A Business Is Born

Have you ever sat watching television, and noticed all of the commercials that seem to consume a portion of the show you are watching, pausing your viewing pleasure with the endless promotion of products or services? Or how about flipping the channels late at night or the early morning, and find most of the channels have one infomercial or another one running?

Then there is the Super Bowl, with the hype that is raised around the commercials that are going to be running, an extreme commercial competition that goes as far as letting people go on-line and vote for their favorite commercials, and even watch their favorite ones over and over again.

While all of this may seem like an endless barrage of information and marketing hoopla, let’s take a step back and look at the core behind all of this. These are companies that are using one of the most influential advertising mediums available to pass on information about their products and services. The very products or services that are the core behind their business, and the growth of an idea from which their businesses were actually born.

The largest growing segment in the business world today is the small business owner, those with the entrepreneurial spirit that have an idea for a product of service, and decided to move forward with it and build a business from it. While many people scoff at this, and hold on to that old school mentality of having a consistent paycheck and putting your responsibilities before your dreams, it is these dreams that have built the very companies that these people get their paychecks from.

Take for example Microsoft and Apple which both started in garages, or FaceBook which was born in a dorm room, the same as Google. What if Henry Ford decided not to build the Model T, or if Alexander Graham Bell decided not to build the first practical telephone. Or even right here in Delaware, what if  Perdue didn’t have his passion to produce a better chicken for consumers to eat, or what if the DuPont family didn’t emigrate to the US in 1800 and start a gun powder manufacturing company, that later evolved into one of the largest chemical and product manufactures in the world.

In Governor Markell’s weekly message on February 10th, he said ” Our state is full of so many active and budding entrepreneurs.  Whether as a government committed to creating a climate for success or as individual consumers committed to supporting small businesses with how and what we buy, we need to support small businesses and their entrepreneurial spirit  as we work together to keep Delaware moving forward.”

All it takes is an idea and a belief that what you want to create or offer is something that has the ability to be great. You are one idea away from your business being born.

The Silver Bullet

With the ever growing pull towards using social media, from both personal to business use, many people and companies find themselves scrambling to jump on the train before it leaves the station without them. This has breed a new and rapidly growing segment of the technology industry, that have now termed themselves as the “Social Media Experts”.

The reality is that social media, and the messages you try to push out using it, are as unique as the company that you run. There is no real magic formula, or a one size fits all solution. In the beginning, when you are just starting out, it is a lot of hit or miss, and trial and error, until you find the right combination of what to say and when to say it. It is checking to see what gets the greatest response, knowing when your potential clients “generally” will be on-line, and tracking stats on your site that help you build the big picture.

With the massive growth of companies using Twitter, and knowing that you are limited to 140 characters to get your message across, each message that you post should be a silver bullet that will grab a users attention and spur them on to want to know more. This single shot of information is your chance to engage and start a conversation, and also has the potential to have others pass along your message.

This is not only true for Twitter, but FaceBook as well. The information that you put on your FaceBook page should be clear and concise. It should have enough detail to give the who, what, where, when, or how, without going on endlessly to where the user needs to click the little “See More” link. And one of the biggest taboos, which will cause a user to unlike your page almost as quickly as they click like, is to repeat the same information over and over again. It doesn’t matter if you change the wording around, the message is ultimately still the same. Use the same principal that you would with Twitter, fire off unique silver bullets of information, and keep them coming back.

With regards to using LinkedIn, which is another growing segment of the social media picture, as a business you should leave this for your marketing message. This is your avenue to connect with other businesses, and similar groups along the same business line that you are in. This is currently the professional playground, with most of the individual users using it as their on-line resume.

While this is all a lot to take in, and for those new to this playground, somewhat overwhelming, it comes down to taking your time and moving at a pace you feel comfortable with.

Remember, this is Social Media, not a Social Nightmare.

When Silence Is Not Golden

A few weeks back there were a number of businesses, non-profit associations, and municipalities, with most of them right here in Delaware, that experienced a major disruption of service with regards to their web sites and email. The disruption was not a minor one, to where service went down for a day, it was a disruption that literally lasted for weeks, with the constant crashes of their communication vehicles, along with a hit or miss if their web site would actually display or function correctly.

While many businesses were able to find a work around to this, there were others that realized the very essence of their business was put at risk. The municipalities, which rely heavily on being able to send communications out to their citizens and groups, were to the point to where they were literally crippled.

While these types of events do happen, there is usually a constant stream of communication on the part of the hosting company, to keep their clients informed of what is going on. In this case there was silence from the provider. The clients of this company literally had to call and call repeatedly to try to get some type of answer as to what was going on. The steps the hosting company took to rectify the situation, without any warning ahead of time, also had a major impact on these businesses and organizations. In some cases the steps they took wiped out years of information that can never be recovered.

There is a line from the movie Cool Hand Luke which sums up this situation perfectly: “What we’ve got here, is failure to communicate.”

Silence in this instance is not golden. It leaves your clients angry, and stumbling to try to come up with some type of viable answer to give to their customers, members, and community. It breeds distrust, and leaves them searching for a new solution to guarantee something like this never happens again.

Having spent 15 years of my career in the technology industry, and having been on both sides of this type of situation, I personally know it is not easy to deal with. It makes it doubly hard when you are not sure what to do, have a limited budget to do it with, and are afraid to make another bad decision, that will leave you in a worse situation than you are already in.

As a fellow Delaware business owner, and a member of the community of this great state of ours, I am putting the offer on the table to lend my aid to any business that needs it.

In the end you need to ask yourself this simple question: Is silence golden, or are you ready for real communication?

Customer Satisfaction

Have you ever made a purchase in a store or on-line, and received a notice to complete a customer satisfaction survey? It seems that more companies are doing this now, to not only gauge the shopping experience, or their web site, but also to rank the employees that serviced the customer. On paper it seems like a great thing to do, and for a company a great way to engage your customers to learn how to improve your products and services. The reality of it though, is that at the end of the day, it comes down to going above and beyond for your customers. This is the key to building customer loyalty.

Given the turmoil with the economy in recent years, many businesses have scaled back their labor force, extended their hours, and pushed to promote sales. Many times in doing this, they have forgotten one of the golden rules in business: The customer comes first.

To share the value of customer service, I want to share 2 stories with you. The first is an experience with my own business, and the second an experience a friend of mine had with a large car dealer.

For my own business: I recently had a gentleman make a purchase from us. I personally filled his order, packed everything up, and shipped it out to him. 2 days later I received a phone call from the gentleman. It seems that he made a mistake on his purchase and accidentally forgot to select the correct size for one of the shirts he ordered. He admitted he was not used to making purchases on-line, though was very excited to order from us.

It so happened that this gentleman lived about 20 miles away, so I asked him if he would be home, and personally drove down a replacement for him. I also brought 2 other sizes of the shirt, to make sure he got the one that would fit him the best. He thanked me and said he would let all of his friends and family know how great of a company we were to purchase from.

While this may seem to some a great length to go to, when you are a business trying to carve a name for yourself, it is the extra effort and superior customer service that goes a long way.

For the experience my friend had: This past summer they purchased a certified used Hyundai Santa Fe from Winner Ford in Dover. It was a 4 year old vehicle with just over 50,000 miles on it. They said the sales experience was great, and the whole process went smoothly. A few months later though, they started to have problems with the car, and the check engine light came on, so they took it in for service, and this is when the service nightmare began.

They were told that the car need quite a few repairs, with a bill that totaled over a $1,000. Not sure what to do, and being told it was not covered under the warranty on the car, they said they needed to think about it. This is when they were hit with $100 charge just to look at the car. They made call after call to try to get some answers as to why the vehicle had so many problems being still fairly new, and after Winner Ford basically told them “Sorry, there is nothing we can do for you”, they finally took it to an independent master mechanic to have him evaluate the car. The mechanic gave them a list of what they found, and replaced 2 of the senors that was causing the car to cut off.

So now my friend is faced with a huge decision, get rid of the car for something else, or pour in over $1,000 in repairs that are still needed and pray nothing else goes wrong.

This story is not unique. I have heard it time and time again from many people with experiences that they have had at various businesses. This is the breakdown of service after the sale. It is almost as if once these businesses have the money in hand, the customer is no longer important to them.

If you are a business owner, you need to ask yourself this one simple question: Do I put my customers #1 both before and after the sale?

Find Your Voice

I recently attended the Southern Delaware Social Media 101 Workshop held in Lewes, De. It was a fantastic workshop with a great lineup of speakers. The main message that came across was to engage your audience, and to start a conversation. While this sounds easy enough to do, the reality is that many businesses don’t know where to start. I heard the question posed numerous time “How do I do this?” The simplest of answers is to find your voice. Look at your products and services, and tell your audience, your potential customers, what it is you do, offer, or can do for them.

While it may seem like a daunting task, and many are timid about jumping in and powering forward full tilt, it is not as gigantic an effort as many make it out to be. To get started ask yourself a few simple questions: Why did you start your business? What is it about you and your business that is unique? What sets your products or services apart from the rest?

Once you have all of this together build your message. This is your lead in. This is the start of using your voice to engage others in conversation. Like the saying: From small beginnings come great things.

In doing this, your passion about what you offer or do will start to shine through. It will engulf others, and like wild fire, start to spread. While it may not happen overnight, your effort and perseverance will start to pay off. This breeds a sense of accomplishment, and gives us the power to keep moving forward and growing.

It all starts with using your voice.

The Pink Ribbon

The pink ribbon has become an international symbol for breast cancer awareness. It is proudly worn or displayed to show support for those whose lives have been touched by the disease. I personally know 2 such women that have battled breast cancer, one of which lost her battle in the end. She was a great woman, very loving and kind, and who will be missed greatly by her friends and family. The other is a proud survivor, supporter of the fight, and volunteers to help others.

Cancer comes in all shapes and forms though. It does not discriminate based upon age, race, color, or creed. It can not be reasoned with, nor is it a friendly foe. It attacks with a vengeance from within, and it changes the lives of those who it affects.

I lost my wife to lung cancer in 2000, and my mother is a survivor of lymphoma, so I personally know how cancer impacts those close to us. It is a battle that is fought every minute of every day, and it takes its toll across all levels; physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. It also brings people together, gives us strength to battle on, and nurtures the seeds of hope.

I personally, and with my business, help support the fight against cancer. One of the causes we support right here in our great state of Delaware is the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition. The work they do is amazing, and is to be commended. To support with their cause, we have dedicated a portion of our sales till the end of March to help their effort. I personally will be adding to the contribution.

The time is now to try to find a cure. Are you with me Delaware?

Take A Moment

Recently I came across an experiment on social perception, done by the Washington Post a few years back. In this experiment, one of the top violinist in the world, Joshua Bell, was playing the violin in the heart of the Washington DC train station during morning rush hour. He played 6 pieces, with one of them being Ave Maria.

Needless to say, only a few people, out of the over 1,000 that passed by, actually paused in their mad rush to get from point A to point B. A few even threw money in his case without ever stopping.

It makes you wonder what has happened to make our lives such a mad dash, to the point to were we don’t even have the time to stop, even for a moment, to enjoy the beauty around us.

Yesterday I stopped into M&T Bank to take care of some banking needs, and as I stood at the counter I noticed they had calendars sitting there. It wasn’t the calendar itself that caught my eye, it was the photograph on the cover. I asked the teller if I could take one, and she said I could. It was not that I wanted or needed another calendar, I wanted to see the photos inside. The calendar is primarily filled with photos taken around my home state of Delaware, by a Delaware native named Kevin Fleming, the same photographer who published the series called “Wild Delaware”. His work is beautiful and awe inspiring.

I have traveled up and down this great little state of Delaware, and I have seen many beautiful things. From double rainbows, to the rising of the sun over the ocean, to the state parks, to even something as simple as watching rabbits chasing each other around in my back yard. It is a wonderful feeling to take it all in, and know that you are a part of it.

My challenge to you my fellow Delawareans, is to take a moment each day, and enjoy the beauty this great state of ours has to offer.