Saturday, December 31, 2011

44 Links From 2011

Below is a series of links to articles and columns I wrote in 2011 that were published by others and available online.  I've written more than these, but not all of them are available on the Internet (e.g., Southern PHC Magazine, some issues of Contracting Canada, etc.).  Even so, I found 44 links.  Most are articles and columns.  A few were interviews I gave or features.  Still, this is nearly one per week. No wonder I'm always chasing a deadline.

2.       Behind the Magic 8-Ball (1.1.11)

6.       Why Aren’t You Cross Marketing? (2.2.11)

9.       Leaving Money on the Table (3.1.11)

10.   Profiting from Chaos (3.1.11)

19.   Scratching the ISH Itch (5.1.11)

20.   The Buzz About QR Codes (5.4.11)

21.   The Heat is On (6.1.11)

23.   Summer Season Marketing (6.15.11)

24.   Brandwashing (6.24.11)

28.   Cause and Effect (7.5.11)

36.   The Power of Free (10.5.11)

38.   Embarrassed by the Brand (10.19.11)

41.   December Marketing Tactics (12.7.11)

42.   Fear is the Mind Killer (12.9.11)

(c) 2011 Matt Michel

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What makes one Company or Team better than another?

We all know of companies that are superior to others; and a tremendous amount of time, effort and money is expended daily by lesser businesses trying to find out what makes them so. For many years now, I have spent a great deal of time thinking and talking about this; and I believe I may have come up with a good example. In the San Francisco Bay Area, we have two professional football teams, the Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers. The past few years have been dismal for both of them, as they just could not find their way back to their glory days of the past. However, this season both teams brought on new head coaches, as well as making a few changes with their assistant coaches, and saw their fortunes change as well.

There is no doubt you must have talented players on any team for it to be a good one, and both teams had plenty of good players who were receiving substantial amounts of money to perform but were not doing so consistently. However, as has been proven many times in sports, government, and business, just throwing money at something without insuring it works well is not always enough. Both teams did acquire some new players before the season started, however their squad’s talent levels were pretty much unchanged from last year, so that was not a big issue in their progress either. I believe the big difference for them this year is the new and different coaching, training, and positive attitude adjustment they are now receiving, plain and simple.

So what was the end result of this transformation? With the Raiders, after changing head coaches 9 times over the past 16 years, they seem to have finally found a head coach and assistants the players respect and will play for, as well as gaining a new winning attitude. As a result, they are currently in a real dogfight in their division, as apposed to dragging up the rear. As for the 49ers, they also brought in a new head coach along with some assistant coaches, which has resulted in changing the culture of the entire team. Last year the team was 6 and 10, and just did not have “It”. So far this year, they are 10 and 2, and have clinched their division. I do not believe they are the best team in the league, as the Packers and Saints seem to have that honor. However, they are certainly heading in the right direction.

It is reported one of the first things the new Head Coach Jim Harbaugh did, was take Alex Smith, the much beleaguered 49er quarterback for the past 7 years under his wing, and let him know he believed in him, told him he was his quarterback, and empowered him to lead the team. Apparently, this was what he needed, as he has blossomed into the now seventh rated quarterback in the league. What’s more, the entire team has followed suit, and are now proving they have a ton of “It”, every time they play.

So just what is ‘It”, anyway? I submit it is having a total belief in themselves and their ability, and that they will succeed in whatever they attempt to do; no matter the obstacles. To me, successful companies in business mirror top sports teams by having the same superior leadership qualities in their owners, managers, supervisors, and/or lead personal. They also create and manage efficient systems to run their operations, and employ ongoing training programs to insure those systems are followed to the letter. They always reinforce the positive, and dismiss the negative. In addition, they show solid leadership by being consistent in everything they do, while setting good examples for the people around them. One of their big “secrets”, is believing in finding and hiring the best people they can, and then putting them in positions that will work best for them and the team. Of course, they will not tolerate malcontents and slackers, and get rid of them before they destroy the positive chemistry that has been established through hours of sacrifice and hard work by the rest of the team.

Having these characteristics and assets, and being able to then build a great team or business with them, is obviously not a common thing for most of us humans to have and accomplish, or everyone could do it. I believe in order to take advantage of them; you must have a well thought out game plan, which is then followed to the letter. In addition, you need to park your ego at the door, and learn how to empower others to do their jobs. Finally, you must work on your own weaknesses and shortcomings, until you become proficient enough to become a true leader of anything.

As far as determining who are leaders and winners goes, they are not all the same. For instance, in professional football, you have had very aggressive and vocal coaches like Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay packers, who would not hesitate to get in the players faces when a mistake was made. Then you can have someone like the Dallas Cowboys great Tom Landry, who would stand quietly on the sidelines in his famous Stetson Fedora hat with his arms crossed, showing little or no emotion. Whenever a player on his team made a mistake, instead of screaming and yelling, he responded by simply giving them a very disapproving and withering look, which made them wish they would never do that again.

There was also “The Genus” Bill Walsh of the San Francisco 49ers, who helped build a series of teams that won 5 Super Bowls over a period of 13 years. He had a great sense of humor, and also did not holler, rant, and rave. However, everyone knew he was in charge, and they had best listen to, and follow him, if they ever wanted to succeed. All of these great coaches and leaders had another thing in common, they believed in creating systems to run their teams. The Packers Lombardi had the famous “Packer Sweep”; a running play that most opposing teams just could not stop even though they knew it was coming.

This simple running play dominated pro football for almost 10 years, and was unique to the Packers only. It worked by having the Tackle Forrest Gregg, and Guards Jerry Kramer Fuzzy Thurston, pull out in perfect sync to set-up a wall of beef for the great running backs Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor to run behind while gaining chunks of yardage. Hornung said of the ”Packer Sweep”; “It worked because "It made everybody work as a team, as it gave everybody enough responsibility that you took it upon yourself to do the best you could. And it became the best play in football."

Landry’s team ran the “Flex Defense”, along with many other different innovations while he was the coach of the Cowboys for some 29 years, and at one time had a winning record for 20 years in a row.

49er coach Bill Walsh created the “West Coast Offence” in the 80s, which is still being used today. One of Walsh’s many innovations was scripting the first 25 plays before the start of the game. He said that his reasoning for having systems and then rehearsing them so much before playing the game was, “Your ability to make good judgments is much easier on Thursday night, than during the heat of the game”. Just like in business, planning and preparation will always succeed over just winging it, and then hoping for the best.

All of these men also had the ability and vision to find players and coaches that would work well within their particular systems. Walsh for instance, selected a quarterback from Notre Dame named Joe Montana. Although he was a great athlete, he was not selected until the 82nd spot in the draft, which meant that some of the other teams and coaches did not think of him as a superstar. In fact, when he first came out, some of the “experts” suggested that he had skinny legs, and an average arm. However, Walsh knew Montana was exactly what he needed for his new “West Coast Offense”, which he later proved by leading the team to four Super Bowl wins.

Montana was also a very calm player, so much so he became known as “Joe Cool”, as he just never panicked no matter how stressful the situation. The other big thing Joe possessed was “It”, and as their leader, he transferred those gifts to the rest of the team every time they took the field. Just as the leader of a successful company does every time they put the key in the front door to start the day’s business.

Just my thoughts,
Gene B

Monday, December 12, 2011

Business Secrets of the Aggie 100

A group of successful entrepreneurs who grew and prospered in 2009 and 2010 share the keys to success.  Pay attention.

"Give first and receive later."

Bernie B. Bernard, James M. Brooks
B&B Laboratories

"The people you surround yourself with are critical - they should be hard-working, passionate aobu the business you are in, and ideally, smarter than you."

William Sims
Accent Wire, Ltd.

"Never be scared to take a risk.  It is those risks that often push you to the next level and thos risks, successful or not, that teach you the most."

Jackie Lackey
Encore Visions

"Consider your employees one of your most important assets.  A happy employee results in a happy customer."

Kimberly Smart Willmott
Pentecom, LLC

"Never accept that there is not a better way.  With the speed at which information and technology move in today's world, if something is being done 'the same way it always has been,' then there is probably a great opportunity to improve it.  Often it is not the idea for improvement that leads to a strong business, but the drive to change people's way of thinking to accept that improvement."

Ryan Sitton, Jennifer Sitton
Pinnacle Asset Integrity Services

"Take care of your employees as they are hard to find."

Alvin Adamcik
MI Cable Company

"If you don't always do what's in the customer's best interests, someone else will."

Phil Miner
Miner Central Texas Ltd.

"Realize that you'll reach a point when your company's success is despite your efforts and not because of them.  Eventually, you must modestly step aside from your daily role, empower your team and make the business about them - it's not about you anymore."

Gary Peterson
gap intelligence

"Establish your company with a clear vision, mission and values... People will commit to something greater than themselves if it is clear and they believe in it.  Ultimately, people drive your success."

Stefan LeRow
Capstone Mechanical

"You are never going to grow if you don't take a chance."

Phil Miner
Miner North Texas Ltd

"In business, grow or die."

Donald G. Valentine
John Moore Services, Inc.

"Growth can consumer massive amounts of cash, even when your income statement is showing a healthy profit."

William Sims
Accent Wire, Ltd.

"Don't let 'conventional wisdom' limit your options.  Many success stories are the result of people doing what they're not supposed to be able to do."

Ed Muniz
MEI Technologies, Inc.

"Live by the Golden Rule and always ask yourself:  'How would I want them to treat me?'  It is a small world in business relationships and the things you do come back to haunt you sooner than you might expect."

Larry Teverbaugh
K2Share, LLC

"Do not allow other people to influence you with their own negativity.  If you believe in yourself enough to do something great, then do it.  You do not need anyone's approval to make that something a reality."

Trey Jones
Lone Star Land Design

"Hire character and train skill."

Taseer Badar
True View Realty Partners Two, L.P.

"If you wait for the perfect time to begin something new you will be waiting your entire life.  There is no 'perfect time' to change the direction of your life.  Instead of waiting - commit, persevere, and enjoy the experience."

Kyle D. Barrington
Zajonc Corp

"Seek out a mentor and then become a mentor to someone."

Todd Sorrel, Gordon Sorrel
Select Premium Services, Inc.

"Remember to do the right thing at all costs; it will pay off in the long run, even if it's more expensive in the short term."

Ryan Kobermann, Beth Kobermann
ESN Health

"Constantly work to broaden your knowledge about your industry and business in general."

William Sims
Accent Wire, Ltd.

"Choose well when you choose a business partner; take the time to get to know them well.  You will need to trust them as well as depend on them.  It's better to pass up a great business opportunity than to go into business with someone who you can't fully trust."

Todd Smith, Scott Holder
Texas Quail Farms L.P.

"You can buy office supplies anywhere but people like buying from people they trust.  At Tejas, we believe that personal relationships still matter and as long as we can be a trusted advisor to our clients we can compete with anyone."

Stephen M. Fraga, Lupe Fraga
Tejas Office Products, Inc.

"Hire future leaders that are smarter than you.  Cast for them a clear vision of what the future could be and should be.  Develop in them the moral courage to always do what is right no matter what, even when it's hard.  Empower them to exercise initiative and to develop plans to shape your vision.  Finally, give them the authority to execute those plans and make your vision a reality."

Lee Sechrist
Synergy Creations Group, LLC

"Surround yourself with good people and then give them the tools they need to be successful."

Jeff McDougall, Jeff Durrant
PivotPoint Solutions

"Say what you'll do and do what you say.  A successful business is built on a foundation of honesty and integrity.  A great reputation supported by this foundation may take years to build but can be lost in one day."

Michael Martin
Rio Queen, Inc.

"A lot of people have ideas, but few have the courage and belief in themselves to do something about them.  If you aren't willing to invest in yourself, don't expect anyone else to do so."

Joanne Vest
Schedule 2 Drive, L.P.

The Aggie 100 are the 100 fastest growing businesses over the past two years owned, founded, or managed by Texas A&M graduates.  Service Nation, Inc., which operates the Service Roundtable, Retail Contractor Coalition, and the Service Nation Alliance, was fortunate enough to be achieve #43 in the 2011 Aggie 100.  Dr. Richard Lester, Executive Director of the Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship with the Mays Business School graciously allowed me to share these quotes, excerpted from "Aggie Legacy of Leadership."

Are You At Risk of an Intellectual Property Lawsuit?

A picture may or may not be worth a thousand words
...but it can easily cost you a few thousand dollars!

Guest article by David Squires - Contractor's Online-Access

Recently one of our clients received a demand letter and invoice for over $2,000 for a picture that was found on their website that they did not own or license. The company invoicing them was called Masterfile Corporation out of Toronto Canada. If you're thinking "scam" as you read this-you couldn't be more wrong. In fact, if you do a quick search on pending intellectual property lawsuits in the USA, you will find 76 lawsuits filed by Masterfile in 16 states-and these are just the few who didn't settle and pay up.

If you think it can never happen to you-think again. Also, don't think that getting caught means you get a slap on the hand and a gentle warning. Getting caught simply means you're going to pay big. Most of the companies getting these letters weren't even responsible for the choice of pictures in their website. In fact, most of the fines were not deliberate thefts from the stock-image companies, but pictures obtained from other sources that may or may not have had license to use them. Stock image companies like Masterfile are using sophisticated image recognition software to spider the web. This software can recognize even a small piece of the images to which they have copyright.

The irony of the invoice my client received was that the picture they were being billed for was a digital image that a former employee had created in Photoshop where he had blended two pictures together. Unfortunately, he used a piece of a picture he found on the web to do it with. The company assumed that it was appropriately secured. Unfortunately, Masterfile--and the law-say it wasn't. In fact, after doing more research, the $2,000 being demanded from my client was a bargain when I read about other small businesses complaining of having to retroactively pay $40-$50K for illegal use of multiple images found in their websites. One case I followed involved the owner of a small retail business that had to pay $10,000 for two pictures on his website that his daughter's boyfriend built for him. Hopefully the young up-and-coming webmaster will be able to research the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) now that he's probably single again with more time on his hands.

If you do get caught illegally using images from these guys... picture that the hand pointing the finger at you is putting on a latex glove...

Having had to enforce our own intellectual property rights by asking contractors to remove copyrighted content they "borrowed" from the websites we provide our clients, Masterfile appears to have turned what I always saw as a thankless, but necessary, job into a gold mine. Most of the accounts I read on a forum dedicated to victims of these letters were from people that didn't even put the picture on their website, but it was provided by the guy that built it for them. One such victim actually attended a presentation in Toronto given by a "Copyright Compliance Officer" of Masterfile where the representative stated that over 85% of the stock photo industry's revenue now comes from demand letters and litigation.

To give you an idea why the images on everyone's websites are being scrutinized so closely, Getty Images & Corbis, two major players in the stock image industry, annually uncover 42,000 & 70,000 violations respectively. Each of their violations has an average fine of $1,000-$1,200. When you do the math, the 112,000 plagiarized pictures they find that may have been only worth $1-3 million in licensing fees, now bring in about $123 million in the punitive fines they demand-and their fines are fairly low when compared to companies like Masterfile.

Protecting your company in a virtual world from virtual thugs

Although I understand and agree with the need to police copyright, turning litigation into your major profit center is just wrong. Bankrupting a small business for a mistake that may not even be their fault is not my idea of a business of which to be to be proud. So, how do you protect yourself from inadvertently getting squeezed by the new virtual copyright thugs? First off, the best defense is an aggressive offense. Don't wait for Fed-Ex to deliver your own personal invitation to meet their lawyers, instead be proactive. Here are a few things you should consider today.

1. Make sure you are using a reputable web designer who you can trust. 

My company, Online-Access goes to great lengths to take its own pictures and create its own images so we can offer our clients access to safe images they can use on their site. However, if your web site designer utilizes stock-photos or professional photos in developing your site ask for and keep on hand a copy of all the licensing documents.

Don't depend on your web guy to keep the proof of license for you since he's not the one who will be getting the Fed Ex package from a "Copyright Compliance Officer" at Masterfile. More than one webmaster who gave an unbelievably low price to build a company a website has quietly disappeared when one of his clients gets a demand letter for $35K for illegal images he mistakenly thought were royalty-free.

2. Take your own pictures and use them in your website.

With digital cameras today there is no excuse not to since, if the picture doesn't look quite right, you simply keep taking more until you get a good one. Sort of like the idea that enough monkeys and typewriters would eventually result in the tome 'War and Peace'. Besides, it's not like you're going to pay additional money developing the ones you don't use.

3. Do not "borrow' pictures where you don't have permission.

If you do get permission, verify that the picture really belongs to the person giving you the OK. A lot of times, many of the borrowed pictures that get caught are pictures borrowed from other sites or brochures the producer of which had obtained a license limited to their use only. Having a license to use a picture does not constitute ownership. Whether the image may be shared depends on how the license reads.

4. In many cases, your product manufacturer will supply you with images to use. 

You are probably safe using images from their website since it would be hard to imagine a manufacturer suing their own dealer for using their material to help them sell their product. However, that being said, you probably still should make the effort to obtain permission through your distributor. If, by some stupid logic they tell you no, then follow up with the question, "What brand do you recommend I put on my website instead?" That question has good chance give you the logical 'yes' you were after with your first question.

Be careful to steer away from brochure or non-industry related marketing images on manufacturer material since many of the 'smiling people' images are likely licensed only for marketing produced by the manufacturer. A quick way to judge would be if the image doesn't have a branded piece of their product in the picture-there's a good chance it may not be theirs to let you use it. Of course, if you find any identical photos through stock sources you can obtain your own license and right to use the photo.

Finally, take the time to go through your website and make sure you know that any pictures you've added are ones you either own, have licensed or have obtained permission of the owner to use. When in doubt, ask yourself if it's worth paying a few grand to keep it. If not, deep-six it and replace it with one you do own (see #3 above).

Remember, if you do deliberately choose to use images and written content on your website or in your marketing-material that you don't own or have permission to use-it isn't as easy to get away with it as it used to be. With search engines and image tracking software, finding plagiarism on the web is no longer like you're a 'tiny needle' hiding in the proverbial 'hay stack'. It's more like you're playing 'Russian Roulette' with a fully loaded gun.
This article may be freely used and republished under condition that it is used in its unaltered entirety and all source links and author credits remain intact.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Fear is the Mind Killer

“Fear is the mind killer,” wrote Frank Herbert in the novel, Dune.  When people are overcome with fear, they freeze.  They stop thinking.  They stop behaving rationally.  They are paralyzed. 

Growing up, everyone experiences points of fear where we freeze for an instant or perhaps longer.  Some freeze at the top of a high dive.  Others freeze when sledding or skiing down a steep slope.  For some, it’s facing a fastball.  Many lock up when forced to stand up in the front of the classroom and give a speech or report. 

If we try, all of us can remember a point in childhood where we froze, where fear became our mind killer, if only for a few moments.  A degree of fear in childhood is healthy.  Many of us would not have survived childhood without fear acting as a brake against our more idiotic notions. 

What’s beneficial for preventing an eight year old boy from trying to sail off the roof of his house, using a beach towel as a parachute can be devastating among an adult who is struck by one or more of life’s setbacks and freezes, forestalling any act or motion. 

I’ve seen it with the business owner who all but loses his business in a tough economy.  Confronted by a series of setbacks and reversals, he becomes locked in place.  He spends more time on Facebook than prospecting.  He stops trying because he’s convinced he can never succeed again.  As long as he’s convinced he can’t succeed, he won’t succeed.

I’ve seen it with the business executive whose career doesn’t pan out as planned.  Rather than try for new career in a new company, he mails it in.  He retires without notifying anyone and each day… just… shows… up.  He’s scared to apply with another company.  He’s worried that he’s too old.  He’s afraid he’ll have start over.  He’s questioning his sense of worth.

Fear has frozen these people in place.  They worry that no move can make things better and any move might make things worse.  Life ceases being a proactive event.  Afraid to change, they do nothing.  They wait for things to happen to them. 

The great business philosopher, Dr Seuss, wrote about this in the classic motivational book, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go.”

The Waiting Place…

…for people just waiting.

Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go, or the mail to come, or the rain to go or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow or waiting around for a yes or a no or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite or waiting for wind to fly a kite or waiting around for Friday night or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake or a pot to boil, or a better break or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants or a wig with curls, or another chance.

Everyone is just waiting.
Fear has trapped these people in hell.    The only way out is to take action.  Take a risk.  By taking a risk, risk failure.  Risk it again and again and again, if necessary.  The only certainty is success will ever elude those who refuse to reach out for it.

As a child you failed and failed and failed before you learned to walk.  Failure precedes success as naturally as falling precedes walking.  Few men experience one success after another from the outset in a repetitive string of victory.  Most find it only after tasting failure, and usually after much more than a taste.

If you find fear becoming your mind killer, break the cycle.  Take one positive action today, no matter how small.  Tomorrow take another.  Take another the day that.  Progress is made by putting one foot ahead of the other, over and over again. 

The mere act of action breaks cycle of fear.  When fear no longer halts you, it no longer holds power over you.  It all begins with one small act.

As Dr. Seuss put it, “Somehow you’ll escape all that waiting and staying.  You’ll find the bright places
where Boom Bands are playing.”

© 2011 Matt Michel

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Little Things

At our shop meeting yesterday, the subject of what kind of rags should the Techs have and use was brought up, and the discussion concerning this rather mundane topic went on for some 15 minutes or so. At first blush, one might think, “Wow is this really something that requires all of this verbiage and energy?” Well I believe the answer is a resounding YES! Why? Because rags are used in conjunction with keeping their work areas clean both during and when they are finished with the job, which is one of the most important things a Service & Repair Company can ever do.

It was decided that the Techs needed rags made out of towels to soak up water and wipe things down, as well as paper towels for smaller jobs like cleaning glass, along with various cleaning products, etc. Then the question was asked if everyone had their clean-up systems up to speed? It turned out that some of the Techs in fact did not. We also found out there is an area in the shop for their cleaning supplies that had not always been maintained. It was agreed that from now on it would be restocked and kept that way in the future.

A simple solution for a simple problem, but to me it was a prime example of how complex running a business can be, even down to the smallest of details. I gave the others in the meeting my thoughts on why it was so important to make sure they had enough rags and cleaning supplies; and to always leave the work area cleaner than when they found it. Over the years, we have had a few situations where the Techs did a great job installing a Garbage Disposal, Boiler, Furnace, etc., but missed some little thing during the install and/or while finishing up.

The result of this was Mrs. Jones who was so happy to get her new whatever just as short time ago, is now very unhappy. She no longer cared about all of the value you provided while selling the job, or even that your price might have been higher than another company, as she thought you were better than they were, and would do a higher quality job. It was no longer important that you answered the phone properly and with a smile, that your trucks are clean and well stocked, and your Techs display photo I.D.s, and wear pretty uniforms with little Flags displayed on them.

What mattered now; was that a floor or countertop was not cleaned or covered properly, a wall was marked-up where a new Thermostat was installed, pipe dope was not wiped off a fitting or cabinet door, or that some bowl wax was left on a Water Closet, etc. Next comes the angry phone call, and all of the stress, grief, misery, time and applicable money lost with it, just because one of your Techs did not pay attention and wipe up with a clean rag, and therefore failed to leave the area cleaner than when they found it.

Studies used to say that an unhappy customer will tell 40 people or so about it, which is devastating for any company. The issue today however, is that they can now reach hundreds or even thousands of people via E-Mail, Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, etc. Therefore, some simple little thing can override all the time, energy, and money you spend on the training of your Technicians, as well as the advertising and marketing to reach her in the first place. Thousands of dollars down the drain over a dent, stain, or smudge, what a shame!

Just my it is always the little things thoughts,

Gene B