Wednesday, January 30, 2013

How To Say No and Why You Need to Learn To Do It More

Just Say No.

No.  Two letters.  Takes about a 10th of a second to say it.  (and no, I didn’t time that).  Such a simple thing.  Most children actually learn to say no before they learn to say yes.  So why do we have such a hard time with it?

Make no mistake.  I don’t.  In fact, I’m better at “no” than just about anyone I know.  I don’t know why. Many years ago I think I just figured out that it was easier to say no then to try any of the other strategies our culture has spawned to take its place.  

“Want to go to the polka night at Accordion Dave’s?”
“Can I think about it and call you later?”

“I’ve been thinking about it and I would love to join you in your business!”
“Wow ... that’s a great idea.  I just need to figure out how to fit you in.”

“I know you charge $5,000 for this, let’s just settle on $3500 and be done with it.”
“Uh, well, I mean, that’s hard, but, uh ... well, ok.”

“Did you like my display of bed bug art?”
“Yes!  So much!  I really thought it was amazing.”

It’s true, right?  Funny how many permutations “no” can take, from basic delaying tactics to flat out yeses.  I just think “no” is easier.  I don’t have to think about how I’m going to get out of accordion night later on.  I don’t have to fret about how to let this poor person who has no ability to be in my business but who thinks it would be fun down. I don’t regret selling my services for less than they’re worth.

The problem is that in our present culture, for some reason we have decided that saying no to someone is mean.  Frankly, I think saying yes and meaning no is meaner.  How much does it hurt the bed bug artist to find out that you hung their original artwork on the back of your storage unit?

Try it.  Take a moment.  Take a deep breath.  Form the word in your mind.  Now, slowly and quietly so no one can hear you, say it.  “No.”  Do it again.  Ah.  Don't you feel better?

My friends know that when I say yes I mean yes and when I say no I mean no.  It’s nice.  They don’t have to guess.  They’re used to it.  I think, like good fences make good neighbors, that good noes make good friendships.

In business sometimes it’s harder.  If you say no they may go away.  They may.  But is that really such a bad thing?  

In conversations I hear a lot of people actually talk themselves into yeses from what would have been firm noes.  (and then complaining about it later).  This is because we so fear hurting the person asking that we start out our no with a long "yesy" preamble.  

“Gosh, accordion night sounds so great!  That’s so cool that you do that.  That would be such fun.”  These are all phrases we like to put in front of our noes to soften the blow.  But when the asker interrupts us and says, “Wow, I’ve been looking for someone else who likes the accordion,” and stares longingly into your eyes, well, you’re off to hear three uninterrupted hours of polka.

It is much easier to make your first phrase your no phrase and you can actually do it without being insulting.  “You know what, I’ve never really liked either polka or the accordion and i think you’d have way more fun being there with someone who does.”

“Gosh, I’d love to do $3500 for you but I simply can’t.  The work that goes into what you’re asking for breaks out at $5000 for me and when I do projects at a discount I always resent it in the process.”

“Whatever possessed you to make bedbugs your medium?  I think it’s awesome that you’re doing your own thing and I’d love to see it out of curiosity, but I can promise you that it will give me the creeps.”

Next time someone asks you one of those questions that instantly brings the cold fear of no-ness into your bones try just saying no.  You might surprise yourself.  It’s easier than you think.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

New World Marketing Newsflash. It Isn't All About the Internet.

Whenever I talk with small businesses about marketing in today's environment, the conversation always turns more or less immediately to Facebook.  "I know Jim," a local restauranteur said to me one day, "we've got to get on the Facebook. That's where everybody is these days."

I laughed.  The answer is a little more complex than that.  Yes, everybody is on "the Facebook" (or most are), but everybody is also in your restaurant or your small business.  Every encounter is an opportunity to foster connection and every time this connection is not fostered is an opportunity missed.  This is probably the biggest thing that people don't understand about marketing in the new world.

We live in a culture that has changed dramatically over the last ten years.  We are online more.  We have hundreds of 'friends' in our social media portals.  If we choose to, we can literally chat with different people all day long.  This connectedness has not driven people away from each other as some early sociologists suspected it would.  In fact, if anything it has created a deeper need for real connection and businesses that learn to respond to this need are finding real success and growth (and in surprising ways, a much more rewarding experience then the simple monetary success measures of the past).

The real idea isn't to create an online billboard that someone might see.  It is to provide opportunities for people to connect.  While these opportunities may be extended online, in most situations they start in person.  Savvy businesses are using these opportunities as ways to increase the connection with their clients and in this day and age, connected clients quickly become interested evangelists for the business.

Have I lost you yet?  Here are some examples of some of these kinds of opportunities.

  1. A local restaurant that is typically closed on Monday nights has special dinners for regulars only (by invitation) exploring new dishes, wines, etc., about once every three months.  The customers pay to attend, these are not free, although the restaurant's goal is to break even as opposed to turning a profit.  The managers, owners and key wait staff are more free to chat with their customers (and often, even eat with them) and the chef or "wine guy" gets a chance to be out from behind the counter or bar to answer questions, chat about ideas, etc.  The customers who attend feel special and they naturally post their thoughts about these events online.
  2. A friend who is a CPA hosts an evening of wine and cheese for his clients at a local hotel and uses the evening to walk through changes in tax law, healthcare, investing, etc.  Giving his clients a deeper understanding of their options and preparing them in advance for what is ahead.
  3. A quilting service in a small town in Wisconsin hosts events where local enthusiasts can come to the shop to compare notes and techniques with others in their area.
  4. An Alabama based photographer hosts evenings or weekends for clients with cameras, teaching them how to take better pictures.
Wait, what?  Doesn't that last one drive that customer away from the business?  I mean, they'll start taking pictures of their own and decide they don't need the business anymore.  That's crazy talk.

But it's not.  In each of these cases the business is creating opportunities that personalize the interaction between the business and its customers.  This personalization is connection and carrying that connection into online interaction is really effortless, in whatever medium works best.  This is rewarding because these 'customers' are no longer just customers.  They're truly friends.

So effective new world marketing isn't simply a process of establishing a social media presence.  It is a process of giving old, new and regular customers chances to connect with the people in the business and then knowing that with the ease of social media access these connections will naturally turn into advertisement in its purest form, endorsement.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Why Your Business is Dying and What to Do About It.

“I don’t get it Jim.  I’m just not getting the business I used to.  I don’t know if it’s the recession or what but the phone’s just not ringing as much.  I may have to shut down my business.  (and the problem with that is that I just have no idea what I would do next!)”

Over the course of the last four months I’ve heard quotes and comments like this more than I’ve ever heard them before.  Once thriving small businesses are dying.  Proprietors are trying all of the tricks, but nothing seems to work.  Is the business dead, or is there something they haven’t tried?  Can I help?

The first thing I say in any of these situations is pretty simple.  Business is business.  It has to start and end there.  I know, for many, it’s not as simple as that.  Their business isn’t just their business, it’s their life.  Their dream was to pass it on to their kids.  It is their endowment to their world.  The thing is that while it may feel that way to you, to most of the folks who walk through the door it’s a business.  The first step to the next step is to take a deep breath and see the business through their eyes.  The stunning realization that comes after that is, sometimes, that the business in its original form is dead.  The world moved on.  The business did not.  It’s time to move on.  

More often though, to borrow a line from “The Princess Bride,” the business isn’t actually dead, it’s “only mostly dead,”  and as Billy Crystal put it, “there is a big difference!”  Sadly, there isn’t a gigantic pill to swallow to bring it back, but if you had the energy to start the business in the first place, chances are, you’ll have the energy to bring it back.  You just have to be prepared to change.

The most common mistake small businesses make is stagnancy.  The business is started and the founder/owner puts all of their creative energy into growing it and making it a success. Adjustments are made to tailor the business to customers’ needs and wishes.  The business begins to succeed.  The founder/owner continues to serve customers with passion.  It’s fun, a dream fulfilled.

Then one day the business owner realizes that profits are down.  When the world outside is complaining about recession it’s easy to assume that’s the problem.  Of course profits are down.  “It’s the economy stupid.”  But what if it’s not?

In these cases there are two critical things the owner must do to revive their business.  The most important is to interact with customers.  Get in touch with the regulars, or the regulars of the past.  Take them to coffee.  Ask them what they think about the business.  Listen.  Be ready to change.  That all small businesses get the lion’s share of their new customers via word of mouth is axiomatic.  If your ‘regulars’ aren’t excited about your business, you can bet they won’t be talking about it.  If they aren’t excited now, what would they be excited about?  How can you make the business more convenient, more relevant, more inline with what is needed today?  No better person to ask than a customer.  When they begin to see changes, they’ll tell their friends.

The second critical thing is to gain an understanding of how the new world of marketing works.  Wait - don’t jump ship.  This doesn’t mean you have to establish a Pinterest page or learn to tweet (though you may), but it does mean that if you are still relying on that yellow pages ad then you’re in trouble, even if it comes with a “free web listing” and “listings on all of the major search engines.”  The new world of marketing isn’t about the internet.  The internet is just a tool.  The new world of marketing is about connection.  There are many ways that you can drive connection without ever logging on.  

Let’s talk about that tomorrow.