Ad revenues dropping like rocks for newspapers

September 10th, 2007

You knew that newspapers were losing a lot of traction because of the Internet, right? Well, the “news” is worse than expected, according to an article in AdWeek. And these changes to advertising revenue are expected to be permanent, not passing. A sample of recent dives:

  • Gannett Co. where USA Today ad pages fell 17 percent compared to last year, and real estate classifieds at its community papers plunged 20 percent.
  • Tribune Co., where help-wanted classified tumbled 19 percent, and real estate shrank by 24 percent. (Fitch has Tribune on a “Ratings Watch Negative,” anticipating a further downgrading of its credit.)
  • The McClatchy Co., where real estate collapsed by 26 percent, and automotive plunged 20 percent.
  • Dow Jones & Co., where ad volume fell 20 percent on a 75 percent tumble in technology-related ads.

This is one business trend you don’t want to ignore. Another is the business blog–it’s not a passing fancy, folks. Give me a call at 773.292.3294 if you have questions about how to get started.

Sort through the small-biz-info jungle

September 6th, 2007

The Internet has facilitated the growth of small businesses, and the owners of those businesses have the Internet to thank for the incredible amount of information and the seemingly limitless amount of help they can find about running those businesses.

 But it can feel pretty overwhelming at times. Too much. Where do you turn? How do you sort through it all? Fortunately, just as the newspapers became the editors of our information a couple of centuries ago–and some would argue began to abuse the privilege–now the Internet is home to some very bright people whose whole business is sifting through the wheat and chaff and providing you with solid, up-to-the-minute information on everything about your business.

One such source, always reliable and timely, is Small Business Trends Radio. It’s run by a woman who’s a lawyer and a former CEO of a small Internet division of Bell & Howell. Her radio show and her website are loaded with the best available help for your small business. And now they’ve introduced a compilation area.

Anita Campbell knows how to interview so you get each person’s best knowledge on a topic.  Take a walk through this wonderland of expert advice – the Small Biz Podcast 100.  Oh, yeah, and check out our podcast with Anita on the site, too – Blogs – Cutting through the Hype with Barbara Payne.

Blogging about personal technology?

September 6th, 2007

Blogging on your business blog about your personal technology? Perfectly legitimate. People who care about your company will be fascinated to hear how its leaders use technology in their personal lives. Here’s a bit about the portable office…

Have you ever considered the possibilities of being able to operate your email, your documents and your computer from wherever you are, at any time of day or night, without being at your desk, or even at a public computer? This has been a goal of mine–mostly an elusive dream, though–for three years now.

  • Imagine being on a bus or in your car on a trip without having to lug your laptop.
  • Imagine being able to type memos (instead of scratching them on bits of paper) and email them to yourself (or at least have them already typed when you get back to your office).
  • Imagine not having to poke with your fingernails at some tiny keys to input your email messages, your ideas, or your meeting agendas or notes.
  • Imagine being able to get your social networking done wherever and whenever.

Happily, the dream may be getting closer to reality for me since I recently traded in my old 650 for the Treo 700p (with the Palm operating system). I am now renewing my efforts to use the Palm Universal Wireless Keyboard with my smart cell phone.

Taking a functioning portable keyboard with you can transform your work life. I tried for over 2 years to get the earlier version to function reliably and encountered continuing episodes of frustration as the keyboard would work for a while and then unaccountably stop. In addition, the companion program on the cell phone, Documents to Go, was completely unreliable. It, too, would work for a while and then just begin crashing the entire phone whenever I opened a document. After a lot of frustration and wasted time, I finally gave up.

The trend in business today–for both corporate executives and small business owners–is toward ever-more-portable workspaces. I’m banking that this new phone-and-keyboard combination will begin shining a light brightly–and most importantly, consistently–on my ability to work in any environment. Time will tell.

Can a manufacturer publish a blog? Would Sears?

August 19th, 2007

After my initial report on the Sears saga (see post Sears customer service), I got busy and couldn’t write for a while (among other things, just became a new grandma). But okay, the refrigerator arrived (dented for sure) and was installed by a third party company. I noticed that every time I closed the bottom door, the freezer door would pop open. Spent a good time trying to get the service dept.–was told to put vaseline around the edge. I said, excuse me? This is a brand new refrigerator. Are you kidding? Had to ask for a supervisor, who told me in a slightly less offensive way that I should try vaseline–it works great for 8 year old units. ????

Then, after a day or so, suddenly the main door wouldn’t close. Literally stayed stuck open by about 2 inches. It was a good game trying to get hold of the right people, but finally a Sears repair department agreed to send someone out–5 days later.

So finally the repair guy shows up (during which time I had to haul the door up and push hard to get it closed) and found there were some washers missing when the door was installed.  The thing works now but I’m just holding my breath…

Well, manufacturers can blog, too. A couple of years ago I did a presentation on blogging for a group of highly skeptical computer-geek-entrepreneurial types recently. Questions came fast and furious. One was particularly interesting: what would a manufacturing company blog about?

I remember the stories I wrote for one of the annual Akron Business Conferences. One of my favorites was the one I wrote about how a small manufacturing division of a larger company did a complete revisioning of itself–and became a model for others who face the grinding realities of globalization on their ability to be competitive and thus, on their bottom lines.

Here’s the story of Neighborhood Manufacturing, a division of Superior Tool. Read that if you have a minute, then check out their website. There’s a place that’s learned to speak in its true voice.

If you had to guess, what do you think the people at Neighborhood Manufacturing could write in their corporate blog about–that their customers and prospects would love to hear–and that would make their employees even more proud to work there?

Recognizing employee contributions? Positive changes they’re making to the neighborhood they’re located in? How they overcome the challenges of meeting certain orders? Relationships with customers? And how much danger do you think they have of losing business to competitors from talking about those things?

Neighborhood Manufacturing is presenting itself as a company people will want to do business with, but not because they’re cheaper. Naturally, first is that they get the job done right, but my guess is their customers will stay with them because they obviously care–about their employees, about their neighborhood, about being good corporate citizens and–the implication is–they’ll care about their customers, too.

Couldn’t think of better topics for blogging. I wrote about this company originally in 2003 when blogging was just a trend for business… Notice how relevant it is today!

Wouldn’t it be interesting if Sears started blogging? I’m guessing they wouldn’t dare.

Sears – a saga of customer "service"

July 20th, 2007

Sometimes appliances die. Sure. But we baby boomers grew up in a world where major ones, like refrigerators, died maybe in 20 or 30 years, if ever. I’m going to chronicle my sad personal saga as it happens–a  good thing to do with a corporate blog if you can tie it to how your customers will never experience this kind of thing with your company.

The refrigerator in my totally rehabbed condo was original and new about 4.5 years ago. We think (can’t check because it was spirited away from its spot in my Chicago alley almost as soon as it was put out there) it was a Frigidaire and looked like this. Okay, so last February I had spent $225 (more than 25% of the original cost of the refrigerator) getting something-to-do-with-but-not-the-compressor repaired. Early this week when I reach for a Dove Bite treat that there is soup inside where the ice cream is supposed to be. I realize the refrigerator has quit worki–ng again–clearly already for several days–early this week. So I called the same repair people.

The gentleman arrives. Of course, has to leave the door ajar while he investigates, so dreams of my food remaining cold are out the window.  Concludes, after a lengthy examination, that the computer board has shorted out. Shows me the dark spot. Yes, I say. Well, he says, I don’t have one on my truck. I’ll have to come back tomorrow–and you’ll have to throw all your food away.

I remain hopeful–after all, he didn’t leave the freezer open all that time. Even it it thaws, that stuff ought to still be cold.

Next day 11 a.m. arrives and the guy doesn’t. I call him at noon and he’s clearly forgotten about me. I ask, do you think I should just buy a new refrigerator? Well, hard to say, ma’am. Okay, he finally does arrive around 3. Fools around a while and then installs the new board. Calls me out of my office and says, ma’am, you need to buy a new refrigerator. Shows me where the new board shorted out instantly.

The man takes some pity on me and agrees he will only charge me a service charge for a single call. I pay.

On a colleague’s advice I hike out to the Sears Outlet store to look over the scatch-and-dent collection on sale there. A huge showroom floor is jammed with refrigerators in various stages of defacement. I’m nervous. Worry that scratch-and-dent could mean worse. Even as I insist on the sales guy answering questions about service and warranties and so on, he assures me that I can buy an extended warranty (something I’ve never done on anything–I worked in the car business just long enough to know that dealers count on them for extra profit and they often don’t deliver what the purchaser expects).

I’m nervous not only because of the scratch-and-dent thing, but also because my own not-very-old refrigerator has cost me a lot of money and died anyway. So I pick one out–looks almost exactly like the old one but it’s a Kenmore–and agree to purchase the 3-year extended warranty for $150–half the $300 the price tag tells me I’m saving on the price of the refrigerator. Supposedly guarantees me free unlimited service, free preventive maintenance, with the trusty if-we-can’t-fix-it-we’ll-give-you-another clause.

The fridge arrives. Next episode tomorrow.  

Law of attraction works for corporate blogs

July 15th, 2007

The Law of Attraction is a big thing these days. The movie The Secret gave some insight. And here’s some interesting advice about becoming attractive from The Portable Coach: 28 Sure Fire Strategies For Business And Personal Success. Some of these make excellent guidelines for what/how to write in your corporate blog.

I selected a few items and here’s my advice for applying them to make your business blog succeed:

  • “Add value just for the joy of it.”  Give value in your blog because you enjoy it and people are naturally attracted to your content.
  • “Thrive on the details.”  People love to hear about subtleties, details, and nuances. They’re more interesting–and attractive–than the obvious. So talk about specific things that happen with an employee, a vendor or a machine.
  • “Sensitize Yourself.”  Pay attention to feelings–yours, your employees’, your customers’–and you’ll notice and respond to more opportunities.
  • “Become an Unconditionally Constructive Person.”  High levels of respect–for vendors, employees, customers–are attractive. Express that respect often.
  • “Orient Yourself Around Your Values.”  Making sure your ways of doing business coordinate with your values is attractive–and talking about them makes great blog content.
  • “Recognize and Tell the Truth.”  The truth is the most attractive thing of all, but it requires skills and awareness.
  • “Be Real, Be Human.”  When you are human, you are attractive. Write the way you really feel.

Thanks to Cristina Andersson for pointing this great advice out on her website about learning and manifesting your true potential.

Secrets to making your customers happy – prioritize and outsource, including your blog

June 25th, 2007

Stephen Covey said it to great applause. That you’re most effective when you properly prioritize your time. And the way I remember it, his proposition seemed intellectual and complex…that big box divided into four sections with so much explanation for each! But the gist was, do important and urgent things first.

He’s right, of course. And all good things flow therefrom–including excellence in customer service. You’ll find several intriguing formulas in this new book for maximizing high personal effectiveness (note: not high efficiency, which just means doing more stuff), The 4-hour Work Week. Timothy Ferriss suggests if you truly want to become more effective, ONLY do the quadrant I stuff. And that means learning to delegate…and outsource.

Among other things, Ferriss says you must write your employees an email saying, “Keep the customers happy. If it is a problem that takes less than $100 [you pick the amount based on what your time is worth] to fix, use your judgment and fix it yourself.” Do you recall the times when a service person said something like, “Oh, I’m sorry, sir/madam, let me fix that for you right now”? Of course you do. Those are the golden customer service moments of our lives. You tell all our friends. You might even blog about it…

Assuming of course you’ve hired the right people–supervisors and employees with brains who care about the company and the customers–this alone should gain you a significant amount of time…time that you would have spent answering questions and giving permission. I love this quote, “It’s amazing how someone’s IQ seems to double when you give them responsibility and indicate that you trust them.” If it doesn’t work that way with somebody, hire someone with whom it does.

Great advice: Set yourself up as information-free as possible–a huge challenge in today’s multimedia-ed assaultive world. Do you read newspapers and/or watch television news? My long-time personal favorite–stop. You’ll gain that time every day. And you’ll discover that if there’s anything you should know, you’ll find it out anyway. Set up specific times when you’ll read your email and check your voice mail–let people know what those times are, and then stick to them.

He also suggests outsourcing parts of your life–and mentions a Smart Money article that talks about using an overseas resource for outsourced virtual assistance–Brickwork, based in Bangalore, India. I haven’t tried it yet, but this book gives a great case study.

The point is that your customers get better service when you’re not the bottleneck. And you can apply this principle to your blog authorship–hire an expert–if you follow certain mandates:

1. Make sure the person knows how to listen carefully to you–as much as possible it should be your voice out there.

2. Do a bit of painless market research. Ask your customers, vendors, colleagues, what they would like to hear/read in your blog. 

3. Develop an A-list of sources for your writer–sources you personally read and those your colleagues, vendors and customers read.

4. If yours is a complex industry or there are areas that require extreme care and/or privacy, work out a general list of topics and cautions so that the writer can research and create without consulting you every time.

5. Email your own thoughts for the blog as they occur to you. You’ll never remember to tell your writer unless you pass it on as soon as you think of it. 

There’s no more powerful online public relations tool than a blog that reflects your voice and gives readers valuable information. Since the presence of a business blog has also now become an accepted part of a solid search engine marketing strategy, there’s no reason not to get started. Questions? Want to start one now? Email me here.

What the heck is Web 2.0 and why should you care?

June 5th, 2007

Every other headline these days features “Web 2.0″ and many of us just let our eyes glaze over.  Here’s another software thing I’m supposed to “get” (we might think) but I don’t have time!

Just think of it this way: when you see Web 2.0 they’re talking about helping your prospects and customers interact with you online. Which means blogs, wikis and stuff like that. Everyone reading this knows what a blog is. Many people read blogs but choose not to leave comments (interact)–professional/corporate blogs are generally more about giving information in a personal way. You’ll find that most blogs that get a lot of comments are one of two kinds: 1) a personal blog that plays on controversy to get comments from people who like to argue, or b) the blog of a very high-profile person where commenters can touch the fame and glory of that person by appearing on their blog.

If you are an executive with a famous company, your blog may get lots of comments. That’s great. But don’t be worried if your blog doesn’t get comments. As long as you are providing value to your readers–information, entertainment, encouragement, or whatever–your blog is being read and is building credibility and trust in your company. You can be sure of that.

Wikis are another form of interactivity. In this case, users are the co-creators of documents that all hold to be of interest. Say, for example, you want to invite your customers to help you shape the next product you will invest in producing. How valuable do you think it is to get direct input from them on exactly the features they like and the things they don’t like? Talk about cheap and on-target research!

But Web 2.0 is also about giving you better access to information/data/reports. When you collect subscribers to your blog, you’re building a database of names of people who REALLY CARE about what you do and what you say. That’s the kind of market research businesses have traditionally paid huge sums for. And you’re collecting it simply and painlessly over time. There is no more valuable marketing resource in the world than a database of people who have volunteered to hear more about your products and services.

So if you’re still on the fence about blogging for your business, get off. It’s a trend of the future for direct marketing.–both for large and small businesses. Questions? Call me. 773.292.3294 or 216.472.8502.

Respect for internal customers goes far

May 26th, 2007

Not surprisingly, this study reveals that hospitals with understaffed ICU units have higher incidences of infection and patient mortality. What a perfect metaphor for businesses of all kinds–when you overwork your employees to the point of stress, the results for your customers suffer. The Deming quality studies from decades ago confirmed this understanding, yet we continue to disregard it in our organizational imperatives.

Why is there such a severe nursing shortage? No doubt lots of factors count, but clearly these are biggies: nurses are consistently overworked and, compared to medical doctors, underpaid, and women now have other options where they can count on receiving a) similar or better money, b) far less stressful working conditions, c) get more respect from employers and have more opportunities for pleasant interactions with coworkers (being around disease and illness is taxing), and d) not have to work excessive overtime.

So it seems reasonable to conclude that we don’t necessarily have fewer people who care about nursing. Seems more like the practitioners don’t get the respect they deserve. And it’s the patients–that’s you and me–who pay the price. And nursing is one industry that can’t be outsourced.

If you treat your employees with the respect they deserve–fair pay, benefits as reasonable as you can afford, opportunities to learn and advance–that kind of thing is worth bragging about on your corporate blog. So go ahead–point out the good things you do for your employees. Not only will your customers respect you for it–they’ll also get better service.  Because in the area of treating people with respect, what goes around, comes around. Even when some of them work overseas…

Small business: make room for the boom in entrepreneurs

May 10th, 2007

Some people get paid to look into the crystal ball for business. At Intuit, the Quicken/Quickbooks accounting software people, they decided recently to collaborate with the nonprofit Institute for the Future by sponsoring a study on small business trends. Smart business! If you know where your customers are headed, you can be like the wolf in the Red Riding Hood story–get there early and be ready for them.

Predictions at the Institute this year focus on the changing face of small business. More young people, more baby boomers, women, women-as-moms, and emigrant and minority entrepreneurs are going to mean more large companies can outsource–increasingly to people working from home or small offices rather than to other countries.

Multicultural marketing must reflect the growing diversity of both business owners and customers–and that doesn’t mean just language, according to Steven Aldrich, vice president, Strategy & Innovation, Small Business Division at Intuit. It also means identifying “the right media, influencers and distribution channels. One size does not fit all. Businesses will need their marketing to reflect the unique cultures and needs of their audiences. …small business[es that] may have been…serving a local audience…are now thinking globally in terms of marketing outreach, such as broader exposure on the Web and multi-lingual marketing campaigns…may discover new multi-cultural markets they hadn’t thought of before.”

More entrepreneurs can mean good news on the “green” front.
 
“As more and more entrepreneurs begin businesses in their homes,” says Aldrich, “the commute to work is reduced to a quick walk across the hall to the home office. These types of shifts can positively impact the environment by reducing traffic congestion.” As more talented people begin working on their own, fresh, creative ideas on all fronts–including the environment–are likely to come from these sources. An example, says Aldrich, is the small business Act Now Productions now working with Wal-Mart to help them become a sustainable enterprise.

Any way you cut it, if you’re an entrepreneur–whether self-selected or reluctant–you’re the future of small business. Corporate America is willing to do business with you, so get your ducks in order. Now we need to marshall more resources to help entrepeneurs find the funding and the support they need to meet the ongoing challenges of growing into their futures.

Write in your corporate blog about how you will reach out to small businesess. If you’re a small business, write in your business blog about how you’re preparing to help solve some of corporate America’s thorny issues. I think what this comes down to is two main differences in how we operate: 1) we’re becoming more personal (small business owners are personally engaged in delivering customer service), and 2) we’re going back to the frontier mentality…not finding jobs, as such, but exercising more passion and creativity in finding ways to discover our strengths and use them to earn a living.

Here’s the INTUIT-sponsored report on the Future of Small Business.