Another “stupid” business idea that was anything but stupid

A while ago, I wrote about how defeating doubt is essential as you start a business.  The number one killer of business ideas isn’t lack of funding but rather nagging doubt.

Maybe that doubt is the result of some bad business advice!  Jason Cohen and I are totally grooving on the same wavelength these days.  In his most recent post, distinguishing constructive criticism from bad business advice he writes:

It’s easy to cut down ideas; it’s hard to create and execute them. Give me any idea and I can find someone who thinks it’s dumb. So what? “Constructive” criticism means constructing, not just blasting. Look for advice with a clear method for implementation and a clear path for results.

Maybe you’ve got an idea for a new business – but you think it sounds ‘stupid’ or “dumb”.   Take heart!  There are so many stories about “stupid”  business ideas that don’t sound “stupid” now that they are a success!

If you’re starting a new business, remember that many hugely successful businesses didn’t appear to be the work of “genius” in the beginning.  As a matter of fact, more often than not, these successful businesses appeared to be the work of pure madness in the early days. Keep that in mind as you’re starting a small business.

Recently,  I tuned into the biography channel’s piece on George Lucas and was absolutely glued to the television as the show recounted all the “counter intuitive”  (a.k.a. ‘stupid’) decisions made by Lucas during the making of the original Star Wars.

The making of Star Wars provides a GREAT blueprint for success for anyone who wants to start their own business.  There are lots of lessons aspiring business owners can learn from the making of the original Star Wars.

Stupid Business Idea Lesson #1:  You’d better be passionate about your idea.

One of  the most important lessons in business to be gleaned from the  making of Star Wars is that George Lucas wasn’t driven by a desire to create wealth.

In the first installment, Steps to Starting a Small Business: #1 – The Idea, I share that starting a small business with the idea that you’re going to make a LOT of money is a really poor reason to launch a business.  You’d better be passionate about your idea. It’s hard to imagine, but in 1976 it appeared that Star Wars was on it’s way to being an 8 Million dollar movie disaster instead of marking a new era in movie making.

As you learn about the obstacles George Lucas overcame to create his movie masterpiece, it’s obvious that making money wasn’t first and foremost on Lucas’ mind.  Instead,  he had a burning passion to tell a story and to make a movie in a “new” way.  It was that passion that provided the fuel necessary to overcome the hurdles inherent in the making of the movie.

Stupid Business Idea Lesson #2: Expect obstacles and lots of them on the path to success.

An essential step in starting a small business is failure and the making of the movie Star Wars is filled with many, many “failures”.   However, like every other success story – each failure was viewed as a temporary set back instead of being viewed as the death blow for the project.

For example, the struggle of getting the original movie made began with securing funding for the project.  The first few “rejections” could have easily been viewed as epic failure – instead they were viewed as temporary set backs.

If you’re trying to get people excited about YOUR vision, remember that at the time, the major studios (such as Universal and United Artists) didn’t think that movie audiences would be interested in seeing a science fiction fantasy.  Those older, “wiser” studio executives were not shy about sharing their learned opinion with Lucas at the time.

Stupid Business Idea Lesson #3:  Be careful when it comes to relying on “expert” advice.

If Lucas had listened to the “experts” at the large and established studios – Star Wars would never have been made. Fortunately, 20th Century Fox (the decided “underdog” studio at the time) decided to take the gamble and gave Lucas the green light to make his film.

However, the struggle of making the movie doesn’t end there.   The path to creating the movie was filled with one obstacle after another.  From the special effects to the score, Star Wars was a movie which at the time seemed to feature one “stupid” decision after another.

Stupid Business Idea Lesson #4:  Conventional wisdom frequently isn’t conventional OR wise!

Star Wars is a product of the 1970’s.   If you don’t remember the 70’s – then think of the music featured in such movies as “Saturday Night Fever” and “Smokey and the Bandit.”   Now , think about the musical score for Star Wars.

At the time, creating a science fiction movie using a traditional orchestra was an act of madness and not brilliance.  Conventional wisdom said “use popular music to score your movie” and Lucas turned a deaf ear to that advice.  Today – more than 30 years later, we can all be thankful that the original Star Wars wasn’t scored with the conventional “wisdom” of the time.  (Aren’t you glad the Bee Gees didn’t write the score for Star Wars?)

Stupid Business Idea Lesson #5: Marketing is still the key to making any business – stupid or not- work!

After a series of “stupid” business decisions regarding the production of the film, it came time to bring the product to market and release the film in theaters.

Fox studios had carefully promoted their upcoming movie to science fiction fans at the previous Comic Con convention- because studio executives knew that science fiction fans would be the primary market for the film.

However, despite laying the important ground work of marketing the film in advance to sci-fi buffs,  theater owners were definitely NOT on board with taking the risk of showing this highly counter intuitive piece of film making.

To get the film into theaters,  20th Century Fox issued an ultimatum.  Theater owners who wanted to show the highly anticipated film “The Other Side of Midnight” had to agree to show Star Wars.  It worked.  Theater owners agreed to show the “ugly duckling” film and  the rest is movie history.

Of course, today we look back on the tale of the making of Star Wars and chuckle warmly, thankful that George Lucas had the courage to persevere.  It’s easy to forget that the process of making the movie took such a tole on Lucas’s health that he reportedly had to be hospitalized due to hypertension!

Success isn’t easy – and the path to creating a successful business is anything but smooth.   When you’re in the trenches – it’s easy to get discouraged.   When the going gets rough – remember that many “celebrated” ideas started out as “stupid” business ideas in the beginning.  (Twitter anyone?)

Do you have a favorite “stupid” business idea that is now a success?

Small Business Marketing- The Yellow Page Directory’s Place in your Marketing Mix

The recent post “Does your small business need to invest in yellow page advertising?” a comment was left stating that “the internet is for browsing – the yellow pages are for buying. ”

I’m sure that comment was left by someone who makes his or her living selling yellow page advertising.  It’s a GREAT line – but it exposes an essential “truth” .    It acknowledges is that people – in general-  are going to the internet FIRST to research their purchasing decisions.   When they don’t find the answers online that’s when they pick up the yellow pages to buy.

With that in mind, yellow page advertising does have a place in the marketing mix for many businesses.  However, the printed yellow page directories are making the death march to extinction and if that is the sole way you advertise your business – you might want to start working on a new marketing strategy .

I got my start in a  “traditional” advertising agency in the mid 1980’s because there wasn’t any other KIND of advertising agency way back in the stone age.   In those days we wore primitive clothing fashioned from animal skins and chipped pithy marketing messages onto cave walls and onto stone tablets by firelight. Even as we battled sabre tooth tigers along the way to client meetings, we still recognized the need for our client’s business to be listed in directories.

In those days (as now) the yellow page advertising representative’s opinion was that our clients needed a full page, four color ad in the yellow pages.  As the appointed keepers of the advertising budget – we at the agency held a different point of view.  The result were many heated and lively exchanges and as a result, I have few friends in the yellow page advertising industry.  😉

It’s my belief that a business (big or small) that is engaged in a strategic marketing campaign created with the target customer in mind doesn’t NEED a huge display ad in the yellow pages.   Those dollars can be much more effective when spent in other media.

In my book,  Beyond the Niche: Essential Tools You Need to Create Marketing Messages that Deliver Results, I recommend business owners devote about 7% of their marketing budget to listings in directories.  That’s not a lot but it’s more than enough if you’re spending the other 93% wisely.

For example, if you are a brick and mortar business owner who is in the heating and air conditioning business – then I would NEVER recommend that you stop advertising your business in the yellow pages.  However, I would also not recommend you spend the majority of your advertising budget there either.

Remember – by the time someone is looking for your business in a directory – they’ve already made a decision to purchase.   That’s why I recommend that the other 93% of your marketing budget should be spent influencing people to choose your business BEFORE they decide to purchase.

Wouldn’t you rather be talking to prospective customers BEFORE they’ve decided to buy?

The yellow page advertising rep desperately wants you to believe that the prospective customer who is picking up the yellow pages is operating from a “clean slate”.   In this fantasy land, your yellow page advertising rep will provide LOTS of “documentation” which “proves” your prospective customer opens the yellow pages and INSTANTLY picks the largest, most colorful ad. However, that’s not how advertising works in the “real” world. The example I use to get people thinking about how the yellow pages really work is to choose something they don’t need every day -like  finding a roofer.

The exercise goes something like this- pick up a copy of the yellow pages and start looking for a roofer.  Pay attention to what’s going through your mind as you scan through the pages.  Chances are you’ll notice that you’re searching for is a name that is FAMILIAR!!!

See, the only way the largest most colorful ad in the yellow pages is going to “win” is if you have absolutely NO CLUE of what roofing company is reputable in your area.  Otherwise, the race is going to to go the business with the “best” reputation – the one that is MOST familiar!

For example, yesterday as I was driving to the grocery store, I heard an ad on the radio by a local roofing company.  Right now, I can’t tell you the name of the company – but if my roof started leaking tomorrow – that ad would be having an influence on me.  It would be working on my subconscious as I began my search for a roofing contractor.  That roofing contractor’s name is going to be familiar and I’m more likely to call him than anyone else in the directory.   If I hear his ad again today, that familiarity will be strengthened.   If I hear that ad another 120 times I’ll probably be able to recite the roofing company’s name off the top of my head.   (That is how advertising works.)

Here’s the rub: If I were to pick up the phone and call, if  the receptionist were to ask how I “found” their business – I’d say, “The Yellow Pages!”  While that would be true – but that wouldn’t be the WHOLE truth!   The roofing contractor’s radio ad would literally be the unsung hero of his marketing campaign.

FAMILIARITY BREEDS BUSINESS!!!!

Smart business owners will have a marketing strategy in place with the goal to build familiarity with their customers.  One way to breed “familiarity” is to create a website that reaches customers while they are searching for answers!  Grab customers at that point and they’ll rarely find their way to the yellow pages!

The problem is that most small business owners have websites that do NOT come up when people are searching for answers to their GDP – Goals, Desires and Problems.

As long as your competitors don’t have a website that provides answers to the GDP of the target audience, then it becomes a game of one upsmanship within the confines of the yellow pages.  However, if you discover how to reach customers BEFORE they head to the yellow pages – how to put your website in front of those prospective customers when they’re researching their decision – long BEFORE they’ve decided to buy – well – then suddenly  the size of the ad in the yellow pages really doesn’t matter at that point, does it?

Warning: Serious MSIE Security Risk Discovered – AGAIN!

If you’re using the web browser Microsoft Internet Explorer (which 7 out of 10 internet users are) then you are exposing yourself to a SERIOUS security risk – even if you’re using the most recent version!

The Guardian reports:

Users of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer have been warned of a flaw that could let hackers gain access to their computers and steal personal data, and told them to swap to a rival browser.

The flaw was spotted last week when hackers started attacking users of IE 7. The flaw, however, has also been found in earlier versions of Microsoft’s browser, IE 5 and IE 6.

The Guardian reports that so far, the security hole has only been exploited to steal computer code from rival gamers – but a security hole is a security hole and once the dam has been breached – expects other data to “leak”.

Chris over at Monty’s Mega Marketing blog warns:

The flaw in IE allows criminals to gain control of computers that have visited a website infected with malicious code designed to exploit it. While restricting web surfing to trusted sites should reduce the risk of infection, the malicious code can be injected into any website. Users do not have to click or download anything to become infected, merely visiting an infected website is sufficient.

Obsessable.com reports:

Over 10,000 websites have been compromised since the threat was discovered and security experts are recommending that Internet Explorer users switch temporarily to another browser until Microsoft addresses this security hole.

P2Pnet News reports:

Usually, in attacks of this kind, victims have to actually click on something to set a process in motion

But not this time, says Heise. All they have to do is merely open an innocuous seeming page.

“It targets a particularly dangerous hole in all versions of the Microsoft browser,” it states,  warning there’s no patch and, “a Windows PC can become infected with malicious software through the simple act of opening a web page.

What can you do?

The answer is quite simple Download and start using Firefox.

While you’re at it – dump the other Microsoft product that is constantly under hacker attack that you’re probably using to manage your email – Outlook or Outlook Express – and pick up Thunderbird.

By the way, switching your browser to Firefox is one of the daily lessons covered in the 8 Week Power Blog Launch course.  If you’re still using Internet Explorer – this recent security alert (which was also issued for the last TWO versions of MSIE by the way – that’s why there’s the little “AGAIN” in the title) should be the final nail in the coffin.

Not only does Firefox offer some incredible plug ins to make your web surfing more efficient – using Firefox is also the best way to make sure the data on your computer STAYS on your computer and doesn’t “leak” out via a hole in your browser.

Disappointing customers without remorse – until the handouts begin

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could ignore, abuse and ridicule your customers and still make money?  Usually, the ability to “ignore” the economic realities of doing business is limited to giant corporations who keep running in spite of themselves.  However, a recent phenomenon is for these giant corporations to come begging for taxpayer money because they’re just too important to our economy to allow them to “go under”.

Reuters reported yesterday that GM has issued a HUGE “mea culpa” to the “American People” in yet another effort to secure more money from the government.   In the article at Reuters, GM says it “disappointed” and “betrayed” consumers:

General Motors Corp on Monday unveiled an unusually frank advertisement acknowledging it had “disappointed” and sometimes even “betrayed” American consumers as it lobbies to clinch the federal aid it needs to stay afloat into next month.

The print advertisement marked a sharp break from GM’s public stance of just several weeks ago when it sought to justify its bid for a U.S. government on the grounds that the credit crisis had undermined its business in ways executives could never have foreseen.

It also came as Chief Executive Rick Wagoner, who has led the automaker since 2000, faces new pressure to step aside as GM seeks up to $18 billion in federal funding.

GM has been making repeated trips to the government hand out trough.  Briggs Armstrong in a post at the Ludwig von Mises Institute blog points out:

It should not be forgotten that in September of 2008, Congress gave the “big three” automakers a loan totaling $25 billion. Now they are back. This time they say that with a mere $50 billion they can turn things around and become profitable in the future.

I can’t remember a time when GM cared about their pleasing their customers.   In the words of just about every business analyst on the planet – the reason GM isn’t making any  money is they aren’t making cars anyone wants to buy!

I love working with small business owners and this is why – because small business owners “get it”.  If they don’t, they’re bankrupt and broke in no time.  Meanwhile, it is going to literally take an act of Congress for GM execs to get it through their collective thick corporate heads that they need to start building cars people WANT to buy.

Remember the blockbuster movie, Transformers – released way back in 2007?  Remember the ultra HOT Camaro featured in the movie?  Remember?  Gosh – I remember.  I haven’t been passionate about a car in DECADES, yet I really wanted to own a new Camaro when I walked out of that movie.  It’s a good thing I couldn’t walk out of the theater and buy one because there would be on sitting in my driveway right now if GM had played their cards right.

Instead 2009 is almost upon us and  you may be able to finally drive one next spring.  That’s right – spring of  2009.   Oh, and instead of featuring the 2010 Camaro in another blockbuster action movie (been there, done that) , the dolts in charge of marketing are giving you a sneak peak during a third rate network television show “My Own Worst Enemy”.  (Is that show still ON television?  Hasn’t it been cancelled yet?)

Can you imagine Naomi Dunford promoting her Online Business School and then waiting two YEARS to release it for sale?  If Naomi were to adopt such an idiotic marketing strategy, you’d seriously doubt her marketing acumen – yet that’s the rule rather than the exception over at GM.

Long live small business!  Long live the small business owners who “get it” and who product products and services that people want to buy!

Why this is a GREAT time to start your own small business!

Actually, anytime is a GREAT time to start your own business – but these days, with the media bleating about how “bad” the economy is – [insert PRIMAL SCREAM] their pessimism may be EXACTLY what you need to begin building your own dream of starting a business. There’s never been a better time to being offering your own solutions to the trials and tribulations other businesses – and the people who run them – are facing every day.

Jason Cohen in a guest post over at On Startups gives 6 Reasons Why This Economy Is Good For Startups. Tom Volkar also has a great post on Grounding your Business Vision. (For some really great tips on what NOT to do once you’ve made the leap, read Cath Lawson’s How Not To Promote Your Business On The Internet)

Why do I make a primal scream over the media’s bleating?    Because I believe  the media is trying their best to turn an “economic slow down” into the next Great Depression!    Consumer confidence plays a HUGE role in the current US economy and when traditional media outlets spend every second bleating about how “bad” the economy is – well, consumer confidence is destroyed and VIOLA!  A self fulfilling prophecy at work.

Scream “FIRE” long enough and when someone finally lights up a cigarette –  people are going to panic!

I’m not saying the US economy is in “high growth mode”.  (By the way, another name for “high growth  mode” is INFLATION!)  But I am saying that if you take your world view from the evening news, you’re doomed to viewing the glass as half full.   Look at the media reporting of Black Friday sales.  Remember – good news doesn’t sell newspapers which is the reason for the need to “spin” coverage.  For example , Reuters reports Music retailers report bleak sales on Black Friday. See the spin?   “Oh, doom and gloom!  Music retailers can’t sell music on CDs.”  (Maybe that has more to do with selling music via downloads than the economy.)   Meanwhile PC Mag reports ‘Black Friday’ Pretty Rosy for Retailers. Same day, different report, different spin.  See, PC Mag isn’t trying to sell papers – Reuters is!

Meanwhile,  on the web Carrie Hall reports that Search Advertising is Strong in this “Adverse Economy”. Gee – if this is the beginning of another Great Depression – why is spending increasing on search advertising?  Either business owners are idiots for spending money to attract business that doesn’t exist – or maybe things are not as bad as you’ve been lead to believe.

For why this gets under my skin, here’s a snippet from a post from my blog promoting my book (Beyond the Niche) on the subject of smart small business marketing strategies

I’ll NEVER forget a conversation I had with a client many years ago -during a previous “economic downturn”.  The day before our monthly meeting, my client had attended a networking function where EVERYONE was “bemoaning” how “terrible” business was for them.  (Of course, few of them were actively measuring their advertising effectiveness.)  My client joined in the bitch session like a good little networking master.

We met the following day and I was greeted with a glum, “I’m sorry – but I’m going to have to cut my advertising budget because of the bad economic conditions.”   I didn’t know what had happened in the networking meeting at the time and I was shocked.  The last I knew, sales were up because of our efforts.

Instead of accepting her decision, I challenged my client.  I asked her to pull out her books and check this year’s sales against last year’s sales.  She did and was STUNNED by what she saw.  Her sales in that month were running a full 20% AHEAD of the previous year.

Yes, that’s right.  My client’s perception was critically altered thanks to the networking event.  She accepted their fate as her own and instead of rejoicing about a 20% increase in sales, she was ready to cut her lifeline to the very key to keeping her business healthy and growing.

Perception is EVERYTHING – in life and in business.

Somehow, the two (life and business) are magically and mystically intertwined. 😉

If you think your business is about to collapse – believe me, even if it’s not – your perception of the “truth” will make it happen!

If you’ve been pink slipped – take this as your opportunity to do it RIGHT in the marketplace!!!

If you were recently fired, I’ll bet you could probably write a BOOK on all the things your previous employer was doing WRONG!  Do you really think you got fired because of the poor economy – or was it because your former employer ran his/her business badly?  (Sure, we should all try new things and do more things badly, but some businesses seem to have that as their business motto!)

If social media is killing traditional media, my response is “good riddance!  Don’t let the media bleating affect your destiny.  If you’re feeling the need to start your own business, now is the time to do so! However, if you think starting your own business means you can sit on your ass and rake in cash – well, that doesn’t happen often in “good” times but it’s even harder to make happen now.

Do you have a way to make something faster, easier, better?    GREAT!!!  Get on it!  Make it happen!

So if you already have a business, start focusing on getting the solutions you offer in front of the people who need and are able to BUY what is is you have to offer!  If you haven’t taken the plunge yet, make certain that  in the business you DO CREATE that what you’re offering something of VALUE to your prospective customers or clients. Then hit the ground running and make it happen!

The future is only as bright as you can envision it will be!