Category Archives: Thinking Aloud

Do You Really Want The Real Deal?

Happy Foodie Friday! I was asked to give some restaurant recommendations to a friend who will be traveling in a month or two. They’re going to a couple of cities I know pretty well and wanted me to tell them where they could get “authentic” cuisine. That got me thinking about the whole authenticity thing and I realized that maybe what many of us say we want isn’t really exactly what we mean.

They wanted to see NYC’s Chinatown and I told them about one of my favorite places there. It’s been there forever (always a good sign) and serves authentic Chinese food. Oh sure, you can get the American/Chinese stuff that’s available elsewhere but you can find things here like snails that you won’t find at P.F. Chang’s. They serve 24 different soups – I’m pretty sure your local place might serve 5 or 6. A lot of the “good” stuff isn’t even on the menu.

Of course, to try some of these “authentic” dishes, you have to put aside your preconceptions. Even some of the standards – Kung Pao Chicken, for example (known as Gung Bo Gai Ding here) – are different from what you’re used to. Authentic, yes, but is that really what you’re after?

They also asked for some recommendations in Rome. I am pulling together a list of places I like there but cautioned them to stay away from places that offer a tourist menu. They inevitably dumb down the food and in some cases, Olive Garden would be an upgrade. Of course, one place I love has no English menu and the last time I was there my friend ordered a plate of what I told him translated to “guts”. That was exactly what it was – liver, kidneys, etc. It was delicious and very authentic but is that really what most people want? Sanguinaccio isn’t exactly on the tourist menu (it’s a blood sausage).

InterContinental Hotels did a survey asking travelers in major destinations to select the sights, sounds, tastes, touches, and scents from a selection that provide the best experience for a traveler visiting their city. The answer for New York was fresh bagels from a West Village shop and summer rays while sunbathing in Central Park on a Sunday. I can tell you that while that may be true, most visitors would have a hard time dealing with Central Park on a Sunday and there are endless arguments in my hometown about where the best bagel can be found. Personally, I’d opt for a bodega bacon egg and cheese as being authentic, along with the lesser-known chop cheese. Good luck finding tourists who are wanting those authentic gut bombs (they’re SO good!).

Authenticity may not always be what we want. Honesty, yes. Transparency, of course. But authenticity can be something altogether disturbing. It can precipitate a massive attack of cognitive dissonance (I want the real thing but the real thing is not what I want!). Careful what you wish for!

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Filed under food, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Walkin’ The Talk

I spend a lot of time on the telephone these days. I’m constantly calling people who have indicated that they have an interest in changing their lives by investing in a franchise. It’s great most of the time even if it’s frustrating at the same time. The reason for that is something from which any of us in business can learn.

I think that a number of folks are now using some sort of auto-responder on their phones. I will very often dial someone and just as their voicemail kicks in I get a text from them. “I’ll call you back” is pretty common or even the more maddening “I’ll call you back in an hour.” The reality is that I rarely get that callback.

I pride myself on walkin’ the talk. If I tell you that I’m going to do something, I do it. People are trusting me with a lot of sensitive information – their financial situation, their unhappiness with their current work situation in many cases – and I need them to know that I’m worthy of that trust. Keeping commitments is part of building trust. If I tell you that I will call you at 10, you can be quite sure that your phone will ring at 10. That’s what several decades in the TV business do to you – 10 means 10, not 9:58 or 10:02.

Trust is foundational in business. Yes, there are contracts so that everyone knows what the deal is although I probably didn’t pay enough attention to contracts because I always felt that if I could trust the person I was dealing with, contractual issues would tend to take care of themselves. Making a commitment via autoresponder isn’t walkin’ the talk. It’s just talking to get someone off your back. I’m willing to bet most of the folks don’t even know that a text was sent.

I made a resolution this year. I’m not chasing after anyone. They can generate all the texts they want but if they don’t follow through and make the call, I’m done with them. There are lot of foks who are serious about changing their lives for the better and I’m going to be spending my time with them. That’s a commitment and you can bet it’s one I’ll be keeping.

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Filed under Franchises, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Tasks And Experiences

Happy Foodie Friday! This article came into my news feed this morning. It’s about Walmart’s store of the future, where robots can fill grocery orders up to 10 times faster than humans. Pretty spiffy and it’s an interesting read, but it also got me thinking about a pretty important distinction about which I think you may want to ruminate.

When I go to the grocery store (every Thursday!), I have a list of things I want to buy. Most of the things on that list are there because I’ve planned out meals for the week and I need things to make those meals possible. It’s a pretty straightforward task. Other things are on the list because I use them in general and they’re on sale. Maybe I have a coupon that for them that is expiring. Maybe they’re on sale AND I have a coupon (can you feel the excitement?). Again, it’s pretty cut and dry – here’s the thing on the list, buy it and bring it home.

That’s really only half the trip, however. Inevitably, I find things to buy that aren’t on the list. I’ve found them as part of the shopping experience. Maybe it’s an unadvertised sale, maybe some local produce came in and looks spectacular. This is experience-oriented shopping versus the aforementioned task-oriented shopping.

Back to the article. It’s lovely that Walmart (and Amazon and others) are extremely efficient in servicing these orders, but they’re only serving the task-oriented shoppers. In-store discovery is impossible when there is no in-store experience. That’s why you always see “people who bought (the thing you’re buying) also bought (another thing).’ I think it’s also why Amazon is moving into physical stores, both through Whole Foods and their own “register-less” stores. Obviously, serving the task-oriented shopper is only half the battle.

I think it’s the same in other businesses.  Almost every business interacts with customers, partners, vendors, and employees in a task-oriented framework. When you stop and think about it, good businesses make sure there is an experience-oriented aspect to the relationship as well. What I mean is an experience that the participants can enjoy for its own sake and not as a means for accomplishing a task or achieving an extrinsic goal. Maybe it’s just drinks after work with no agenda. Maybe it’s a round of golf. All of my best business relationships had both task-oriented and experience-oriented aspects.

Think about how you interact with your customers. Is everything a task where items get ticked off a list or is there an experience that’s part of the relationship? How can you bring that balance?

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I’m Sick Of Scammers

Another year, another scammer surfaces. I’ve written many times in this space about marketers who try to take advantage of people’s limited attention spans and fear of all things “official”. The mail delivered another example of one to my doorstep the other day and I want to tell you about them. Admittedly, part of this is venting but another part is a very real concern that many marketers have lowered their standards to a point where they’ll do just about anything to drive business. It’s even worse when the business itself is a scam.

North Carolina, like many states, requires that all businesses file an annual report with the Secretary Of State. If you’ve never done that, it’s a very easy process that can be completed online in about 3 minutes. I had to do the same thing when my LLC was registered in Connecticut and the process was equally easy. You check a few boxes and pay the fee. Easy peasy.

In the mail the other day was an official-looking document – 2020 Annual Report Instructions Form.  The blanks in the form were already pre-populated with my LLC’s information. It also contained the language from the general statutes about having to file an annual report. I thought it was something the state had sent until I gave it more than a cursory look.

In a different typeface was a sentence that said this was being sent by a third-party who would file my report for me. Just send along the $292 fee and that would be that. Of course, the filing fee is only $202 – the other $90 was what this company was scamming me for. The grift IS the business – there is very little, if any, work involved otherwise.

My first thought when I saw the form was, oh, I’ll do this online, as I do pretty much everything. My next thought was “wait, this isn’t the state, this is a scam.” The thought after that was “some percentage of business owners are going to fall for this.” It has all the right information and it’s very official-looking. Of course, anyone can get that information on the state’s website and matching the state’s form and typeface isn’t exactly rocket science.

I admit there are a couple of disclaimers that the company is not affiliated with the state but why should anyone have to read very carefully to avoid being taken advantage of? Are they providing a service? I suppose so, but why not offer the service in a clear manner instead of trying to obfuscate that you’re charging $90 to save someone a few minutes’ work?

If you market a product or service, the road to profitability isn’t made easier by misleading or scamming your customers. Let’s not do that. Even better, let’s shine some sunlight on those scammers who do.

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Filed under Huh?, Thinking Aloud

Most Read Post Of 2019

Happy New Year and a new decade to boot! This post was the most-read screed I published in 2019. It’s fitting both to end and to begin the year with it since the topic involves change. This is the time of the year when many people stop and assess their lives which often leads to change. This piece, originally titled “Taking The Beaten Path” has to do with some issues involved in starting your own business. I published it last February and I hope you’ll give it a read and some thought if you’re thinking about starting fresh in 2020.

One of the questions that has come up often in my newish role as a franchise consultant has been why one should look to invest in a franchise to begin with rather than starting a business from scratch. After all, there are generally fairly substantial franchise fees associated with a franchise along with the other expenses one might expect when starting a business plus you usually have on-going royalties. You’ll still have to pay to incorporate, you still often need insurance, licenses, equipment, space, and people. Why incur the extra fees on top of the ordinary expenses? It’s a good question and I have what I think are some good answers. If you’re thinking of starting a business or maybe changing the nature of the business you’re running, here are my thoughts.

First, the biggest advantage of buying into a franchise is that it’s a business in a box. It’s a proven business model, one that comes with built-in support. Almost every franchise I work with has some form of training and on-going mentoring. I think about that in terms of the businesses that have hired me to consult in the past. Much of what I did would have been covered by that sort of support, negating the need for an outside consultant. The franchise will have research and the business results of all the other franchisees. That’s invaluable and beats the heck out of going it alone.

Another consequence of that is you’ll probably experience much faster growth. You won’t be spending time formulating a business plan. Instead, you’ll be getting trained and executing one that has been time-tested. Something as simple as logo design, which can take time and several iterations, is not really a concern. You’ll generally be presented with operations manuals and marketing materials. Your time to market is greatly decreased.

One thing that is much easier is financing your business. Franchises are less risky in lenders’ minds since they’re known brands and proven businesses. While banks aren’t the best source for franchise ending, there are many lenders who specialize in that (I work with 6 of them) and SBA loans are easier to come by as well. Finally, your potential customers will already know who you are. Most franchises have good brand recognition, and even those that don’t have a current local presence can often benefit from being seen as part of a bigger entity.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that roughly 1 in 5 of all businesses in the U.S. close after the first two years of operation and a little over a third shut their doors after four years. You can beat those odds by taking the beaten path and investing the franchise fee to gain the above benefits. In my mind, and why I added this to my consulting portfolio, that investment yields as good or better returns than blazing your own new trail. What do you think?

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Filed under Franchises, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Posts Of The Year 2019 #2

We’re continuing to review the most-read posts of 2019 that were also written this year. Today it’s my post from September 11. It really doesn’t need much explanation other than one thing that this post taught me is that you folks respond well when I make things more personal. A thought for the screed in 2020…

I was going to write about something else this morning but then I looked at the calendar. Today is the 18th anniversary of what is arguably one of the most significant days in America’s history, one whose aftereffects permeate a lot of our daily life here in the USA. Many of them are big and obvious. Wars that have gone on for nearly two decades as a result of that day and the financial decisions we’ve made as a country to support them that affect everything. The sometimes scary and intrusive security measures we’ve taken at airports and elsewhere. The suspicious looks some folks give to others based on their clothing or appearance.

What 9-11 changed in me was something different. My strongest memory isn’t of the smell that wafted northward to where I worked in midtown Manhattan nor is it the incessant sirens as first responders charged into lower Manhattan to try and save lives. My strongest memory is of how beautiful the September morning was and how it’s hard for me 18 years later to experience a crisp, clear morning with a clear blue sky without thinking of that horrible day.

I used to commute via train to my job. That morning, I was heading to the office before catching an afternoon flight to SF with a group of my NHL peers to meet with a client the next day. We had actually switched our flight. We were going to go out that morning on what became one of the planes involved that day but that’s another discussion. I vividly remember coming up the escalator out the Grand Central and looking up at the beautiful sky as we rose. As I left the station, the cool air hit me and I might have even said out loud “what a beautiful day for flying.” No clouds, no wind, no NYC smells, just clear blue air.

Within the hour, the world had changed. A co-worker ran into my office saying a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I said it must have been a small plane and planes had hit buildings in NY before. We turned on the TV as the second plane hit and realized that this was not an accident.

The rest of the day is a blur of making phone calls to check on friends, receiving phone calls from people checking on me, wondering how I’d get home since the trains and other transport was shut down, and helping my staff deal with the day. The one thing that still won’t leave me though is the memory of leaving the station and walking to my office on one of the most beautiful NY mornings ever, a wonderful day for flying.

No business points today. Please think about those who were lost on 9-11 and those first responders who are still paying the price for their bravery.

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I Can’t Quit

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. It’s one of those times when your focus is truly on family and friends and not on the more mundane things that tend to tie up the bulk of our lives.

One of those things has become social media and specifically Facebook and its family of products. I think that if it was a drug, it would be among the worst drugs ever and should be heavily regulated at least. Let me explain why.

I was an early user (does that make me a long-term addict?). I signed up way back when you needed a .edu mailing address to join. At first, it was fun and getting back in touch with my college and high school classmates was great. I’d accept friend requests from people I barely knew and rarely spoke to from way back when. It made reunions less jarring since I already knew who had gained weight, lost hair, or, as in my case, both.

I don’t feel that way anymore. I limit my “friends” to people who are really just that. Acquaintances don’t make the grade and very few business-only relationships are part of my friend group. Unfortunately, some business associations in which I participate have chosen to do their communicating via Facebook. I also have consulting clients from time to time that want my expertise on using Facebook both for content and for advertising. If those circumstances ever change, I’ll be gone the next day.

I’m sure you’re aware by now about Facebook’s utter disregard for your privacy. They track you pervasively (I use a browser extension to limit that). They sell your data, accurate or not, to scammers and liars as well as to legitimate marketers but they don’t try to distinguish between them. I wrote in 2010 that they just might fail because of their disregard for security and privacy. I could not have been more right about what they were doing and more wrong about their success.

Why do we all seem to hang around? Metcalf’s Law, which states that the effect of a network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system. There were alternatives and still are, of course, but unless and until your real friends, family, and business groups move someplace else, you’re kind of stuck. It’s why I post the screed on Facebook as well as on LinkedIn and elsewhere. Fish where the fish are, right?

My first resolution will be to use Facebook less in 2020 and beyond and to reach out via phone and email to people more often. It’s not just about maintaining privacy but about helping my mental health. Do I think I’m striking a blow for privacy and responsibility? No, not being one of 1.6 billion daily users. I’ll still be on Facebook – it’s the easiest and best way to keep up with old friends and I need it for business. But you can bet I’ll be a lot less active. Don’t take it personally. It’s not you – it’s Zuck.

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Filed under digital media, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud