How to Screw Up Your Website

In a phrase, stop paying attention.

We’ve had www.marketingdoctor.com since 1994 or so, practically the dawn of the internet, but in the last week we’ve found an interloper who’s borrowed some of our logo style and even made a cartoon out of our kindly medical doctor.

The other guys are called www.mymarketingdoctor.com, pretty close. Close enough that I’ll call our corporate attorney about doing a cease and desist letter. I must say that they probably purloined our search terms, too, since they now outrank us among national marketing consultants. Our webmasters were asleep at the wheel, too, but then we’ve been known to examine our competitors search terms, too.

Good thing they’re based at the other end of the country, in Massachusetts, but of course we all operate globally. Forget the fact that we’ve probably done two or three or ten times as many consults as they have (but we’ll point in our on our new website).

We also have other companies, which is why we took our eye off the ball. And this blog, which we love to write.

So, the moral of the story is never stop paying attention to your competitors; they might be gaining on you. And they might outmarket you, when you invented a lot of what goes on.

Anyway, competition is good! Game on!

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C’mon Apple, Get Going

Here’s one post we never thought we’d write.

Apple seems to have fallen on hard times, probably of their own making, and they don’t seem to know what to do. Full disclosure: I also own Apple stock. So, here are some suggestions:

  1. Tim Cook resigns as President. We’d put Jonny Ive in, since he’s the innovator in chief.
  2. Cut prices 25% across the board, maybe more. Apple TV looks interesting, but what in hell does in DO? Really poor communications, and the market for these boxes is probably $99 each, not $150. Fire the director of investor relations; I get releases from Ford on EVERYTHING.
  3. Put some more features into the IPhone 6, or just go to the 7. I have a 5S, and have had it for two years. I don’t see a compelling reason to upgrade.
  4. Put the previous versions of the IPhone into international distribution at low prices to gain share and get people used to the product. I used my 4S for a week when I lost the 5S, and it was perfectly acceptable.
  5. Where is Apple in India? We hear about China all the time, but what about India? Amazon finally woke up to India, so maybe Apple is asleep at the wheel, too. Go spend some of the cash parked in Europe to invade India. And not just with Apple stores, either; go partner with Amazon.
  6. Apple cars? Why? What can be lent to this space? Let Google bend their pick on this one, before GM, Ford or Toyota take them out.
  7. If Apple wants to be in the car business, go buy Tesla. They’re a good company, nice products, but it takes them forever to get products to market.

OK Tim, have at it, and I’ll look for my five shares in the mail. johnh@thesolutionsforum.com.

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Don’t Give the Iranians the Money

This post is a little afield of the sorts of things we normally blog about, but it does get to our international audience, and it does get into what to do when your assets abroad get seized.

We heard an interview with an Iranian businessman, and he indicated that he’d like to be compensated for his businesses and real estate that the Mullahs seized some years ago, and it appears there are a lot of other Iranian/American businesses in the same boat. No one in the US government, i.e., in the federal courts, has offered to hear his claims and adjudicate them.

This businessman indicated that he thought the US Government should head and adjudicate all of the claims of the Iranians or others who have had assets of any kind seized by the mullahs, and any assets distributed to these people for the Mullahs get any money.

It seems to us that these claims should be heard somewhere (I wouldn’t trust a special master or adjudicator appointed by anyone in the Obama administration), before any of the $150 billion that we are holding up giving back to the Iranian government is in the form of assets (the media and our government  have been delightfully imprecise on this point).

If the Wizards of Washington and the State Department had any cojones, it would make sense to tell the Iranians that we’re going to sell their assets to pay unliquidated claims that various parties in this country have against their country.

I imagine, if our present government geniuses can figure out a way to hang on to the assets a bit longer, President Trump will do a good negotiation.

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Theranos: A Cautionary Tale

Our compliments to the Wall Street Journal for exposing the mess there is at what could be a blockbuster company.

It appears Ms. Holmes ignored all or most of the tenets of starting a company, which we’ll repeat here, for the new year:

1. When you come up with the idea, indicate in your business plan how you’re going to get to market, and any approval processes that you might have to go through. And then do it that way, if you raise the money.

2. Everyone has competitors, so explain in your business plan how you’re going to market around them (It appears that Theranos never did this, despite raising over $600 MM in venture capital funds).

3. Don’t get your hype out in front of what you can actually do, at the time you can do it. It appears that Theranos got out way over its skis on both the test itself and the equipment to evaluate the blood tests. They should have done a smaller beta test with Safeway and Walgreens in their physical area, so they could work bugs out.

4. Watch your first hires. It’s clear Theranos should have made a technologist with medical background and operating experience its first hire, as Chief Operating Officer. Those people are available, but probably very expensive. We’re surprised Stanford didn’t offer to lend a hand on this, as a well known technology repository. It’s also surprising that venture capitalists didn’t install their own people in this highly touted startup, or do the hiring, since their money’s at risk.

5. Don’t start touting your company in speeches and symposia unless you’re at least sure the technology works, and the machinery surrounding the technology works. Do the early demos in your office or lab, in front of friendly folks. Bring your distribution partners into the mix.

6. If you’ve got truly disruptive technology, as it appears that Theranos has, take it slowly, and by the numbers. Don’t try to jump the shark; in this case, the company might be eaten by the sharks, along with Ms. Holmes.

7. At this point, with your company one step away from completely flaming out, evaluate whether you should go back to square one and prove the process and technology. The idea is so good, that it could be done the right way and succeed. It still appears that there are no challengers.

8. Call us; we’ve done this before, as we hope the post above illustrates. We’ve love to be involved in a high profile startup for the New Year.

 

 

 

 

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You Don’t Want to Be An Entrepreneur: Sallie Krawcheck.

This is the time of the year when things are slowing down, and maybe, just maybe you’re thinking about starting a business.

Sallie Krawcheck, who used to be a high ranking officer with Citibank, and one of the highest ranking women on Wall Street, wrote an article last month about her entrepreneurial adventures. She recently started something called Elevate Network, which appears to be a global networking site for women.

I thought we’d recall most of her salient points in the article, which are ones that we’ve made before (we also notice that Bing hasn’t indexed the article yet):

1. Make sure you’ve got a viable business.  Do some market research to support your idea, especially if you want outside funds. Sallie has lots of money, so she didn’t need to go outside, at the outset, but has since raised some money.

2. Once you’ve launched, be sensitive to the fact that the company’s products and services might need to be changed. Sallie changed the name of her company from 85 Broads to Elevate. You might not get it right the first time, but pivots aren’t unheard of.2. Be ready to sacrifice your personal life, at least at the outset.

3. Be ready to throw work/life balance out the window. A startup will take more time, cost more money and probably launch more slowly than you planned. So, you should have the emotional support from your family before you start.

It seems to me that there were a couple of more points Sallie made, but the above are the major ones

Also note that we have a free download on the subject, the Entrepreneurial Questionnaire, on our School website, www.theasoe.com. It’s under ‘Free downloads’, and is one of our most popular downloads, along with the mini business plan. And, we have courses to help you along.

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How to Fix the Small Business Lending Process

We recently applied for a small business loan through One Main Financial, which was approved in 24 hours, but the interest rate was up there with the credit cards, so we turned it down. As a result, One Main invited us to lead a focus group on the small business lending process, and what follows is what we said:

1. Decentralize the lending process to online or branch levels; we liked that. It should take no more than 24 hours for loans up to $50k. Beyond that, up to $250k, maybe a week.

2. Find out what the business wants to use the money for; we didn’t have a clear need, but does the project pencil out, e.g., return the cost of capital? Does the business have cash flow to repay the loan if the project doesn’t work out?

3. If you say you’re going to lend to small business, do it; our version of small business is 2-50 employees. 1 is a startup, which is a separate category.

4. Interest rates should be commensurate with risk; One Main wanted to lend at 23%, which IMHO, isn’t warranted. We were thinking 10%, since the prime is 4% or so, and if you mix in their cost of capital, which is probably 20%, you get a blended rate of 7% or so. We, at least think our loan would have zero risk of not being repaid.

5, The Wall Street Journal, for a change, was right on target when they decried the lack of small business lending by money center banks, but the cudgel has been taken up by smaller banks and credit unions, although lending is certainly not as high as business would like it to be.

6. The SBA continues to do good work in the larger loan categories, and the originating bank only has a 10% risk, so maybe that’s where they should stay. But be honest.

So, that’s it. Comments welcome.

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The Risk of Reviews

We’re in the 4th quarter of most companies’ fiscal year, to managers up and down the chain are thinking about doing or getting performance reviews.

The Wall Street Journal had a useful article on this topic a few days ago, and we’ve blogged about it before, so we think it’s useful to recap some of the trends:

1. Most companies give performance reviews once a year, about this time. The single review can lead to real employee anxiety, which isn’t a good thing. We would agree with that assessment, and would recommend doing them quarterly, at least in large companies. When promotions are handed out, particularly into new departments, they’re benchmarking performance that can be ranked.

2, Some major US firms such as Microsoft, Lilly, Cigna and GE have actually pulled even yearly rankings. The reason is apparently that 90% of the workers got a rating they thought they didn’t deserve, resulting in a 23% drop in engagement. Fair enough, but what happens at promotion time?

3. Microsoft, to its credit, has replaced it’s review system with frequent ‘conversations’ about performance among managers and subordinates. We think this is a good policy and apparently results in better morale and engagement. Now if they could do something in the operation of the Hotmail renewal office, to make it more customer friendly, that would be something.

4. We think among our small business clients, most practice a yearly review, based on the conversations, or do nothing at all, because it’s more paperwork, preferring to note any conversations or disciplinary actions in written form in the employee’s file.

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Radical New Idea: Middle Managers

Some months ago, there was an article in the Wall Street Journal about a company (Treehouse) that had NO middle managers, believing that its people were sufficiently motivated that they didn’t need them.

This plan was fine until the business grew, probably beyond the capacity of the owner to manage everyone, and maybe the self discipline didn’t work out as well as hoped. The big problem was that people thought less was expected of them, since there wasn’t a boss around to prod them.

The article doesn’t raise the obvious question (the Wall Street Journal isn’t in management advice) about how many supervisors one needs. The numbers are all over the map, depending on the nature of the work, self motivation of the employees, size or the company, etc. We’ve seen figures of 1 to 5, to 1 to 20.

So, yes you need bosses, but it’s hard to tell how many you need. The more complex the work, the higher the ratio of bosses to workers. The more independent the work, the lower the ratio.

 

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SMB Comments on 9/16 Repub Debate

Well, after sifting through all the snark, we have a few comments about the debate (we’re going to be so presumptious to speak for SMBs):

1. Aside from Trump and Fiorina, it doesn’t seem to us that the rest of the folks have any idea that it’s small and medium sized businesses that will drive the economy forward, and even they didn’t say much about it. So say more. Donny and Carly are natural alies, but they haven’t figured it out yet.

2. Tax cuts are the way to go, to spur growth, IMHO, particularly on corporations, because if they’re growing, they’re employing a few more workers somewhere. Regan tried this and it worked.

3. We’ll  have to cut spending before the tax cuts, or couple them, because little Barry and Gangsters have about exhausted our financial capacity to borrow and not be like Greece. Yeah, some of spending was Keynesian to pull us away from the ditch in 2008/9, but by now, tax cuts might have done more to get beyond 2% growth. But you’ll never get a tax cut solution out of today’s Dems. Hillary and Bernie are going the other direction.

4. We could try a consumption tax, to offset corporate tax cuts at the outset, and then cut individual rates to be offset with more consumption tax. No way would this even be considered until an R is in the White House.

Anyway, the above is our .02 worth.

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How Google’s Rules Can Work In Your Office

Well, my alma mater, Wharton School, has come up with a useful post that we can reblog. It’s a little unfocused, but that’s why we try to put it into a less than five page format.

 

My impression is that Google doesn’t have many rules for its employees, just show up and get the work done. But, here are their rules, as interpreted by Wharton:

1. Take power away from managers. Interesting, but you’ve got to have employees who are pretty well self disciplined. There was an article in the Wall Street Journal last week about a company CEO who didn’t have ANY managers until he got to about 100 employees, but that’s probably an extreme. Management theory says that your managerial span of control is the inverse of the complexity of the work, ie. the more complex the work, the fewer workers per manager. Or supervisor.

2.  Have meaning in your work. Have a mission that all your people understand. Hard to believe, but productivity gains cited by the authors just from this range from 30% to 400%.

3. Data driven decisions. Wharton apparently thinks our intuition is wrong most of the time (we think it’s the decider when data is unclear). Can you measure the impact of your decisions? It doesn’t sound like Google managers can decide who to hire or promote; it’s all done by committee. This is not all bad; most of our clients, especially the larger ones, use about the same approach. The use our personnel profiling system in the American School of Entrepreneurship for both hiring and evaluation, even of sales people.

4. There’s some verbiage about ‘nudging’ people which is unclear, but I think the authors are talking about suggesting something to your managers or direct reports, but not ordering them to do it, per se.

So, there you have it, an entire book summarized in 300 words. Put the checks in the mail, payable to CEO to Go, through PayPal.

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