Social Media is Consumer Controlled Conversations

Ah the “buzz” around social media is burning like a wild fire out of control – it’s the bright shiny bauble of our time.  Everywhere you turn there’s another guru offering yet another “product” promising to provide everything you need to know to harness the power of social media and magically build your business.  The only problem is these programs often are guilting of forgetting what social media really is – it’s PEOPLE behind those screen names.

Promising a magic marketing with technology is nothing new.  About a decade ago, there was another bright shiny techno-bauble being lauded as the magic marketing technology anyone could use to effortlessly build their business – an online email newsletter.

Time passed and before long email marketing newsletters lost their shiny new appeal.  The “buzz” ceased and they were no longer lauded as the “fast, easy magically delicious” way to build your business online.  Just because the buzz has died doesn’t meant that email newsletters are no longer a powerful online marketing tool.  It just means that the “gurus” have moved on to the next “hot topic” – which is currently social media.   Want to use Twitter to sell more stuff?  There’s at least a dozen gurus offering webinars as you read this on how to sign up and use Twitter.  The darlings of the day these days are currently Facebook and Twitter – though 18 months ago it was Myspace.com and prior to that it was business blogs which are just now beginning to display the evidence of the promises made five years ago.

Just because the hype has moved on doesn’t mean that any of these “past” beauty queens are not still lovely when viewed through the lens of creating marketing magic.  As a matter of fact, none of these technological tools ever officially ended their reign as valuable online marketing tools.   Smart business owners didn’t drop their email newsletter when social media came knocking – they used social media to build their list.  In my book Beyond the Niche: Essential Tools You Need to Create Marketing Messages that Deliver Results, I talk about the phenomenon of email marketing newsletters and how those with a solid marketing strategy in place simply integrated this new tactic.  Just because a tactic is shiny and new doesn’t mean it’s valuable – or worthless.  A paintbrush in the RIGHT hands can create beauty –  Social media marketing tactics can also create beautiful bottom line figures when implemented within a solid marketing strategywhich is focused upon meeting your end consumers’ GDP – (Goals, Desires, Problems) –  email newsletters, business blogs, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter all have the potential to grow your business.

I was recently afforded the opportunity to “listen in” on recording of an online sales training class being run by one of my clients.  She too preaches the “gospel” of “focus upon your customer’s GDP” to create a solid business base.  One gentleman on the call was nicknamed by his peers “The Load”.  He began the call with a description of how LOUSY his business had been over the past few years – living up to his nickname quite nicely. (My thought when listening to him – “Oh my goodness – he should NOT have a blog!!!  I think that’s why my client was sharing this call with me… but that’s another story!)   The Load introduced himself on the call by moaning and groaning  about how LOUSY business had been for the past few years.   Yet later in the class I heard him tell the story of how he’s changing his behavior.  He said, “I recently had a customer who was asking the sun moon and stars.  Before taking your class, I would have told them to get lost – we don’t DO THINGS like that around here.  Instead – because of your class – I listened to them and we focused upon meeting their needs.  We did a lot of extra work but we were well compensated.  They’re happy – and we made a lot of money on this sale so we’re happy as well.”

When The Load launched his business, delighting the customer was never a part of the plan.  When he delighted his first customer, only then did he begin building a foundation upon which a social media campaign could be launched.   If that customer tells their friends via Facebook or Twitter – that’s the beginning of social media marketing.  However, even if that customer is NOT using social media – yet – they still have connections where they can tell their story. There’s no limit to the bet I’d make that suddenly – everything in The Load’s business will start turning around.    His phone will begin ringing – and he’ll have the opportunity to delight more customers.

The Load addressed the unseen business killers at work in his business and began focusing upon the consumer.   If he keeps on track, soon he’ll be ready to begin to harness the power of consumer controlled conversations – a.k.a. social media- and put it to work building his business.

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?

Most Essential Step to Starting a Small Business is Failure

In the Steps to Starting a Small Business series, I’ve covered a lot of information you need to know if you’re planning to start a small business.  However in my enthusiasm, I left out the most IMPORTANT step in starting a small business.

Sometimes – the path to creating a successful business is paved with past failures!

Allow me to share a real life success story.  The story begins with the familiar tale of a prospective business owner who is waiting for his/her idea to be honed to “perfection” before taking the giant leap of starting a business..

Cath Lawson is a serial entrepreneur who shares her “been there, done that” wisdom on her blog and in the recent  post 10 Life and Business Lessons she advises that you act upon your great ideas immediately – don’t wait for them to become “perfect” in theory!

In what has to be one of the best posts of 2008, Jason Cohen shares what has to be the wisdom of the ages in Your idea sucks, now go do it anyway, with the following line:

Here’s a newsflash: Your idea probably sucks, and it doesn’t matter because your business will probably be about something completely different

I understand that telling someone that their business idea sucks is along the lines of telling a new mother that her baby is ugly.  However,  if you’re wanting to start your own small business you will save yourself a lot of time, effort and frustration if you embrace this truthas you begin your journey to starting a business:

FAILURE IS AN ESSENTIAL PART OF BUSINESS SUCCESS!!!

Chances are – if this is your first attempt at starting a business -you’re going to fail.  Even if it’s it’s not your first attempt – you still may fail.  It’s OK.  Embrace it.  Because in the course of your failure- you’re going to learn A LOT about what to do – and not to do- as you start a business.

If you don’t like failure (and who does?) you can pick up some advice from others who have been there done that – like Naomi Dunford in her Online Business School course.  See that’s the “magic” in the whole e-learning arena.  Someone falls down, gets his or her proverbial nose bloodied a few times and lives to share what he or she has learned.  You can learn from their experience by paying a few shekels and picking up a copy of the shared wisdom.

Can you learn to create a successful blog without my 8 Week Power Blog Launch course?  Of COURSE you can!  However, picking up a copy of the course is probably the quickest and easiest way to come up to speed on learning the basics of blogging.

However, there comes a point where you have to put down the books and start taking the steps to start your small business.  A great place to begin is to embrace the fact that your original business idea will probably bear little resemblance to the final form your business will eventually take.

When you launch your product or service, the market is going to respond.  Your reaction to that response is going to determine the next step in the evolution of your business.

I’ve written before about my original “vision” for supporting my blog clients.  My original “vision” was creating online videos.  Know what I quickly discovered?  My clients want written words that they can print out – set on their laps and read as they go along.  Believe me, online video tutorials are a LOT easier to create than ebooks -but my clients hate them.  Come to think of it – so do I.

Jason Falls writes about a successful product launch in “Is The Future Of Advertising Public Relations?”  Notice, the product was sent to bloggers without an “stipulations”.  One thing about bloggers – they don’t respond well to ‘manipulation techniques’.  Web 2.0 is all about authenticity and had the product been a dud – the bloggers would have let Jason’s client know it with scathing reviews.

Which is probably why you should “wait” to solicit reviews from bloggers and other social media outlets until you’ve done quite a bit of beta testing.

Beta testing – where you test your product or service out on REAL people and find out EXACTLY what they think of your business idea.

See, one of the best kept small business success secrets is to defeat doubt.  Doubt can be a good thing.  It can keep you from submitting a flawed product to powerful bloggers who reduce your fledgling business to dust.

The greatest business idea in the world can be reduced to dust if self doubt is allowed to run rampant but on the other hand, that doubt can be a driving force towards business evolution.

One way to inflate self doubt is to begin “shopping” your idea to family and friends for their advice. If your family and friends are your greatest cheerleaders and/or potential customers for your new product then seeking their input is a GREAT idea. Unfortunately, if your family and friends aren’t part of your ultimate target audience, their opinion may be entirely irrelevant.

Remember that some of the most successful businesses around today began as an idea that bears little resemblance to the final (successful) version of that business.  That’s because great businesses evolve  as the result of lateral thinkingMarelisa writes on her blog:

Edward de Bono … coined the phrase “lateral thinking” which involves approaching problems from diverse, unexpected angles and from different perspectives. Dr. de Bono meant to differentiate lateral thinking–in which you nudge the mind to make sudden turns– from vertical thinking, which is logical and sequential thinking.

See, lateral thinking doesn’t just happen at the outset of your business idea.  The best business ideas usually have several “incarnations” before they achieve their final state of being.

If, in the immortal words of Tom Volkar,  you want to kick some marketplace ass (read the whole post – it’s inspiring!)- get ready to take a few punches to the face when you step into the ring

Finally- it’s ultimately important to recognize that business success doesn’t lie in product development – it lies in marketing of that product or service.

Lynn Terry has a great blog post “Content vs Marketing” with some outstanding examples of crappy content that has succeeded thanks to great marketing.  She offers some great examples of where great marketing made average or even inferior products run away successes!!!

It’s so common to get caught up in the pursuit of the “perfect” business idea.  As if somehow, business success lies in the idea instead of the execution of the idea.

If you’ve already taken the leap, how closely does your current business mirror the original “business idea”?

If you haven’t, are you waiting for the perfect business idea to start your business?

Smart Business Blogging and the Smartest Dog Contest

This is a GREAT time to start a business, as long as you don’t create a bad product (Windows Vista anyone), and try to promote it with a poor marketing strategy and a website that does almost nothing.

Running a bad business poorly usually doesn’t make the news.  However, when it’s a HUGE company in the US which chooses to embrace a relatively recent phenomenon of expecting the government to come to the rescue them from their own bad business practices, the story definitely makes the front page.

GM’s recent holiday charity request of the US government was recently denied,  which brings to mind a joke which recently made the rounds.  This joke illustrates a truth we all embrace and that’s the difference between “government” and “business”.

The joke begins with four men who were  sitting at a bar one night.  As the alcohol flowed, the four men started bragging about how smart their respective dogs were.  One thing lead to another and before you know it, a challenge was issued.  The next night, the four men arrived back at the bar with their dogs to prove whose dog was indeed the smartest.

The first man was an engineer who called to his dog, “T-square, show these jerks what you can do.”

T-square took out some paper and pen and promptly drew a picture of a two story home.

The other men were impressed and all agreed that T-square was a pretty smart dog.

The next man,  an accountant thought his dog could do better. He called his dog and said, ‘Spreadsheet, show these guys what you can do.’

Spreadsheet went into the bar and returned with three dozen peanuts. He divided them into 6 equal piles of 6 peanuts, each perfectly stacked into a carefully constructed pyramid.

All the men agreed that Spreadsheet was pretty smart.

But the third man, who was a chemist thought his dog could do better. He called to his dog and said, ‘Precipitate, show these guys what you can do.’

Precipitate brought out a quart of whiskey from the bar, got a 10 shot glasses and poured each shot glass to the brim without spilling a single drop.

All the men agreed that Precipitate was pretty smart.

The fourth man was a government employee – and the pressure was on.  He called to his dog and said, ‘Bureaucracy , do your stuff.’

Bureaucracy jumped to his feet

  • pooped on the paper
  • ate the peanuts
  • downed all the shots of whiskey, one after another.

When he finished the final shot, he then proceeded methodically to hump each of the other three dogs with enthusiasm previously unseen.  However, in the middle of the act with the third dog, Bureaucracy yelped and  then collapsed to the ground.  He immediately announced that he had injured his back.

Bureaucracy filed a grievance report for unsafe working conditions… applied for Workers Compensation… and went home for the rest of the week on sick leave with full pay.

AND THAT ILLUSTRATES WHY EVERYONE WANTS TO WORK FOR THE GOVERNMENT!!

Jokes like this make us smile because we can recognize that the story perfectly illustrates what goes on when a “company” doesn’t have to answer to “customers”.   The business that doesn’t respect its customers is destined for closure unless that “business” is a form of government!

Unfortunately, GM has been operating their business like they’re a branch of the government for the past few decades.

The “problem” with this business model is that GM doesn’t have taxpayers which have no choice on whether or not to support the business.  Instead, GM has customers who cast their “vote” in the market place every time they purchase an automobile.

Unlike government, GM has competitors who are making cars that customers want to buy.   Unfortunately (for GM), they don’t have easy access to the US taxpayer’s tax dollars.

Fortunately, the representatives in Congress must face their own “customers ” a.k.a. the “voters” decided it was best to just say “No” to yet another charity request from a bloated inefficient business.

I personally think the uproar in Web 2.0 is part of the reason for the recent denial. I honestly think that if there hadn’t been a thousand voices speaking out in the blogosphere about the facts that the vote would have gone much differently.  Not only were blogs pointing out the fact that GM just received a huge sum as recently as in September 2008 – but they were also pointing out the fact that the unions weren’t participating in the proposed “bailout” at all.  I believe that bringing those “facts” to the public attention played a HUGE role in the vote.

If you’re wondering what all the “fuss” about blogging is all about – the information disseminated by tens of thousands of blogs may have actually changed the course of US history.

With that in mind – you might be tempted to think that perhaps a business blog, properly launched and leveraged,  might actually be a powerful and effective of a marketing tool.   Maybe your buisness blog won’t change the course of history – but it might just change the course of your business.

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!