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If Songwriting were my Business

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=music+conductor&iid=6734018″ src=”6/b/9/5/Verdis_Aida_premiered_f4ac.JPG?adImageId=9295644&imageId=6734018″ width=”234″ height=”185″ /] If I were a songwriter, these are some of the songs I would write:

I would write a lament for all those people who are displaced by war, famine or natural disaster.  My tune would be haunting and moving with violins and oboes in the background.  The words would bring tears and the words would move the listener to action.  Most of all, the song would acknowledge that being human is a very difficult thing.

I would write a protest song on behalf of all those people who are not displaced by war, famine or natural disaster.  My tune would be strident and full of trumpets and piano cascades.  The lyrics would protest that having a home with running water is not a bad thing and having enough food in the fridge is no shame.  The words would celebrate that hope is real and dreams occasionally do come true and that there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

I would write a ballad that cries of the vagaries of humans’ injustices one to another.  The tune would be a suite of guitars and voices singing both high and deep.  A touch of blues would inflect that it is we who do the wrongs to ourselves; and that, in a one line stanza, is the gist of the definition of tragedy: it all could be avoided if we but sought to understand first, then act.

I would write an aria that soars so high with voices so sweet as to make the lyrics nearly un-hear-able.  Its melody would stick to the ribs and the inner ear bones with a vise grip of harpsichord strains.  The discourse would move from crying about the silliness of saying you’re sorry for putting the world in financial chaos to the dismay of countries who cannot care for their populations unaided.  A single voice would rise above the mantle of sound to cry enough!

I would write songs that speak to:

  • the sadness of people hurting in all parts of the world
  • the joys of people who are not hurting in all parts of the world
  • the complexities of the human condition
  • an overriding question of when? When will we, the loudest form of life on this planet, realize that we’re not of separate tribes, but of one?

These are songs I would write if songwriting were my business.  What songs would you write?  I know that “Linda’s Business Blog” isn’t a platform for societal or political statements…but sometimes I can’t help myself.  As one person speaking her mind on this day – I hate war, I despise injustices and my heart hurts for the tragedies that are so overwhelming in parts of the world.  I hate that one Tibetan young woman, attending college in my state, cannot even stand for her own people without being spied upon by another nation through her laptop.  Good grief.

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Appreciating the Work of others

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=marg+helgenberger&iid=6973348″ src=”0/1/5/8/AFI_FEST_2009_3568.jpg?adImageId=8996189&imageId=6973348″ width=”234″ height=”326″ /]Do you take time to appreciate the work that other people do?  We all are involved in our own jobs and businesses everyday.  Wouldn’t you like to have someone give you appreciation for the work you do?

I’m a fan of the work of actress Marg Helgenberger.  I appreciate what she does as work.  For readers of my art blog I’ve mentioned that I tend to work to dvds and vhs videos of television shows and movies – some artists work to background music, some to quietude…me?  TV and movies.

Lately I’ve been working with seasons 3 and 4 of CSI and I appreciate the acting skills of Ms. Helgenberger.  I’ve actually been a fan of hers since way back in China Beach days… I love the science and puzzle processing of CSI.  Of course the writers and producers of the show and the work of the other actors cannot be overlooked, but for me, it is Ms. Helgenberger’s work that I key in on.  Her business is as actress and her work is acting. For whatever reason her portrayal of “Catherine Willows” resonates for me: the character is over 40, a single mother, professional yet emotionally available.  That’s what I receive through my viewing of her work on that television show.

Do you ever take your car in for repairs?  We do.  My husband drives an older van and I drive an older car and both need occasional work.  I have to say that I greatly appreciate the work of Ron Archuleta, the owner and chief mechanic of his own shop: Ron’s Valley Brake & Auto Repair.  Ron has owned his shop for 30 years, having been in our community since 1980.  He said he’s still got a few years before retirement.  I asked him what he considered his specialties and he replied, “…front end work, brakes; I don’t do engines anymore….”

Why do I appreciate his work so much?  Ron, to me, is an old-fashioned local business owner: friendly, helpful, honest and gives added value. Interestingly he told me today that business has been down the past few years – as it has for everyone everywhere – and for a while it was because people were getting new cars.  But now that the economy is so bad, people are keeping their old cars and they bring them to him for repair.  I’m very glad he is in business in our town and that I can safely entrust my little white car to his care when necessary.

There’s one other work I’d like to highlight today and it is for everyone behind the yogurt made by Brown Cow Farm.  Why?  Because I love this product – the variety I buy is the “Cream Top.”  I like everything about it: the taste, the fact that it is “all natural” and because the company helps small, local farms – “…We start by using milk from carefully selected local herds whose cows are noted for their rich, high protein milk….”  It’s made in Antioch, CA, a community I’m quite familiar with; I’ve lived there and I still have family members who do.

I don’t know any of the Brown Cow Farm folks personally, but that doesn’t stop me from appreciating the work they do – from the people who do the actual processing to the delivery drivers who make sure my grocery store has some on the shelves.

Appreciation means to understand the quality or value of something.  Sometimes to offer appreciation is as easy as saying to someone, “I appreciate the work you do.”

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Make the decision – be a leader

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=sailing+boat&iid=7204341″ src=”1/e/5/9/Outdoor_Sports_1706.jpg?adImageId=8930591&imageId=7204341″ width=”234″ height=”373″ /]Before you set sail it is probably a good idea to know where you’re going.  In fact, it is probably an even better idea to know if a sail boat will get you there faster or more comfortably than a train.  Or an airliner.  Or even an automobile.  Before you set sail you have to decide if sailing is the best use of your time.  You have to decide if leaving on a Tuesday is better than on a Thursday or if you should sail solo or with a friend.  Lots of decisions to make before heading out on a journey.

Business is not different than sailing in this regard.  Every business has a leader and the leader must make decisions regarding direction and timing.  Oh, he or she gets input from everything and everyone from the Farmers Almanac to the bookkeeper.  Shall you travel north next Tuesday? Well, only if the weather is good and the chores are done and you have the extra cash.

Leadership involves making decisions. And making a decision is the single most difficult task a leader must do.  Let’s look at a couple scenarios.

Scenario One: you and two buddies have a fantastic idea for a business.  You thought up a clever gizmo that will revolutionize the internet and your two friends have some money to throw in and some expertise.  One friend is great with numbers and the other is a super salesman.  However, the business dream is yours and mantle of leadership falls on you.  You get input from your friends and research you’ve done, but you have to decide:

  • what the business will look like
  • when to launch the business and where
  • what aspect of the gizmo to spend this year’s budget on
  • where to best use your sales efforts
  • how to spend your capital

None of these decisions is easy and the business will go nowhere until the decisions are made.  But it’s the making the decision process itself that causes the most stress and anguish.

Scenario Two: you and your buddies have been in business now for five years and are making an annual profit.  You are able to offer your employees good benefits and you were able to finally take a vacation.  One of the friends asks you: now what?  Now where do we go with this gizmo?  They are wanting to know if you want to take the next step of growth in the business through innovation and expansion into new markets.  There is risk involved.  What will happen if you take on the added expense of research and development and speculation?  What would happen if you don’t?  As the leader you have to decide:

  • how big you want your company to be
  • how diversified you want your product offerings to be
  • if the risk of expansion is worth the cost, time and effort

To be a good leader, you have to decide to lead.  What that means to a business is:

  • the leader holds the vision for the business – ‘this is who we are, what we stand for and what we look like’
  • the leader sets the direction – ‘this is where we are now and where we’re headed and hope to be in ten years’
  • the leader is willing to alter course – this could be necessary due to outside economic factors or due to rising opportunities
  • the leader is willing to make the decision to hold or fold [in this lies the interesting thought that maybe a business has a life span…when is it time to retire not just the human element, but the business itself? – that’s grist for a whole ‘nother post]

“…Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall….” Stephen R. Covey.

Even a home-based business person has to shoulder the daily decision of upon which wall to lean the ladder.  And sometimes those decisions just aren’t easy to make.  However, once made, it’s all management the rest of the way.

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Is your business on the Highway or the Byway?

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=highway+signs&iid=259699″ src=”0256/8cc02d39-2a22-43c0-ba77-ab28011c1391.jpg?adImageId=8890792&imageId=259699″ width=”234″ height=”158″ /]We all can admit that 2010 is going to be an uphill climb for businesses of all kinds and sizes.  Doesn’t matter if you are a solo-preneur or a global conglomerate with 20,000 employees…it’s an uphill climb.  And maybe now, this week, maybe even today, you decide on which road you will travel: the highway or the byway.

The highway is a main public road that connects one town or city with another.  It’s an artery connecting people one to another making commerce both possible and efficient.  The byway is a little out-of-the-way side road.  It is little traveled and isn’t really meant to be a commercial artery.

There was a feature story in my newspaper’s business section this morning that showcased a small family business that I believe is on the highway.  To me, some of the signposts of being on the highway are:

  • a dream and passion for the business
  • determination to make the business work
  • great customer service
  • offering added value

The article by David Morrill, Contra Costa Times, is titled “Vacuum center owner on job 7 days a week,” [different title in online version].  In reading the article, I find that Mr. Raees Iqbal’s business, Western Vacuum & Sewing Center, is not only traveling on the highway, Mr. Iqbal carries all the signposts. [from the article]

  • a dream and passion for the business – “…‘It’s great to be able to offer something that every single house needs,’ he said. ‘We give them good dependable vacuum cleaners to help keep their homes clean….'”
  • a determination to make the business work – “…Raees Iqbal keeps the doors open seven days a week. And he works nearly every day…’Right now we are just trying to hang out here and make it work,” Iqbal said. “I’m going to do everything I can to keep it going….'”
  • great customer service – “…Iqbal knows his company needs to be on top of the industry. Every vacuum cleaner brand that comes in, he needs to be able to fix. If a customer needs a part, it has to be on the shelf.…”
  • offering added value – “…’We have to treat everybody like they’re VIP,’ he said….”

These signposts of being on the highway are no guarantee of success certainly.  They are, however, indicators that the business is making every effort to be alive and vibrant.  Just like Mr. Iqbal is quoted in Mr. Morrill’s story, he’s willing to do what he must to keep his business going.  The article is not a long or comprehensive one, but Mr. Morrill gave a pretty clear picture of one small business owner’s strategy for 2010:

  • be available to customers – keeping his store open 7 days a week is one way
  • provide needed services onsite – keeping up-to-date on his industry and keeping his shelves stocked with parts
  • have a customer-centered business – in his own words, “…treat everybody like they’re VIP….”
  • keep the dream alive – “‘…make sure that you are really passionate about what you want to do and have a whole lot of patience.…'”

Not to put too fine a point on it and turn this into nothing but flowery prose I think what’s important for all of us who own businesses and wish to remain in business this year is to determine what we’re going to be willing to do to stay on the highway and off the side roads: defining the dream and vision; knowing our industry and products and services inside and out; offering customers quality care and added value…and hanging in there.

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How to try to succeed at business

Writing essentials

What you don’t see in the photo to the left is my laptop…other than that you see most of the essentials required for a day of writing: an interesting mug, gourmet tea, a mug full of pens and pencils, a phone [in case my daughters call] and a tv set.  You see I work to movies and tv shows.  Other people work in a void of silence or to music or the chatter and clatter of office background.  Since I have the luxury of working at home [home-based solo-preneur] I get to choose my working detritus.  I try to work with what I’ve got.  Hopefully a muse is in there somewhere.

I find great value in trying.  In the word Try.  I define try as:

  • making an attempt
  • putting forward an effort
  • endeavoring risk
  • gingerly going forward
  • not quite confident
  • a little south of competent as yet

WordReference.com dictionary adds: earnest and conscientious activity intended to do or accomplish something

Ever since George Lucas gave the planet the sage wisdom of Yoda’s “Do or do not…there is no try,” all the emphasis has been on accomplishment.  Get it done.  Skip the experiment and go straight for success.

That might be a bit overblown, but I think we’ve forgotten how much value there is in trying.  In business:

  • Try to communicate with the consumer, not at the consumer – give a shot at thinking about how cool it would be to see potential customers as people rather than numbers on a spreadsheet
  • Try to negotiate a better workplace environment for the sake of the employees not the bottom line – maybe paychecks won’t get any bigger this year but perhaps management could try something unexpected like letting the employees start a flower and vegetable garden out back and giving them work time to till the soil
  • Try out “please” and “thank you” and see what they feel like – infusing a little courtesy into business interactions just might bring in new customers and mend fences
  • Try to think how it would feel to have your success measured in respect rather than notoriety
  • Try out having your corporate image based on people rather than products
  • Try giving something away that costs you something

It can be scary and risky to “try” something new.  But in the trying lay the seeds of success.

  • Have an open meeting. Set aside a day and invite all employees from the top of the pay scale on down to the mailroom and delivery drivers and let them give you [the vision holder] their vision for their jobs and the company they work for
  • Invite hourly employees to have lunch on your tab – ask them to bring photos of their families and listen to their stories
  • Give every employee one of the products they work so hard to make – oh my gosh! you might just have to take a hit on inventory, but maybe the benefits would be pride and increased productivity [your company makes automobiles? Okay you’re not going to give every employee an actual car, but what if you commissioned a model of that car and gave each employee a numbered edition of it as a collectible?]
  • Train your people. If you can’t hire it done, do it yourself.  The more your people know about their own jobs, upgrades in the systems they use, the products they make and sell, the more they will feel valued.
  • Are you the CEO of a large business who gets a really big salary and bonus?  Great.  Use your bonus or one month’s salary and buy every employee a new chair and keyboard.
  • Put a dream board in the lobby/entry of the main building where everyone, both employees and others, can see it.  Have everyone who is employed put words and pictures on this board that reflect their dreams for the business.

There is one thing I recommend not trying but doing and that is being grateful.  If you own a business don’t just try to be grateful for your employees and customers, be grateful and let them know you are grateful.

All-in-all, try to try harder at trying and have a successful year.

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Let’s make Courtesy the Hallmark in Business for 2010

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=new+years+++ball+2010&iid=7442881″ src=”8/a/6/2/Ball_Drop_In_dc39.jpg?adImageId=8778463&imageId=7442881″ width=”234″ height=”351″ /]A hallmark is a distinctive characteristic or attribute.  Kind of like a stamp used on gold and silver coins to mark them for purity and excellence.  If you get a gold coin with this hallmark, then you know it’s pure.

Courtesy, in a simple definition, is a polite gesture.  You say “thanks” when someone picks up the coin you dropped on the floor at the cash register or you say “no, you go first” when approaching a door and the person next to you has their hands loaded with packages.  Simple courtesy.

Since we just finished the major shopping season of the year for 2009 and most of us braved the stores amid madding crowds I wonder if you can recall moments of simple courtesy?  How many business people extended courtesy when the crowds were at their crush-iest and most demanding?  And, did you return courtesy for courtesy?  One example I participated in was to allow a pedestrian to cross the lane in a busy shopping center…I could have just plowed ahead pretending not to see this woman standing there hoping for a break in traffic.  But I reasoned that if it were me, I sure would appreciate having a car stop so I could cross…so I stopped.  She not only acknowledged my effort at courtesy, she returned it by saying loudly, “thank you so much.”

Last year, 2009, wasn’t a fun year in business.  Not a jolly year for the economy.  Too many people suffered job loss and paycheck shrinkage.  2010 may not be much better.   What could be better, however, is our combined efforts at being kind one to another.

  • sales staff people could acknowledge shoppers with a smile and a “how is your day?”
  • counter staff people could say “thank you for your business” and “is there any other way I can be of service today?”
  • on-site managers could both be kind to the employees and the customers – give the employees much needed positive reinforcement such as “you did a great job on that report,” or “I appreciate how you handled that situation with that customer,” or even “is there anything I can do to make your job easier?” [in some cases this could be a better chair or new keyboard or some added training]; the on-site manager could come out of his or her office and help customers…in a retail setting, the manager does not get sales compensation and shouldn’t take anything away from the commission-earning sales staff, but maybe the manager could help to tidy up the sales counter or do a little stocking of shelves to help
  • business leaders could literally lead in this effort by making courtesy a hallmark of doing business this year: acknowledge that raises may not come this year and no one might get a bonus, but that doesn’t mean that positive reinforcement needs to dry up.  Business leaders could do everything within their current budget creatively to make their businesses a positive place to work for the employees and a positive place for customers and clients to do business
  • solo-preneurs [single person businesses and home-based business owners] can also adopt the hallmark of courtesy in their relations with clients, customers, suppliers and competitors

What about the consumer? I’m not leaving them out either.  We’re all consumers, every one of us.  We all shop at the grocery store and gas station.  We all purchase food for our pets and visit our health care providers.  In every instance we can say “thank you for taking your time,” and “I appreciate your finding this,” and “yes, please” and even “no, thank you.”

Simple courtesy practiced and perfected by all of us on both sides of the business plate just might make this New Year a bit more pleasant for all.

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Marketing in 2010, Oh, and Happy Holidays

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=television+set&iid=7145195″ src=”2/3/7/b/Eager_Retailers_Greet_ce49.jpg?adImageId=8594827&imageId=7145195″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]I admit I’m jumping right into the making business predictions for 2010 and my topic will be marketing.  First, however, I want to give you my definition for marketing – it is not quite what others might say.

Marketing is telling everyone, everywhere:

  • what your business is, where it is, how to find it
  • what your product/service is, what it can do for the consumer, why they need it, why they want it
  • how your business differs from others that are similar – what your uniqueness’s are, what makes your business so very special
  • why the consumer should/ought to exchange their precious dollars and cents for your product/service

Marketing is telling everyone, everywhere in every way that people can and do receive information:

  • newspapers, magazines and direct mailers – the hard copy kind, the newsprint ink that smears on your fingers and the flyers, brochures and sales letters that come in the snail mail; AND the online versions: newspapers online, magazines online and email ads that come both solicited and unsolicited
  • television ads, radio ads – both via traditional tv and radio vehicles and online versions
  • internet banner ads, classified ad sites, display ad boxes on social media sites
  • social media relationship building
  • weblogs and forums and other self-publishing arenas where messages about anything and everything under the sun, moon and stars can be shared

A business’ marketing department is usually tasked with:

  • designing the message
  • crafting the message delivery system
  • delivering the message
  • measuring the results of both the message and the delivery system

My prediction about marketing for 2010 is that we all begin to realize that calendars are human conventions and that time is an amorphous mystery – we are actually calendar-less.  What 2010 is going to bring is already around us.  I came across a great article on Social Media Today that has some fantastic information on this very topic.  The article, “2010: The Year Marketing Dies…(Subtitled) Or at Least Marketing as We Know It!” by Augie Ray, has these points – among others – that I find worthy of comment here [from the article]: “… Of course, if marketing burns to the ground in 2010, a new and more powerful marketing will rise from the ashes.  The role of the new marketer [I picked the 3 of Mr. Ray’s 8 points that spoke to me the most]:

  1. Won’t be to plan bursts of communication on a yearlong calendar but to respond to and be part of the ever-changing dialog with consumers,
  2. Won’t be to count friends, page visits, eyeballs, readers, or viewers but to measure changes in consumer attitude and intent,
  3. Won’t be merely to talk at consumers but to listen and engage one to one….”

Point One I find significant and is one with which I totally agree – marketing is no longer a ‘January through December’ message plan – in fact I’d say this has been outmoded for some time now.  Consider that technology moves so quickly that in the electronics industry, as example, things are outmoded within a couple months – what good is a 12-month message plan for something that has a version 14.0 coming out only 6 weeks after version 1.0? [okay that’s exaggerated, but not by much].

I think what is important is to have a message that is not so much crafted as it is a photograph or hologram of what the product or service actually is and what it’s value actually could be to the end user.  In other words, not one message for niche A and a different message for niche B…the same message but told in as many ways as is relevant to the receiving system in place.

Point Two is very important and very misunderstood.  I’ll be the first to recommend to a business, large or small, that having a business profile on Facebook and LinkedIn is a good idea.  However, it is not the number of friends and contacts the profile has…rather it is the quality and the reason for putting up the profile.  You might have a business profile on Facebook because it is one place where you can link your Twitter updates and new blog posts…it gives you a wider population for sharing news and views.  Let’s say you launch a new product.  You write a post about it on the blog on your business website.  You announce the new product release in a Twitter update AND you tweet your blog post – both of these show up on your Facebook profile as new updates…in this tiny example you can see that three separate populations now know about your new product release.  The ROI will not be in numbers of page views or friends but in the chatter about your business and in sales.

Point Three is awesome.  Traditional marketing is indeed talking at the consumer.  New marketing is talking with the consumer; it is a conversation.  One cool way of marketing is being done online with the vehicle of reviews. Right now my husband is researching plasma television sets and blue ray players.  Yes, we have gone to the retail stores and looked at them and spoken with the salespeople.  He has read what the “experts” are saying about the various brands but what is having the greatest impact on him is what other consumers are sayingAmazon.com has used the review feature for some time and it is a great way to gauge what some people’s experiences are with products.  The example I’ve linked to here is for Paula Deen cookware – towards the bottom of the page are the consumer reviews.

I think what marketing needs is a change of clothing.  Instead of marketing being about selling your product or service, marketing ought to be about engaging the consumer in a conversation about his or her needs and wants and how your product or service can meet or fulfill that.  In 2010 pure sales won’t be enough.  Added value will be key.

Oh…and have a wonderful Holiday this year!  May 2010 bring you and yours many joys.

“Linda’s Business Blog” will be on vacation now until January 3 as our household is due to fill with family – I have a lot of cooking to do!

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