Monthly Archives: July 2012

From Forbes: Renewing Your Business: 4 Ideas from Ernest Hemingway

How can you keep your work fresh and relevant in today’s information-bombarded world? Take a tip from the estate of Ernest Hemingway, who authorized the release of a new edition of the author’s masterpiece, A Farewell to Arms. Originally published by Scribner’s in 1929, the edition out this month includes the novel’s alternate endings, all 47 of them, and early drafts of other passages. This new edition will sell more volumes, but also keep a celebrated writer’s body of work current, relevant, and fresh. The process of renewal is essential for success in any business.

Here’s how A Farewell to Arms benefits from a new edition, and how a re-boot could be helpful for your business:

Advantage 1: Timing

The republication of Farewell will capitalize on the attention Hemingway has been paid recently in numerous productions, such as Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” and HBO’s “Hemingway and Gellhorn”. The 1920’s era in general is also in the middle of a revival (pre-prohibition cocktails, anyone?)

Your Approach:

This will require you to have your finger on the pulse of popular culture. Is there something trending on Twitter that you can comment or advise on? Can you market yourself as an expert in your field during a conference or on another public platform? These opportunities may be difficult to come by, but could hugely benefit your business. Better yet– can you predict the next trend and capitalize on it before anyone does?

Advantage 2: New Features

The alternate endings alone are a draw: There were really 47??? Was Hemingway optimistic or dismayed by the world around him? Readers will look forward to answering these probing questions. The new edition will also attract aspiring writers, who will seek insight into the novelist’s process by combing through his re-writes. New features plus a new target audience? Jackpot.

Your Approach:

The music and film industries benefit from this time and time again, and Apple keeps releasing new $500 iPhones, knowing we will buy again for the purpose of trying out new functions. Find a way to make your product or services new or unique by adding something they didn’t have before. We are constantly trying to do this in the rare book business—we’ve sold multiple copies of A Farewell to Arms, but in today’s tight economy, we’re trying to find editions of the book that are truly rare (we’ve found a first edition signed by Hemingway to Captain Harrington, who drove the boat between Florida and Cuba.) Offering one-of-a-kind items has helped us attract new customers looking for something unique; selling these items has allowed us to thrive.

Advantage 3: New Packaging

The new Farewell boasts the original artwork of the 1929 edition, thereby capitalizing on a new look and a revival of 1920’s Art Deco design (see Advantage 1 above). Although customers respond well to things that are recognizable, something shiny and new can also get their attention (or in this case, something vintage– notice I didn’t say “old”).

Your Approach:

Does your website need an update? Could your employees benefit from a polished new look? Get inspired by what is currently popular, but don’t merely emulate someone else’s work. Invent something striking and memorable. Then consult outside opinion through a focus group or a design or marketing team. Don’t be sentimental: the best (and crowd favorite) should always win.

Advantage 4: New Advertising

The established names of Hemingway and Scribner’s (now Simon and Schuster) procured a plug from The New York Times and The Huffington Post. Enough said.

Your Approach:

You’ll probably need to work a lot harder on this one, or just more creatively. It could be time to re-evaluate, or re-invest in, your advertising campaign. Are you dumping hundreds or thousands per month into CPC advertising but not getting any sales? Consider new forms of ads, but keep in mind what type of media reaches your customer. Can you run a campaign on your own (saving money and having more ‘reach’ with your customers), or should you trust a professional to revamp your campaigns?

As you read this, another business is trying to attract your customers. By keeping your focus on renewal, improvement, or uniqueness, you can better compete with the constant data that customers are presented with on a daily basis. Have you made recent changes but your customers are not responding yet? Keep trying– 47 times if you have to.

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From Forbes: Don’t Let These 5 Startup Myths Slow You Down

Every day, hundreds of entrepreneurs launch crowdfunding campaigns on Indiegogo to raise money and awareness for their businesses. As CEO of Indiegogo, I have been in touch with potential entrepreneurs from all over the world with a wide variety of business ideas. Across this wide spectrum, I have realized that many entrepreneurs are misguided by the same myths, time and time again.

Here are the five most common myths about starting a business — and how we’ve seen them get blown out of the water at Indiegogo:

Myth #1: There’s a “right” time to start.

We started Indiegogo months before the financial crisis of 2008, and when the economy took a hit, most people advised us to shut down. However, my co-founders and I were each so passionate about our efforts to democratize fundraising that we pressed forward at all costs. It wasn’t easy, but every time we spoke with someone who was denied a loan from a bank, or couldn’t find a way to raise money for his or her cause, it reinforced our commitment to the mission of Indiegogo — empowering anyone, anywhere in the world, to raise money for anything.

We learned that there is no “right” time to start a business when basing that timing on external market factors. The only “right” time is when you’re passionate about an idea, product or service.

Myth #2: You NEED venture capital.

Believe it or not, you don’t usually need venture capital to start a business, especially now that crowdfunding platforms allow you to raise money and attract a global audience that includes potential customers.

We saw a group of product designers from California present the Satari Star Swivl, a camera-mounting device for smartphones that automatically follows you as you move from side to side, eliminating the need for an old-fashioned tripod. The designers pitched their product to multiple investors and VCs, and were rejected every time. On the other hand, their Indiegogo campaign raised over $20,000, validating the demand for their product and enabling them to gather feedback and make their product even better. In 2012, the Swivl was the highest-rated device in the Last Gadget Standing competition at CES and is now available for sale in the Apple Store.

There are many ways to raise money. Even if conventional means fail, find the one that’s best for you — and get your product or service out there.

Myth #3. You need a detailed business plan.

Too many entrepreneurs spend months locked away, creating the “perfect” business plan with scenario planning and detailed financial projections. These days, markets change so quickly that you never really know how customers will react to your product or service, or what new technologies will emerge that may significantly change the business environment.

For example, the two Columbia students who developed the LuminAID inflatable solar light had no idea how fast their product would take off. With the simple but ambitious goal of making portable light affordable, sustainable, and available for everyone, they developed their product, launched an Indiegogo campaign, raised five times their goal, received valuable customer feedback and got their lights produced. LuminAID lights are now being distributed to in-need communities all around the world.

Don’t get caught up in the minutia of a plan. Focus on getting your product or service in the hands of potential customers, get feedback and iterate quickly.

Myth #4: It’s all about the idea.

Actually, it’s less about the idea and more about listening to your customers and evaluating the data. Your idea may be great, but if you aren’t able to recognize and adapt to new trends and meet the demands of your customers, you may not be in business for very long.

When we initially launched Indiegogo, we decided to handpick our favorite campaigns to be featured on the home page. Although this seemed to be the best practice at first, we learned that our customers wanted an equal opportunity for their campaign to be discovered and featured. This led us to develop the proprietary “gogofactor” — our algorithm that constantly evaluates key characteristics and activity on each campaign — that alone determines which campaigns make it to our home page. Our users love that Indiegogo provides this merit-based promotion, and it also has enabled us to grow the business more rapidly.

Don’t get too stuck with your idea or method being the right one — listen, monitor, and adapt as needed.

Myth #5: If you build it, they will come.

The concept of growth for any business is similar to what happens with a crowdfunding campaign — you will need to reach out to your networks and get them enthusiastic about your goal. Once you reach approximately 30 percent of your goal, it provides the social proof for “strangers” to get excited start contributing — and nearly 40 percent of our active campaigns receive money from multiple countries!

We learned this one ourselves as well. In the early days of Indiegogo, we reached out to our personal and professional networks to encourage them try out the platform. After a while, word started to spread through friends of friends and customer referrals. I remember how exciting it was when we saw the first international campaign launch. Today, Indiegogo distributes millions of dollars each month to people in nearly every country in the world.

Once your product or service is out there, you must continually work to get the word out. Keep marketing your product, and always make sure your customers, friends and communities are updated on your progress.

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From Forbes: How Amazon Keeps Us Coming Back – Again And Again

I just read that the e-commerce market in the US is expected to reach $226 billion this year.  Amazon’s US sales are expected to be about $30 billion.  My quick math tells me that means about 13¢ of every dollar spent online in the US is going to Amazon.  Clearly, Jeff Bezos and company are doing some things very right. And it behooves all of us who are trying to make our businesses better to pay attention.

Since at least that many pennies of every dollar I spend online goes to Amazon, I’ve had a good deal of experience with Amazon as a customer. Here’s what I’ve observed Amazon doing very well – and these are things any business can (and should) emulate:

Help me clarify what I want.  A couple of weeks ago I went on Amazon to buy a tent. That’s pretty much all I knew.  Once I got to ‘tents’, a few minutes of looking at the options available and reading reviews made it clear to me that I wanted a 2-person, easy to set up, sturdy, lightweight tent.  And I had also gotten a fairly good idea of what a reasonable price point would be.  I settled on one that had gotten excellent reviews and that, in addition to all the other criteria I’d just established, looked nice. The Amazon site is beautifully designed to support this kind of quick pinpointing.

Any business can benefit from this approach.  How many times have you gone into a retail store and asked someone a simple question about the stock (Do you know if this comes in blueI’d love something just like this but smaller – do you have that?) and gotten nothing more than a blank look?  Or asked an insurance agent what kind of coverage you might need and gotten a flurry of impenetrable insurance-speak in response?  Training customer-focused employees to listen well, ask great questions, and be able to speak simply and knowledgeably about the products or services they offer can help ensure your customers have an Amazon-like experience.

Offer to expand my horizons. When I go on Amazon, I actually enjoy the ‘recommendations,’ especially for books.  First, their algorithms are good, so the suggestions are generally pretty spot-on.  Second – and more important – there’s no hard sell.  It’s just, “If you liked/bought this, you might like this.”  I appreciate this kind of heads-up when it’s simply a suggested possibility. Most businesses make some effort to ‘upsell’  – but most do it badly in one of these two ways: either the recommendations aren’t based on the customer’s expressed preferences, or there’s real pressure to buy. Instituting the no-pressure approach, and basing your recommendations on what the customer has actually bought or shown an interest in – I can only think that would make anybody’s customers more satisfied and loyal.

Keep making it easier and easier to deal with them. I’ve always been impressed with how glitch-free Amazon’s interface is.  I don’t believe I’ve ever encountered a technical problem when dealing with their site. And then I loved it even more, a few years ago, when they came up with the ‘one-click’ option: even easier. Far too many companies make it difficult to do business with them.  Anyone who’s ever gotten caught in an endless loop of phone extensions can attest to that (airlines and phone companies seem particularly bad in this regard).  Company executives need to look at all their customer-facing processes from the point of view of the customer, and design or re-design them for ease and clarity…and they need to do this not just once, but ongoing.  And often, front-line customer service people can offer great insight into what’s working and not working, if executives would only ask.  When all interactions with a company are fast, simple, and correct – again: a satisfied and loyal customer.

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From Forbes: The Only Thing You Need To Remember About The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

Stephen Covey died last week. He pioneered the business self-help genre with the 1989 publication of his mega-hit book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”

When I saw he died, I got a little panic-stricken because I couldn’t remember a single one of the seven habits.

That scared me because I used to love that little book.  I must have read it 4 or 5 times and tried to habitualize all of the skills.

I went to Wikipedia to look up the 7 habits which are here.

Then, I got a little disappointed.  Some of them weren’t as great as I remember….

Habit 6: Synergize – combie the strengths of people through positive teamwork, so as to achieve goals no one person could have done alone. Get the best perormance out of agroup of people through encouraging meaningful contribution and modeling inspirational and supportive leadership.

Yeesh.

If I had to boil all these habits down to two, they’d be:

(1) Do something.  Just stop sitting around and take action.  Every minute you’re sitting around checking Facebook, you’re not taking action getting you closer to you dreams

and

(2) Plan what you’re taking action about.  Don’t just take action willy-nilly.  Actually have a plan. Think things through.  Do one thing in the right order before you need to do the next thing in order to get where you want to go.

That’s it.

Covey built a billion dollar empire based on those two kernels of knowledge.

But I guarantee you, two months from now, if you meet me on the street and ask, I’ll probably have to confess that I’ve forgotten those two keys to success.

So, I sat back and realized that there was one thing I remembered from reading that book 23 years ago, which really has stayed with me through my career and has been of immeasurable help to me.  It’s not even a habit.  It’s a two-by-two matrix used to help remind you to plan things out before you take action.

Here it is:

Time management matrix as described in Merrill...

Time management matrix as described in Merrill and Covey 1994 book “First Things First,” showing “quadrant two” items that are important but not urgent and so require greater attention for effective time management (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you remember one thing, and one thing only, about the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People book, here it is:

At the start of every week, write a two-by-two matrix on a blank sheet of paper where one side of the matrix says “urgent” and “not urgent” and the other side of the matrix says “important” and “not important.” Then, write all the things you want to do that week.

Let’s think of each quadrant:

Quadrant 1: Urgent-Important.  These are the most pressing of tasks we’ll likely get to this week.  These are the crises that erupt.  The most pressing meetings or deadlines fall into this category.  When we do fire-fighting, it’s all relating to stuff in this quadrant.

Quadrant 2: Not Urgent – Important. These are the things that matter in the long-term but will yield no tangible benefits this week or even this year.  They are things we know we need to get to but probably will push off.  It’s having a lunch with an important contact or client.  Relationship-building.  Some long-term planning.  It could be attending a conference to learn about some new area that you’ve heard a little bit about and which sounds promising but might not pan out into anything.

Quadrant 3: Urgent – Not Important.  These tasks are the biggest reason we’re not more successful in the long-term.  They clog up our time today but, when we look back at these things at the end of the week, we’ll have to admit they were a waste of time.  These are interruptions that happen, such as phone calls.  These are poorly thought-out meetings that soak up our time, but which we have to attend because we already accepted the invite.  These are other activities which we tell ourselves in the moment that we must do but — if we stopped ourselves to really think about — we’d realize they aren’t that important.

Quadrant 4: Not Urgent – Not Important.  These things we do because we feel like we’re tired and need a break.  It’s watching a mindless TV show at the end of the day.  It’s checking and rechecking Facebook and Twitter during the day, because we think we might miss something.  It mind be mindlessly eating potato chips, even though we’re not hungry.  We prioritize these things in the moment and obviously derive some pleasure from them, but they are really not urgent or important.  Yet, we’d be amazed how much time we waste in a given week on these tasks.

If you simply spend 30 minutes at the beginning of each week thinking about these 4 quadrants and what you want to spend your time on in the coming week, you will be 10x more productive than you usually are.

What you’ll quickly realize is that you’ve only been spending time on urgent tasks each week.  It’s a constant fire-drill.  You’re simply trying to get one thing off your plate, so you can breathe for half a second and get to the next emergency to get off your plate.

If someone stopped you and asked you whether the way you’re spending your time on these urgent tasks is helping you to get to your long-term goal (whatever that is) of, for example, starting your own company, getting into a new industry, or reaching your next big job promotion, you’d probably say: “No, but I just need to get this stuff done to clear up time on my schedule so that I can do those things.”

Only, guess what? You’re like a hamster on the wheel.  You’ll never clear up time on your schedule. You’ll always be drinking from the firehose on these urgent tasks.

In fact, things in business since the 7 Habits book was published in 1989 have only made us more focused on Urgent stuff.  Think about it.  Email, the Internet, Cell Phones, Twitter.  Back in 1989, people used to pack up at 5pm on Friday and be gone until Monday morning at 9am.  Now, we’re always connected and ready to respond to the latest issue.

You never have to worry about the tasks in Quadrant 1 (the urgent and important tasks).  You’ll always have to take care of them.

You have to – as much as you can – eliminate the Quadrant 4 tasks (not urgent and not important).  Just say no to Facebook.  Shut them off..  They’re a time suck.  Mark Zuckerberg has built a $100 billion empire off our inability to stop doing Quadrant 4 stuff!

You also need to severely restrict the Quadrant 3 stuff (urgent and not important).  Most of us don’t realize how much of this stuff we do every day and we think it’s important when it’s really not.  With better awareness and better planning, you can really cut this stuff down.

The most important thing you can do in your career relating to this simple two-by-two matrix is to do some Quadrant 2 stuff (not urgent but important) every day.  At least 10% of your day needs to be devoted to this important but not urgent stuff.  Ideally, you’re spending 30% of every day on this.

I guarantee that you will not see flowers from planting these seeds for several months if not a year.  However, if you keep with it, making it part of your regular routine, you will absolutely be blown away with the results in a year or so from now.

Opportunities will pop up.  Connections will be made.  A powerful relationship will blossom.  All because you took the time 8 months ago to call up an old friend or contact — or maybe because you went to conference that you were really interested in.

Maybe it’s because it’s a matrix and not a bunch of words, but I guarantee if you’ve made it this far in this article you will always remember this two-by-two matrix and start making it part of your weekly time management routine.

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From Forbes: 5 Ways to Keep Your Employees Motivated Without Breaking the Bank

Employee wages have decreased by about 2% since October 2010, and have been flat since the beginning of the year. If your company simply doesn’t have the funds for pay increases, you need to be creative in order to minimize turnover, as holding onto current staff is much more cost-effective than finding new help. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to keep your workers motivated, all while continuing to reduce labor costs in your business.

1. Communicate With Them
When it comes to motivating staff, most employers think an incentive program of some sort is the only way to go. But how about this for an idea: Communicate with your employees. As a small business owner myself, I instituted a “Monday Morning Cup of Coffee” program with my staff. Each week, I choose one staff member with whom I spend 30 minutes to an hour just talking. Often, the conversation isn’t even business-related. When an employee knows they’re truly valued and that their boss has a genuine interest in them, they’re much more likely to perform well.

2. Institute a Casual Dress Day
There are two ways you can approach this. First, you can simply offer it across the board to your staff as an added benefit. Friday is typically the most popular day. Or, you can make it a competition by offering it to the top-performing employee or department on a weekly or monthly basis. That way, you can motivate your employees and increase productivity as well.

3. Have a “Boss Does Your Work” Promotion
Here’s a creative way to motivate your staff: If employees meet specified goals, then you must perform certain tasks for them. For instance, if you work in an office with a break room and bathrooms, it’s likely that your staff is in charge of keeping them clean. Consider holding a contest with the reward of the managers performing these chores instead.

4. Offer Telecommuting Options
If you have staff members who can be productive from home, consider offering a telecommuting option. Your employees are sure to love it, as it will save them plenty of time and money.

5. Take Part in Team-Building Activities
This method may seem cliché, but it actually works. Staff members who develop close personal relationships with their coworkers are much more likely to stay with a company. Even if your team building activity is nothing more than after-work bowling, your employees are sure to enjoy it.

Final Thoughts
Prior to instituting any sort of employee incentive program, elicit feedback from your staff. For example, you may think that offering free movie tickets is a great idea, but if most of your staff isn’t into visiting theaters, then your efforts may be in vain. Put a program in place that pleases everyone – if you can reward your employees without breaking the bank, you’ll solidify your workforce and potentially improve company profits.

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From Forbes: Getting Out Of Your Comfort Zone

Dale Carnegie changed my life, so my ears perked up when I heard Charles Osgood mention him on CBS’s Sunday Morning show.

It brought me back to a life-changing event years ago in Des Moines. The event, a near-disaster at the time, quickly led to my stepping ‘way out of my comfort zone.

At the time, I was Book Marketing Director at Meredith Corporation and had flown out to Iowa for the regular results meeting. Halfway through the presentation, my brain froze. No thoughts at all. And, of course, no words.

People’s worst fear is public speaking, #2 is death (So, people would rather die than speak in public).

Numbers don’t come easily for me, and here I was yakking away about response rates, costs, net profit, etc. But it wasn’t the numbers. It was standing up there talking to so many people all focused intently on me. My mind just went blank. Somehow, I recovered and, flustered, finished.

When I got back to New York, “Fred”, one of the executives at the meeting called to say “You need to do better at public speaking. I’d like you to sign up for the Dale Carnegie course.”

Public speaking! Stomach in knots, I went. The wonderful instructor told me later that I was his most frightened student ever.

It’s good to give someone a nudge to be better at anything

It turned out to be a turning point in my life. Dale Carnegie gave me confidence, and soon I was actually getting paid to give speeches. A professional! My mother was astonished. Thanks, Fred, for pushing me out of my comfort zone. Sometimes that’s what it takes. Visit my blog, Joy of Direct Marketing for my speaking tips.

And sometimes, you just do it on your own. Tuesday’s New York Post had an article about Mindy Meyer who’s running for New York State Senator. What’s unusual is that she is just 22 years old and a “fun-loving, Orthodox Jewish law-school student” who believes young people should get involved in politics. She’s running as a Republican which, all by itself, takes courage in Brooklyn.

A work in progress

I have some things I’m still working on to get out of my comfort zone. Travelling alone is high on my list. So is going to networking events. I fight the urge to sashay out of there.

I get into ruts, don’t you? Work, go home, eat, sleep, work, repeat. You get comfortable and have to force yourself to do something totally different.

  • A couple of years ago, I took a two week cruise down the Dneiper River in Ukraine. We started in Kiev and wound up in Odessa. Along the way, we stopped in several middles of nowhere to visit farms and small towns. We toured the Crimea on the Black Sea. It was great but friends thought I was nuts. Why not Paris? London? Rome? Well, I’ve been to those places so often that they’re honorary members of my rut.
  • Of course, you don’t have to leave town to do new things. Mike, our Creative Director, just bought a series of DVDs about learning calculus, of all things. He’s always doing stuff like that. He was raised in Montreal and never learned about our Civil War. Now he’s practically an expert.
  • I always wanted to learn to paint so I took a class at the Ft. Lauderdale Art Museum, and enjoyed every minute of it. My assistant, Rachel, does new things without even thinking about them, things as simple as trying a new restaurant or taking different routes home.

Comfort zone, rut, zombie state (according to my friend Dwain), whatever we call it, when we’re stuck in it our brains get mired in the muck of routine thinking and automatic reaction. We begin to bore even ourselves, never mind our clients and their customers and prospects.

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From YEC: The Key Startup Advice That Helped Shape myYearbook

Good advice is hard to come by. When you are in a leadership position, people tend to ask you for advice rather than offer their own. Therefore, it is important for entrepreneurs to seek out advice from all sources, whether it roots from other companies, good books, caring parents or British politicians! Here are three pieces of advice that shaped myYearbook (now known as MeetMe), and my life:

  1. Don’t be afraid to make (and measure) mistakes. Winston Churchill said, “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” While it is extremely disheartening to have something fail — something you have been working on for months and months – what you learn is invaluable. Not every feature launch is a success, and not every update has game-changing results. If you are too worried about making mistakes, then you don’t give yourself room to innovate. Many decisions, especially as they pertain to new technology, need to be made very quickly, before enough information is known — making mistakes much more likely. If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not making decisions. However, not learning from your mistakes will lead to failure. The only way to learn from the mistakes is to have good measures of impact. At myYearbook, we have a metrics-driven culture and can quickly assess how a new product or feature is performing. It’s a cliché, but as the saying goes, “The only failure is not to try.” Take the risk, but be sure to track it.
  2. Be about one thing. Google believes that “It’s best to do one thing really, really well.” When we started myYearbook, we had a broad mission. We wanted to be where you go to have fun and connect with any type of friend — new or old. But it didn’t feel right. As time went on, our message became more crisp and we realized the value in Google’s wisdom firsthand. Over the first few years, we narrowed our focus and became about being less, not more. Instead of trying to continue to compete with Facebook as another social networking platform, we completely broke off into a different category — the meeting network. As a meeting network, we do one thing — connect you with people who you want to know, not people you already know. This allowed us to focus our product and create features specifically around meeting new people, giving us considerable growth in the U.S. without spreading ourselves too thin.
  3. Take a break. When I am working on something for a while and at a standstill, my mom always tells me to go to bed and try again in the morning with a clear and fresh head. It’s wise advice that I try to follow and nearly always leads to a better idea, a clearer picture or a better perspective. When I am stressed out or deep in thought, I know that I can go for a run or get some fresh air, and even if I don’t solve the problem right away, I’m always glad I took the break. It’s also important to know when to end your work day. When I graduated college, I decided to live 20 minutes away from the office instead of in the same town so that I would be able to maintain a sense of unwinding by “going home.” Even if you’re doing something you love, you still need to rest from it once in a while to clear your head. The breaks don’t have to be long; it’s whatever best suits you at the time. I think it would be hard to stay sane without those little breaks.
 

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