick review of a few (Top 50 list comes free with book).

Interestingly, the author advises you to “see what others in your market are doing and do that, too.” He gives a lot of hints and some more good marketing advice, like:
• What to sell – and what to avoid
• How to find the companies whose products you’ll want to sell
• How to evaluate affiliate programs—what to look for and how to demand it if you don’t get it
• And lots more

He says it pays to put some thought and effort muscle into your affiliate efforts…and proceeds to give you some more excellent hints, including why text links work better. Kukral is basically doing a brain dump of his knowledge about affiliate stuff—and you get a treasure trove of useful and valuable information.

This book covers a lot and tells you where else to look. Can’t ask for much more than that. So if you have any interest in using affiliate marketing to make a little extra cash, buy it.

Plugged-in people also plug into other media–except TV

Friday, September 24th, 2004

It looks like people who use the Internet a lot also tend to listen to more music (–6.1 hours per week versus 4.8 hours for nonusers), rent more movies and go to the movies more often, according to The recent Annenberg Center’s Digital Future study.

The study said Americans now spend an average of 12.5 hours per week online, up from 9.4 hours in 2000, and that’s cutting into TV time. Internet folks watch 11.6 hours per week and non-users average 16.2 hours. I wish they had given us some statistics (much harder to track for sure) of how much people’s reading habits are affected by Internet use.

I’ve found that as a business owner I use the Internet constantly for work and rarely for personal, and then it’s usually to look up health and occasionally entertainment information.

But reading…well, truth be told, it’s not the Internet that interferes with my reading. It’s work, and I’d guess that’d be true for most business owners. Another reason–as if we needed anymore–why you’d better be doing what you love.

Death of an era

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2004

We could not let this day pass unmarked. Today Interstate Brand Companies, the makers of an American icon, declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Wonder Bread is dead.

Talk about missing the signs. I never did hear of Wonder Bread ever changing its formula or responding in any way to the decades-long shift towards healthier, more-whole-grain-content breads. I just checked their website and found a strange and somewhat incoherent reference to cities all over the world and listing various sights… Eventually I was able to figure out they were talking about the Seven Wonders of the World–but the stretch to connect them to Wonder Bread was so far it was over the edge…

Well, goodbye, Wonder Bread (unless someone else takes over and keeps making it). But cheer up. If you love soft, mushy bread, Smucker’s still uses it to make their frozen Uncrustables sandwiches…

Customer service can be a holy thing

Monday, September 20th, 2004

It’s a night that only alligators and swamp rats would love. It’s hot outside, and the humidity is a hundred and twenty-three percent. You’ve been driving for hours in the dark after a day at work, and you’re exhausted. You arrive in a podunk little town in Indiana at the local Ramada Inn and check in at the desk.

Key in hand, praying you can get a cold drink soon, you open the motel room door and stop dead. The humidity in the room is a hundred and twelve percent and the smell is overwhelmingly musty and wet. You flip the light on and look around–it’s so humid the bedspread even feels wet. In the bathroom, the floor is sopping wet–tiles sweating from the humditiy. Not at all sure you haven’t arrived in hell, you flip on the air conditioning (which clearly hasn’t been on in months) and go outside to find the others.

That’s enough of the story for you to be able to tell this could have been a customer service nightmare. A group of related people, trying to have a first get-together, confronted by miserable conditions late at night in a strange town. The young woman who was alone in handling the entire responsibility for everything in the motel that night was a genius at customer service.

She acted as if she could totally relate to how we felt and sympathize with our feelings. She didn’t make excuses but explained that she would do her best to find people to mop the floors and so on. She even offered to let us try a few other rooms that might not be so humid. I was totally amazed at how calm and customer-focused she was. I am just sorry I don’t remember her name to give her credit here. But you can be sure I spoke with the manager on duty the next day–and when I saw her, thanked her profusely (we were all in much better frames of mind after the A/C eventually cleared out the fetid atmosphere and we got some sleep.)

Ramada Inn. Plymouth Indiana. Delightful young woman. Great customer service recovery. AND, for heavens’ sake, I was able to get my work done because they had wireless.

Thank you, young lady, wherever you are.

Marketing the new weapon for bioscience money

Friday, September 17th, 2004

San Francisco is putting on a big-deal conference to attract attention to its suitability as a bioscience hub. It wants a piece of California’s bioscience honeypot of $7.8 billion in revenues.

City governments are getting ever more creative about how to attract this incredibly lucrative industry. Let’s look at what a bioscience company normally wants:

- easy access to resources (physical and human)
- large pools of suitably educated workers from which to hire, and re-hire, solid employees
- other companies for employees that don’t work out to go to for new learning
- other like-minded companies to network and potentially partner with
- affordable housing for employees of all levels
- superior quality of life for owners, executives and workers

So if all these things are equal (which seldom happens, of course), then it’s about who gets the most creative with incentives (who uses better marketing techniques). Based on all the wisdom of social networking, my guess is that for most business owners, the quality of life will rise to the top as the biggest decision factor (though clearly if everything else is right and owners are persuaded to move somewhere, the quality of life in that location could well improve dramatically just from that influx).

But the key is, if city marketing tricks are powerful enough, the decision could be swayed. This is how marketing makes the world go round.

Flexibility–and courage–the keys to thriving

Friday, September 17th, 2004

The giant of the software world recently announced it was taking out a major piece of promised functionality from its next-up release (code named Longhorn). Open source folks are panting with excitement–like rival animals who attack when they see the leader showing weakness–to think they may start winning over technology executives at some of the largest businesses who’ve been sticking with Windows technology because “it’s what we’ve always done.”

Microsoft has always had a “publish-it-whole” philosophy, which is part of how they’ve conquered so much of the world. People would have had to purchase many different programs to get all the functionality they got in a single release of Microsoft Office, for instance. Open sourcers like Linux, on the other hand, develop as they go, flexibly turning to whatever seems needed at the moment.

That flexible, piecemeal approach seems to be growing more popular in lots of areas. Even as many retail businesses now try to be everything to everyone so customers won’t have to go elsewhere (gas stations selling food, grocery stores installing gas pumps, giant discount stores serving food to shoppers, restaurants selling merchandise), we see more attempts to get people to buy business services in smaller chunks and/or to farm out certain functions rather than hire and maintain inhouse expertise.

This modular, flexible approach benefits the company by keeping it lean. It’s a lot easier to fire a contractor who doesn’t deliver than it is to fire an employee whose performance falls short. And it benefits the people who’ve been downsized out of jobs by providing them with opportunities to make a living doing contract work. I just keep having to return to my analogy of our current working climate to that of the old West in America. It’s the every-man-for-himself, every-woman-on-her-own, situation that made heroes of the pioneers.

Back then it was the Rocky Mountains you had to find a way around. Today it’s the bleak-and-getting-bleaker job environment. Clearly, it’s making heroes of many of us today.

Jobs vs. business

Wednesday, September 15th, 2004

Business as usual? Hardly anyone thinks that’s a good thing anymore. When the City of Cleveland is publicly announced as ranking dead last out of 68 large American cities in a national survey on poverty, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Joblessness isn’t just for the poor anymore. They may be more used to it, but it’s a tough position for anybody to be in. And the thing is, it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. Though some businesses are picking up, it’s not translating into more jobs. Between technology and outsourcing (even some parts of Microsoft have people in India answering tech support calls), the job market shrinks more every week.

Thus, the new emphasis on entrepreneurial spirit. The Urban League of Greater Cleveland has just opened a brand new Multicultural Development Center that will serve as a one-stop shop to help minorities start their own businesses. They’re offering training, resource-sharing capabilities, networking and general information, as well as personal mentoring and assistance.

It’s a great idea. They’ve got some real power behind it with a former KeyBank executive running it–and KeyBank supporting it. Beyond their usual mission of helping disadvantaged people find jobs, they’re now going to help create opportunity and create new jobs–and bring some of the spending power of the minority community back into the city. Congratulations to the Urban League for being in the frontlines in the war on poverty.

And congratulations to Mayor Jane Campbell for not only not ducking the issue, but for mobilizing and coordinating existing forces to fight it–at a time when city itself is learning the meaning of poverty…

Google not looking out for Blogger customers

Friday, September 10th, 2004

Here we go again. Have had random days when posts will simply not publish–something about “java…” and “connection refused.” Have gone whole days when posts (at least they saved, thank heavens) have not been appearing. Then suddenly, all the posts do appear.

Have sent oodles of emails to Blogger support requesting help. Not a single response. Not even an automated, “we got your email.”

It’s clear they’re doing some things to Blogger, like dressing up the graphics and stuff. But it’s also clear that “improving support” hasn’t yet gotten its turn on the list.

Funny how Google doesn’t carry on about owning Blogger. I rarely see anything at all about it. Wonder whether they just want to wait until they can actually support customers before they start bragging about it?

IT is the future in healthcare

Friday, September 10th, 2004

Published this on the other day and thought it was a good one for the techno-lovers who read this blog, too. So I’m pasting it in.

As medical science turns more and more previously fatal illnesses into long-term chronic conditions that require expensive treatment regimens, the cost of healthcare continues to climb. A recent study that looked at the markets for wireless technologies such as RFID, wireless sensor solutions, and telemetry reported that executives of medical device manufacturers, systems integrators, and adopters had better realize the value of these technologies. They further concluded:

– Medical device manufacturers and hospitals haven’t been quick to see the benefits of wireless applications– education is critical to getting these solutions in place. (Isn’t this what many bloggers are doing? –Educating early adopters about WiFi and other exciting technologies.)
– WiFi and Bluetooth will be the first to be accepted, but other wireless technologies will eventually become more important. (Wireless video networks like the one Case Western Reserve University has just committed to will become powerful tools for efficiency in the medical world.)
– The ‘Baby Boomers’ demographic will demand significant and unseen adoption of wireless technologies, particularly telemedicine and remote patient monitoring, with a shift in focus from reactive to proactive care.
– Wireless data applications will not be utilized everywhere. Instead, wireless applications will be used in a complementary manner to legacy and wire-based systems.
– Existing implementations have emerged across diverse environments and are already demonstrating investment payback and improved service quality.
– The overall U.S. wireless data networking and related servicing opportunity in the Healthcare sector will grow to over $7 billion by 2010, with the potential to be much higher given proper development.”

This is a helluva lot of business a-brewin’.