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The Hard Truth of Becoming an Entrepreneur


As the owner of a solo consulting firm, I'm an entrepreneur myself and also work with other small businesses. As I learned from my mentor Alan Weiss, the hard truth about being an entrepreneur is that, no matter what product or service you provide, your main business is marketing (not sales).

Especially for services, cold calling doesn't really work, since we are in the Attention Scarcity Age. People are bombarded with pitches, emails, social media posts, etc.

Somehow, entrepreneurs need to break out of the noise and attract prospects to come to them. The insidious thing is that this issue doesn't manifest itself right away. Most entrepreneurs have enough connections that they can attract customers for a year or two. But, then business starts to dry up and they find that they need to attract people outside their circle.

This is the hard truth of entrepreneurship: either build a pipeline to keep providing prospects, or else suffer feast or famine. 

Trademark protection isn’t free – but is a lot cheaper than the alternatives


Trademark protection costs money. Clearing a name properly involves a paid search. A USPTO application filing costs filing fees and attorney fees. Sending cease and desist letters cost money. Renewing a trademark registration costs money.

Each of these items is generally in the ballpark of a few hundred dollars. Sure, that can be expensive to a startup or small business. (I know, I was once a start up and I am still a small business today.)

But the alternatives are far costlier.

  • A weak brand name is very costly. It is not easy to build a strong valuable brand on a weak foundation.
  • Trademark disputes are very costly. Attorneys, court fees, stress, time, and much more are all needed to fending off a trademark dispute. Even a successful outcome may be very costly.
  • Re-branding is very costly. New signs, website, domain name, explanations to customers, lost goodwill, and much more can result from re-branding.

Obtaining trademark protection from the get-go costs some money, but it is likely to save far more than it costs over the lifetime of a successful business. Proper trademark clearance and registration greatly reduces the risks of disputes and re-branding. And proper trademark counsel and protect reduces the odds of a weak brand name.

Instead of asking whether they can afford the costs of trademark protection, small businesses should ask whether they can afford not to protect their trademarks.

The peace of mind that a trademark registration provides – knowing that you have done everything possible to protect your brand and to minimize the risks that it could be taken from you or copied by someone else – is priceless

Marketing and Branding–When Less Is More: Harvard Business Journal Study Shows Importance of "Decision Simplicity"


Two issues (one belief, one fact) with marketing today:

Belief: Customers are less brand loyal.

Fact: With the internet, mobile, and social media, there are many more ways for brands to interact with consumers.

What if exploiting the fact is creating a vicious cycle that is making the belief more true? That just might be what's happening today.

According to a 2012 Harvard Business Journal study entitled "To Keep Your Customers, Keep It Simple", the increase in marketing messages "isn’t empowering—it’s overwhelming. Rather than pulling customers into the fold, marketers are pushing them away with relentless and ill-conceived efforts to engage."

The authors analyzed surveys and interview with thousands of consumers and hundreds of marketing experts to figure out what makes consumers "sticky"–i.e. "likely to follow through on an intended purchase, buy the product repeatedly, and recommend it to others."

The authors looked at over 40 variables, including pricing, brand perceptions, etc. and concluded that the biggest driver of stickiness was "decision simplicity".

Decision simplicity has three parts:

1. Ease of gathering information. Ideally web navigation will figure out where the consumer is in the buying decision, and only show him info relevant to the stage he or she is at.

2. Easy to determine trust. The best way is by giving access to user-generated reviews. Consumers put a lot of weight over peer reviews, versus expert, celebrity, or technical information.

3. Ease of comparison. It should be easy to see side-by-side comparisons and trade-offs between different products and options.

Decision simplicity is one of the four types of strategic simplicity that I assist clients with.

Lyft and Medical Trials: When You're #2, Find Niches to Serve


Yesterday, I saw an article in Crain's Chicago Business that Continuum Clinical, a company that recruits patients for drug trials, is launching a partnership with Lyft to transport patients to/from trials.

This is an example of innovation called win-win collaboration.

Continuum and the drug companies benefit because they need to make sure that patients make it reliably and safely to participate in the study, and not miss any treatments - which could affect the results.

Using a ride company makes sense since many drug trial volunteers are low-income or too sick to drive.

For Lyft, which is #2 behind Uber, this is their push into the health care niche. They will set up a special call center with trained people to assist the drug trial participants.

If you are not the leader in your wider field, it makes sense to take over and become #1 in sub-fields since, over time, leaders benefit from a positive feedback loop and distance themselves from the competition.

Thus, as Uber pulls away from Lyft for general rides, Lyft can stay around and be profitable because it can pull away in it's selected niches. 

Why Reality Will "Trump" Your Marketing Perceptions



It would seem at present that the perceptions being created by many of the current political candidates are, at least in their minds, more important than the reality of the results most of them have been responsible for throughout their career. To point out the obvious, Donald Trump has been bankrupt several times throughout his career and has invested heavily in numerous failed enterprises including (but not limited to!) Trump Airlines, Trump Vodka, Trump Mortgages, Trump: The Game, and on the list goes.

When you consider the number and extent of Donald’s failed business ventures (and the ensuing losses), the reality of his being highly successful may be less of a reality then he (and his PR team) suggests.

Of course I’m not suggesting that success comes without failure, but I’d like you to consider which is more important, perception or reality.

Before you answer this question, consider for a moment the “perception” your business creates or intends to create in the eyes of your customers. Here are some examples to put you on the right track:

  • Are you attempting to create the perception to potential customers that you have a company larger than it really is?
  • Are you suggesting to customers that they are your top priority, when in reality they are #201 in your customer database, falling behind several dozen other customers?
  • Do you market levels of value you provide to customers, when in reality this value is more a perception of your management team then a reality of your existing customer comments?

When it comes to business it’s not uncommon to use perceptions in an attempt to draw more customers and to sell more products. We call this “marketing.” Problem is if your claims can’t be substantiated or are proven wrong at some point, eventually you’ll loose credibility, market share and of course profits.

Why do I suggest this will happen “eventually?”

Let’s return to Mr. Trump. It’s been documented numerous times that Donald has made claims that may not be based on 100% reality. To this point he’s been able to move beyond these inconsistencies for a variety of reasons (the power of his brand, the “reality” that most of us have learned not to trust what any politician actually says), but mark my words, these misstatements will come back to haunt him some day.

T-Mobile CEO John Legere was caught lying to the EFF about slowing Internet speeds on specific videos.

Notre Dame head coach George O’Leary lied about having a master’s degree from NY University 

RadioShack’s CEO David Edmondson lied about having earned degrees in theology and psychology.

Here’s the reality.

Good marketing is built on great value, substantiated by your customers, employees and suppliers. Rather than invest in having a marketing company to tell you what your brand or value statement is, why not just ask what your employees say what customers tell them are the most important aspects of the value you offer (for more information on how to do this, check out this blog post). What your customers advise is most valuable to them or what your suppliers suggest are the greatest competitive advantages that your company has within the marketplace?

Don’t risk your repute for the sake of short-term profits and growth. Build a marketing platform that has a foundation in truth and reality, as the alternative simply isn’t worth the risk.


Make Money: Fill Your Dance Card


Corporate philanthropic giving generally flows in one of three directions. The “Fill Your Dance Card” option links giving back with growing revenue. You give, in part, to build new customers.

One common way to fill your dance card is to sponsor events. Event sponsorships persist because of thier success. Eighty-nine percent of U.S. consumers stated that given similar quality and price, they prefer brands linked with a cause. Dan Ariely writes about a study involving art and donations: “These results suggest that once someone (or some organization) does us a favor, we become partial to anything related to the giving party… the magnitude of this bias increases as the magnitude of the initial favor (in this case the amount of payment) increases.”

Event sponsorships, however, represent just one way to fill your dance card. You have a boat load of other choices.

You might also investigate operating sponsorships. Or “Introduce Yourself” options. Introduce yourself options include prizes, contests, scholarships, free tickets, etc. They help potential customers meet you. For instance, a plumbing supply business offers a competitive scholarship to a local tech school. The company welcomes classes of future plumbers and gains, as Ariely suggests, their favor. At a chamber presentation, a business introduces itself by raffling a free session and other prizes. A theme park offers a free ticket to a child who reads the most books in a year. This introduces the park, supports competitive reading, and creates park partiality among the school’s students, the teacher, and their parents.

To benefit from a full dance card, identify the specific customers with whom to dance. Explore nonprofits that interact with them. Don’t forget the potential value of connecting with a nonprofit's board members, donors, and volunteers. Luxury brands often align with high-end markets, i.e., a Bentley dealer engages with the symphony. Other businesses find their potential customers on Saturday at work-site volunteers at Habitat for Humanity.

Introduce yourself options, events, and operating sponsorships present three of many way to fill your dance card by partnering with nonprofits. What steps will you take to fill your dance card? Don't dance alone when you can dance with potential customers.

For more information about business-nonprofit opportunities subscribe to The Link. Or, contact Karen.


Cut The Administrative Crap


It’s the first week of January as I write this so let me ask you a question. When you look around at what you’re spending time on and more importantly what your employees are spending time on, how much of this time is invested in activities that will grow your business this year and how much of the time is spent on administrative crap?

Sorry for being blunt here, but hear me out. Despite what your accountants, customers and even shareholders might request of you, there is no amount of crossing Ts and dotting Is that will support business growth.

Business growth results from increasing your value, more specifically the value of your products or services, to the marketplace. That’s right, increased value equates to increased growth.

In my book Operational Empowerment I discuss a concept I call “The Value Connection”. The concept is something I often help clients discover in their business in order to ramp up their growth trajectory. In the simplest of forms, the value connection is the degree to which employees understand and operate in order to add value to customers.

I share the example of Dave Carroll who witnessed his $3500 Taylor guitar being tossed around like a rag doll by United Airlines employees during a stop over. Although luggage damage is not a new concept for those of us who travel frequently, Dave’s story is unique because despite his continued attempts to obtain assistance from various United Airlines employees (including executives) to resolve the issue, his requests went unheard. As a result, Dave went on to record a YouTube video about the event that as of today has somewhere north of 14 million views. How’s that for brand management?

So, I want to return to my comment earlier on. Administrative “busy-work” although seemingly necessary should take a backseat to activities that add value. Are your employees clear on how they do or can add value to your customers?

Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Are your employees empowered to quickly deal with customer concerns or do they have to escalate everything?
  • Do your employees recognize that their attitude, personality and demeanor can have a direct impact on your company’s brand?
  • Have you made an attempt to help each and everyone of your employees connect their role with bringing value (directly or indirectly) to your customers?

As the old saying goes, value is in the eye of the beholder. Does everyone on your team recognize what your customers value? Do you?


Holistic Marketing and Social Media


In today's era of social media, marketing is now holistic throughout your firm.  All your employees - no matter what their job titles are - serve as de facto marketers.

A helpful sales clerk could get praised on Facebook, while a rude waiter experience might result in a Twitter rant. 

Your company needs to take advantage of this - especially since we are in an age of information overload.  Traditional ads are no longer effective and even potentially useful content (such as blog posts and articles) is frequently ignored.

To turn your employees into actual marketers, they must become producers/innovators and promote by creating actual products and services that give value. 

For example, as part of its marketing, a restaurant could get their chef to demonstrate simple recipes on its You Tube channel.  Then, they could expand on this by getting him/her to offer weekly cooking classes, for a nominal fee, at a time when the restaurant is closed or business is slow.  The classes could be promoted in the restaurant and online.




I’ve yet to encounter a CEO, president or business owner who isn’t constantly considering ways in which they can grow their business. When I ask what types of initiatives they are considering, the responses tend to focus on applying what has worked in the past rather than what might work today.

The most common approaches pursued typically fall into one of three categories:

  1. Improve marketing to expand market reach (i.e. new brand, better website, new marketing materials)
  2. Increase the size and skill set of the sales force (i.e. more sales reps, increased skill sets)
  3. Investigate possible M&A opportunities (i.e. increase market share, expand into new markets)


If this is how you think growing a business should be approached, then there’s something wrong with your thinking because…

  • Historical marketing practices are lost amidst the expanding global marketplace
  • Customers are more educated than ever before and don’t respond to traditional sales tactics
  • M&A carries with it significant investment and risk at a time when the economy remains delicate

Put another way, seeking to grow your business by applying strategies that yielded success 10 – 20 years ago is asinine. The world, the economy and most importantly, your customers, have evolved.

Disagree? Well would you buy a car today with roll up windows just because they were once the most effective way to cool down the car? Or would you visit a teller at the bank to pay your bills rather than setup automatic payments online just because it was once considered the best way to ensure your transaction was secure? Of course not.

If you wouldn’t revert to how you used to do things personally, why would you ever revert to practicing old approaches to growing your business?

You need to think and be more customer centric – more people centric. Mass marketing and blanket approaches to selling are no longer relevant and anyone trying to tell you they are doesn’t have your best interests in mind.

The truth is, you can grow your business on a budget. To meet the needs of today’s customers and clients requires that you shift your attention from marketing and selling to empowering your customers. Today’s customer needs to feel valued.


When was the last time you asked your best customers where they seek out your products and services? That’s where you should market.

When was the last time your salesforce met with customers not to sell, but to learn how you can improve your product or service? That’s how you should sell.

It’s time to step out of the 1980s and stop treating customers like they’re all the same. Making meaningful connections and empowering customers is the key component of your customer attraction and retention strategy.


Are You Underwhelming Your Customers?

Have you ever purchased something only to realize shortly after that what you purchased was nothing special? Have you ever made a purchase and then realized that what you invested in was no different then something you owned previously? 

We've all been there. 

Most recently for me it was the purchase of something called an "ogoSport Sports Disk" which is supposed to combine the sports of Frisbee and badminton. My wife and I thought it would be a great game for the boys but in reality the disks are too heavy to fly and the lack of a handle makes badminton near impossible.

Just another underwhelming product with great marketing. I'm sure you had dozens of similar experiences with examples like "New Coke" and "Blu Ray" immediately coming to mind.

But what's the true cost of introducing an underwhelming product or service into the marketplace? Obviously a loss of revenue will occur, but what about the soft costs like lack of trust, loyalty, reputation or brand?

I often ask my strategy clients this very question and I'm curious about your business. Are you producing or delivering any underwhelming products or services?


Here are some questions for you to consider in order to assess the extent to which your products or services may be underwhelming your customers:

  1. Does our product or service deliver exactly what our marketing promises? Can we support this?
  2. Are our customers willing to provide testimonials of their experiences that align with our marketing promises?
  3. Is the demand of our products and services steadily increasing relative to our marketing investment?
  4. What kind of comments are being portrayed online relative to our products/services (i.e. social media)?
  5. Does our reputation with new prospective customers precede our presence?
The key message is this. Be absolutely sure that what you promise (aka your marketing) delivers the value customers expect. If it doesn't the results can be catastrophic.

As I often tell my clients, don't be caught in the overwhelm of business decline simply because you underwhelmed your customers.



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