February 15, 2013 No Comments

Choose Customer Service

In today’s news, Metrolinx, the provincial agency that oversees transit planning in the Greater Toronto Area, stated that it was considering charging for parking at the GO Transit parking lots.  Publishing this possible action is a clever move — it allows them to gauge customer reaction and get feedback before taking any action. If you’re planning a major change to how you to do business, finding out what customers think about it ahead of time is a sound idea.

As the comments to the news story show, customers are overwhelmingly against paying for parking at GO Transit lots. They feel they are already paying for parking in the price of the fare. Some have noted that ridership will go down as people seek to car pool instead of pay an additional $100 to $200 a month. Alternatively, some people will abandon public transit and drive their cars into the city, an activity GO Transit was designed to reduce.

While the 65,000 parking spaces at GO Transit lots can rightly be seen as an untapped business asset, instituting a parking fee for those spaces will hurt business growth. Customers see it as “double-dipping” into their pockets, and have clearly expressed that they don’t like the idea.

This is a case where the customer backlash will be far greater than any benefit from charging for those parking spaces. Business growth at the expense of customer satisfaction is false growth, and will not last. There are other ways of increasing revenue; choosing a course that turns your customers against you is never the correct one.

January 22, 2013 1 Comment

When Small Business Fails to Grow – Part 1

Came across this note from a contact on Twitter: “My friend just had to close his small shop. He said true retail is dead and that one just can’t compete with the big boys.” This saddens me. This shop closure represents a loss in many ways: loss of capital, loss of jobs, loss of a dream. And it didn’t have to happen. My guess, and it’s probably a good one based on the person’s comment, is that this shop owner didn’t know how to leverage his marketing assets.

He didn’t have a USP — a unique selling proposition. That is the BEST way to compete with the “big boys”. A small shop can differentiate in ways that are beyond the big box stores. It can offer more personalized service, including stronger customer relationships. It can offer niche products that are unprofitable for mass market stores to carry. It can add complementary services that enhance the value to the customer. (more…)

January 20, 2013 1 Comment

Systematize your Business Growth

When I speak with clients about the Core Four marketing steps that every business should undertake when looking for growth, part of my job is to help them understand that making marketing part of their business systems is vital to make their business a going concern.

Crafting a Unique Selling Proposition (USP), integrating that USP into all your marketing activities, setting up processes for customer relationship management (CRM), and establishing processes for joint ventures and alliances all contribute to making a marketing system that is repeatable, measurable, and effective.

If you do not have systems in place in your business, you are at risk. Here’s why. If your sales processes depend upon the knowledge of the business owner or the top sales person, you need those individuals in order to make a sale. Customers may buy because they like you, or because you have a business relationship with them. But if those people are not available, no sale can be made. By writing down the USP and ensuring it is communicated during every customer contact, you take the sales process out of the head of the business owner and the top sales person and make it into a system that anyone can use. (more…)

January 2, 2013 No Comments

Four Core Activities for Business Growth NOW

In a New Year, we all like to revitalize our businesses and make plans for growth and improvement. This is a great time to look at how you are spending your marketing dollars and what you can do to get more revenue without increasing your budget.

When I go through an opportunity analysis with a client, I look at four main areas where they can see rapid business growth:

  1. Their Unique Selling Proposition (USP) or extra value proposition.
    What this business does better than any competitor.
  2. Integration of the USP into all marketing and business activities.
    The business and all staff have to be “living” the USP in everything they do.
  3. Existing customer database. This is a huge, often-untapped resource
    in any small-to-medium enterprise.
  4. Alliances and partnering. This is a very powerful way to grow.

 

The free, no-obligation opportunity analysis is basically an asset-finding interview, where we discover the many ways that the business is leaving money on the table. Along the way, we often find other problems that can be quickly solved to increase revenue. (more…)

August 11, 2012 No Comments

System or Infrastructure?

Do you have systems in place in your business, or only an infrastructure?

To permit a business to grow, it needs more than just a framework. Manageable, repeatable systems, which can operate independently of the business owner, are necessary before a business can reach its potential.

While infrastructure is important, and is often a first step in establishing a strong business model, you will need a working operation that goes beyond who sits where and who’s responsible for what.

Infrastructure, or company organization and plans, is animated by systems that embody policies, procedures, methodologies, and expected outcomes. A system is dynamic, subject to change as efficiencies are discovered. It is portable, and does not rely upon the charisma or skill of the business owner, a shop foreman, or a key staff member.

Infrastructure: sales dept, marketing dept, customer support dept, etc.
System: marketing generates leads which sales turns into customers, who are serviced by customer support. (more…)

June 15, 2012 No Comments

Is it a Job or a Business?

I have encountered clients who desperately want to grow their businesses, but are already feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work they have to do to keep their current operations running smoothly.

In most of these situations, we discover that they don’t really have a business, they have a job that they’ve created for themselves. They’ve actually created a self-employment situation. They may have employees, a range of products, repeat customers, and an infrastructure, but they have no freedom. You have a job if you absolutely have to be there (or reachable by phone) for the business to continue running. It’s a business if you can be away from it for months and have it still continue to thrive.

Many services businesses are really jobs.

A client who is a graphic designer had a storefront, employees, an organization chart, equipment, and all the accoutrements of a business. Yet she did all the graphic design work herself, and met with all of the clients. Her business could not grow until she recognized that she could only work so many hours a day. She had to let go of the idea that she had to do everything herself. While much of the practical work, such as layout, compositing, printing, etc., was handed over to employees, she still felt the need to be part of every design consultation, and every concept. Her business was constrained in size and scope until she could train and trust others to carry on her methods.

You may have started your business based on your own particular talents. That doesn’t mean you’re stuck there. By creating a few systems, you can free yourself from having to personally drive the business, and do the work day in and day out.

Others can be trained, taught, and groomed to meet your standards. You can put into place policies, procedures, techniques, and quality control to ensure your vision and your talent are being fulfilled. You can create systems that function without your direct involvement.

Instead of seeing this as diminishing your role, see it as an opportunity to expand your ideas and capabilities to a broader market. That will allow your business to grow.

May 19, 2012 No Comments

Tech Comm Certification

In March 2012 I achieved a world first: I was awarded the designation of Certified Professional Technical Communicator™ (CPTC™) by the Society for Technical Communication Certification Commission. This certification is on a par with MCSE, PMP, CMC, CPA and other professional designations. It indicates that I have met the criteria for certification as an expert in my profession of technical communication.

The road to Certification for technical communicators has been a long one. Forty years in the making, we now have acknowledgement of our skills and abilities in a way that is meaningful to employers and clients. Because the profession encompasses so many aspects of technology and communication, it took a long time for technical communicators themselves to reach consensus on what capabilities should be evaluated during the certification process.
(more…)

Filed under: Improvement, Leadership, TechComm

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January 23, 2012 No Comments

Three States of Living Matter

Here’s a post I wrote in January, 2007. It’s worth bringing it around again for your consideration.
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At the beginning of a new year, many of us like to review the past 12 months, and revisit our plans for the coming 12 months. If we are forward thinking, we probably have a look at the 5-year and 10-year plans we may have made, as well.

It is always said of business plans that they are dynamic documents which should be regularly read, revised, republished, and consulted. I agree. I also like to extend that thought to any plan.

A plan is one approach to getting from point A to point B, whether in time or space. It is the approach you’ve chosen. It may not be the most correct way to accomplish your goal, but it is the one you’ve researched, analyzed, scoped. specified, funded, and are now implementing. You’ve made a commitment to that plan and those particular tactics over other possible ways to get the job done.

However, life happens. Sometimes the universe changes the variables with which we are working. We encounter obstacles that were different from what we had anticipated. Our actions have different consequences that what we had predicted. We are confronted with new information that we didn’t have when we first formulated our plan. Consequently, we need to adjust. We need to rethink the plan.

Smart people understand that reworking a plan is a natural part of project management. Any time the conditions, variables, resources, or outcomes change in a project, it is advisable to take another look at the project plan and make adjustments accordingly. It may mean increasing funding, pushing out a deadline, reassigning personnel, reducing requirements, or changing other aspects of the plan. Dynamic plans live and breathe. They grow.

There are only three states of living matter in the universe. Anything live is either growing, stagnant (in stasis), or decaying.

When looking at plans for your business this year, it is valuable to ask:

  • Where are we now?
  • Are we growing, stagnant, or decaying?
  • Where do we want to be?
  • What do we need to change, to get the growth we want to have?

You want your business to thrive, to grow, to be a living entity. Re-evaluation of your current state can help you decide what to do next.

January 20, 2012 No Comments

The Professional Gadfly

I often tell my students that as technical communicators, we are professional gadflies. It is our job to buzz persistently, and bite when necessary, to get certain things done. We cannot move forward with documentation on a product that is languishing, so we interact with the developers to see how things are going. We ask for prototypes and working versions. We query them about deadlines, especially “When’s code freeze?”.

We often become de facto project managers on the projects to which we’re assigned. In managing our documentation projects, we encourage, inspire, assist, and even require others to meet their production and development deadlines so we can take that deliverable and add its information to our documentation. Another rule of our craft is that a product never, never, never is delayed for release because of documentation. When that product is ready to go, so is the documentation, and often it’s that the docs are done and just waiting on the final touches to the product. (Cleanup, not changes.)  (more…)

December 5, 2011 No Comments

New Reactor Promises Clean Energy

Andrea Rossi has convincingly demonstrated his E-Cat reactor that produces more energy from a reaction than from a purely chemical process. Nickel plus hydrogen, 80 watts in, 15,000 watts out and no radioactive residue to get rid of afterward, only a little copper.

Strangely, the scientific press are remaining silent on this discovery. Perhaps having been burned by previous “cold fusion” claims that remained unproven, they are twice shy. However, when scientific heavyweights no less than Nobel prize winner for Physics Brian Josephson of Cambridge University talk about an invention, we need to pay attention. Rossi is clearly on to something. Given the size of the reaction chamber, it can’t be other than…fusion.

I am surprised that the scientific media are declining to cover this story. It is their responsibility to publicize science news so that the broader scientific community can become aware, then question, probe, investigate and even validate any claims. If something attracts the attention and support of respected scientists such as Josephson it deserves its moment in the spotlight.

According to NASA Chief Scientist Dennis M. Bushnell, reactors of the Rossi type are already in production and may be capable of “completely changing geo-economics, geo-politics, and solving climate and energy.”

Video on UCAM site with transcript.