Archive for the ‘Business philosophy’ Category

The Role of a Home Page

Over on Seth Godin’s blog, there is a post called Blow Up Your Home Page.

Now Seth is talking about the fact people get information about people – and businesses – from all over the place, you can’t manage their experience through a home page. But the concept of home page thinking should be blown up for small business for another reason as well.

They aren’t that interesting. Readers aren’t really that interested in your brochure – they are more likely to be interested in solving a problem. Their problem. So create a home page that helps solve your prospect’s problem. They can find out about you later on – not on your home page.

The secret to good milk…

Today we have more options than our brains can often handle. Take milk. Would you like that skim, light or full cream? More calcium or less sodium? Strawberry, mint, chocolate, banana or vanilla? Would you like that in a carton, a bottle or a jug? Powdered, fresh or long-life? Will that be paid by cash, cheque, credit or savings? Paper or plastic?

When your prospective customer is standing at the proverbial milk section, gazing at the seemingly endless options, what makes them reach out and grab yours? Essentially, you’re just a carton of milk; like the carton next to you, and the carton next to them and all the other cartons around you.

But there’s something unique about you. Sure, you’re a carton of milk like everyone else, but you offer something more. Your customer knows that when they’re pouring you on their cereal or in to their morning coffee, they’re pouring in added calcium, or a 10% saving, or the peace of mind you get from knowing that the cow this milk came from was grazed on environmentally-friendly grass in a big green paddock with absolutely no performance pressure at all.

Think about your competitors. What do they offer in addition to their core offering? Why do people by their product or service over everyone else’s?

Now look at your product. What is it that makes yours different to everyone else’s? Is it something customers would find valuable? And do they know about this unique trait of yours?

With so many options available, it’s nearly impossible to differentiate yourself based purely on your core offering. Very few people today buy purely to fulfil a practical need. Sure, that practical need gets them to the milk section. But it’s your unique selling proposition that moves them to choose your carton of milk.

What is so special about small business blogs?

Small businesses have special reasons to consider blogging. A business blog is a special tool for small business in particular – is it relevant for yours?

Something very significant happened with the Internet.  Businesses can only sell to customers in their addressable market.  Usually, this is a geographic distance from your outlet, and expansion means branch offices, distribution centres, franchises – whatever it takes to get your product or service in front of your customer.  Trouble is, our customers aren’t necessarily evenly spread (so surf stores are in range of a beach, in other words, near where their customers are).  The range of products and services that could be profitably carried depended on having enough customers within your addressable market. You don’t see surf stores in Alice Springs, and you don’t see book stores that sell just Noddy books.

The Internet really changed things for small business. A lot of the change is to do with the size of market that can now be addressed.  Small business has the opportunity to choose its audience – the more specific, niche and high value the better.

Interest in blogging is rapidly growing, and in all the rush its possible people aren’t tuning into the extraordinary opportunity that business blogging represents for many small businesses. Why is it an opportunity?  Well, Business Week describe why  it in Blogs Will Change Your Business.

You have an amazing advantage. Seth Godin makes the case that small is the new big so well that I suggest you read it right now.

A blog is a way to establish a conversation with your audience. Five years ago, even though the Internet let you establish a ‘global’ presence, acquiring a customer base was tough. Blogging has changed the game – cost is no longer the barrier to entry, content is.

So, you need to find out about business blogging. If you have a small business with a product or service that is of interest to a market outside your own geographic area (and you can see a way to sell your product / service to them), then you will be amazed at what you find.

How to teach others and create a kick ass business while you are at it

If you like the combination of doing AND teaching, you’ll love hearing that Kicking Ass is More Fun.

What Kathy Sierra (one of the wonderful Creating Passionate Users team) is describing is a great way of thinking about our own businesses. Can we extend what we do to educate others? This hones our own skills, and creates a strong positive feedback loop.

I came across this post thanks to Lorelle VanFossen, herself a fount of inspiration if you are in the business of blogging with WordPress.

What it means to be small

Small feet, big shoesAs a small businessperson, the question of size will be central to your life.

I’m around five feet two, which makes me a small businessperson in more ways than one and means that smallness has always been an issue for me.

When you’re small, it seems as if the big guys are always looking down on you. Some will look right over your head. And others will find it hard to take you seriously.

Those who have achieved height might be inclined to take you under their wing, to patronise, nurture or control you. They may assume that smallness implies immaturity, naivety, perhaps even weakness.

But in reality, being small – whether as a person or a business – often means that what you lack in size you make up for in personality.

I’ve learned to overcome the challenges of smallness by:

  • understanding that personality is more important than size
  • putting my hand up or raising my voice (literally and metaphorically) to be noticed in a crowd
  • building resilience against those who try to control, patronise or cut me out of the picture altogether

In a business context, if a bigger businessperson tells you your business model can’t work, it’s most likely because your smallness is threatening to them.
If this happens to you – which it most likely will at some time in your small business career – remember the rules of rocket science: stick your hand in the air, dazzle them with your personality, and show them not only that it can be done, but exactly how to do it.

How to run a mediocre business

Every entrepreneur (in fact every employer) should read this post, which is far more upbeat than the title suggests. It needs no further comment:

Knocking the Exuberance out of Employees

Go global, live well

Laptop on beachAn article in the Desert Sun – a Palm Springs, California paper – attracted my attention recently. Small Business Finds Profit Internationally is the story of one small US company that set up a European base by working remotely with an employee.

The article aims to show how easily a small company can set up physical offices in other parts of the world. More importantly, it shows how small businesses are realising how Internet media can enable them to think globally.

If we can employ staff at a distance, we can use the same technology to work with clients or customers anywhere in the world.

The beauty of small businesses is that they are perfectly poised to make the Internet work for them. Choose a niche product or service that can be shipped or supplied nationally or globally, and you’re in business. Leverage Internet options to market effectively online, and you’re likely to stay in business.
Boston Globe columnist, Penelope Trunk, recently enthused about the benefits of virtual companies: low overheads enable start-ups to get going faster, working online allows small businesses to compete on a level playing field, and the joys of working remotely are clear.

The Palm Springs employee decided to telecommute from Dublin and it worked. Now start imagining your ideal place to live …

How we do it
Measured in terms of number of employees, our business is small – very small. And yet I take great pride in describing PublicityShip as a national company. Because we are. Not only that but we also have the potential to ‘go global’ without setting up any physical offices.

Interesting though when my listener asks – so where are you based? This always throws me because, while it’s a natural question to ask, in virtual reality, it isn’t relevant.

Our geographical office is a place for Glenn, Julia, Shane and I to keep our computers so we don’t clutter up our houses. It’s where we get together to brainstorm and celebrate. But our journalists all have their own independent bases, and as far as clients go, all these physical locations are pretty much off the radar.

This is because we’re an online, or virtual, company – like so many other small businesses springing up all over the web. But being an online company doesn’t just mean having a website.
All our services are offered and conducted online or by phone conference – leading to time and cost savings that ultimately benefit our clients. This works particularly well for a service company like ours. But businesses selling physical products can have an online store with payment facilities. Even perishable produce can be frozen and transported – almost anything is possible.

So, where are we based? At the risk of sounding facetious, my answer is now simply:

What does the Long Tail mean for small business?

The Long Tail

Have you heard of the Long Tail? For a lot of small businesses, this topic matters a LOT. For some, it doesn’t matter much, but you’ll still find it an interesting read. The book on the topic is shortlisted for the Business Book of the Year. But its far more than that.

The Long Tail was an article written by Chris Anderson in Wired Magazine, in October 2004. He has subsequently done a lot more research and published a book. Great author, great article. So good that reading it convinced me to resign from a big-company consulting role and head out and start my own business. This post owes an incredible amount to Chris Anderson.

I’m going to try and put my own small business perspective on the Long Tail. Most (not all) of the discussion around the Long Tail has been from the perspective of big companies – this isn’t a deficiency in the idea, just a natural byproduct of the audience. But I’m going to try and persuade you that the Long Tail is very significant for small business.

Ok, so what is this all about?

Addressable market.

When the Internet was established, it was the beginning of a tectonic shift in addressable market. Basically whatever your product or service, you only get to sell it to your addressable market. Mostly this means your customers have to be able to walk/drive to your outlet, or you go to them. So for a successful small business there needs to be enough people within geographical range of your business who … want/need what you are selling, come into your outlet (or you go to them), notice your product, don’t buy from a competitor … and … buy! (see p.162 of The Long Tail and the Tyranny of Geography).

If you want to sell specialist products/services, you better make sure there are enough people interested in your speciality within geographic range, or else it’ll be pretty lonely.

The basics of supply and demand are not difficult to understand.

No Demanders = No Suppliers!

But – and this is important – it also means

Some Demand with No Supply –> Buy a Subsitute or Don’t Buy

The Internet has created a situation where the addressable market for some products and services has expanded in an astonishing way. This is the tectonic shift you need to understand. The shift hasn’t occurred because of technology – it has occurred because of supply and demand. It is the same old laws at work, but with a new addressable market plugged in to the equation.
So lets look at an example:

Example 1: Old Situation

Book about mountain climbing sold in bookstore -> addressable market is essentially 10-15kms. Law of supply and demand says to bookstore owner … people interested in mountain climbing are spread thinly, and not enough live in my feeder area so I WON’T STOCK IT!

Example 2: New Situation

Book about mountain climbing sold on website -> addressable market is based on # of Internet users and languages supported on website = huge market. Even though mountain climbers are still spread thinly, there are a lot of people interested in mountain climbing overall. So I will STOCK IT!

So if you have read even the first few paragraphs of The Long Tail, by now you will recognise the example of Touching the Void. This is the classic Long Tail case study, thanks to Chris Anderson’s article. And its not hard to understand that Amazon (not just a big company, a huge company) is selling lots of niche books now. Around 32% of all their books.

So the theory of the long tail helps us understand that niche products / services are actually of interest to lots of people. And we can see easily that when the addressable market is large enough (e.g. the Internet), what was an unprofitable niche may now be profitable.
So what does this mean for small business? Well, its time for you to take a long, hard look at your products, services and expertise. I want you to ask two critical questions.

  1. Do you have something that you can now sell to a larger addressable market, available to you over the web?
  2. Can you draw on your niche expertise to create a new product or service that would unprofitable in your geographic market but profitable in your web-sized addressable market? Big caveat here … depending on how you intend to benefit from the product/service, you may need to be able to transact online.

If you are still with me here AND you get what I am saying AND you think its an extraordinary time to be changing how you do business, please comment on how the Long Tail might apply to your business, or even better, email me (glenn at publicityship dot com dot au). I love exploring this idea for new types of businesses, because in just about every case you go looking you can find an angle, a niche that is highly profitable for a small business person! Not necessarily for a large business. There is a very good interview with Chris Anderson, recorded by Ken Evoy of SiteSell, that discusses the long tail and small business. Its quite long (as if this post isn’t), and I recommend it to you.

And this is what makes it such an exciting change for small business. Small businesses have a chance to carve out a very specific niche. Its not even a matter of competing on an even footing with larger businesses. The tyranny of geography means a lot of people can’t find what they want/need, so they buy products or services that are a substitute for what they would really like to buy. Or they don’t buy at all. What happens you offer someone a choice that is a lot closer to what they want? The answer is (and Chris Anderson gives a lot of evidence to support this) they choose what they want. This means they buy less of what they used to, and more of what they really want to. The demand in the long tail includes a lot of pent up demand from people who haven’t been able to get what they want. And small business is exceptionally well placed to respond to this unmet demand.

Well, what are the barriers to achieving this? Why isn’t everyone doing it? I have a lot of thoughts in this area – its what I do a lot of in one of my startup businesses PublicityShip ( I’ll post more on these topics, or if you email me directly, be quite happy to converse via email. One of the first topics I will talk about is the long tail of Ocularists!

With hindsight it all looks so easy

I like the points made in The Really Bad News About Bad Customers.

Very wise. Only trouble is I could go and find an equally interesting story about a small business following its nose that turned into a great success. With hindsight, its relatively easy to see whether a customer is worth it or not, and to see which rule from the Business 101 rulebook could be used to prove you right or wrong. And many of the ‘rules’ are essentially just opinions. The levels of fact and experience that underpin them are highly variable.
In small business, its important to be focussed on the 20% of things that deliver 80% of the benefits. But at the same time, you need to be open to the left-field opportunity. Right or wrong, someone will no doubt point out (with hindsight) how it should have been obvious.

But it rarely is obvious at the time. In small business, it helps to have a good plan, listen to good advice, and then make a good decision. And to be lucky.

Dream .. plan .. act .. celebrate


Don’t you love it when you encounter a new idea that is *so* good that it stays with you for years! Some years ago Adrian Glamorgan ran a workshop for me on project planning, and outlined a model that is just brilliant for looking at your business:

Dream – Plan – Act – Celebrate

Have a think about your own business, and consider how effective you are being in each of these four areas.

Dream. What are your dreams and goals? How are you going to go about achieving them (your strategies)? Have you written them down? Have you revisited them recently? Getting this dimension activated helps make sure when you are succeeding, you are succeeding at the right things.

Plan. Now that you have clear strategies, have you planned how are you going to implement them? And do you have this plan written down? Breaking down your goals into a plan with simple, achievable steps is a great way to make them happen. Setting deadlines and milestones means you can track your progress. And planning doesn’t have to be long winded – a good plan is simple and clear.

Act. When you act on your goals through a well defined plan, you are helping your business be effective. You must act to achieve success … plans and goals on their own aren’t enough.

Celebrate. Taking time out to recognise achievements and celebrate success is hard to do when you are the thick of it all. But without it, we miss out on a lot of the fun. Celebrating success means taking time to notice it first.

The model is all about balance across the four dimensions. Its not enough to dream up a grand strategy if you never plan and do it. Its not enough to dream an idea and then ‘just do it’, without taking time out to plan. And why work and succeed if you aren’t going to celebrate your successes?

Your strengths are the easy area, but its not enough to be the world’s best planner … if you don’t have a good strategy. Its no good working hard and doing a lot … if you haven’t got a plan. And if all you plan on doing is celebrating without taking time to put in the effort, you may not have a lot to celebrate.

Use this model to look at the balance of your overall business. Are you active in each of these four areas? If not, why not pay attention to the area you are neglecting most.

Dream .. plan … act .. celebrate.

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