Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What's Your Plan B?

A buddy of mine left me a message on my cell phone on Friday. It concerned a letter he wanted me to write for him for an upcoming meeting on Monday night. Well here it is Tuesday morning and I just heard his plea for help. My phone had died and was being repaired so his call went unanswered. I feel terrible about it and just tried to call him back. I got his voicemail.

This exchange in communication, or lack thereof, brings up a critical point that I've thought a lot about lately. I wonder at what point my friend began thinking about a backup plan. Was it Saturday or Sunday? Maybe he thought I was away for the weekend. Was it Monday morning? Lunch time? I don't know but I'll find out when we speak.

More often than not our business communication is done by voicemail and e-mail. I'm just as guilty leaving messages requesting someone to send me a document or to call me back with an important detail. This is not a dialog but a monologue. And it can cause a lot of problems.

Of course we all love the trail that e-mail leave, "I asked you for the LMN file in my e-mail sent to you on May 25th but never received it."

To make matters worse, there's even a feature on my Verizon cell phone (I think it's #8) that will allow you to respond to a fellow Verizon customer's voicemail that will allow you to reply to their message without their phone even ringing. Talk about impersonal.

My point is this... you have to develop a fall-back strategy or Plan B as soon as you are forced to rely on someone else's actions. It's not losing faith in the abilities of others but a harsh reality. Even as professionals we have to grow up and become self-sufficient.

So what are the loose ends that have been hanging around your to-do list for more than a couple weeks? Is there something that YOU can do to get them completed rather than waiting for someone else?

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Squeeky Wheel Gets the Grease

This year marks our company's 30th anniversary. We've just started a small public relations campaign and are batting a thousand percent. Want to know the secret how we had a feature story written about us in the local newspaper? We asked. Want to know how we're getting the executive director of the NJ Commission on Science and Technology to visit the office? We asked.

What's holding you back? Whether it's a prospect you're trying to bag or a current customer you'd like to try a new creative campaign, all you need to do is ask.

Over 15 years ago I took the Dale Carnegie Public Speaking Course and one of the key points I remember was "What's the worst that can happen?" It still rings true today.

So if you want something... ask. What's the worst thing that can happen? They just might say "no." Big deal.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Virtual Trade Shows

I was channel surfing last night and came across a story about quantum mechanics on the local public television station. The show's focus was on the movement of protons and how a group of teachers and students from Princeton University tried to comprehend and define the highly-technical topic. One theme that kept coming up was the existence of a parallel universe. Without getting into the science behind it, all I can say is that some theorists believe that there is an alternative reality out there. Let's leave it at that.

It's ironic that the show came into my life at this time because the agency has just introduced its own type of alternate reality product called the ShoPlace Trade Show Booth - think of it as a virtual trade show.

How does it work? Here's the sales pitch... Whether you host a trade show or are an exhibitor, we'll take the physical aspects of the booth or an entire trade show floor and recreate it for display on a special web landing page linked to a client's site or a unique website solely dedicated to the virtual trade show function.

The ShoPlace virtual booth immediately extends the working shelf life of a company's exhibit for as long as the client wants, can be accessed 365/24/7 (or for a predetermined shorter time frame ), collects leads, and even generates sale. Most important, it lets those who cannot attend or missed a trade show to visit at their own leisure.

Recreating the real world into the virtual will continue to grow exponentially. Look at the popularity of www.secondlife.com. It's basically a virtual world where users (known as "residents" on the site), create the life that they wish they had. If you always wanted to be a rock star, famous athlete, or 30 lbs. and 15 years younger you can... and just with a few clicks of the mouse.

Take a look at your own business... what can you move to the virtual world of the web that will expose your products and services to everyone who has a computer and Internet connection.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Productivity Consolidation

Legal pads, Post-It Notes, scraps of paper... how many modes of record keeping, reminders, and appointment tools are your using? Is there a better way? Can you consolidate your efforts?

For years I utilized a simple computer program to keep track of my meetings and to-dos. But I found that if I was out of the office and a client asked me to schedule a meeting, I couldn't because I wasn't in front of a computer. Even if I had my laptop with me, imagine if I had to boot-up every time I needed to check my calendar.

After a short trial period I soon settled on a three-ring binder in which I printed out a one-month per page calendar. In between months I inserted a clear pocket sheet protector that contains bills, invitations, and any document I may need to reference for that month. The binder has a zipper that keeps everything safe from falling out. I've been using the system for close to three years and it has served me very well.

There are many tools to keep you organized from Outlook, Remember the Milk, Google Calendar, and the list goes on and on. The bottom-line is to find out what program/system works best for you. Remember, there will be some trial-and-error... before I determined that the large three-ring binder worked for me, I tried a pocket-type calendar but quickly found that I couldn't fit all my "stuff" in the tiny, 1"x3" space allotted for each day.

If you're unsure of what different systems and programs are out there, just go to your favorite search engine and type in "calendar", "calendar system", "to-do list", "productivity", or "personal organization" and you'll realize the numerous and creative ways that have been developed to keep us productive, on-time, and efficient.

"Plan your work, and work your plan."

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Fig Tree Provides Marketing Lesson

I just watched the company president unwrap his fig tree from a long winter's nap. For over an hour he took off bungee cords, rope, a tarp, and what looked like roofing paper. The tree's top shows evidence of pruning with a sharp knife prior to hibernation. Textbook gardening in my opinion.

Come September and October the tree will burst with plump, delicious figs, and soon family and friends, many of whom I only see around this time, will tip-toe into the backyard to snatch the juicy fruit for it's Vitamin A, C, and from what I understand, laxative properties.

The boss's actions over eight months ago allow him to reap a bountiful harvest. His preparation is a great example of effective marketing. Research, plan, implement, and as I saw him inspecting the tree after removal of its protective cover, to possibly adjust his future actions to improve his results.

My dad also has a fig tree that receives no pruning, no winter blanket, nothing. He does the complete opposite of my boss. The result? The fig tree produces small fruit and about a third of the yield. If dad was a marketing guy, he would fail miserably - no research, no planning, no implementation, and obviously, no results.

What to learn from this "Better Homes and Garden" moment? If you have planted the seed for a great marketing idea for your company or start-up, don't go in blindly. Do your homework, read some books, talk to the experts, budget, and most important, do something. Many marketing endeavors languish on the vine, never reaching their full potential and sometimes never having the opportunity to grow.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Magic Kingdom Still Does It Right

This year we're celebrating 3o years in business. To mark the occasion, the president took the staff and their families to Disney World in Florida. The vacation was spectacular. Not only was the weather beautiful but the Disney brand never let me down.

The parks were immaculately clean, the food in Epcot was delicious, and the Tower of Terror was awesome. The Magic Kingdom was the only property that showed a little wear and tear, but you had to look really, really close.

Spending four years in Florida I've been lucky enough to visit Disney many, many times. And with each trip I come to realize how successful companies build powerful brands. Like the McDonald's franchise, where you can expect your burger to taste EXACTLY the same no matter what joint you walk into, Disney has perfected the "magic" that delights children and adults alike so that when ever you visit, you know you're going to have one heck of a time - Ride the Jungle Cruise and you hear the same funny jokes. Get an autograph from Goofy and he signs it the same silly way. Have breakfast at the Polynesian Resort and you'll be greeted by the waitress with a boisterous, "Hey, cousin, it's good to see you again!" It's like your favorite sitcom where you can repeat the lines even before they're spoken. My eight year old son was amazed how I predicted what the cast of characters were about to do at the Hoop Dee Doo Review. "How did you know that?" he blurted out numerous times while BBQ sauce continuously dripped from his lips. I knew the routine all too well and envisioned me asking my dad the same question 36 years ago.

Businesses can learn some valuable lessons from Walt Disney. Specialize - do one thing extremely well. Systematize - make your business work for you even if you were away for an extended period of time. Systematization will also guarantee that your product or service will result in the same end-product each and every time your client makes a purchase. Have Fun - If you're not having fun, you're probably in the wrong business.

It's amazing how much you can learn from a little old mouse. It's a small world after all!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Pat Yourself on the Back Once in Awhile

Our agency made a presentation yesterday to unveil some of our new logo ideas? I'll admit we were a bit worried at the prospect that there would be about ten people in the room judging our work. We weren't nervous in the sense when a person is asked to speak in front of a large group, but more concerned at the sheer number of people who were going to be offering their opinions. As you know, trying to get more than two people to agree on something is difficult sometimes. Imagine the task before us to make everyone in the room happy to select a single logo from about 12 designs.

We started at 10am and finished up about an hour and a half later. The result? We listened, shared ideas, made suggestions, and whittled down the final designs to three. Even more surprising, we received a round of applause after our presentation. I was kind of shocked at the outward display of approval. Usually business meetings are much more reserved. A shaking of the hands is what I'm accustomed to so the clapping really surprised me. But you know what? It was nice. It was refreshing. And it was fun.

I wish more meetings were like this. I know “making money” and “showing a profit” should be, and is, serious business. But can’t it be fun too? The agency, fortunately, has many “fun” clients. But there are a few who are demanding, miserable, and quite frankly, downright nasty. What kind of client/customer are you? You don’t have to answer that. But after yesterday’s meeting I did some soul-searching and found that I could probably lighten it up a bit with my suppliers and vendors too.

So I applaud you for taking the time to improve your business acumen. And when you “hit a home run”, whether it’s very often or every once in a while, bask in the glow and enjoy that warm fuzzy feeling for as long as you possibly can.