Competing in Today’s Economy

Live Webinar on Wednesday, September 29: “Identifying and Targeting Your Most Profitable Customers”

Here’s an open invitation to all business owners and those groups that support them:  I will be hosting a Live Webinar tomorrow, September 29, at noon Mountain time on “Identifying and Targeting the Most Profitable Customers”.In this webinar, you will learn how to identify, quantify, locate, and lure into your business the most profitable customers that can grow your business the quickest.  Learn the major mistakes that owners make in their customer targeting, and what to do to avoid them.  During this economy, when every dollar counts, you can’t afford to miss this webinar.

During this webinar, I will also take your live questions so you get a thorough understanding of my  Top 10% Customer targeting process.

How do you sign up for this?  Simple!  You just have to be a member of our Destination University Student Center.  When you are a member of this business owners’ network, you can watch two Live webinars each month (just like this one), plus enjoy the expertise and interaction of 20 business authors and experts and nearly 200 business owners who contribute to the learning, now from all over the world!  (We just added new members from Canada and Australia)

To learn how to become part of the Destination University Student Center network, click here.By joining today, you’ll be assured you won’t miss other critically-important webinars like this one, all designed to grow your business.

Destination Business BootCamp Starts Today: Owners Come to Longmont to Reinvent Their Businesses and Communities

I’m going to be posting short excerpts from our Destination Business BootCamp that is happening today over at the Marriott Hotel Complex here in Longmont, Colorado.  We have owners flying in from Australia, Newfoundland and British Columbia Canada, and groups of business owners coming from New Jersey and Ohio as part of our Community Reinvention Program.  We also have attendees from many other states.  We have one business owner from Longmont, too!  Imagine that!

As part of our program, we also let every attendee consult with advertising guru, Rich Carraro (www.Clownbike.com) and he’s flying in from New York City.  He creates great Shop Local campaigns, and he’s done several for other communities.
If you are reading this, you aren’t attending, but you can get a feel for what’s going on as owners understand that they can create Destinations out of their businesses and bust out of this sluggish economy.
Why Business Owners’ Skills Aren’t Like Baseball Players’ Skills

A friend of mine called to ask if I’d like to go to a baseball game, and I told him that I couldn’t go.  Our Destination BootCamp is next week, and there’s a lot of work preparing for 30 business owners to arrive here for that two and one-half day workshop.

But what I didn’t share with him was if the BootCamp wasn’t next week, I still wouldn’t have gone.  You see, I’ve really never liked baseball, and that’s mostly because I stunk at playing it.  I tried to play it, but I was horrible, so that bad experience transfered into my dislike of watching it.

Playing baseball was always frustrating for me because I couldn’t hit the ball, and I couldn’t really catch it.  I was slow running the bases.  For some reason, my baseball cap just always seemed to look dorky on me and cool on the other kids.  Since none of my older brothers played baseball, I knew none of the rules, and it wasn’t too long after my parents quit signing me up for Little League teams that I decided that I didn’t like baseball that much anyway.

But I was thinking last night while drinking a Sawtooth about how not having the skills to perform a sport is different from how most business owners think about their skills to create a successful business.  For example, I readily admit I can’t hit or throw a baseball well.  But when I explain to an owner that they need help with their advertising, they’ll say things like: “Advertising in a newspaper doesn’t work.”  They don’t say: “You’re right. I am not good at creating newspaper ads and call-to-actions that get results.  I need someone to help me with this.”  Instead, they blame the newspaper.  It’s not their involvement in the ad creation; it’s that ink on newsprint that causes their customers to stay away.

That’s like me saying: “This bat doesn’t move fast enough and this glove doesn’t close over the ball!”

The most successful business owners don’t blame the ball and bat.  They readily admit that they lack business skill sets, and they find resources who can help them do what they can’t.  They delegate.  They network with people smarter than they are.  They ask for help when they’re stumped.

But out there in left field, you’ll often find the most unsuccessful owners thinking they’re doing everything they could, and thinking that they’re doing it well.  Something else or someone else is to blame for their sales decline and their customers not coming in.  And every now and then you’ll hear them yell:  “When is someone going to give me a new glove and a faster bat?”

How to Write Your Way Out of a Business Slump

One of the best parts of my job is when I get to interview an author or a business expert about their area of expertise.  I am always on the lookout for books, speakers, authors, and experts who have skills that complement my Destination Business process.

If I hear someone speak, or if I read someone’s book and their area of expertise can help business owners, I ask permission to interview them and record our conversation.  Some of those interviews end up in our Destination University Student Center.

For over five years, one author who I’ve wanted to interview has been Henriette Anne Klauser.  You might not know of Henriette, but she is the author of multiple books, including Writing on Both Sides of the Brain, Put Your Heart on Paper, and (my favorite)Write It Down, Make It HappenKnowing What You Want and Getting It.

I especially appreciate Henriette’s books because when I was stuck in a career that felt like a dead end, her books helped me through a process of writing down my goals, visualizing what kind of job I really wanted to create, and soon afterwards, her advice was the catalyst for me to leave Hallmark Cards and start my own consulting firm.

Think about this:  Without Henriette’s books to help focus my discontent and spur me into action, I might still be a disgruntled employee (like some of my friends still are), complaining about how I’m being treated unfairly and feeling unhappy each day I go to work.

Without the advice from her books, I doubt seriously if I’d be speaking and consulting with business owners today, which means there would be no Schallert Group corporation, no Destination BootCamp, and no Destination University training program.  It also means I wouldn’t have spoken in over 500 communities and to hundreds of associations, and all those tens of thousands of business owners wouldn’t have been there either, learning about becoming a Destination.  Take that one step further, and there’d be a lot of business owners who never would have gone back to their businesses and changed them, which means a whole lot of communities wouldn’t have been changed either as these business owners reinvented and transformed their businesses into Destinations.

If I sound a little excited, I am. Next week, I’m interviewing Henriette Klauser for the first time, and soon her words and advice will be shared with my clients.

In the meantime, while you wait for me to complete the interview, you can still obtain her books at your local bookstore and start learning on your own how writing can help you clarify your goals, imagine a bigger picture than your current business model, and help you find solutions to some of your biggest problems.

Her book Write It Down, Make It Happen is pictured here.  Get her books now and start using them to help you focus on achieving some higher goals for your business.

In Today’s Economy, a Book That All of Us Can Use

Part of my job as a consultant is to find resources who can provide guidance to my clients on areas where I am not the expert. When I first met Lynn Robinson years ago at a workshop, I knew I had found a great resource that many of my clients would rely on.

I want you to know about Lynn because her newest book, Listen: Trusting Your Inner Voice in Times of Crisis, can help many owners who are troubled by today’s economic woes.  If you aren’t familiar with Lynn, when you go to her website at www.LynnRobinson.com, you’ll also see some of her other great books, including one of my favorites, Trust Your Gut: How the Power of Intuition Can Grow Your Business.

I have always enjoyed Lynn’s writing style, and I particularly liked Listen because it is divided into bite-size chapters of information that focus on one particular lesson. Sometimes, I don’t have any more time than to read a single chapter, so I like books where I can read one chapter, get something out of it, and I don’t have to read 100 pages before it makes sense.

I think Lynn’s book comes at a perfect time for many business owners who are feeling like this economy has put them into not just a financial crisis, but their own emotional crisis. As Lynn said:

 

“All of us are born with powerful wisdom within us. It’s there to guide us in good times and bad. We need it most when we feel lost, alone and directionless.


We live in a time of turmoil and upheaval. The stability we’ve counted on, such as steady jobs, long-lived marriages, excellent health and financial security, are a thing of the past for many of us. So where are the directions to find sanity and safety amidst all this loss? They’re within us. They’ve been there all along. We just seem to have forgotten where to look…

 

This wisdom doesn’t come from your logical mind. It comes from a spiritual source that you may experience as an inner prompting, inspiration, a gut feeling, a quickening, a knowing deep in your heart. It doesn’t speak to you through a megaphone or in a loud voice. It fact, most often it communicates through the proverbial “still, quiet, inner voice… I have long observed that we are on the path to our greatest potential when we’re the most uncomfortable.”

Listen was published by Globe Pequot Press earlier this year. When I bought my copy, my local independent bookstore was good enough to order it for me. Maybe one near you will order yours, too. Be sure to read about all of Lynn’s books at her website, www.LynnRobinson.com.

In this time of economic disharmony, I think Lynn’s powerful books have lessons in them that any person dealing with today’s economic climate can appreciate and find useful.

Did I mention that Lynn’s one of our selected experts in our Destination University Student Center?  If you want to our other experts who are contributing webinars and feedback to our DU online network, click here.

Running a Business: Much Tougher than Becoming a Destination

When I work with owners who want to turn their businesses into Destinations, they often ask me if I’m going to help them write a business plan.  And I say “No.” Or, they ask me if I’m going to help them with their business operations.  Again, “No, that’s not what I do.”

So what exactly do I do?  To simplify this, I basically teach a 14-step business differentiation process that pushes your targeted customers’ hot buttons where they feel like they know what they have to do.  Your company becomes the only choice for them!

The process of becoming a Destination to the customers you are targeting isn’t hard.  But it takes work.  Could your competitors do it?  Sure, but most won’t.  They are too busy focusing on running their businesses rather than creating points of difference that cause consumers to purchase.

The good news is that it takes less work to position your business as a Destination than it took to build your business to where it is now.  In fact, everyday owners work extremely hard to do all the things that keep their businesses up and operating, and take very little time to learn what a consumer really requires to say these words: “That’s the only place for me.”

Think of this analogy:  Building a house isn’t hard for a home builder who has a set of blue prints that he or she can follow.  But try to build the house without the plan, and you’re going to make a lot of errors in the process.

Creating a Destination Business takes a 14-step plan.

Remember: Running a business is the hard part.  Creating consumer insistence is the easy part.

The Economy and What’s Coming, I Think

With summer in full bloom, not many people are thinking about what’s going to happen to small businesses in the 4th Quarter of this year, on into the 1st Quarter of next year. But I am. And though I am not a fortune teller, I do believe that many businesses, both large and small, are not prepared for the possibility of a second plateau in sales and consumer spending, even though the economy is stronger than it was last year.

Here are some things we do know about today’s economy:

We know for certain that bad news travels fast, and everyone’s a little jumpy about more bad economic news. We’ve seen it several times when a job report, or an earnings report, comes out and if it’s not what the economists are predicting, the media starts focusing on this bad news. Unfortunately, this news might not have anything to do with your business or your community, but it doesn’t matter because people are still a little jumpy these days. Consequently, when good things do happen in your business, you must be prepared to retell the good news to your customers and the media, and to focus on those things that you CAN impact in your business (which I will remind you, is NOT the national news).

We also know for certain that this economic recovery is uneven. It’s not just that different areas of the country are improving or stagnating at different rates. Different businesses in the same marketplace and the same industries are unevenly improving. Go to your local chamber of commerce meeting and you will find business owners talking about how sales are fine or even good, and then, walk across the room and you will find someone saying that their revenue is horribly off. The net result of this uneven recovery is that there is not one thing that can correct everyone’s woes. So if you have grown accustomed to not looking for Big Brother to save your city or town, you will not be disappointed now; Big B is still not coming.

So what do I recommend? Here are a few thoughts:

I think that these summer months give all of us a great opportunity to look at the weaknesses in our businesses, start correcting them, and to start planning a comprehensive, multi-pronged marketing plan for the 4th and 1st Quarters that magnifies our true business differences, as compared to our competitors. Look at your overall business position and assume that consumer spending and customer traffic is going to decline in your marketplace, and decide right now how you’re going to capture those who have money to spend.

For many owners, their first inclination is to focus on tactical marketing steps, like using Facebook and other social networking tools, and to gear up their use. Well, there’s a downside of focusing primarily on business tactics.

Let me explain: During our Destination Business BootCamp, I work with business owners to help them magnify 24 different aspects of their business uniqueness. If owners work through those 24 points and find that their business is average or below average in the majority of the points, no matter how much you Facebook a customer or tweet them to death, if your strategic business differences are not superior in a consumer’s mind, your primary point of business difference will have to come down to price.

Let’s talk about price discounting for a second: I just read an article the other day that suggested that it’s a good idea to give happy hour discounts of 20%. That might sound really inviting to customers and it might even draw customer traffic to your business, but if your business doesn’t operate at a 20%+ profitability level to start with (or if the products you are discounting 20% don’t have an above average profit margin already), you as the owner are just slitting your throat using this tactic. Better to focus on magnifying your uniqueness and use discounts to reward customers who you’ve previously identified as being the most profitable.

With my prediction that the 1st and 4th Quarters could be a little rough, here’s one thing that you should NOT do right now: Now is NOT the time to clam up, quit communicating, go into a shell, get depressed, fear the future, and retreat into your own mind to single-handedly contemplate how to improve your business. Now IS the time to network with others, find out what works with others, learn from others, create strategic alliances, and start making changes to your business that will cause consumers to say: “That’s the place I’m spending money this coming holiday season.” That means, becoming a Destination business (a strategy that’s available to you if you are trying to attract consumers and you are a retail store, a restaurant, a service provider, or a professional practice.)

Just a reminder: one resource that all of you have at your disposal is our new Destination University Student Center. There are some amazing learning opportunities popping up inside those online walls! In the coming weeks and months, through the 4th Quarter of this year, through the 1st Quarter of the next, we’ll continue to fill the DU Student Center with more resources, Experts, and tools to help you get through this sputtering economy. Don’t underestimate what this tool can do for your business, all for the cost of less than one dollar a day.

Click here if you want to learn how to join the DU Student Center.

The Secret to Staying Smarter than Your Competition, When You Have No Time

How do you stay smarter than your competition and learn the newest techniques to grow your business, when you barely have time to take your kids to their swim lessons, and you just forgot your spouse’s birthday?

Here are two realizations you must make:

#1:  As an independent business owner, you cannot keep up with the newest tricks, tools, and techniques on your own.  It’s just not going to happen.  In the game of acquiring knowledge, you are on the losing side.  Remember when you used to say: “If it’s going to be done right, I’m going to do it myself?”  Well, that attitude, that maverick go-it-alone determination that got your business to where it is, isn’t going to keep it there.

I hate to break it to you, but it’s time to face facts and recognize that your industry changes daily, your competition changes while you’re sleeping, and your customers are learning new things by the minute that are being adopted by the mainstream, and no one’s calling to tell you ahead of time!  Just watch your customers one day coming in your business.  They are walking in with their Droids and IPhones accessing information about your business, and the products and services they want (often from your competitors), and all of a sudden, you have one of those epiphanies and realize that you just aren’t up-to-speed anymore.  Didn’t running a business used to be simpler? Ahh, yeah, it was.

#2:  So here’s what you have to do:  You must find people to help you sort through the clutter.  You need “summaries” of information you need to know.  Short, mini to-do’s.  That’s the ticket!  No dissertations; you need CliffsNotes.

In your world of people who can cut through the clutter, here’s how I can help.  I look for people who can help my clients grow their sales. For example, this week, I interviewed a retailer who used Facebook to grow her business and ended up capturing almost 20% of her town as a Facebook Fan.  She’s a brilliant owner who used Facebook posts to generate traffic and online sales to her business, and she took time to tell me exactly how she did it. I recorded it, and it’s going to be in our Destination University Student Center. If you’re a member, you can listen to her tell you exactly what to do first, and how to make it work.  Forget trial and error; listen to Katie tell you how she did it, and do what she did.  And do it now!

I find experts all the time who can help.  Just yesterday, I interviewed Jamie Licko for the Destination University Student Center.  You probably don’t know Jamie or her company, Centro, a consulting firm focusing on the future of city centers. I heard Jamie speak at the Downtown Colorado conference last Friday.  She spoke on new social networking tools that consumers are using that are way beyond simply using Facebook.  When I heard Jamie, I thought, “Owners need to know what Jamie knows.”  And so, in 45 minutes, Jamie allowed me to pick her brains, record the conversation, and let everyone in DU’s Student Center listen to it.  Take 45 minutes to listen to Jamie, and you’re off and running on new social networking tools that are free, and finally, you’re ahead of the game.  And your competitors.

Whether you use our Destination University Student Center to find important information that can grow your business or whether you have another network of people you can turn to, it doesn’t matter. Just understand that you can’t do it alone, and falling further behind in your learning curve isn’t the path you should be on.

As Cities Cut Back, Some Communities Step Up to Help Their Local Small Businesses

Recently I spoke in Port Angeles, Washington to help their business community.  Their community was split between whether it was worth it to bring me in to conduct a workshop.  Some thought they could find someone locally to do the same workshop at a cheaper price.  All I can say is:  I love it when I get letters like this after I’ve spoken to a group!

The following is the email that Barbara Frederick, the Executive Director of the Port Angeles Downtown Association in Port Angeles, Washington sent me on June 11, 2010:

“Jon, I just wanted to tell you how much our community enjoyed your workshop. The participants left enthusiastic, and energized. The sparkle and dream was back in their eyes. I haven’t seen that in a long time. There wasn’t one person who left the workshop regretting they had been there, they all got something out of it that will transform the way they do business.

Our city manager and economic development director both had expected to leave at noon to be at other meetings. They cancelled their attendance at those, opting to stay at the workshop because they were so engaged and learning a great deal from it. They have both commented to our board of directors and to the city council that this was well worth the cost and one of the best uses of economic development funds in a long time.

One woman, who was skeptical of the amount we spent to bring you here, and that we could have had any number of local people do the same thing for a lot less, leaned over to a city council member during the workshop and said “This guy’s magic!”

Thank you for taking a group of people who have been beaten down by the economy and giving them back the belief that it is possible to be prosperous again by empowering them to take charge of their own business in ways they never thought of before …  Thanks again.  Barbara Frederick”

It’s all sunny outside now, but the next 6-9 months are going to be make it-or-break it for many small businesses.  Trust me:  there are coming ups and downs no one is anticipating!  Groups can either help businesses learn what they need to know right now to survive in this economy, or they can lament the errors they made later.

Click here to read more about workshops that could help your community, and call me directly if you want to learn what I presented to this Port Angeles group.

Don’t Let Customer Negotiators Erode Your Profit Margin

It’s become a new fad in this economy for consumers to try to beat up any retailer and negotiate for price discounts, even when the merchandise is fairly priced.  Part of this trend comes from discount-gurus and price negotiators who “teach” how to ask for better deals.

I’m all for getting the best price in a product, but most independent business owners are operating on single or low double digit profit margins anyway.  Giving up extra profit margin to a negotiating customer might fill the cash register temporarily, but it’s the fastest way to run your business into the dirt.

If you are a business owner, it’s important to know the techniques of a bargain buyer.  Please take some time today to read the tips from this negotiating guru, as seen in the Washington Post.  Click here to read the article now.

What are your best answers to consumers who are asking for discounts, when you have already priced the product competitively?   Share them with us!

Large Cities, Small Towns, and Business Success

13 Generalizations on Large Cities, Small Towns, and Business Success

I’m approaching my 25th year of consulting with business owners.  After working with tens of thousands of them, here are thirteen (13) small business principles of which I am certain.  For instance, I know why many small business owners will go extinct, why small towns are better than large cities, how Frank Sinatra was wrong, and where you can find the worst marketers in the world.

1.  It’s easier to generate more sales with a business in a large city than in a small town. But, it’s easier to create a more profitable business in a small town than in a large city.

2.  The most innovative businesses in the world are found in small towns and small cities.  They do more with less.  Unfortunately, they are often not as good at telling their stories, so they often go unnoticed for long periods of time.  Sometimes, forever, when owners don’t learn to market themselves.

3.  The success of a retail business has nothing to do with the amount of drive-by traffic.  Thank, Blockbuster, for again validating this.

4.  Location, location, location doesn’t have to matter anymore. Every true Destination Business continues to validate this.

5.  Owners who have businesses in tourist destinations are the worst marketers.  Since they are spoon-fed customers everyday, many forget how to aggressively market themselves, and they neglect learning about complex marketing concepts that businesses in out-of-the-way places have to learn to survive.  Groups that aggressively market for them and feed them customers actually are enabling their marketing backwardness.

6.  For most average business owners, the level of your business performance will rise to the level of your nearest best competitor, unless that competitor is a national Destination Business, and then, you’ll likely just be puzzled with the customer traffic they’re generating.  Unfortunately, some owners get jealous of the success of a Destination Business which is really silly because other businesses could be capitalizing on their traffic.

7.  Really smart people with multiple college degrees do dumb things when it comes to opening and running a small business.  It’s too bad that when they hand out degrees at college, they don’t come with transferable guarantee that can be applied to running a small business.

8.  Owning a franchise, rather than starting a business from scratch, neither insures success nor happiness.  But it will insure that you have bought yourself a job, though.

9.  An extremely passionate business owner with little money will kick the butt of a well-financed business owner with little passion, with all other conditions being equal.  Better yet, give me any business owner who is willing to change and learn new techniques to be successful, and that person will beat out both a passionate owner and a well-financed owner when both aren’t willing to learn.  (And if you’re an owner who really wants to learn, you should be in our Destination University! Click here to learn more.)

10.  Small business owners who don’t become small business CEO’s will become extinct in the coming years.  ‘Identify your weaknesses’, ‘question your business model’, and ‘delegate if I can’t learn it’ will be the new mantras for Mom and Pop businesses that want to survive.

11.  Don’t ask your nice customers what needs to be improved in your business because they will lie to you.  They want to be nice, and they won’t tell you about the parts of your business that disappoint them.

12.  If a customer says that your parking is bad and that’s why they don’t come in your business, most are using this as an excuse.  This really means that your business is interchangeable with someone else’s business, and that your business isn’t special and unique enough for them to want to expend any effort to work their way to your business.  Using the parking excuse is the easiest way to not go into a business when you’ve found someplace else that is just as good.

13.  When Frank Sinatra sang: “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere” about New York, he was wrong.  With over 2,800 people per square mile there, it’s one of the easiest places.  Show me a multi-million dollar business in northern Maine, central South Dakota, or in eastern Oregon, and then, you can sing about it.

That’s it. That’s what I’m sure of.  Agree?  Disagree?  Let me know by posting your comments.