Big Announcement – Please Read

A little self-indulgence today, and I promise not to make it a habit.

As you probably know if you’ve read this blog over the years, much of my consulting has evolved to a focus on startup businesses. That’s why, in addition to running my own practice, I’m a partner in a global venture catalyst that helps commercialization of startups post the idea validation stage through to sustainable profitability or a liquidity event. I also advise startups through my work at the First Flight Venture Center.

Two of the things I’ve noticed as I worked with some folks who thought they wanted to build and run a startup were that their as yet unvalidated ideas were often not really scalable businesses nor did they have a clue as to how running a startup business was different from life in the corporate world where many of them had spent their careers thus far. Quite a few of the budding entrepreneurs I’ve met were in their late 40’s to late 50’s. They had some money to invest in their startup but not enough to retire on. Besides, they were too young to play golf all day, as lovely as that sounds.

OK, so what’s the big announcement? What I realized is that rather than doing a startup many of these people needed a business in a box – something into which they could buy and, if they followed the plan, be successful. In short, a franchise. Because of this insight, I’ve expanded my consulting practice into franchise consulting. I will operate under the name of Franchise-Source and I’ve linked to the website (this is a temporary site – a newer, nicer one will be up soon). I’ve hooked up with a wonderful organization that represents over 500 different brands in over 70 different industries. My new entity has pages on Facebook and LinkedIn (those are direct links) as well. I hope you’ll check them out.

I’ll be continuing my other consulting as well and of course, the screed will continue although I’ll veer into the franchising world from time to time. I hope if you’re considering owning your own business or franchise and aren’t sure where to start that you’ll call or email me. As with a realtor, the buyers don’t pay for my services. The sellers – or franchisors – do. The work has been gratifying so far in that I’ve already spoken with a number of people who are looking to change their lives and rather than taking a chance on an unproven idea they’ve worked with me to investigate a solution that works for their goals, their budgets, and their lifestyle.

Thanks for reading. I’d appreciate you letting anyone you know who might have an interest in a franchise that I’m here to help. Back to our regularly scheduled blog programming next time.

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Learning From Ed Mitchell

I’m going to start the week with something a little unusual (for me, anyway). Although I’ve moved out of my little town in Connecticut I still follow the local happenings there via a couple of local blogs. One of the best is from Dan Woog, a life-long resident. One of his posts this morning really resonated and I thought it would be a great way to start the week here on the screed. You can read Dan’s entire post here and I’d urge you to do so. However, I’m going to summarize some of it below.

The subject is a local clothing store, Ed Mitchells. What resonated with me is how the store puts the customer first and foremost. In an era when the death of local retail at the hands of national chains and online giants is being screamed about in the business press, Mitchells demonstrates that its possible for any business to succeed if it follows a few principles we’ve often discussed here. They know their market and their customers and go way beyond whatever expectations whose customers have. Having shopped there myself I can tell you that this commitment is visible even to the infrequent customer such as myself. Yes, the store is very expensive. Yes, some of what it carries can be found in department stores at lower prices. But I’ll grab a few quotes from Dan’s blog to demonstrate how Mitchells has managed to overcome the challenges many businesses face through great service.

Their website encourages customers to email their personal style advisor, or call a sales associate. All emails are answered by real people…When the store is closed, a phone message offers an actual number to call in the event of a fashion emergency. Those calls are answered by an actual Mitchell family member. Immediately, the problem is taken care of…An unexpected funeral, and no suit. A business meeting, and a forgotten shirt. Things happen. A Mitchell family member will open the store on a Sunday for those issues. If needed, they send a tailor to a customer’s home.

Are those things you’d be willing to do for a client or customer? To demonstrate that this isn’t all store PR, here is one quote from the comments to Dan’s piece:

So here is a great Mitchells story. A friend of mine had to go to London for an emergency work week and dropped all of his suits off to be cleaned and it was Saturday night when he realized he had none of his suits. Here is your fashion emergency. He called Mitchells and they not only opened the store on Sunday for him for 30 minutes to get a few suits, but they had the tailor meet them there and alterations done by 3pm for his night flight.

If you want to be in business for 60 years and counter all the negative trends in your industry, Ed Mitchells is a great place for you to look for inspiration, don’t you think?

 

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Under My Tongue

This Foodie Friday, I want us to think about the thing that really makes food worth eating: our sense of taste. I was at a tequila tasting the other night (don’t judge – you’d be fine if I had said wine tasting) and the fellow conducting the tasting had the participants do something interesting. He asked us to dip our fingers into the tequila we were sampling and to place a dab UNDER our tongues. When we did so, a moment later we had a completely different taste experience than when we placed a drop directly on our tongues. The subtle sweetness of the tequila became evident while many of the more dominant notes for which tequila is often known didn’t immediately appear.

This got me thinking. You probably know that the old myths about our tongues having different “regions” of taste have been disproven (and it’s easy to do that yourself). You might not know, however, that without saliva you can’t taste anything. That’s easy to prove yourself as well. Just dry off your tongue and put some food directly on it. You probably won’t taste anything at all. Have a sip of water and try again. There’s the taste! I’m sure you’ve also had the experience of not being able to taste when you have a cold. 80% of taste is related to smell – the flavor of something happens when the tongue and the nose combine their work in your brain.

What does this have to do with business? Quite a lot, actually, My thinking is that when I put that dab of tequila under my tongue, it merged with my saliva, which comes from under the tongue. It then traveled to my taste buds, diluted by amylase, an enzyme that acts on sugars and other carbohydrates, which is found in saliva. That’s why the sweetness came out without a lot of “heat”. Approaching the tequila from a different place resulted in my understanding of its true nature. It’s actually made from a sugary liquid (you’ve heard of agave nectar, I’m sure). That’s the business point.

What if we approached an old problem from a different place? That’s a far more difficult thing than just placing it under your tongue instead of on top, but it does point out how we often have different experiences and better understanding if we can find a way to do so. Wherever that “under the tongue” place is, we can use it to remove factors that might be blinding us to a problem’s solution or to understanding something.

I left the tasting with a much deeper understanding of tequila. I don’t even have a headache today despite having quite a few tequila tastes over the course of the tasting. Learning doesn’t give me headaches, I guess. You?

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A Foundation Of Trust

Bruce Springsteen wrote about trust on his “Magic” album:

Trust none of what you hear (trust none of what you hear)
And less of what you see

That’s good advice these days but it’s far from a current issue. In far, The Boss was only echoing Edgar Allen Poe, who wrote in the short story “The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether”:

“Believe nothing you hear, and only one half that you see.”

I don’t think Poe, however, envisioned the dramatic lack of trust that most consumers have in the very people upon whom much of their digital lives rely. We see it in the reports that Pew stated that over 40% of Facebook users between the age of 18 and 29 had deleted Facebook from their phones in the past year. While Facebook disputes that number, there’s no doubt that even one user choosing to avoid your product or service on the basis of trust is a huge problem.

How do we solve this? As is my style, I tend to dumb it down to a very simple thing. Don’t do anything to your customers that you wouldn’t want to be done to you or to a member of your family. If you’re OK with your spouse being surveilled and his or her data sold to the highest bidder than be my guest in doing so to your customers. If that notion gives you pause, however, maybe you ought not to be considering doing so to anyone, at least without their full knowledge and consent. That means what you’re doing is front and center and not buried in a 3,000-word terms and conditions clickwrap agreement.

Once trust is lost, it’s extremely difficult to rebuild. You might have experienced this on a personal basis with a friend. As difficult as that might have been, it’s even harder for a business where there is generally not a human face on the brand or service nor an individual with whom to speak. The best solution is never to jeopardize trust in the first place. It’s a foundational issue. Your customers need to trust you and all of what you say. Don’t prove Bruce and Poe right, ok?

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Burritos On The Brain

This Foodie Friday, it’s all about the humble burrito and what it can teach us about business and life. I’m sure you’re familiar with the burrito. As we know it here in the USA, it’s a rather large tortilla filled with meat, beans (usually refried), cheese, sometimes rice, sour cream, guacamole and often more. You need to be a “little burro” to carry all of that!

Here’s the thing though. Burritos in Mexico are a totally different matter. They generally contain one thing, usually a protein. Maybe it’s shredded pork that’s been cooked for hours in a mojo. Then a sauce of some sort is added and the meat is placed, with or without refried beans, into a tortilla, usually flour (corn tortillas are generally smaller and better for tacos or flautas). It’s much simpler but this simplicity does a few things.

Each ingredient must be perfect because the flavors of each is a point of focus as you’re eating. You can’t hide bad meat behind a lot of cheese and sour cream. Your seasoning must be aggressive or the dish will be bland. After all, it’s wrapped in a bland tortilla that can tend to deaden its contents. In short, the Mexican burrito mirrors some of the world’s great dishes – simple ingredients but complex flavors. Think cacio e pepe – pasta with cheese and pepper. Like the burrito, it’s not about difficult techniques or hard to find ingredients or even complex timing like a souffle. Instead, it’s about having the patience and skill to bring out the best in your materials and the confidence to present them to stand on their own.

That’s a great lesson for those of us in business. Too often we hide behind buzzwords or present materials in a way that hides the basic thoughts we’re trying to convey. How many powerpoints have you seen with 50 words saying what 5 could have said? We try to make what we’re doing exceptionally complex instead of trying to simplify it. We add the unnecessary toppings – not guac and cheese and sour cream but hard to read contracts and user agreements or black-box systems that add nothing but cost and marginal improvements.

The next time you’re in a meeting, think of the humble Mexican burrito. Keep it simple but make each piece spectacular. The ingredients of your business – the people, the business model, the systems – must all be the best and you’ve got to combine and season them to make them better. Not more complicated and not hidden behind unnecessary glop. Make sense?

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Teshuva 2018

It’s Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year.  This was a post from several years ago.  As I read it over, looking for inspiration for something to write on the subject of change and business based on the holiday, I realized that I had expressed my thinking pretty well in the earlier post.  Those of you who celebrate the holiday are probably not reading this until sundown (I scheduled this yesterday in keeping with the spirit of not working on the day). Whether you do or don’t celebrate, I hope you’ll take a moment to reflect.

Yesterday was Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. For those of you unfamiliar with the holiday, it concludes the 10 day period at the start of the Jewish calendarRosh Hashanah – head of the year – during which all Jews are supposed to reflect upon the past year and examine how they’re going to change their lives going forward. One also seeks forgiveness from those against whom he has transgressed – both those of this earth and higher powers. There is a lot of other imagery connected with the period – inscription in the Book of Life being a big one – but I think there’s something each of us can take as a business lesson in a non-denominational way.

We all get off track.  Sometimes it’s in little ways like eating badly or drinking too much.  Sometimes it’s in big ways like alienating our families or hurting friends who love us.  The concept in Judaism of repentance is called Teshuva which means “return”.  I love the notion of coming back to one’s self as well as to the basic human tenets that are common to all religions and peoples.

We can take a period of reflection and “return” in our business lives as well.  The most obvious way is for us as individuals. Who have we alienated this year?  What client have we taken for granted?  But it a bigger opportunity.  How has the business diverged from the mission?  Why have we stopped getting better and are just marching in place?  What can we be doing to grow our people but are ignoring?

We ask those kinds of questions from time to time, but I guess I’m suggesting that it become a more formal process.  Set aside a period every year for “return” thinking.  A period of repentance?  Maybe, in some cases.  But in all cases a chance to change.  A chance to regret past bad actions and to vow not to repeat them.  Most importantly (this is true in the religious sense as well), to correct the transgression.  To apologize.   To make restitution.  Whatever is right and lets everyone move forward with a clear conscious and a vow to do better.

Sound like a plan?

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You’re The Customer Too, Dummy

We haven’t had a screed in a while in which I point out the on-going silliness of many of us in marketing, so let’s start the week with one! There was an article in the eMarketer newsletter about a recent study. I’m just going to quote it directly:

In an August 2018 survey of 103 ad agencies, publishers and marketers in North America conducted by Pressboard, 27.2% of respondents said they use an ad blocker to block ads on the websites they visit. These figures are similar to those found in the general population. According to eMarketer forecasts, 25.2% of US internet users will use an ad blocker in 2018.

Pressboard’s research showed that advertising professionals are more likely to rely on their friends than on ads when they decide whether or not to purchase a product. Nearly eight in 10 respondents (78.6%) said that word-of-mouth from friends influenced their recent purchase decision. Just fewer than 16% of those surveyed reported making a purchase after being influenced by banner ads.

I hope you can see immediately why this precipitated my response. It’s might be easy to shrug this off. I mean, what does it really say? Marketing and advertising professionals are humans too? How is that a surprise? Well, it’s not, but it does point out a fundamental problem. Apparently, when they put on their business hats and get to work they forget how they feel as consumers. After all, if they react badly to banner ads and rely more on word of mouth, why do they persist in figuring out how to invade the consumer’s website use in as many ways as possible? They use ad blockers because, to paraphrase Barry Goldwater’s campaign slogan, in their hearts, they know it’s right. The state of web marketing is akin to that of an Arabian bazaar or a NASCAR driver. Ad blockers at least make the web tolerable.

The message to any of us is that we’re customers too. We need to think like customers and not as marketers when we’re figuring out the best ways to interact with our audiences. How can we solve their problems? How can we deliver information that’s useful to them and not just scream at them? Keep that in mind and not only will your customers be better off, but you will be as well. Make sense?

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