Archive for October, 2011

Free Libyan People

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

freedomIt was a cry. It was a verb.

Now it is simply a statement of fact. It is a noun.

Free Libyan people.

This is what happens when people rise up against the worst odds. It’s people who make nations come together, even the ones that don’t like each other.

Miracles happen.

Cancer will be cured.

Fresh water will be man-made, cheaply.

Power will be supplied by something plentiful and inexpensive.

And, if someone doesn’t corner the market on that, then the water and power will raise everyone’s boat.

Wars will cease.

Good healthcare will raise the quality of everyone’s lives.

People who applaud the death of rights to others will be scorned.

The one percent won’t be able to pay for a voice louder than they are due, which is one percent of the sound and fury that 6 billion plus people make.

Children’s birthday parties won’t mean ponies for some and another day of hunger for others.

Access to the cloud will be a right.

What does this have to do with business and jobs?

The last four people I hired all cried during their job interviews.  That kind of burst out crying, the kind that comes when you don’t expect to get what you need, much less what you deserve. Some people I haven’t been able to hire cried too, when I said let me see who I can refer you to, because you are surely a good fit for another company.

The willful indifference paid to regular people and their families is destroying the fragile patina of sanity that maintains a civilization.

You and I know that all the miracles we need to be cancer free, war free, poverty free, and every other kind of good free can only come when people are paid to think and create. When managers have great administrative staff, enough colleagues to really get the job done, and real people who answer phones or otherwise represent companies in all the small ways that make us want to do business rather than loathe trying to order a product or get service.

People who work in markets: real markets that sell food and the small farmers who grow food, should be at least as important as people who speculate in markets like oil and gold that they never touch.

So why are we letting individuals who are all about firing and not hiring control what happens in business and thus on the planet?

Why are we giving up the right to care and share?

How did we elect or let rule the despots who are hoarding or stonewalling financial resources that should be used to put regular people back to work doing great things that only people can do?

Investments don’t cure cancer. Off shore accounts don’t buy toasters. Polluting one area of the world to make a battery one dime cheaper isn’t creating consumers able to purchase one.

It’s time to join forces with like-minded people, make a drum circle or a phone tree or however it is you feel like you can organize to be heard.  Collect voices to create a greater impact for your cause. If you are a #OWS, then tell the rest of us what you need to keep dry or warm or just going.

Take some small action every day. Call your bank and say if you charge me and people like me $5 to use our debit cards, then loan the gargantuan profits to small businesses that can hire us.

My personal brand leverages the facts that I am a capitalist and a business owner.  That same brand platform demands I say aloud: I don’t want companies to make record profits and still have people cry in my conference room because they got a job.

We helped free Libyan people against all odds after decades of enslavement. Now is the time to free us all to contribute and prosper.

Make jobs not war on the working class.

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Why High Praise Stinks

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Wedding-Photographers-Association“Perfect for Wedding Photographers” is the quote that killed my interest in Animoto Pro. My creative director had sent me a note about Animoto a couple of weeks back. I next saw it advertised on the Mashable Tech site last Sunday night, because I was trying to figure out how to teach Siri to tweet without my lisp on the new iPhone 4S.

Of course I should have been sleeping, because I was wrung dry from teaching a solid two days at my personal branding bootcamp for UCLA extension. But, what does a social media expert do without any time off? Look for something new and difficult to do on social media, of course. Hence my near delirious consideration of hacking my phone or engaging in some off label workaround to save time spitting out 140 characters or less as often as possible.

The ad for Animoto Pro reminded me of so many ways that small businesses kill off their own brands. That is, they take – or make – any testimonials to add credibility in a naive effort attract new buyers.

Most people don’t know this: not all good feedback is worth announcing in an ad, or on your website, or even accepting for your LinkedIn profile. That’s true even when the feedback contains golden words like “perfect.”

Your business or high dollar consumer prospects aren’t looking for just any supplier. They are looking for trustworthy, high value, low risk providers. Hence, who’s doing the recommending matters, even though “opinion” sites try to say it ain’t so.

“It’s all about personal sources” is the mantra that Yelp, Angies List, and the other faux-neighbor sites are using to successfully upsell ad programs to local businesses. These sites aggregate supposedly highly influential ratings and comments. I think the underlying principle of relying on what neighbor-strangers bother to type in is a shaky way to make your consumer choices much less bigger business ones. It may just be my luck, but I’ve gotten sick on Chinese food and now work on a bowed hardwood floor, because I used those recommendations.

Nonetheless, we marketers continue to espouse that personal sources, or barring that possibility, at least human sources lead prospects to your door or landing page. Hence the cash machines that are social media sites, review sites, or other comment aggregators.

That said, “perfect” recommendations from a less than perfect source is bound to #epicfail when your target buyers are from a larger, better class.

The idea that a wedding photographer, arguably the least demanding, critical and professional of nearly everyone who wields a camera for pay, thinks Animoto Pro is perfect? Perhaps that’s meant to impress high school yearbook photographers? Or the guy who sells soccer photos on picture day?

The recommendation does not impress media and marketing professionals, because for us, photography is a part of strategic campaigns, not a memorial of love for those who have only just begun, or grandparents proudly wearing that big button featuring their favorite five year old.

I know I am unfairly picking on Animoto Pro, its advertising agency, and it media buying firm. That’s the problem with being in business; we have to spend money heartlessly. That would also be known as responsibly.

And before you jump on the comments to say that wedding photographers have a tough job and are often elite professionals, may I call your attention to Adam Sandler’s career. It wasn’t for the effect of high art and drama that he starred in The Wedding Singer. We wouldn’t have laughed if that movie were a biopic of Pavarotti, famously not a wedding singer.

Beware of kind words and use them judiciously.

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It’s Easy To Hate Small Business Owners

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

angry-faceThe same way it’s easy to hate the homecoming queen or class president in high school, it’s easy to resent the business owner who succeeds at what other people see as a Sisyphus-like task. Taking in the reasons why someone else succeeds is like trying to swallow a bitter pill. Are some people just born to do what others see as impossible?  Is it nature or nurture that separates the employee from entrepreneur?

A successful small business starts with a dream, but we all have dreams, don’t we? I worked with a young man who created LinkedIn. Well, not exactly LinkedIn, just the concept. Jack drew it out on a white board for me, drawing circles and lines to indicate all the access to experts and others we had if we leveraged the connections of the people we knew.

I had built a small advertising agency and Jack was my first employee. We had a new client who came up with a fancy customized cat box to sell in upscale pet boutiques. At the time Jack was dating a woman whose father is a veterinarian. Jack point was this. We were just one separation from the expert opinion we needed to weigh in on the finer points of ideal living spaces for cats (much less feline hygiene requirements).

He then expanded his case to show that if we put all our friends, family and business contacts into play, we were less than six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon much less anyone else we might ever want to know for business.

On that whiteboard Jack had sketched out everything he needed to create LinkedIn. It was a perfect business idea, except for the three key factors that would make him a successful entrepreneur.

1. Tremendous will

This isn’t the same as optimism. It is the ability to remain undaunted and intrepid, even when it appears to be impossible to start or continue to build on your idea. Just like Olympic athlete Kerri Strug nails a gold medal vault for herself and team USA in 1996, sticking the landing on a busted foot, the best business owners play hurt. They play tired, they play sick, they play worried and they play big with what could be their last dollar.

2. Acceptance of reality

You might think a business owner has to overlook reality in order to beat the odds. No. It is their understanding of the brutal truth that allows business owners to move around obstacles, rather than continue to crash into them. Strug landed her gold medal-winning vault on one foot, because that was the one foot still working.

3. Commitment to a “change or die” philosophy

This attribute causes the most conflict. Almost everyone in an organization hates change except the successful business owner. Typically employees resist when it’s time to move along to a new product, new market, new delivery mechanism, new vendors or new anything.  Painful but true, successful small business owners cut anyone who stands in the way of survival or progress.

My former co-worker Jack is now employed in a staff position by a multi-national energy company, where he enjoys the work and loves his free time. I think he twinges a little when the subject of LinkedIn comes up, but he doesn’t regret what he could have done, because he never pursued the idea past our whiteboard session.

The facts about success in a small business are these. Genius doesn’t get you anything but a starting place for hard work. Freedom to do your own thing probably comes when you’ve sold out or retired. The excitement of launch becomes a fond memory and eating cold take-out stops being fun.

Here’s what remains as the conditions of success.

  • The inevitable pain of fortitude on a rocky road.
  • The uneasy embrace of the worst scenarios in the least favorable times.
  • The misery of losing friends who were once colleagues but had to be cut because they couldn’t live in a state of constant change.

So, don’t envy successful business owners. The same thing goes for homecoming queens, senior class presidents or gold medal winners. Even with natural good looks, physical skill or genius, my experience is these titles are earned.

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Shoot To Kill

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

SAS TROOPERSJason Padilla had less than one hour of sleep for an entire week. Along with the other harsh conditions and brutal physical training that are routine for hell week after hell week during Navy SEAL training, Padilla earned his trident in a graduating class of 20, a significant cut from the 223 US military candidates who started with him during SEAL training.

Proving that the US is the home of the free and the brave, Jason exited his proud military service and launched SEALS on Security, a small business leveraging the rare combination of honed intelligence skills and extraordinary physical abilities he and his cadre of former SEALS, FBI Special Agents and Army Special Forces relied on to complete missions and stay alive under fire.

According to the Sage Business Index, small business owners appreciate what’s in their favor, even in this economy. Particularly, most entrepreneurs know there’s not another place better than America when it comes to the spirit of risk-taking. Padilla personifies how to do it right when launching a new small business. His personal brand is now defined by what he has done professionally and whom he is personally, which is how he chose his profession in the first place.

Like the best authors who stick to writing what they know, the best entrepreneurs launch ventures in fields they know really well. Padilla now protects business executives and their families, at work and at home, with the same strategic approach he used to protect dignitaries and diplomats in hostile environments overseas.

Given that most executives go global, even if it’s just for a vacation, it helps that SEALS on Security provides travel planning, too. And, with an eye for contingency planning, squad members are also trained mediators and emergency medical technicians.

A lot of business coaches will tell you to follow your passion. But that only works if you are also really good at what you really love, and you have the ability to plan out your funding, marketing, operational and human resource requirements.

Of course, protecting lives is a different business than opening a knitting store or providing web design services. But the approach to business planning isn’t all that dissimilar. Padilla looked at his competition before deciding on his strategy. Particularly, he saw how other firms in his sector hired personnel. Per the Sage study, access to a qualified workforce is another benefit that US firms enjoy.

In Padilla’s case, he means no disrespect when he points out that firms he competes with in his industry often hire retired police officers.  “Statistically, police officers, who comprise a large portion of other companies’ security teams, have a 10% shooting accuracy. It is hard to fault them, however, when you realize they only go through a six-month academy and they are rarely given opportunities to brush up on their shooting skills,” he says. When you can sum up your competition as lacking fundamental expertise in what is perhaps the single most important part of your offering, you are probably in the right venture.

While not every small business demands as much as SEALS on Security does from its CEO or employees, it still takes some heroics to depend only on yourself to choose the right business and decide on the right tactics for implementation. Even with the best planning, you really won’t know if you’ve done the right thing until you’ve pulled the trigger and seen if you have what it takes to run a successful small business.

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