Friday, October 10, 2008

Good business reading coming soon

I'm looking forward to two (most likely good) books from my favorite business authors that are coming out later this month:

Seth Godin's Tribes and Guy Kawasaki's Reality Check both come out in a few weeks and I'm sure they will quickly become required reading for entrepreneurs and marketers everywhere.

For a long time, I've admired both of these authors for their ability to cut through the BS and provide business advice that you can apply to your business immediately. There's no academic, theoretical garbage to muck up the messages. You come away from reading anything by these authors thinking, "I already knew what they told me, but they presented it in a much better way than I ever thought of."

Anyway, pre-order these books on Amazon. I'm sure you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Organize your Business for Growth

I really enjoyed John Jantsch's post yesterday about organizing your marketing. The real insight for me was the idea that even very small organizations should have an org chart for how they would like their organization to look in the future. To quote from John:
See, here’s the deal, even if it’s just you and Louie, he does this, you do that, you need an org chart for your business. Here’s why. No matter how many actual people you have in your organization, your business has many functions, it’s just that they are being done - or not being done - by just you and Louie.

By creating an organization chart, and acknowledging all the functions, you stand a far greater chance of developing individual systems and strategies to make sure the work in each area is organized and done. Not to mention the fact that you are laying the foundation for growth if and when you have bodies to put in more of the boxes on your chart.

This concept about laying the foundation for growth is critical for small businesses, especially as we all look at the global economic crisis and wonder how we are going to grow our businesses. They key is planning for growth and changing your outlook from "glass half empty" to "glass half full." This attitude alone will help you and your employees look forward and work with you to figure out how to grow rather than focusing all your time on working through worse-case scenarios.

So, go out and create your org chart and plan for growth. This discipline alone will help you organize your business so that you get things done. And getting things done will lead to growth.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

MACs for Business

The excellent post over at Ars Technica about how Apple can gain significant OS marketshare speaks directly to an issue we have here at Palo Alto Software. As we've grown, our Mac culture has grown as well. More and more of our new hires come to the company as Mac users, despite the fact that the software that we market and sell is Windows only (for the time being). I have to admit, I even caved and got a Macbook Pro last fall and now I'm thinking of replacing the Vista machine I have at home with an iMac.

The problem is that Macs are simply expensive. I'm not trying to fan the flames on the decade-old war of Mac vs. PC in terms of cost/performance. The simple fact is that I can buy pretty good PCs for usually half of what a Mac costs. I know, these PCs probably don't benchmark what the Macs do, but for most of our employees, running a web browser and a few basic applications is all they do. And for half the money, it ends up being a pretty simple decision.

What I would like to see Apple do is provide me with the guts of a Mac Mini in a tower form factor that I can easily upgrade as I need to. Heck, Apple can even charge me around $1k for these machines, a nice $300+ premium over a mini. I'm not suggesting that they license their OS to Dell - they can keep the hardware market that they love so much. I just want them offer an upgradeable business machine that is flexible so that I can customize it for specific employees needs.

For example, most of our employees run dual monitors. The Mac Mini does not support this and adding a better video card is out of the question. External video cards are expensive. If the Mac was in an upgradable tower format, I could just upgrade using off-the-shelf components. Is that too much to ask?

So, my opinion is that Apple could begin to dominate the office market by simply creating an office-friendly computer: an upgradable tower for around $1k. This would fill the gap between the Mini and the Pro and give someone like me the flexibility to buy computers that fit our business at a reasonable price point. No need to bet the farm on a risky OS licensing deal - just build a simple computer that fills a basic need.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Green and Profitable

Check out when you get a chance. Looks like a cool idea and is apparently already profitable.

I like the fact that more and more companies are showing that you can work in the green movement AND make money at the same time. Not embracing that idea, that environmentally friendly businesses and capitalism can mix, is what is killing the US auto companies (among many other things).

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Jim's Blogging!

Jim Blasingame, The Small Business Advocate, is finally blogging. Jim has a great weekly newsletter and I hope the content from the newsletter makes its way to the blog.

Welcome Jim!

Friday, May 23, 2008

No time to blog? Go Micro

My friend and colleague Cale Bruckner has modified his blogging strategy over at his blog PalmIT and I think it is a great way to keep blogging without feeling the pressure to post long, in-depth articles. A major hurdle to blogging for most people is the intimidation factor and the time commitment. It feels like a major commitment to churn out a few hundred or thousand words a day/week/month. And it is.

So, instead of setting out to write a book with every blog post, why not try micro blogging? This is the practice of posting very short blog posts, often just one or two sentences and a link. A photo and a comment would also be good enough. If you find a site or an article that you think is interesting, post the link, add a short comment, and post it. Not only will this approach keep you blogging and keep your blog fresh, but most likely your audience will appreciate it as well. Everyone is already overloaded with information. Keeping things short and to the point is probably a good strategy.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Seth is Smarter than Me

Shocking, I know. It turns out that my snipe at Seth Godin in my previous post for not having comments is not really valid. There might be an actually strategy, not laziness, behind the choice to not have comments. Darren Rowse explains it best in an interview with Guy Kawasaki:
However another stroke of genius (I'm not sure if it's intended) with this approach is that Seth has made his blog a little more viral by not having comments. What happens when he writes something that people want to respond to? In many cases they blog about it - 'sneezing' his post further than his current readership.

Check out the number of blogs that link to his posts in Technorati. Most of them are just writing things that you'd normally expect to see being left as comments on a blog. It's no wonder that he's currently the 13th most linked to blog in the blogosphere (according to the Top 100 list)!
Darren goes on to say that this "strategy" wouldn't work for everyone, especially new bloggers, unless you have an alternative method for getting traffic to your site such as a successful book or a well known online profile of some kind.

So, I'm eating crow today. Sorry Seth. It still would be interesting to know for sure if this was an intended strategy or if Seth just didn't want to moderate comments.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Retail Packaging

Seth Godin's post today on retail packaging is right on the money. Having lived in this world for several years, he is speaking the exact truth:
[Bad] packaging is the result of a paranoid retail buyer (the person who orders in bulk for the store, not the buyer at retail) demanding pilfer-proof packaging combined with a lazy brand manager choosing a lousy solution to the challenge presented by getting it into a retailer. "Make it pilfer-proof or we won't carry it," he says. The brand manager doesn't want to take a risk, so she packages it the way they packaged it when the device cost $1,000. Impregnable.
The online thing I would change here is that it's not always a "lazy brand manager" but sometimes a business that can't afford to loose a major channel and has to bend to the retail buyer's whims. I've lived this and that's how it works sometimes. If you want to stay on the shelf you have to do what the buyer says.

And as long as I'm writing about Seth's post, here's my plea to Seth: Open up comments on your blog! Please! You preach about social conversations and about customer/company interactions but don't open up your own blog for public discussion. I just don't get it.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Social Pressure

In the world of web 2.0, the expectations to be social are overwhelming. We're all supposed to be sharing photos on flickr, blogging, reading blogs, managing our facebook and myspace profiles, updating linkedin, tweeting, posting video, and more. There are new services every day that are supposed to make our social interactions "easier."

In reality, what we have is a new flood of inbound information. Honestly, it's hard to keep up! Or maybe I'm just getting too old ;)

For me, the hardest thing is the pressure of all of this new inbound information. It feels like if you turn your back for a few minutes, go out to lunch, play with your kids, etc, you will miss the next speedy evolution of the web. People that are participating in social media for a living generate such a high volume of content that it feels that that level of participation is the expectation for all involved in social media. Not only that, matching my consumption to the production level of this content is virtually impossible to do while making sure I honor my obligations to work & family. Forget a full inbox. How about a Google Reader with thousands of unread blog posts?

I think it's time to re-set expectations about what is possible in social media (production and consumption). Thankfully, Sarah Perez has a new post about how real people don't have time for social media. It's a relief to see a post like this and also nice to re-set expectations about the real commitment that it takes to be fully involved in social media.

This topic of balance seems to be a growing theme among bloggers of late, although maybe not addressing the content parsing problem that "social media" creates directly:

(update: Erick Schonfeld gets it - Web 3.0 will be about reducing the Noise)

37Signals: Urgency is Poisonous
Tim Berry: Are you Making this Startup Mistake?
37 Signals (again): Workplace Experiments

The crux of all of this is to have a work-life balance and enjoy life beyond the computer screen. I love computers and technology, but I strongly believe that sometimes taking a break (even 30 minutes) is a good thing.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Fire your customers

Check out my latest post on the BIG blog about growing your business by focusing on customers you can satisfy and firing the rest.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A short tail is better in the physical world

Seth Godin has an interesting post about Borders (the book store):

It turns out that cutting inventory by 10% and facing books out (instead of just showing spines) increased their sales by 9%. This is counter to Long Tail thinking, which says that more choices and more inventory tend to increase sales.

This highlights a real point that online and off-line thinking and merchandising are inherently very different. While the online world is currently focused on search as the primary navigation method, the off-line world is still all about browsing and discovery. It makes perfect sense that when there is less information to consume in a book store, where browsing is the primary mode of discovery, sales will go up. Make it easier to discover new books by facing covers out to the consumer and obviously sales will go up.

On the web, however, the long tail is still king. I doubt that Borders has decreased its online inventory in any way. In fact, I'm sure they try and increase it so that any possible search gives them a sales opportunity.

What the internet does need is a hybrid approach. Sometimes you just want to browse and discover. Search provides a poor interface to this type of discovery. Companies like SearchMe are working on this. I'd like to see more sites embrace this type of interface. I want it for NetFlix's "new releases" (something akin to browsing BlockBuster's new release wall) and it would be also great for clothing sites. Searching is great, but sometimes an experience similar to flipping through a catalog is the right approach.

Monday, March 10, 2008

There's still room for human-built search tools

Way back in internet history, the primary way to discover new sites on the web was through human-built directory sites. In the current Google, keyword search-dominated world, it's easy to forget this. While geeks like us know that a few people out there are trying to give human-powered search a second chance, it has been essentially forgotten in favor of machine-driven bots that crawl the web and produce results based on complex and ever-changing algorithms.

Honestly, I love machine-driven search. Way back in my Yahoo! days (I was there when the above logo existed) it was clear that hand built web directories could never scale - and this was when the internet was "small." But those directories DO have a place and I hope that some of these newer incarnations of the old Yahoo! idea succeed where Google fails.

How is Google failing, you ask? With billions in revenue, massive search share, and endless innovation, how could Google fail? Well, it starts with simple searches. I'm currently evaluating shopping cart technology and also looking for NetSuite consultants. Searching in Google for these vendors works to a degree, but never turns up an exhaustive and thorough list of vendors. I've found that after searching for shopping cart vendors for over a week, I'm still finding strong candidates who failed to make it into Google's top 30 results (and who looks at more than the top 10 anyway?)

What the world needs is a good set of lists. Lists that Google can find and present when users are doing these kinds of searches. The world can not be limited to the top 10 results for any particular query, but unfortunately that's how it works right now. For most businesses, if you don't crack the top 10 for your key terms, you might as well not exist.

I hope that Mahalo and Squidoo succeed for this reason. Google's style of search has a place, but it can't be the be-all end-all for finding information. Google needs to find a way to direct users to lists of things that are compiled by humans because, at the end of the day, it is human intelligence and filtering that provides the most value to the end-user.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Google, please borrow from 37Signals

I love Google Apps. I really do. I find that I hardly ever open Microsoft Office products anymore.

But, because I've been using Apps from the beginning, all of my documents are under my personal Google login. This is also true for most of my co-workers who also adopted Apps early on. This wasn't much of a problem, but now Google has released a "team edition" and wants me to migrate everything over to a new Google account associated with my work email.

But wait... there are no tools to migrate between accounts! There's no easy navigation to switch between my Google Docs for my personal account and my work account. Please, Google, take a quick look at 37Signals who has solved this problem very well with their Open Bar. Do that and provide me with a tool to move docs between accounts and I'll be happy.

Why am I complaining about this? It feels to me that Google is treating their loyal users just like Microsoft did with Office 2007. When Microsoft launched the new Office, the re-design seemed to be geared towards people who had never used Office before, not geared towards the millions who had learned for over a decade how to use the old user interface. Google is doing a similar thing. They're launching new functionality that is geared almost exclusively towards new users, not towards the users that have been around since the early days.

So, come on Google. Throw your loyal users a bone and help us use your new features. Provide a migration path. Something. Please.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The end of text ads?

A few days ago Google's stock hit a bit of a speed bump as investors worried over comScore data suggesting that the click-through rate on its paid search ads is decelerating. This could be one of several things: a slowing economy, a crack-down on click fraud, or the beginnings of ad fatigue.

I'm sure the reduced click-through rate was caused by a combination of the three things above, but I would worry most about ad fatigue if I worked at Google. The all-mighty Google text ad has not actually changed that much over the years in placement or in style. And, while these ads are clearly effective, I'm sure users are starting to tune them out.

What can Google do to innovate in this area? With few changes in several years, it does feel like it's time for a make-over of the text ad. What would you do?

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Monday, January 28, 2008

Writing online copy

Check out my post on the Bplans Blog today about writing & testing online marketing copy.

Who do you trust?

It turns out that Verisign can charge a HUGE price premium for their SSL certificates simply because their security badge is better designed than any of the "budget" SSL providers. The kicker is this: almost all SLL certificates are made equal! Your end users get the same security regardless of the provider.

That said, users probably trust some brands more than others or, more likely, trust some graphic design more than others. Looking at them images above, it's easy to figure out which providers are the budget ones and which might be more expensive. Which would you trust?

So, if I ran GoDaddy, wouldn't I want to invest $1,000 or $2,000 to get a really good security badge? After all, as a certificate provider, you're not really selling security, you're selling the image of security. Online marketers that run shopping carts will buy the certificate that looks the best, even at a price premium. So... Thawte, GoDaddy, go buy some good graphic design talent and win not only on price but on consumer trust.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What did you fix?

Joel Spolsky has a great post about problem solving over on his blog. The post is a fun read for geeks but no normal person will get through the first few paragraphs. This is unfortunate as the real salient advice comes towards the end of his post. To solve his problem,
...we borrowed an idea from Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota. He calls it Five Whys. When something goes wrong, you ask why, again and again, until you ferret out the root cause. Then you fix the root cause, not the symptoms.
This is fantastic advice for any business. How often do we only work on solving the symptoms of a real problem? How often do we only ask why once when we are trying to figure out customer behavior?

All businesses should ask why more often when they are looking to fix problems - not just problems with hardware or software, but problems with marketing strategy, business partnerships, and sales pipeline issues.

Did you ask why today?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008