Beach Reads for a Business Owner

In one week, I’ll be at the beach. My out of the office message will be set on my e-mail, but like many business owners, my mind will be still very much focused on my passion — building my business. So in addition to sunscreen and sandals, I’ll be packing a stack of books that I’m hoping will inspire me. Here’s what I’ve picked, and why. Have tips for others? Leave them in the comments below. Happy reading!

Rework
by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

No venture capital. That’s how 37Signals has built their business, and it’s how we plan on building ours. We’re already avid readers of the 37Signals blog, and use this humbled-beginnings software company as a beacon for where we want to go.


Do More Great Work.
by Michael Bungay Stanier

This was a recommendation when I purchased Rework, but the subtitle got me — “Stop the busywork, and start the work that matters.” Having just come back from my corporate-world stint, I haven’t quite shaken the busywork bug. I feel compelled to be doing something all the time, almost like I have  a looming mid-year review over my shoulder. I’m hoping this book will give me ideas of taking control over my own schedule, and to, well, do more great work.


Making Ideas Happen
by Scott Belsky

When I freelanced, it was simple. If something needed to get done, I did it. In corporate, the team was so big that I knew my myopic role and did just that. But now, we have a small team, and a long list of things we want to do. I’ll be looking to this book for ways to get our ideas off of our index cards and into the hands of our customers.


The Official Scrabble® Brand Word-Finder
by Robert Schachner

One of the first things I do every morning is play a game of Scrabble on my iPhone. I find it’s a great way for me to wean in the day (I’m naturally a night-owl). Lately, I can beat the Normal setting without a challenge, but I’m stuck when it comes to Hard. I plan on using this study guide to beef up my Scrabble skills not only for my own enjoyment, but to ensure that I win at family game night (I have a slight competitive side, too.)


Ladies First: History’s Greatest Female Trailblazers, Winners, and Mavericks
by Lynn Santa Lucia

Stories of others who have risen to a challenge are most inspiring. So what better fodder for dreams than a collection of women who have changed the course of history. From Christine de Pisan, Europe’s first professional female writer, to Dorothy Levitt, the first woman to compete in a motor race in 1903, I can’t wait to read the seventeen mini-biographies and maybe find a piece of myself among them.


Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life
by Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr Lilian Cheung

Mindful living has had a profound impact on my life. It helps me make better decisions in both business and in life. One aspect of mindfulness is around how we consume our food. Too often, I find myself gobbling down a breakfast bar because I’m running to a meeting. This book, written by one of the world’s preeminent Buddhist authors, shows how you can maintain a healthy weight and attitude simply by paying attention to your food.

Ditch the Pitch

phone.jpgWhen I was 16 my dad gave me a gift. Our neighbor had just opened an insurance office down the street and my father got me a job as a telemarketer. Granted, I wanted a new car. I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the thought of calling people during dinner to solicit auto insurance quotes. But as I look back, this part-time job shaped my entire career. It’s where I learned that if I wanted to be successful in sales, I needed to ditch the pitch.

My first day of work our neighbor sat me down at my desk, gave me a stack of cards filled with names, addresses & phone numbers, showed me how to dial 9 for an outside line and gave me a pink piece of paper with “the pitch.” My job was simple. Call people and get them to agree to getting an auto insurance quote.

The “pitch” proved to be worthless. This sorry excuse for a script was probably written by some sort of insurance monkey at the corporate office who didn’t know a lick about sales. Here were my first 30 calls:

Andrea: Hi, Mrs. So-and-so. My name is Andrea from Blah Blah Blah Insurance Company.

Mrs. So-and-So: <hang up expediently>

or

Andrea: Hi, Mr. Someone. My name is Andrea from Blah Blah Blah Insurance Company.

Mr. Someone: Don’t you have anything better to do with your time? <hang up>

Andrea: (mumbling under breath so her new boss doesn’t hear) Of course I do. I’m sixteen and could be out partying with my friends.

People don’t want to talk to insurance agents. I was seen as a big fat waste of time. So I decided to try things my own way.

I tried all sorts of things, like:

  • Talking in a (very fake, but I tried so hard) British accent

and

  • Being blunt by saying “Hi, I know I probably just interrupted your dinner and I’m sorry. I’m just doing my job. would you like an auto insurance quote?”

After all sorts of trials and errors, I stumbled upon a method that actually worked.

First a little back story; I grew up in Ashland, VA which is a town so small we actually had a town song that we would all get together and sing at the town talent show each spring (true story). Think “The Music Man” meets “Leave it to Beaver” and you’re close.

So being from a small town I noticed that I personally knew half the people on the list – or at least their children.

I changed my sales pitch to something like this:

Andrea: Hi, Ms. Smith. This is Andrea – I go to school with your daughter Amy.

Ms. Smith: Hi, Andrea. How are you?

Andrea: I’m doing great. How about yourself?

Ms. Smith: Pretty well, thanks. Did you want to talk to Amy?

Andrea: Actually, I was calling to talk to you. See, I have a new job working at Blah Blah Blah Insurance Company. I’m not trying to sell anything. I’m just collecting information so we can send you a quote, followed up by a nice hand-written thank you card and then you can decide if you want to do anything with it.

Ms. Smith: (slightly taken aback) Oh. (usually a pause) How long will it take me to fill out?

Andrea: About 3 minutes.

Ms. Smith: Well, OK. Go ahead.

Yep, it was that simple. Eventually I outsold everyone in the office (and made darn good money).

So why did this method work when everything else failed?

  1. Establishing a personal connection. Once it’s established that you and your prospect have something in common – it takes your chances of closing to a whole new level.
  2. Removing the pressure. No one wants to be “sold.” When is the last time you went to a sketchy used car lot seeking the thrill of being pressured into something you don’t want to buy? Saying “you can decide what you do with it” signaled to my prospects that I respected their time and wasn’t going to pressure them into something they didn’t want.
  3. Cutting ties quickly. Occasionally I’d get the “No, thank you.” My reply was always, “Thanks for your time. Have a great day.” The way I saw it, it was much easier to dial more numbers than it was to convince someone that they really did want a quote. In the end, if a customer is sold because of pressure, the likelihood of them being a loyal customer is greatly diminished.
  4. Sincerely believing in my product. Most of the people who stuck it out to get a quote ended up saving money. I thought this was a good thing, so I felt like I was providing a great value. Later in life, I sold advertising in a low-quality and very expensive print publication. I knew the ads were a bad investment and learned quickly that you can’t “fake” belief in your product. And if you don’t believe in it – you can’t sell it.

Boomers – Here’s Why Gen-Y is So (Selfish, Independent, Ambitious….)

On the forums on MyRagan.com (myspace for MarComm) Kristen Ridley posted a hilarious tongue-in-cheek letter to all Millennials asking why:

“it often appears that you don’t care about anyone but yourself, and believe that you should always get exactly what you want, when you want it regardless of any impacts on other people. What are we missing that would help explain what seems to be a shocking lack of interest in the world around you and your ability to make it better? Because you are so equipped to do just that if only you would choose to. I mean, you have youth and energy on your side (and let me assure you-we envy you that because at our advanced age with those years of excessive drinking behind us we are tired!). Not to mention that all this technology you’re so fond of means you could organize people and actually change the world from your living rooms! Not like us old fogeys who actually had to go out and demonstrate and get arrested and stuff”

Here is my response……

Dear Digital Immigrant,

It is true – the dissonance between our generations has risen to alarming proportions. And your invitation for an open dialogue is most welcomed.

When I was a child (granted, it wasn’t that long ago) my mother told me that insults are just jealousy in disguise. Perhaps your attempts to speak down to our Online addiction (at least it’s not drugs – we “just said ‘NO!'” thanks to Nancy) are simply a big, green envy monster rearing its ugly head?

But I know this is not the case because of your hard work and honest attempts to assimilate to the culture we’ve created.

So you’d like an explanation for our ambition and independence? Let’s start with corporations such as Enron, Worldcom, and Arthur Andersen who were shining examples of the rewards we can expect after dedicating a lifetime of service to an organization.

Not to mention the fact that you’ve been telling us since birth that we must prepare to contribute 7.65% of every hard-earned penny we will ever earn to a Social Security program that will be completely dissolved by the time we’re old enough to participate.

So we’ve learned that the only person we can rely on is ourselves. If we “pay our dues” (I think that’s what you call it) we end up bitter, tired and jaded knowing that we’ve watched a thousand better opportunities pass us by.

We will continue to seize the day, blur the lines between business and pleasure, and keep you on your technological toes. When the tools exist to produce more while appreciating the world and all its beauty – spending our short, sweet moments in a cubicle seems like an inferno ring only Dante could describe.

With much respect for your struggles,

A Digital Native

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Andrea Morris is the Chief Idea Officer of Write Ideas Marketing and specializes in helping visionaries, entrepreneurs, consultants and small businesses use high-ROI strategies to get the right message to the right people. For more information, please visit writeideasmarketing.com

What Karaoke Can Teach You About Marketing

woman-singing.gifOK, I admit it – I’m a karaoke junkie. My friends and I go every week. I have a standard set of songs I sing – because I’ve practiced them so often I could sing them in my sleep. I don’t have to worry about going out on a limb – I’ll sound good as long as I stick to what I know.

Last night after singing “Moondance” for about the 98th time the DJ kept me up on stage. “A gentleman has requested Andrea sing ‘Fever’ so we’re gonna keep her up here for one more song.”

What!? I thought, “I haven’t practiced this song. What if I fail? What if I sound terrible in front of this room full of people? No way – I just can’t do this.”

It took some persuading, but I eventually agreed to sing the song. I stood on stage praying that I wouldn’t mess up.

The comfortable feeling I had during the last song apparently decided to go outside and have a cigarette. I held the microphone in my slightly shaking hand when the seductive beat began. I swayed my hips at each pluck of the bass and started to find my grove.

Then a miracle happened (ok, maybe not a miracle – but something pretty cool). I started singing and I was good – damn good. So good I got a standing ovation.

Strutting back to my seat I reflected on what had just happened. Because I had something that worked, there was little incentive for me to go outside of my comfort zone. But because I didn’t take the risk, I missed out on an even better opportunity.

Marketing strategies can fall into the same routine. Year after year companies stick with “what works” because they fear the unknown.

Trying something new is risky. There’s a chance you’ll fail – but there’s also the chance that you’ll have overwhelming success. And if you’re missing out on a standing ovation – doesn’t that make staying comfortable the really risky choice?

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Andrea Morris is a marketing coach who specializes in helping visionaries, entrepreneurs, consultants and small businesses use high-ROI strategies to get the right message to the right people. For more information, please visit writeideasmarketing.com

How soon ’till your niche becomes a commodity?

The blessing and curse of a great idea is it catches on. People duplicate it, put their own spin on it and improve it. If you originate a great idea you must work harder than everyone else to stay in the forefront – lest you become a commodity.

All commodities and ubiquitous products/services were once niches…until everyone else caught on.

Everything I learned about sales I learned from working in a restaurant

waitress-cartoon.gifThanks to Jeffery who reminded me that everything I learned about sales I learned from working in a restaurant.

In order to put myself through college (and I can proudly say I graduated without taking out a dime in student loans) I waited tables and bartended. Here’s just a snippet of the lessons I learned:

  • Engaging in quality conversations with strangers is the key to being remembered.
  • Exceeding expectations is more important than simply meeting them.
  • Your income is directly proportionate to your effort and personality.
  • Upselling is an effective way to increase your bottom line.
  • Getting along with a mix of personalities is an inevitable part of life.
  • Put out fires with they are small – ignoring a bad situation only makes it worse.
  • Anticipate your client’s needs.
  • Thorough product knowledge is key.
  • Prepare for objections and have prepared responses.
  • Be able to think on your feet.
  • Learn to ask for help – your service will suffer if you are stubborn.
  • Be honest – if you lie, the customer will always find out.
  • Underpromise and overdeliver.
  • A smile goes a long way.
  • Learn to let go the things that you can’t control.
  • Consistently do your best – at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.
  • You can’t please everyone – but you can at least try to.
  • Treat every client like they are the only one you are working with.
  • Be yourself.

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Andrea Morris is a marketing coach who specializes in helping visionaries, entrepreneurs, consultants and small businesses use high-ROI strategies to get the right message to the right people. For more information, please visit writeideasmarketing.com

The Importance of Customer Complaints

glass-of-wine.gifI have a friend who bartends at a local restaurant. Sometimes I like to go and have a glass of wine while he’s working to catch up on life. Last week, while enjoying a nice Shiraz, I overheard the owner of the restaurant complaining to the manager about a customer.

“I can’t believe that woman! She came up and complained about how we use too much butter on the vegetables. It’s a restaurant – of course there’s butter. If she didn’t want so much on there, she should have told her server.”

This got me thinking. It’s easy for us, no matter which industry we serve, to complain about our customers who complain. Instead, I think we should be thanking them.

A customer who complains has the guts and the brand loyalty to tell you exactly what you need to do to meet their expectations. Think of it this way….

That same woman could have easily walked out of the restaurant, not saying a word to the owner. Then, since her expectations were not met, she would have most likely spread negative word of mouth, bashing the restaurant and their butter-happy ways to 10 of her friends.

What if this restaurant adopted the mindset of “complaints are just a form of feedback.” The decision to make a change still rests in the hands of the owner – only now he is equipped with the knowledge of what his customers really want.

Just food for thought.

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Andrea Morris is a marketing coach who specializes in helping visionaries, entrepreneurs, consultants and small businesses use high-ROI strategies to get the right message to the right people. For more information, please visit writeideasmarketing.com