Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Straight up. Buy the book, help a child. Here's why...

   If you want to know the foundation of what allowed me to be successful. It's in the book. It's refreshingly short, and (from what I am told) enjoyably readable. Useful, short and inexpensive. Three excellent qualities for a book.

   There have been a few people that wonder about my "making money" off this book. Frankly, I made more money cutting grass when I was a teenager. It's really about sharing some information. If you truly can't afford it, send me an e-mail at and I'll get you a free copy. 

  Moreover, I'll donate the entire proceeds of all book sales this year to sponsor children in Africa via @SavetheChildren. If you're on the fence, buy the book and make a difference. For yourself, and a child. Click here, buy the book and make it happen. 

   Either way...Stay Awesome!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Falling off the leading edge.

Like many people I'm interested in what is new and exciting. From when I was a kid and they had "x-ray glasses" to now, downloading the latest and greatest app. The promise of productivity, convenience, or x-ray vision draws me in.

Of course, many innovations have brought tremendous boosts in what we can do, and how we can do it. Since you can now carry 10x more music than I accumulated on vinyl in the first ten years of my record buying life on a micro SD card, I'd say things have improved considerably.

But as we change and adapt some things have gone missing. Many stores have taken the opportunity to use technology to reduce the amount of staff in their shops and stores. Other businesses are dropping service levels to near zero based on a strategy that seems to be derived from data and an overwrought need to misuse it.

But what happened to fundamentals? One example, I bought a used SUV a couple of years ago. It was a late model and by no means inexpensive. Moreover, I bought it through the internet side of the dealership. A quick sale for the dealer, and with no hassle since I paid in full. In terms of processing the deal they were excellent. But did I ever get a thank you? Nope. A follow-up on how the vehicle was working out? Nope.

One small example of how you can align all the pieces of a transaction, and deliver, but fail to pick up the real bounce, which is making me feel like I matter. Gaining a customer as opposed to just making a sale. In a business as hyper competitive as car sales you think they'd be kicking out the differentiators. Nope.

While technology is great, the fundamentals are greater. The very stuff that people will glaze over and say "I know, I know" as you try to remind them of it. Well, knowing and doing aren't the same thing. Knowledge without action is pretty worthless. You can "know" how to paint, but until you make a painting the paint is only worth what it costs by the tube.

In the end, technological advances are only valuable to the extent they serve to enhance the fundamental operation of a business. The should make the same ebb and flow of ancient commerce smoother. If you are somehow persuaded that business is now changed and that people are just numbers, you are about to fall off the leading edge of technology.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Ponderous Product Packaging

Please don't sell me something in a package designed to thwart a rhino attack. 

Your product package should not be more durable than your product.

I bought the product because I want access to it. It's not going to be a museum display or put into a time capsule. 

It should be a requirement that a CEO be required to open every type of consumer product package their company ships with their bare hands while being filmed for a subsequent YouTube upload. Hilarity ensues...

Joking aside, the reality is that the package is part of the product: our gateway to using it. When the packaging is poorly thought out, it's an awkward beginning to the relationship with a customer at best. At worst, it creates a mood where your product is being set-up to be judged harshly.

Don't let ponderous packaging ruin your product.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Lions and Tigers and Retweets, oh my!

   The messages just keep on coming. "RT my name", "RT me", "RT my Facebook page". 

   Why, oh why, would I do that? 

   For one, I doubt you'd gain much in followers from me RTing your name. Second, I probably stand to lose a few people who would not feel like seeing a stream of unexplainable tweets flying around.

   In short. It isn't going to happen. I value the people who stick around to see what I'm going to post too much to just throw out gibberish. Therein lies the key to growing "your following", post something worth retweeting. Engage with people, talk to them, post good content.

   Of course, I do retweet. If you happen to be interested, here is what I recommend: tweet a quote you think fits with my "theme" with my handle @alphabetsuccess in the tweet more or less as follows in this example:

   We have it in our power to begin the world over again. - Thomas Paine #quote via @alphabetsuccess

     In case you're wondering why: The old style RT, that starts with "RT" is a visual stumbling block to reading the content. People tend to gloss over it. My observation is that leading a retweet with RT is guaranteed to inhibit engagement. Also, while I could re-work the tweet/quote you are counting on me having the time and inclination to do it. The more you "set it up" the better your chances. 

   If the quote is really good, and I don't already have it, I'll add it to my database. If I do, your handle will go right along with it. Never forget a friend. :-)

   There are no guarantees. But what I have outlined will dramatically improve your odds. 

   Happy tweeting!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Good enough never is.

   This weekend I was in Eskilstuna Sweden for a basketball tournament. So one night we ventured out for some food, in this case Chinese food at Ming Palace. Being a somewhat cautious person, I did some checking on TripAdvisor beforehand to see what was decent. The place in question was 4th on their list.

   As it turns out, 4th place was good enough to be pathetically mediocre. The food  was served quickly, and it wasn't over or under cooked. But it was devoid of any flavor. All served under the watchful eyes of the owner who never once inquired if we were enjoying, or had enjoyed, the food.

   How can that be? Well, I suppose that the standard of Eskilstuna isn't especially high, being a town of roughly 100,000 people, it isn't a likely spot for a top chef to hang their hat. Perhaps because of that, the restaurant had several customers who seemed to be contentedly grazing away. There isn't enough competition to force the Ming Palace to "up their game."

   But let's consider it from another perspective: there is NO competition. In other words, here is a place with a facility that is already open, and is actively serving clients. They are already doing 97% of the job it will take to make the place a star. All they have to do is put a little love into the food. If it was well seasoned, they'd probably be jammed with people. 

   At a minimum I'd bet a fair sum that an addition 5% effort would yield at  least a 20% increase in business. But I suspect it won't happen. They are probably puttering along OK, paying their bills and taking some time off every year. Business is good, or at least good enough. Right? Wrong.

   For now, the owners are safe. The little eco-system of this Swedish town is allowing them to survive on what they are doing. But what if one of their competitors decides to bring their "A" game? All of a sudden they might be having very little business and struggling to survive. They might even be forced to close.

   Such is the danger in playing the "safe" game of good enough. It provides an elusive veneer of comfort. They might be doing a little less business than before, but they can cut expenses, turn the heat down a bit. Slowly strangling a business that could thrive if someone would just look at it with a fresh set of eyes. 

   Don't be tempted to play the game of good enough. Bring your best game every day. Don't settle for being a little better than others. If the competition is poor, play hard anyhow. You never know when someone will show up ready to compete, so you need to be at your best. 

   Don't be lulled into complacency; good enough never is. 


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

To the most rockin, amazing group of people in the Twittesphere!

   What can I say. I'm honored every day by all the retweets, favorites and comments. You guys are a motivational FORCE!

   Just wanted to take a moment and say THANK YOU! I spend a fair amount on Twitter, and you make every single moment worthwhile. 

   Much love to you all. Stay awesome.

   Upward and onward!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

When you put profit before principles you'll end up with neither.

   Bought a printer for your computer lately? I did. About a year ago I got myself a Brother MFC-6490CW. Sounds pretty impressive, and it even looks pretty impressive. But looks and sounds is about as far as it goes. When it comes to printing? Oh Brother!

   For the purpose of context, I do not print many things. If I generate in excess of ten pages a month, I'd be amazed. The occasional document and boarding pass. That's about it. 

   In light of that, I expected a long and happy relationship with my large impressive printer. But it stopped printing a few weeks ago. The printer indicated that it was out of blue ink. Fair enough. But as I wanted black printing, I didn't think that was much of an issue. However, I have come to find that many printer companies now force you to install a new cartridge to proceed regardless of whether you'll be using any of that color ink.

  Previously you could sort of fudge your way through having to buy one until there was almost no ink of any type left. The old way made sense. The printer did its best to sort you out with what it had "on-hand". Not any more.

   For those who may be unfamiliar with the economics of the printer business, it is a low profit business on printers but high profit on cartridges. Thus the new "engineering" to force additional cartridge purchases. It's a sort of document extortion. 

   This blog is part love letter to an inventor, or printer executive that wants to take over the industry. People want a printer that prints, even when the inks a bit low. Ideally that'll be a very sporadic condition. I'm virtually certain you can charge more, way more, for a printer that screams "I'll be ready when you need me!" 

   In the interim, I managed to unearth an old laser printer from the closet. One manufactured before someone led the whole industry into a "profit before principles" mindset. How regrettable that nobody stopped to think that when you put profit before principles you'll end up with neither. 


Monday, May 5, 2014

Don't worry about your pride, worry about your principles.

   Just about fifteen years ago I held my first press conference. It was at RIMS, which is an insurance conference my old business attended every year.

   Everything was carefully coordinated, there was catering, and a wonderful room near the entrance so it would be easy for the media to attend. Except they didn't. Exactly one journalist was there. If I hadn't been an advertiser in their publication, the number would have dropped to precisely zero.

  Unsurprisingly my initial reaction was to be a bit depressed. Thankfully I quickly reframed the incident in my mind. Business was strong, my family was good, my health was excellent, and furthermore, I hadn't compromised myself in any way to pull off the event. Thus, there was nothing to be ashamed of in the lack of attendees.

   It illustrated a very important point: principles matter, pride doesn't. Valuing your principles means doing things in the right way, being honest, sticking to your commitments even when it is painful to do so. Pride revolves more around feelings. Principles are fixed, pride is fickle.

   So when you are considering the success or failure of a situation, evaluate your adherence to principles rather than your sense of pride. Why does that matter?

   When we are afraid of failing, that's usually our pride talking. Our worry over who is going to roll their eyes at our efforts, or ridicule our performance. By that standard, my first press conference was a dismal failure. But was it?

   Even though there was virtually nobody there, I learned some valuable lessons (always book too small a room...crowded always is more intriguing than empty). There's more, but that alone was enough to make it worthwhile.

  Now, I always try to remember whenever I feel fear creeping up: Don't worry about your pride, worry about your principles. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Don't Hire Anybody!

   If you have a new business, it's pretty common to start thinking about hiring someone to help with the seemingly endless tasks you are presented with. Don't. Do NOT do it. 

   Eventually, you will have to hire people, but try to put it off as long as possible. While you might think there is an element of sadism involved on my part there are reasons...

   First, you need to be able to present someone with a clearly delineated job. That's very hard to do in the beginning. In a start-up, many days end in a blur. But patterns eventually emerge in your work wherein you could explain a list of items to another person, you have the beginning of a job for someone. It takes some time.

   Second, by doing things yourself in the beginning you gain a massive amount of knowledge. That helps in the operation of any business and it also gives you valuable empathy for the person you'll eventually have doing those tasks for the business.

   Third, hiring is: easy in, hard out. Searching for your first "employee" is kind of exhilarating. You meet lot's of eager people ready to make a difference. Then you pick someone. But sometimes you blow it. You pick the wrong person. If hiring is fun, firing is the opposite. Firing people is a major buzz killer. The longer you wait, the better delineated the job will be, and the greater the chance for success in hiring.

   Fourth, hiring people costs money. Unless you have been massively funded or were born into big money, you'll find cash has a quick evaporation rate. Employees are helpful, but they are also expensive. Be sure you are absolutely clear on how you're going to specifically benefit from having this person. Have enough clarity to explain the hiring to an investor, even if you have none. 

   With some luck, you'll grow and clear these hurdles. You'll hire lot's and lot's of people and live happily ever after. But applying this logic to each position will keep you lean and focused. That's a very strong quality for any business to possess.