Archive for November, 2005

"Runs with scissors" can ride the planes again

Wednesday, November 30th, 2005

The TSA (Transportation Security Administration) is the arm of the feds that issues ultimatums about what’s allowed on planes. It’s very interesting to note that they cite employee morale as a big reason for the impending announcement about loosening restrictions on sharp implements. TSA staffers, whose ranks were cut drastically three years ago and many of whom haven’t had a raise in that time, spend inordinate amounts of time opening suitcases to remove scissors–1 in 4 bags according to this Washington Post story.

I’m glad they’re reconsidering the regulations. The screeners are going crazy with boredeom and frustration (turnover is 23% a year), many passengers think the restrictions are ridiculous (after all, my keys are just as sharp and capable of being used as a weapon as some of the things they disallow), and the massive number of hours being wasted while people remove their shoes, jewelry, etc. are not paying off in finding “bad guys.”

Reasonable precautions are good. Living in fear over potential danger from every other person and from hundreds of simple things is called paranoia in medical circles. Go ahead and loosen, TSA. Any time is a good time to stop being paranoid.

Company IM requires an open mind

Tuesday, November 29th, 2005

Are you thinking about installing instant messaging for your employees? Ziff Davis offers a list of questions for your consideration–questions mostly about features, functionality, and formal requirements. The bigger “F” is one that technology is increasingly raising for larger companies–fear. Who’s minding the store if we let the employees talk at will with each other? Who will control the rumors, the rebels, the incipient insurrectionists, and so on?

As I’ve written before in my GetMoreCustomers newsletter (subscribe here), trusting your employees can give you a huge competitive advantage. Trusting people encourages innovative thinking and fosters a spirit of ownership that makes people perform at their best–even when no one is watching.

As with many interactive technologies–remember how many business owners hesitated ten years ago to unleash employees with free access to the Internet?–you’ll have to decide if IM is right for your company. You can use the same approach I suggest in this article on deciding about blogging.

What makes businesses like a state?

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2005

Tax relief. Lots of skilled labor. Affordable real estate. And so on. This year’s rankings by Site Selection magazine are interesting for lots of reasons–one of the most fascinating of which is how executives’ ranking of cities often differs considerably from the overall rankings.

For example, Ohio has moved up from position 8 to position 4–that’s a significant jump. But look at the ranking by corporate real estate executives–it’s only number 18. As the story says, a state has to have the right infrastructure in place and be competitive in incentives, taxes, etc., but even more importantly, its leaders must exhibit a spirit of cooperation. The old, “focus on the positive,” as opposed to finding reasons why you can’t do something, or it’s against the law, or that’s never been done before.

So studying what top contenders North Carolina and Texas have in the way of legal items is worthwhile, but watching how their leaders act when the chips are being counted may be even more so.

New consultants–setting your prices/fees

Monday, November 21st, 2005

Entrepreneurs don’t have enough trouble deciding what business they’re going to be in. They have to make hundreds of other critical decisions. For example, how do you decide what to charge for your products/services? Cost plus margin works well for most material items. But for professional consulting fees, the task is more challenging.

Checking a few of the average-salary-by-position-by-location websites can be helpful to give you the general cost of living in an area and the going rates for skills and experience similar to yours. Some associations or other professional groups publish guides for their industries. Trying to figure out what the market will bear can be fraught with uncertainty and risk. It’s easy to know if you’re charging too much–you won’t get hired much. But how do you know if you’re charging enough?

Here’s a good article (using legal services as an example) about the different concerns with set fees versus hourly. And I can tell you, having hired a trademark attorney myself who charged a set fee (who hooked me with a Google paid ad), you do tend to get the low-end-of-the-spectrum type of service.

The fact is, supply and demand have a lot to do with how you set your fees. If enough customers agree to pay what you ask and you start receiving more work than you can handle and have to start getting help, you may raise your fees and start turning down jobs that don’t pay what you ask. If you discover that another consultant with what you think is the same background as yours is charging substantially more, before you jump to raise your prices, be sure to check thoroughly to make sure that person doesn’t have a different background, more experience in certain areas, additional exposure to markets or industries that you don’t have. Here’s a good article about starting a consulting business from Entrepreneur.com.

It’s always a bit of a crap shoot to set fees when you start your business. But eventually you’ll settle into a rhythm, and your fees will accurately reflect your value in the marketplace.

Holiday shopping online–are you ready?

Monday, November 14th, 2005

By now you’ve probably got your online shopping cart set up. At least I hope you do. Even if it’s only an item or two, though, you ought to go out there and troubleshoot the thing. Practice buying something yourself–nothing will show you where the glitches are faster than using the system for your own shopping.

According to Peter Coffee of eWeek:

“Study results released today by TeaLeaf Technology Inc. show that customers who encounter problems in completing an online transaction are likely, one out of three, to go elsewhere rather than try again — and almost nine out of 10 report encountering such problems.”

The cost of disappointing online shoppers is growing as the number of dollars spent online for holiday shopping bumps up–JupiterResearch projects an 18% jump from last year to an estimated $26 billion. And they expect established online shoppers may well increase their activity by closer to 25 percent.

Do you shop online? What are your experiences with various sites? I do and I can tell you, even with some of the biggest retail chains, many an online experience sucks. I’ve abandoned shopping carts many times–even though I always give them more than a fair chance. I figure I’m a pretty savvy user–imagine the number of people who want to buy stuff whose dollars will never fatten your bottom line because they simply can’t figure out your website.

Taking a short break this week for some out of town projects. Look for us back next week.

"Microsoft Shuffles Into Middle Age"

Thursday, November 10th, 2005

What a story (and I love the title!). This contributing writer to Forbes, Martin Sosnoff, compares Google to what Microsoft was in 1986. He then goes on to tell all the financial/investment mistakes he feels Microsoft has made that have caused it to lose its stranglehold on success on the Internet (MSN is a hopelessly distant third to Google and Yahoo).

As someone who knows just enough about investments to be dangerous, this paragraph really got my attention:

“If Microsoft had put a quarterly dividend on its stock, the equivalent to the S&P yield of 1.9%, or 45 cents per share, they would have gotten more mileage. A dividend compounding at 10% doubles every six years. Maybe a new constituency of income-oriented investors would prick up their ears and take notice. TIPS, the Treasury’s inflation adjusted bonds, yield little more than 2% after inflation adjustment.”

I’m not quite there yet, but it seems to me this column might serve as a useful financial guide for any savvy business owner who’s on the way up.

Personalize and colorize

Wednesday, November 9th, 2005

Customize or die, says Eastman Kodak’s chief marketer, Barb Pellow. And she ain’t talkin’ about doing a plain old mail merge.

No industry in the world besides marketing has experienced as much change as a result of technology, according to Barb. Printers who intend to survive today are remaking themselves into solution providers because the digital revolution has brought about so many possibilities for personalizing full-color printed materials.

And the results of adding color and personalizing your marketing efforts–both of which are now not only possible but also affordable, even to smaller businesses– promise to be extraordinary. In one round of tests, the incremental changes in response to a mailing piece that had 1) a name added, then 2) color added, 3) then both, showed dramatic increases. But when they 4) actually made the content relevant to the recipient, the response jumped by 500% over the original document.

So if you haven’t looked into this phenomenon yet, it’s time to start thinking about how you can incorporate this powerful approach into your marketing efforts. Here’s a link to the Kodak exec’s whole presentation–though, like all the best presentations, it’s no substitute for having been there.

P.S. This is a perfect example of the kind of exciting information that local professional groups can bring to their members. Congrats to the Northeast Ohio Direct Marketing Association for providing real value to the region, which was masterminded through the good offices of one of its members, Jim Schultz of Great Lakes Integrated, a printer that’s actually doing for its customers what Barb Pellow is talking about.

P.S. Here’s how the Washington Post online follows the admonition to customize:

Whaddya think about baring it all to the government?

Friday, November 4th, 2005

If you want to save time getting through airports, and want to pay 80 bucks for a year’s worth of no-lines, you gotta give your entire life history to the U.S. government. Are you willing?

The system, “which relies on finger and iris scans as well as background checks,” says this Information Week article is in hot debate among the Homeland Security folks who think maybe this is going too far.

I don’t know about you, but I think our “privacy” is pretty much a myth at this point. Having been forced for the last several decades (oh, of course, they say you don’t have to) to give our social security numbers as I.D. for even simple things like getting a library card, the idea that we can hide anything from the government is ludicrous. So what’s the big deal here? And just think of the money the airports could save (which means potentially lower fares, folks) by not having to pay dozens of staff people every hour of the day to stand there and watch people undress, walk through and redress.

I’m for it.