Monthly Archives: July 2012

5 Ways to Make Your Business Stand Out

stand out from the crowd

Okay, so it's not the cleverest of graphics. But you get the picture -- you need to be noticed.

Building a business takes time and commitment. It also takes doing the things that other people think they don’t have to. After all, in pretty much any industry you could possibly think of, you need to beat out the competition in addition to actually selling whatever it is that you happen to be offering for sale to your customers.

In other words, you need to make your business stand out from the pack and there are a number of ways to ensure that you will indeed stand out from the pack. Here’s what you need to know:

Customer Service

I’ve mentioned this before but it bears repeating. Simply offering real customer service is one way in which your business can stand out. This is especially true if you work in a business where most of your competitors limit their customer service to e-mail or even worse online self help forums.

For example, did you know that Twitter does not publish a phone number for their business regardless of how desperately you search for it? Ditto for Facebook. In fact, many Internet companies publish no phone number whatsoever. Thus, if you run an Internet company, simply publishing a phone number could very well mean that you would stand out from the pack and be the guy people look to for their needs.

Of course customer service means much more than just publishing a phone number. It means taking care of whatever the problem is and ensuring that the customer has a pleasant experience when they contact you. The only thing worse than not providing a phone number for customers who prefer to talk to a human being is providing a phone number which has an endless loop of automated responses.

Now I know what you’re saying – customer service phone numbers cost money and so we need automation. Mind you, I don’t say you need to be the rare company which answers the phone right away when people call. It’s enough to have a method for eventually reaching someone who can help to resolve the customer’s problems.

You should also ensure that when people reach your customer service department, they actually get the help that they need. After all, the customer service representative who is extremely polite but who simply frustrates people is not the person who is going to endear your customers to your company.

You need to ensure that they are committed to helping customers and that if they cannot help your customer with whatever problem they happen to be having that they can explain clearly why it’s beyond their purview or offer a refund if the problem is with your product.

And no, there is no need to offer a refund because your customer was doing something stupid (i.e. I remember back in the old days of computers that a customer claimed their cup holder had broken. It turned out that they thought the CD tray was a cup holder). However, if the customer has a legitimate concern, it should be addressed.

KISS

kiss

No, not that kind of kiss. It's an acronym for Keep it Simple Stupid

The KISS method never fails. It stands for Keep it Simple, Stupid and is one of the most important acronyms you’ll ever hear. In essence, whenever you are creating a product or you are creating something ancillary to your product (advertising, website, etc.) you want to keep it as simple to use as possible.

I’ve got news for you: nobody is interested in sitting in front of mission control for the Space Shuttle in order to figure out how to operate their blender. Nobody wants to see 500 buttons in front of them when all they want to do is to turn on the TV set. And nobody wants to see a website with dozens of layers which they need to drill through to find what they need.

Okay, I admit it, there probably are people who take great pleasure in overly complicated setups. Heck, my own home entertainment system involves four different remote controls and a keyboard (hey, when you want to be able to watch Hulu, Netflix and Crackle along with your personal library of six terabytes worth of TV and movies not to mention being able to use Pandora and local TV as well, all while using a projector with a 110” screen, it takes a pretty complicated setup).

However, in the majority of cases, your customers just want something simple and easy to use. And to be honest, even though I understand the system I built for my home theater system, I sometimes wish I could make it simpler to use because guests in my home never seem to be able to figure out how to use it and inevitably mess something up.

And remember that the KISS requirement applies to pretty much anything your company does. If you create a user manual, it should not need to be the size of a telephone book (for those who still remember what those are) in order for the person to be able to use the thing. Simple is and always will be better.

Even feature creep is a problem for most people, which is why so many people wait for a long time before they update things like Microsoft Office – they don’t want the steep learning curve of having to learn a whole lot of new ways to do things when they were still confused by the old system.

Even your customer service shouldn’t be overly complicated by the way. As I mentioned above, if you want your company to stand out from the pack, your phone tree shouldn’t be so complicated that it makes people start shouting obscenities while trying to get the answer to a simple question they have about whatever they need to do.

Listen to Your Customers, Not Your Head

One of the biggest problems that many entrepreneurs have is that they tend to ignore what their customers or even other people say and they decide that they know better than everyone else what needs to be done with this that or the other feature.

Now while you may be a very smart person and you may have a great idea, you cannot possibly know everything there is to know. Nobody can. This simple fact means that you need to actually listen to what people are telling you. Now here’s the real kicker: people will in fact tell you what you need to know if you only listen to them.

I was recently reading an interesting article in Fast Company about how to get the most out of a mentoring relationship and one of the things they mentioned there was that you should not consider your mentor someone who needs to stroke your ego and validate whatever ideas you have. You should in fact consider your mentor someone who will poke holes in your idea.

Your customers are pretty much like your mentor, except for the fact that they actually paid you for the privilege of telling you what it is they actually need you to do. In other words, they have paid for a product and they feel it could use certain improvements. Listen to what they have to say. Show your customers you appreciate them.

Those who actually follow this advice tend to find that their business doesn’t necessarily resemble what they thought it would resemble back when they originally started their business. However, they also find that they are the ones making the most money because people want to feel that you listen to them.

Now this of course doesn’t mean that you must listen to customers who pester you for a particular feature even though nobody else asks for that feature. So for example the customer at your toaster factory who demands that the toaster he buys should also include an ice maker is probably someone whom you can safely ignore.

On the other hand, the customer who contacts you regarding your SEO software which automatically posts comments on blogs (a bad idea generally – you can semi-automate, but full automation usually works poorly) and asks for the ability to be able to write customized comments for each blog but to use the software to find blogs to comment on and to fill in the registration information is one whom you should listen to.

You may also want to consider including some kind of a commenting feature on your website where customers can tell you what they’d like to see in future versions of your product because that will allow you to actually get the feedback you need. And yes, you may get some wacky ideas. You may also get some angry notes. That’s all part of listening to your customers though.

Focus On the Pain

pain

An old business axiom is that there are only two reasons that customers ever make a purchase of a product. They are in pain or they are in lust. In other words, they have a problem they need to solve which is either causing them “pain” or they have a problem they need to solve in that they feel a strong desire for something.

Good examples of this include Tylenol and a Ferrari. People buy Tylenol because they are in pain while people buy a Ferrari because they are in lust. However, even in less obvious situations, these two basic reasons for making a purchase always hold. People may be in pain because they find their word processor too difficult to use. They may be in lust because they think that color printing with embossed letters looks gorgeous.

Now, the secret to making your business stand out from the crowd is to focus on the pain. People are always more likely to make a purchase because they need something to deal with an annoyance or a pain than they are to make a purchase because they lust after something.

For example, you’re very likely to pay the hospital if you break your arm even though it could cost you thousands of dollars. However, you’re less likely to splurge and buy that Caribbean cruise even though you are lusting for the days of sun drenched beaches and shipboard meals which seem to be offered at almost every turn.

They key of course is to find the pain that people are feeling and to focus on ways to solve it. Don’t forget by the way that pain doesn’t have to be physical to be pain. Pain could be that the guy is stressed out at work and needs that Caribbean cruise in order to relax and be more productive. The key then is to focus on the pain without it being too obvious (unless of course the pain is obvious – Tylenol doesn’t need to be subtle about relieving pain after all).

Don’t Be a Jack of All Trades, Master of None

Remember the KISS principle? It also makes sense for you as a person and for your business as a business that offers something. Don’t try to be all things to all people. You are not running Amazon.com or Wal Mart (unless of course your name is Jeff Bezos or Martin Duke, in which case, welcome. Thanks for dropping by. I hope you like our blog.).

Now I know some people may be saying that they feel that they shouldn’t specialize too much and that’s true. The handyman who only knows how to drill holes in the wall but doesn’t know how to hang shelves or fix an electrical outlet is not a handyman who is going to make much money. On the other hand, that same handyman doesn’t need to know how to pour the foundation for a house in order to make a living.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is this: think about what you would want if you were your customer and try to do that for your customer. All of the above advice really does boil down to the so called golden rule – if you want your business to stand out, then do to others as you would have them do to you.

3 Reasons Why Google Might Lose Market Share

In discussing the question of why Google might lose market share, I am reminded of Yahoo, Alta Vista, Excite and other once high flying websites which have either disappeared completely or have become also-rans .

All three of those sites are still technically around by the way and Yahoo is even still pretty popular, remaining in place as the third most popular search engine after Google and Bing (albeit a very distant third from Google but only about a percentage point behind Bing).

Others such as Magellan (now owned by Excite which in turn is now owned by Yahoo) and Deja.com (now owned by Google) have gone the way of Pets.com (now owned by PetSmart).

In other words, while Google is currently a high flying website and the most popular search engine on the web, it is of course possible and even, dare I say it, likely, that it will lose market share as time goes on. Heresy you say? I still recall a film made just a few years ago which today is a bit amusing where a guy was engaged in time travel and told his future son to remember the word “Yahoo.”

Google Has Become too Big for Its Own Good

Google is too big for its own goodProbably the single biggest problem that Google has is the problem that every startup company dreams of having someday: they’ve gotten really big. Google was once the new kid on the block. They could afford to shake things up and try radical ideas in order to make their presence known and if it didn’t work, well they’d try something else.

In fact, this is the advice that I regularly offer to would be entrepreneurs: don’t be stuck in a single vision of how your business needs to be run. Your customers will tell you what to do and how to do it so that you can actually create the kind of business which will make you some real money. And those who are most successful often don’t recognize their initial concept by the time they become successful.

Heck, who would think that the original Google algorithms would still work today? It’s only because they tweaked their algorithms constantly that they were able to create a world class search engine. The thing is, these days they have to tread much more carefully. Google is no longer the new kid on the block and the search engine is their cash cow.

There used to be an old saying, back when PCs were still mysterious things that came in beige boxes and had CRT monitors: nobody ever got fired for buying IBM. In other words, stick with what’s known and what people are comfortable with and you’ll be okay. Experimentation is the sort of thing that rocks the boat and can cause the major company to implode.

Google today needs to be the people who worry about not getting fired and they thus go ahead and buy IBM (even though IBM hasn’t really done personal computers for a number of years, the analogy still holds). They cannot afford to take radical risks with their search engine and try something completely new and different because that would rock the boat and potentially destroy earnings.

Newer and smaller competitors by comparison, or a newly revitalized Yahoo, if they can figure out how to do it are less likely to worry about trying to stick with the same old same old. They can afford to try radical risks and see what happens because they are able to say, well, if it doesn’t work, we’ll just try something else.

This by its very definition puts Google at a severe disadvantage. They need to be innovative to stay ahead of the competition and to keep up a great search engine but at the same time, they also need to worry about not rocking the boat too much and alienating those who have come to expect a certain standard of quality from the Google search engine.

Heck, look what happened with the recent Penguin update. For the first time in a few years, Google Bowling is back as a possible method of doing SEO and it’s wreaking havoc with Google’s   search rankings. They don’t want to encourage over optimization but at the same time, they have no way to figure out who did the over optimization and this may well encourage some people to jump ship.

Look at a small competitor like Blekko though and they can afford to try radically new ideas, where they don’t even index millions of sites for every possible keyword. They weed out the very best and the rest don’t even appear in their results to begin with.

Search Going Social

Microsoft scored a big point when they recently began to start integrating Facebook into their search results. The fact is that search has become highly commercialized and as a result, people are looking for more personal results. What could be more personal than seeing whatever it is that your friends happen to be doing for the thing you are searching for?

Now I know that some people believe that social networking is way too hyped and that it is really the province primarily of a younger generation. I myself, as a Gen Xer have never understood the mass appeal of Facebook, even though I have an account and several hundred “friends,” most of whom I couldn’t name if my life depended on it.

However, the fact remains that we are the aging dinosaurs of the Internet world and the younger generation has grown up with the web and with things like Facebook and Twitter as natural parts of their own world. Gen Y and the Millenials are more comfortable with these things and they are the ones who are driving new sales these days.

Add in the sheer numbers – Facebook does have around 1 billion members (about one out of every six people on the planet!) and it’s easy to see that whatever you think of social networking, it is here to stay and will continue to have an impact.

Now this is not to say that Google has stood still. They created the plus one program a couple of years ago and the created Google+ more recently, but let’s face it – even if they manage to sign up 100 million users for these services (and that would be a massive achievement. They are nowhere near those numbers), they would still have just 1/10 of the number of members that Facebook has.

This simple fact puts Google at an almost permanent disadvantage. They are unlikely to be able to get Facebook to agree to let them use their material in sidebar search results since Facebook sees Google as a direct competitor and much of the Facebook world is a walled garden which cannot be indexed by Google’s search spiders anyway.

Microsoft and Yahoo Still Have Money

lots of money

Yes, Google is a big company. And yes, Yahoo has been hurting a lot lately. However, let’s not forget one very simple fact: for all that Yahoo has been bruised badly, they are still, even today, worth hundreds of millions of dollars and they still, even today have tens of millions of daily visitors to their properties.

Microsoft’s Bing may be the latest iteration in a long line of efforts to create a viable alternative to Google’s search hegemony, but let’s not forget that Microsoft has awfully deep pockets and they have the ability to keep throwing money at the problem until they figure out a way to get it right and beat Google.

Nobody should forget after all that Netscape Navigator was the premier web browser for a great many years and that Internet Explorer was considered an extremely buggy also ran. Today of course, IE is still the most popular web browser on the planet (followed oddly enough by Google’s Chrome with Firefox from Mozilla running a close third). And Netscape? Except for people of a certain age, that name evinces blank stares.

In other words, Google may have deep pockets right now, but they also still rely almost exclusively on revenue from their Adwords program and from the search engine. They make precious little money from other kinds of properties and this means that they have a great big Achilles heel.

Microsoft and even Yahoo can simply divert money from other parts of their businesses and outspend them and outmaneuver them. And even if Google pours more money into their search engine program, they still need to focus on expanding the base of their business so that they are not reliant so heavily on making money just from search.

Microsoft and Yahoo don’t have that problem to deal with and as such, they can push Google and force them to spend more money defending search than they otherwise might have to spend.

Bottom Line

Nobody knows the future of course and I certainly cannot tell anyone with any degree of certainty that any of the three problems I outlined above are definitely going to cause Google to lose market share. However, I can tell you that the signs do point to real possibilities and there are real chances that things could happen that Google doesn’t want to see happen. Stay tuned.

Can You Really Have the 4 Hour Work Week?

The 4 hour workweekThis is of course the dream that we all share – the 4 hour work week where you get to live the so called “good life” and forget about having to work hard. I’ve seen the book on the subject and looked into it and frankly, I don’t believe it’s possible to do a four hour workweek. It is possible to get a better life than you may have now though. Here’s what you need to know:

The So Called 4 Hour Work Week

This is based on a book of the same name which claims that anyone can join the uber rich and become independent with a so called four hour work week. However, there are a number of problems with this assumption.

First and foremost, the book assumes that you can always find an army of “suckers” willing to work for you so that you don’t need to work. It also assumes that you can find an army of “suckers” to sell your products to so that you can make money from them. And yes, I’m being harsh when I use the term “suckers,” but that’s how I see it.

You see, I consider the promise of the so called four hour work week to be like MLM opportunities. Those things work great for those who get in early and are able to get enough people under them to make good money. However, the vast majority of people who try MLM programs make little or no money.

The concept here is the same thing – you need to find an army of workers whom you can pay very little money to in order to get them to do the work for you and then you have to find an army of people to purchase whatever product that you happen to have for sale.

The thing is, it’s not easy to find a product which you can outsource to low skilled workers and which you can turn around and sell for a great deal of money. Not to mention the fact that you also need to constantly worry about managing the people you hire and making sure that they do the job that you are paying them to do.

But I Have a Friend/Mentor/Relative/Mythical Hero

mythical hero

There is always a mythical hero who accomplishes the 4 hour workweek.

Look, I know there are people who are able to do this. There are even people who have managed to do the whole rags to riches story and who are now able to relax. MJ Demarco for example, who wrote a slightly less popular book called The Millionaire Fastlane doesn’t quite live the four hour workweek, but he does live a nice, easy life compared to what he used to have.

It’s even possible that there are a handful of people who have achieved this mythical four hour workweek. However, for the vast, vast majority of us, it’s just a myth and it’s not something that can be achieved.

I like to think of it as being the same as becoming president of the United States. Sure, in theory, anyone who was born in any of the 50 states can become the president. However, practically speaking, it’s simply not going to happen for most of us. Even those who are incredibly motivated and really put everything they have into getting elected most often will fail.

After all, when you consider that less than 50 people have ever gotten that far in the history of the United States, you realize that the odds are stacked against you. The four hour work week is probably much more achievable than becoming the president of the United States, however it’s not something that 99.9% of us will ever manage to achieve.

So What Is Possible?

Now we get into a much better question and one that is much more realistic. No, it’s unlikely that you could ever get to a four hour workweek. However, that doesn’t mean that you must be a slave to your work, doing the 9-5 or even worse, working 12-18 hour days. It is possible to achieve a workweek which doesn’t require that much in the way of sacrifice and which does allow you much of the freedom you’d want.

IM Is the Key

Internet marketing can and does work. Whether you use affiliate marketing or you create your own products, the fact remains that you can make good money online and you can even achieve financial independence. You can also find that you’ll have the ability to structure your days so that you can spend a great deal of time with your family and doing the things you love rather than working.

The thing is, you’ll probably be doing more than four hours a week of work in order to accomplish this. Personally, I put in around 20 hours of work per week for example and I work from home. I’m not uber wealthy where I can travel and hang out on the beach all day, but I do make a decent living, live in a nice apartment and go out to eat occasionally.

They key is to sell stuff online. In other words, rather than just trade your time for money, you want to have products that you sell which you create once and then sell many times.

So for example, you may create a series of websites which sell affiliate products and which you then merely need to maintain rather than recreating the whole thing from scratch. Or, you could create your own products which you sell to others who are interested in purchasing them and then make money that way.

They key is to work smarter, not harder.

Working Smarter, Not HarderAlbert Einstein

Working smarter means that you do try to outsource some of the drudge work. However, where I believe the concept of the 4 hour workweek is wrong is that you cannot outsource the important stuff. Take SEO for example. Yes, you can probably find people to outsource building links to. However, you cannot outsource planning the SEO campaign and overseeing it.

Similarly, you may outsource building the website, but ultimately, you need to be responsible for the site and make sure that it is running smoothly. You need to be available to check on things and not pretend that dropping by once in a blue moon means that you’ve done your job.

The only people I know of who can get away with that are those who have multimillion dollar companies and who are basically retired. They don’t manage their own money. However, for most of us, that’s not practical. Or you could of course try to become like Neal Cafrey from White Collar, but then you’d have the FBI after you…

The Dirty Secret

The other thing that nobody likes to talk about regarding the so called 4 hour workweek is that those who achieve it work their tails off for years in order to get to the point where they can take the time to live the good life. MJ Demarco mentions how he put in his 18 hour days to make sure that his business was successful before he finally was able to semi-retire.

Now, here is another dirty little secret: the person who is most likely to be driven enough to do the 18 hour days required to make it to the point of having the easy life later on is also the least likely person to actually want to retire and do nothing all day long.

Let’s face it – if you are driven enough to build a huge business, you’ll be bored stiff sitting around and doing nothing all day long and doing nothing but sipping mojitos on the beach. Thus the concept of a 4 hour work week is just a fallacy.

But You Can Have an Easier Life

As I said though, you can have an easier life if you work smarter. You merely need to make sure that you put in the effort to build something which will feed on itself instead of constantly reinventing the wheel every single time that you go and try to sell something.

Bottom Line

So, bottom line, no, you probably cannot have the mythical 4 hour workweek and if you were able to achieve it, you probably wouldn’t want to have it anyway. However, it is possible to work less and to make more money if you just work smarter and think outside the box. Best of luck to you!

by EricHammer, on       Comments are off for this post