Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Look In The Mirror For Real Answers

"The lesson has been: If you are looking for where to assign blame or find solutions, then don't look outside yourself," says Mark Richman, president of Skeleton Key. "I can't control the economy, but I can control my response to it. We have been deliberate in our actions for the last year, and that has allowed us to achieve our goals despite the economy."

(As seen in the St. Louis Small Business Monthly,, October 2010).

--Ron Ameln, SBM

Embrace Failure

"Don't embrace it as an end, but as a necessary component of success," says Eliot Frick, CEO at bigwidesky. "It is necessary for everyone. You either have a series of small failures that you can hide, or you are going to have one that you can't hide. If you look at the natural world, failure and redundancy is built into our system. We think that failure should never happen, but that is a chauvinism of our understanding."

(As seen in St. Louis Small Business Monthly,, May 2010).

--Ron Ameln, SBM

Sluggish Economy Is Great Time To Raise Prices

"This economy is the ideal time for businesses to get back in touch with who their ideal customers really are," says Dale Furtwengler, president of Furtwengler and Associates and author of "Pricing for Profit: How to Command Higher Prices for Your Products and Services. "
"When they do that, they become more profitable by shrinking the customer base and providing great value rather than salvage market share with people that are only moderately interested."
(As see in St. Louis Small Business Monthly, February 2010)
--Ron Ameln, SBM

A Lesson From Bill Walsh on Blocking And Tackling In Your Business

In the late 1980s as a young sports reporter, I was in Kansas City covering a Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers game. The 49ers had just defeated the Chiefs on their way to a third Super Bowl Championship in seven years. In those days, the 49ers ruled the league.
I was with a mob of other reporters after the game asking questions of the late 49er head coach, Bill Walsh. One reporter asked him a question about the West Coast offense, an offensive system Walsh helped create and the 49ers utilized at the time. "With this system, you can pretty much plug any player in and win?" Walsh shot back angrily. "Wait a second. We're not winning because of our offensive system. We're winning because we're blocking and tackling better than our opponents. If we block and tackle better, it doesn't matter what system we use."
I think the same can be said for business. In business, blocking and tackling means: 1. Knowing your numbers (inside and out); 2. Hiring A Players; and 3. Serving your customers like no other business could.; and 4. Having a plan for exactly where you are going. That's blocking and tackling.
I thought about all of this a few weeks ago when a social media expert (they seem to be multiplying) told a group of business owners that "if they weren't a part of social media, their businesses would die." Unfortunately, I've seen some businesses spend a lot of money and time with social networking. I don't see that as a problem necessarily (there are a lot of advantages). However, just as the West Coast offense didn't help the 49ers win three Super Bowls, social media won't help your company succeed. A focus on blocking and tackling will help you succeed.
First and foremost, spend time and resources on blocking and tackling. If you don't, social media won't help you at all. This is what the so-called "social media guru" should have told you.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Friday, November 19, 2010

Are You In The People Business, Or A Commodity

Customer service is a mindset. It takes thinking of your customers first and really, truly caring about people. It's easy to spot companies that are not in the "people" business.
A few weeks ago I had such an encounter with a car rental company. I don't want to name them (although the name rhymes with Avis), but here is the story:
About a week before my rental I reserved the car for a $100 rate (for two days, picking up the car at 9am). I was actually running early the day I picked up the car and arrived at 8:30am, 30 minutes before my reservation time. I asked to pick up my car.
I was told I could not pick up the car at 8:30am at the $100 rate. If I wanted the car a 1/2 hour early it would cost an additional $90 (for the 1/2 hour). I was a bit taken back. I offered to bring the car in a 1/2 early if that helped. No, I was told. You need to have a seat in the corner and wait 30 minutes. I wasn't alone in the corner. One guy was sitting there for two hours.
So, here is a company that instead of taking care of their customer, tells me to sit in a corner for 30 minutes. Now, I was certainly a 1/2 hour early and I'm sure Avis doesn't want people showing up hours before arrival. However, I am a paying customer and this was an opportunity to become a hero.
Avis took that opportunity and blew it up.
Some rental car companies are in the "serving people" business, while others are in the renting car business. Take, Enterprise, for example. It's slogan says it all, "We'll pick you up." Enterprise employees will take time out of their busy day to pick you up and return you when you return. Is it profitable to be shuttling customers around? No. But they want to take care of their customers. That company is in the "people" business.
When you are not in the "people" business, you've become a commodity. At that point, who cares what business you are in!
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How Thinking Differently Can Lead To Sales

I've always believed that business, like sports, is a game of inches. What separates one successful entrepreneur from one that fails isn't much. In fact, the entrepreneurs that are willing to go against the grain and embrace new ideas are usually the ones standing at the end of the day.
Today I met with entrepreneur Mike Wilcox, president of Vivid Cleaning, a commercial cleaning company.
Mike just recently began his company and is going through the hard work of building clients. An entrepreneurial friend had an interesting idea for Mike: "Why not contact the biggest competitor in the marketplace and ask for a meeting. Maybe he can help you or you can help him." Mike's first thought was, "that is totally ridiculous. Why would I contact my biggest competitor?"
After some hedging, Mike finally took his friend's advice and called the largest competitor in the market. The owner agreed to meet Mike for breakfast and the two had a very nice conversation. The Big Company owner liked Mike so much he began mentoring him and sending him clients. Yes, sending him clients. You see, there are certain smaller jobs the larger firm just can't make profitable. Instead of saying no, the company now sends the prospects to Mike.
Mike is not only getting some mentoring, he's also gaining some clients. The large company owner is getting the satisfaction of helping a local entrepreneur, and he no longer has to say NO to prospects that have jobs too small to handle. A win-win for everyone.
Business: It's a game of inches.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Saturday, November 13, 2010

What Good Are Social Media Friends, Anyway?

In the last week of the mid-term elections, I thought it was interesting to see one of the local politicians touting how many Facebook friends he had collected. In fact, he was quick to point out how many more friends he had than his opponent, like that somehow proved his political ability.
What good are social media friends? Apparently when it comes to being elected for public office, not much.
That candidate lost, and he wasn't alone.
Take, for example, Christine O'Donnell (R) from Delaware and her opponent, Chris Coons (D). O'Donnell had almost three times the Facebook friends (25,809 vs. 9,523). She ended up losing the real race by 16%, a huge political landslide.
This wasn't the only case. The races were littered with similar stories, like Brad Ellsworth (D) from Indiana, who had twice as many Facebook Likes than his opponent, Dan Coats (R). Coats won the election by 15%, yet another landslide.
There is a clear lesson here for businesses, many of which are racing (like Titanic guests searching for rescue boats) to build their Likes and Friends. The lesson: these so-called friends mean nothing to your ultimate success or failure.
I'm not saying don't utilize social media, and I'm not saying it is not a valuable tool. What I am saying is that business is about personal relationships. The businesses and politicians that succeed (in the real world, not the social world) build those personal relationships and actually connect with people in a very personal way. Just because you are on my Facebook list doesn't create a personal relationship. It's no different than being on my mailing list or email list. Many businesses these days are focused on getting as many Likes (friends) as possible, whether they are customers in their target market or not. How smart is that strategy?
With many businesses spending resources and lots of time building these networks, I hope they all took a look at the midterm elections. There were more messages sent than just political.
--Ron Ameln, SBM