Why should I think of my business as a system?

Restaurant KitchenIn his book The E-Myth Revisited, Michael Gerber tells us that the E-Myth is responsible for the high rate of small business failure. The E-Myth, as I understand it, says that if you are a technician, if you understand the technical work of a business, then you can run a business that does that kind of technical work. To be successful, Gerber asserts, the small business owner needs to embrace the entrepreneur and manager roles in addition to the technician role.

According to Gerber, the successful entrepreneur sees the business as a system that produces good results for its customers, which leads to profits for the business. Your product is what the whole business delivers, not just the products or services that you sell. The system creates a proprietary way of doing business that differentiates your business from your competitors, and doesn’t depend on the owner.

This post is not a book review, though. The point is, if you want to be a successful business, you have to build systems that allow you to deliver consistent value to your customers. The tools we will be discussing in future posts, created by companies like Google, Podio, HootSuite, Evernote and Nimble, can be used to create systems that let you and your team reduce distractions, prioritize, delegate, and organize your work.

Photo courtesy of Dennis Wong through Creative Commons license.

Why should I use social media to build a community?

Communities

Connecting your business or school to a community – a group of people with common interests and values – can give you a tremendous boost.  If you have a community, you don’t need to depend on anyone else to do your marketing for you, and other people will approach you with business proposals to get access to your community. If you don’t think so, talk to the people at Facebook or Google.

In a few cases, a community rallies around your product or service, like people who:

  • buy Apple products or Harley Davidson motorcycles
  • go to Jimmy Buffet concerts
  • graduated from the University of Florida or Florida State
  • are fans of the Green Bay Packers or the New York Yankees (I would have added the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but …)
  • build ‘brick masterpieces’ with LEGO® bricks, belong to ‘Adult Fans of LEGO’ and subscribe to BrickJournal, a fan-produced magazine for LEGO enthusiasts

But that’s unusual. Most communities are built around a profession, or activity, or cause. We just naturally look for a community to get benefits like:

  • find a place to belong
  • get emotional support and encouragement
  • increase our status
  • learn new skills

Some people may like Nike products, but their community is built around running. Others might be fans of Trek bicycles, but they are united by an interest in bicycle touring or racing. Some gardeners could prefer Burpee seeds, but at heart they love gardening, and the flowers or vegetables that they grow.

Companies that have used social media only to promote their products or services have found that the online communities quickly ignored them. A brand builds group loyalty by serving the needs of the people in the group, not by trying to build sales volume. Helping people now and building their trust should lead to sales success.

Here’s an example. In his book Youtility, Jay Baer tells us about Columbia Sportswear, a company that sells outdoor equipment like coats, boots, gloves, tents and sleeping bags. They don’t sell rope, but they have built a free iPhone application called What Knot to Do that shows users how to tie “70 must-know knots in six categories”. Anybody who learned “the rabbit comes out of the hole, goes around the tree and back in the hole” will download this app in a heartbeat. And whenever they tie a knot using this free app, who will they think of? Will they tell their hiking and camping friends about it? You decide.

Social Media Examiner reports on another example: The Laughing Cow brand and their individually-wrapped, portion controlled Mini Baybel® cheese snacks. Besides offering healthy recipes featuring their product, “the Laughing Cow and Baybel cheese community team knows the importance of adjacency in content: it’s not directly about your product or service, it’s about delivering related information your community cares about. Their content plan means leveraging the knowledge and influence of Internet personality Sarah Dussault, a fitness expert with her own YouTube channel. Sarah and the blogging team deliver fitness and nutrition tips for their health-conscious community, the target buyer for the 35-calorie snacks.”

Groups that share a common cause or have shared a particular experience are a special form of interest-based group. Susan G. Komen for the Cure® was created by Ms. Komen’s sister after Susan’s death. It has grown into a worldwide organization to fund breast cancer research, increase breast cancer survival rates, and support women fighting the disease. Community members communicate with the organization and with each other through local affiliates, local Race for the Cure® events, and online through Susan G. Komen social media sites. The Komen site has sponsors, but people don’t visit the site to see them.

Companies that are just starting to build a community should start by finding out where their target market community gets together now. Do they meet physically at Starbucks or Meetup groups? Do they have Facebook pages or Twitter lists? Go to where they are now. Reach out. Listen to them. Answer their questions. Make their lives better. Then they will be attracted to you and your messages.

Keeping track of the comments made about your business or your brand also gives you a chance to respond quickly to any negative comments you see.

When you find a community and begin to build a relationship with them, you should have a web site and an email newsletter, plus depending on where your community hangs out now, a blog and a presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Pinterest. Then look for ways to, as Jay Baer says, offer “marketing so useful that people would pay for it”.

Photo courtesy of Will Lion under Creative Commons license

How to be productive

Rowing Team

Productivity is critical to your success, whether you are a solopreneur, speaker, consultant, or part of a larger company. Productivity doesn’t mean doing as many things as possible during the day, but doing as many things that create value as possible. We all get paid for creating value, not for being busy.

As they say in the commercial, “everybody knows that”. How do we do it?

Give all of your attention to what you are doing at any given time.

  • Focus on the most important things that need to be done
  • Eliminate distractions
  • Put the information you need in a place (or a few places) you are sure you can find it
  • Delegate work that others can do better than you and be able to track progress
  • Organize the work that only you can do so you will always know what to do next

You will need to change the way you think about your work, and you will need to use some tools. The good news is, the tools are either free or not very expensive.

What do you mean, change the way you think about your work?

Multitasking ruins productivity. Inc. Magazine reports that “research has shown again and again that the human mind isn’t meant to multitask. Even worse, research shows that multitasking can have long-term harmful effects on brain function.” And an article in the London Daily Mail adds “Studies by Gloria Mark, an ‘interruption scientist’ at the University of California, show that when people are frequently diverted from one task to another, they work faster but produce less. After 20 minutes of interrupted performance, people report significantly higher stress levels, frustration, workload, effort and pressure.”

Reduce distractions. In another Inc. article, CEO Ilya Pozin reminds us “You probably don’t want to admit it, but you love distractions. In fact just like monkeys, you get a shot of dopamine every time something pulls you in another direction. Why do you think you check your email so much?” And later, he says ”pick two or three times during the day when you’re going to use your email. Checking your email constantly creates a ton of noise and kills your productivity.” Of course, the same advice applies to social media like Facebook and Twitter.

Prioritize. Start each day with a list of the 3 to 5 most important things to do and focus on them.  And at the end of the day, take time to evaluate how much you accomplished against those important goals.

Delegate. Share the workload with employees (if you have any) or outside assistants. According to author Jan Yager, “You should be using your time on the most critical tasks for the business, and the tasks that only you can do.” This is hard to do when you are just starting out, but you should begin delegating as soon as you have the resources (money) to do it. Ms. Yager also tells us to give clear assignments and instructions, set a definite task completion date and follow-up system, and give public credit to the person who did the work.

Organize. Writer Merlin Mann tells us that a to-do list is a list of things “that can and should be done.” A good to-do item, he says, is “a physical action, that can be accomplished at a sitting, that supports valuable progress toward a recognized goal, and is something for which you are the most appropriate person for the job.”  Mann defines a sitting as about ten minutes, but it will vary depending on the nature of the task.

There are real benefits to breaking a project into physical actions. Mann says, “Consider, for example, how an oversized to-do like ‘prepare the big presentation’ might be improved by zeroing in on a first step like ‘draft four ideas for our presentation’s theme.”

Going back to the idea of reducing distractions, it’s a good idea to build a “don’t do” list to go with your “to-do” list.

What tools are you talking about?

Information storage tools like Evernote or Microsoft OneNote (we will use Evernote as an example)

Email tools like Gmail and Outlook (and about a million others).  We will use Gmail as an example, along with other Google applications like Docs and Calendar.

Project management tools to track the tasks you have delegated or shared with others. Podio and Trello are two of many options; we like Podio.

Social media management tools. We like HootSuite, although there are lots of other choices.

Social CRM tools. There are lots of options. We prefer Nimble.

 

Remember, we don’t get paid for being busy; we get paid for producing valuable results.

 

Photo courtesy of Christopher Schmidt under Creative Commons license

LinkedIn: the times they are a-changin’ (part 4 – LinkedIn Contacts)

LinkedIn just announced another new feature, LinkedIn Contacts. It’s a tool to keep track of people you know, whether they are found in your address book, email accounts, or calendars. LinkedIn is slowly sending out invitations to its members in the United States to add this feature. (Go to http://contacts.linkedin.com to put your name on the wait list.)

Contacts searches your online address book, email contacts, and people appearing in your calendar, and finds the ones who have LInkedIn profiles. It alerts you to to your contacts’ job changes and important events like birthdays, which gives you an opportunity to send them a message or call them. You will also have an option to add notes about how you met your contacts and your conversations, and create reminders of actions you need to take. For example, you might create a reminder to call a particular contact every three months. And when you open a contact’s LinkedIn profile, it will show you what email messages you sent them, and where they have been listed in your calendar.

Mashable reports that this new feature is based on on technology from Connected, a startup LinkedIn acquired in 2011.

LinkedIn Contacts is available on Linkedin.com and an iPhone app. Android users, hopefully there will be an app for your smart phone soon.

To read the article in Mashable, go to http://mashable.com/2013/04/25/linkedin-contacts/

Social Media Security Lessons from the US Army (Entrepreneur.com)

To avoid leaks of sensitive information that might put missions and lives at risk, the Army created a 52-page handbook that explains what is and isn’t safe for soldiers and civilian personnel to post about online. The handbook was updated earlier this year.

Have you trained your employees on what they can and can’t say about your business on your (and their) social media accounts ? The consequences, while not nearly as deadly, can be just as serious.

1. Give specific examples of what is and isn’t safe to post.

The Army policy offers examples of potentially dangerous social media posts instead of general rules, and shows how they can be made safer. Posting specific information about a soldier’s duty assignment in a war zone can be used by potential enemies. More general information, like “My son or daughter has deployed to Afghanistan,” is less risky. Along the same lines, many companies tell their employees not to post information related to ongoing litigation involving the company, non-published financial data, or unreleased product information. Employees are told to direct questions on these subjects to specific groups, such as the legal department.

2. Think about the competition before posting.

In a company environment, employees should ask themselves, “What could a competitor, an unhappy customer or a disgruntled former employee do with this information?” before posting. In addition to information and interviews published in the media, competitive intelligence professionals can search the social media accounts of company executives and employees.

3. Train your social media staff.

When you assign an employee to maintain your company’s social media accounts, thoroughly train him or her on your company’s social media strategy and your social media conduct standards. Make sure they know what you expect when they post on your company’s behalf. And insist that they always know which account they are posting on. Many serious and embarrassing errors have been made by an employee who thought they were posting on their personal account, but the post appeared on the company’s account.

To read the complete article, go to http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/226349#ixzz2QgW0NEIO

LinkedIn: the times they are a-changin’ (part 3 – a bigger Pulse)

After what many people think of as Google’s poor decision to drop Google Reader, LinkedIn has announced their acquisition of Pulse to strengthen their LinkedIn Today news sharing feature. According to the LinkedIn announcement:

“We believe LinkedIn can be the definitive professional publishing platform – where all professionals come to consume content and where publishers come to share their content.[emphasis added.] Millions of professionals are already starting their day on LinkedIn to glean the professional insights and knowledge they need to make them great at their jobs. We believe we can help all professionals make smarter and more informed business decisions leveraging all the great business knowledge flowing through LinkedIn in the form of news, Influencer posts, industry updates, discussions, comments and more.

Pulse is a perfect complement to this vision. Pulse’s core value proposition is to help foster informed discussions that spark the decisions shaping the world around us through news and information. This shared view that the power of professional information and knowledge can transform lives and the world makes LinkedIn and Pulse a particularly great fit. We couldn’t be more thrilled to be working side by side with the Pulse team to create new and better ways to help professionals contribute to and leverage this collective body of business knowledge to help them be great at what they do and from wherever they work.”

Pulse brings a news reader that has relationships with more than 750 publishers, and distributes content to 30 million mobile users, LinkedIn says. Where Google Reader was a tool for individuals to find information, LinkedIn and Pulse can make it possible for individuals to find and share information.

Announcements are one thing, and actual service release is another. We can all think of acquisitions that never saw the light of day. But if LinkedIn makes this happen, Google may find their disappointed Reader users migrating to LinkedIn. All we have to do is wait and see.

Protect Your Reputation: Start by listening to what people are saying

Social media give satisfied and dissatisfied customers a tool to share their happiness or their pain with all of their connections or followers. Unhappy customers can start a fire storm on the internet, and woe be to the company that doesn’t respond quickly to fight the fire.

A recent example is Target. One of their dresses was offered in the color gray, with the standard size labeled “dark heather gray”, and the plus size of the same dress labeled “manatee gray”. Have you ever seen a manatee ? Not exactly a positive image. An alert shopper (as Dave Barry would say) noticed and called them out on it. People started sharing the post.

Target responded quickly, apologizing to the shopper and explaining that “manatee gray” is a seasonal color at Target. Many different products in their stores are manatee gray, and many different sizes of clothing for men and women. The problem occurred when the seasonal color label was not applied consistently to that particular dress. They promised to change the color quickly, and they did.

The moral of the story is to watch the internet for comments about your company, brand, or product, and respond quickly to negative (and positive) comments.

Inc. Magazine listed six ways to watch for posts that affect your company:

1. Google (and Bing) searches

2. Google Alerts (http://www.google.com/alerts). Enter a key word or phrase, tell Google what kind of search you want and how often you want to be notified. Create as many alerts as you need.

3. Glassdoor (http://www.glassdoor.com/index.htm) is a place where current and former employees can post comments anonymously about your company. According to Inc., Glassdoor offers a free employer account to track comments. Check it out.

4. Social Mention (http://www.socialmention.com/). “Like Google Alerts but for social media”. Covers blogs, Twitter, bookmarks, comments, events, images, news, and video.

5. Rankur (http://www.rankur.com) offers a free option that tracks news posts, blog posts, and social media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Google+), and a “basic” paid option that adds monitoring of online reviews. More expensive options with more features are also available.

6. ViralHeat (http://www.viralheat.com) is a paid service (14-day free trial) that monitors Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, blogs, and web sites, and lets you apply the tools to analyze competitors.

Choose the tools that work for you, and productively track the online comments that are important to you.

Fast forward a year – will Target’s spring gray color still be “manatee gray” or maybe something more sleek like “dolphin gray” ?

To see the complete Inc. magazine article, go to http://www.inc.com/hollis-thomases/6-free-or-low-cost-ways-to-track-and-protect-your-online-reputation.html

 

LinkedIn: the times they are a-changin’ (part 2 – mentions)

After announcing the changes to their search tool, LinkedIn has added ‘mentions’ to their status updates. This gives LinkedIn users the ability to mention or tag another LinkedIn user in a post, they way they do in Twitter with the @’name’ feature. When the user types a name in the update or comments space, they will see a drop-down menu with a list of their connections or companies they follow to select from. When a LinkedIn user or a company is mentioned in a post, they will see a notification like they would in Twitter. At this point it looks like the drop-down list will include only first-level connections, LinkedIn says you will have a similar ability to respond to public comments on the LinkedIn Homepage.

LinkedIn has introduced this change to make it easier for their users to start or continue conversations with other users, to make your connections more valuable.

Watch for more changes in the near future.

LinkedIn: the times they are a-changin’ (part 1 – search)

LinkedIn is gradually rolling out several changes to your home page. You will see these changes one day when you log in to LinkedIn – there does not seem to be any pattern to who will receive the update.

One change they are talking about is an update to their search function. Instead of searching separately for people, companies, jobs or groups you can start a search in more than one category. So, for example, you can search ‘Acme Manufacturing’ for their company page, people in your network who work at Acme Manufacturing, and jobs posted by Acme Manufacturing in a single search. This will give you a more comprehensive picture of what’s going on at your target company, no matter what you are looking for.

LinkedIn will also give you more options to narrow your search when you are using the Advanced People Search. This should let you focus more clearly on the people who meet your specific criteria and make your search for prospects or contacts more productive.

They will also add Google-like auto-complete and suggested search suggestions that will appear when you are typing in a search term.This small productivity enhancer will make your LinkedIn search experience more consistent with other searches you normally do.

This is not the only change LinkedIn has in store for you, and it is not the most visible. We will have more updates on that soon. In the meantime, as the Boy Scouts say, ‘be prepared”.

Florida Community Colleges get high marks in the 2013 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence

At a time when many people debate the quality of education Florida students are receiving, this recognition is evidence that many of our community colleges are making the grade.

The Aspen Institute recently announced the winners of the 2013 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. Santa Barbara Community College (CA) and Walla Walla Community (WA) College were named co-winners. Two Florida colleges, Santa Fe College in Gainesville and Broward College in Ft. Lauderdale, were finalists for the prize. Success rates at Santa Fe exceed the national average not just for students overall but also for the one-quarter of students who are black or Hispanic. And over time, Broward has achieved steady increases in retention, graduation, and transfer rates.

Winners and finalists were chosen from a group of 120 colleges selected by the Aspen Institute. Florida had 15 colleges in this group – more than any other state. And the number of Florida colleges could have been larger, except for an adjustment made by the judges to allow no more than half of the institutions in each state to appear in the list. This adjustment affected only Florida and Kentucky.

In the 2011 contest, Florida’s Valencia College was selected as the winner and Miami Dade College was named a “finalist with distinction”. Fourteen Florida community colleges were eligible for the prize in 2011 – again, more than any other state. Valencia College was among the top 120 Community Colleges again in 2013, but because they won in 2011 they were not eligible to win in 2013. A total of twelve Florida Community Colleges were included in the top 120 in both 2011 and 2013. Pasco-Hernando Community College in New Port Richey was one of the three Florida colleges added to the list in 2013.

The Aspen Prize was created to recognize community colleges with outstanding academic and workforce outcomes in both absolute performance and improvements over time. By focusing on student success and lifting up models that work, the Aspen Prize is intended to honor excellence, stimulate innovation, and create benchmarks for measuring progress.