Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Smell the fear

Oh my gawd!, look at my in box. Given hard times everyone is trying to fill it. The spam level has exploded and I am getting bombarded with more promotions that ever. The result is of course I spend a bit more time killing this stuff and don't look at any of it. These folks are getting desperate and the only solution to their very limited marketing imaginations is to turn up the throttle, which is increase, the volume of their customer communications. A simple answer, send more e-mails to your customers with more offers.

Does this really work? A Does it make sense?

Heck no!

I am so busy getting rid of junk communications from people I have done business with and expect to in the future that I don't even read them anymore. I find myself hitting the UNSUBSCRIBE button more just out of spite for their stupidity.

I have my own stresses, don't add yours to the pile. There must be a better way. And of course there is.

First, as the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy says, in friendly letters, DON'T PANIC!

This is the time to create stronger bonds, not alienate the customer. Here are some thoughts on how to do that.

1 - Don't Broadcast Your Panic. It stinks. The customer can smell it and is repulsed, usually pertinently. Control yourself, the big push isn't going to save the day so get smart, stop and think . . don't stampede with knee-jerk reactions. Calm down.

2 - It is all changing, the market and your customers. Define the change so you can adapt your approaches to fit it. In theory the ultimate skill of mankind is to adapt and evolve quickly so try to be a good functional human. This means the first thing is to find out the new rules. Take time to ask the customer what is going on and where they are going. Get feedback, answer questions, be useful and maintain those good relations you worked so hard to get.

3 - You are scared, they are scared, get above it even if you think the ship is sinking, get their input and project your wisdom. Be strong, not overbearing, show wisdom and strength. Become a bastion of hope, it's what Obama did and worked for him, you still don't hear a plan but the belief that one is coming keeps people tuned in and listening. Follow that path.

4 - Dialog with your customers. Engage them. Write content that encourages dialog, get their ideas and publish them to other customers. Timely, entertaining, relevant, hopeful content shows that you are on top of it, experts with strength. Listening shows you care, spreading the word, answer to questions and smart advise, all show that you are responsible, trustworthy, and concerned for them.

5 - If there ever was time to be social, this is it! Don't run off into the 'WEB.2' illusion, get real. Your customer's have a desire to do well for others, figure out how you can get into that flow. If it is sales, give some of the cash flow to charity and make a point of it, it is really your customer who is helping out, make sure he knows it and can be proud that when the chips are down what is good for him (your stuff or service) is also good for the community. There a thousand variations on this, find one that works for you.

6 - If you have a local presence, partner with local companies to make an event. Simple things, take your internal expertise, your Financial, HR, Ops, Procurement, even Execs public. Set up a simple "ask the expert" table top in a bookstore, supermarket, where ever, and offer up their experience and knowledge to those who want to learn or need knowledge. Take those dialogs, now questions from the common man, and use them as content for your email. Practical stuff that can get you newspaper and radio exposure as well as tell you customers you really care.

Use your imagination; push out with who you are, not just your "deals". Build trust and show concern. It is cheap to do, just open your heart and show you have one.

Copyright 2008 Barry W Thornton all rights reserved

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Coward

The other day I again ran across a major manager, in this case a CEO but this thought is not limited to the CEO class, who is a bully. I was reminded of something that Halibuton* said:

"A brave man is sometimes a desperado; but a bully is always a coward."

When you meet and observe driven individuals that you will have to interact with it is important to learn early which kind you are dealing with.

In business there is a strong lead and/or follow relationship issue in when two or more personalities work toward a transaction or common goal. Fundamental to the relationship is the issue of personal faith, that is in theory you both put faith in each other as an assumptive basis for the furtherance of your activity. It takes a brave person to deal with the truths frequently necessary to succeed, a bit of the desperado is not uncommon for part of the definition of desperado it to be bold enough to cast a fear aside, in this case to do what is right.

This is not the domain of the bully for he is a coward. The bully will use bluster to camouflage that character flaw, most commonly in the form of misleading you with their supposed fame. Bragging, name-dropping, innuendo, implying relationships, generally claiming what is not theirs are the tools they use and that you must watch out for.

As you build your business you are exercising bravery. For the faint of heart do not pick up the responsibility for their lives and the lives of others, they do not follow their dreams. They steal and claim dreams from others.

You will be besieged by bullies who will try to impress you with their skill, power, and virtue. This is always with the intent of getting their hand into your pocket, to acquire your power and resources, and to leverage you in the launch on to their next victim

This guy I met the other day reminded me that constant vigilance is the key to survival and success. Thus again, Andy Grove’s motto, "only the paranoid survive" comes home.

Have a prosperous New Year in these trying times.

Barry Thornton, a part-time follower of Socrates

*Thomas Haliburton (1796-1867) Scottish Humorist

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Bootstrap Success Leads to Great Opportunities!

Collaboration is nothing new to the members of the Bootstrap Network, but little did we know that our initial collaborations and educational efforts in the Art subgroup would lead to an invitation to participate in a great local event that is held annually, the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar. Eleven Bootstrap artists, Ian Blair, Doug Brown, Carmen Canaan, Lisa Cowling, Nell Gottlieb, Jamie Johnson, Michael Long, Rey Madolora, Darren Minke, and Jess Wade, will be proud participants in this great event on December 22 - 24.

For those of you who don't know, the Christmas Bazaar is in its 33rd year of operation under the guidance of founder and producer Bruce Willenzik. Bruce is a consummate business man and promoter of the arts who has been active in the Austin art scene and community planning for decades, including a long and continuing stint on the Austin Commission of the Arts. He has long championed the principles of collaboration and has made a point of teaching sales and marketing skills to participants in the Bazaar, all of whom are artists and crafts people who know their trades but not necessarily how to present their work and sell it most effectively. Teaching these skills and fostering collaboration are precisely the mission of the Bootstrap Art subgroup.

Because of the event's popularity, there is quite a waiting list of artists and crafts people who want to be a part of it. The standards one must meet in order to get in go beyond talent and include a certain degree of business acumen and the requirement for a mentor to be nearby in order to help new participants if they need it. These are areas which the Bootstrap Art subgroup has been focused on since its inception two years ago, consequently, our members are well-versed in concepts such as art as a business, cross-selling and cross-promotion, mentorship, marketing, etc. As a former speaker at the art subgroup, Bruce is familiar with our philosophy and progress which largely mirrors his own approach, and when space became available at the Bazaar, he was happy to offer it to us.

Opportunities like this don't just fall into your lap for no reason. It takes hard work and perseverance to put yourself in a position for things like this to happen. In our case, it was two years in the making, and it was well worth it.

Thank you to Bruce Willenzik and the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar for recognizing our efforts, and to the members of the Bootstrap Art subgroup who have been active in helping each other and collaborating in events such as this!

Friday, December 12, 2008

All that glitters is...

...not gold. That's right, is not gold!

Glitter is a distraction and mental occupier, it is rarely reality. I have found over the years that the more the lights blink, the more noise it makes, the more buzz and glitz produced...the less the profits and potential really exist. By the time the lights are on you are late to the party.

We are creatures whose brains are based on the attention to change. For the couple of million years we evolved in being attentive to the snap of a twig or the flicker of a color in the tall grass was all that kept us alive. Fight or Flee is a core operating paradigm still in our brains. Ever wake up in the middle of the night because of a sound? Did you happen notice that your adrenaline was already flowing, the cognitive part of your brain, the consciousness, was the last part to come on line, you were already to take action when your eyes opened. You hear 300 to 3000 Hertz best because that is the frequency range of the sound braking twigs and rustling grass. You see more shades of yellow because living in tall yellow grass you had to see tiger stripes from dried grass in an instant. You are sensitive to change, it is the basis of our brains, all this thought stuff we do came much later in the brain's development, in the last 1% of our evolution. Change is what our brains are all about.

Ever notice that one of the first questions out of most people's mouths is "what’s new?"

We are driven by fads, the presentation of newness. We love it! Look at our response to hype. How about movies and music, the delivered product is typically a let down compared the promise of something new. What is greater than a new love?

I am not saying you should be cynical (which you should) but that this is the pattern of life, newness and change is attractive because we are wired for it (I am old enough to have seen bell-bottom become popular for the third time that I know of so I have to assume it happened many times before I became aware of them in the sixties). Virtually everything has happened before but it is new to us the first time we experience it, thus it is exciting, it makes our brains perk up and focus, dream, and for a moment we are more alive than we have been in a while. The habituation sets in, we get used to it, it become normal and dull. Thus are we wired to think.

So what is the point for an entrepreneur you ask?

Simple, don't fall for newness but use it to your advantage, and do so without shame. After all, it is life's only consistent pattern besides death and taxes.

Barry Thornton is a Technology and Marketing Guy

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Use Everything

If you've heard Bijoy talk about bootstrapping at all, then I'm sure you've heard him talk about "using everything."

Because bootstrappers are building business models that are unique to the individual, we have a unique opportunity to blend different pieces from our experiences and weave them into our businesses. I believe that I can represent to you exactly what it means to use everything, so that you might be able to bring some creativity into your business.

At 31 years old, I had left the corporate world in search of something new. The market was horrible (2002) and finding a job without connections was impossible, so I decided to try new things. I stumbled onto an opportunity to bartend and was able to work at night to make cash while having my days free to set up calls and work on starting a magazine (which I had no idea how to do).

Many warned me about "staying out of the corporate world too long" or "having to explain a gap on my resume." But honestly, the thought of writing another press release about something that was not newsworthy made me want to puke! Besides, I knew that it would eventually pay off.

So a few years later, I finally had enough revenue to put my first issue of Business District out. One of the first advertisers came directly from a referral from one of my managers.

Along the way, I started going to a boxing gym--I had always wanted to learn how to box, and needed someone to push me to exercise, because I don't do well on my own.

Fast forward a few years, and I engaged with the bar to manage their advertising (totally in line with my magazine venture). They also asked me if I knew anyone that could plan a boxing match, which we later decided would be in the parking lot of their club.

I helped them get sponsors and helped plan the event. I worked my butt off, and didn't make any money, but learned a lot about putting a sporting event together.

One of the sponsors of the event was Tecate, and as I was talking to the rep, I offered him a free ad in the magazine because they stepped up and sponsored the event. We decided that Dos Equis, another beer they carried, was a better fit for our target audience with their "Most Interesting Man in the world" campaign. After coordinating the ad, I asked the rep if they had any money they needed to get off their books by the end of the year, and would like to consider advertising for next year.

So I'm excited about my newest client in the magazine--Dos Equis--who bought ads for all of next year.

Some times, people ask me if I plan to sell the magazine. At this point, because I'm using it to pursue every avenue that is of interest to me, I can't quite figure out a scenario where selling made sense.

And besides--exit strategies are for VCs.

P.S. I've also been taking jazz piano lessons, which I thoroughly enjoy, and you can bet that will show up somewhere in my business.

Jason Myers (jason at abdmag dot com) is the publisher of Business District Magazine and led the Bootstrap Austin branding initiative.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Bootstrap Web

Bootstrap Web Democamp

The Bootstrap Web Subgroup. sometimes referred to as the Web 2.0 subgroup, has been active since 2006. You can find information about the group and audio from most of our meetings at the Bootstrap Web wiki page. Our admittedly biased view is that the web subgroup is most critical because all business is moving to the web.

In October, Bijoy Goswami and I previewed our presentation on building effective online commmunities, called Bootstrap Your Online Community. This was incidentally a first step toward the January launch of a Community Subgroup.

In November, we held our third quarterly Democamp, organized by Miles Sims. Five web companies showed their innovative wares in twenty-minute presentations. These presentations just keep getting better - looking forward to the next round in February.

Bootstrap Web meets on the third Tuesday of each month at Conjunctured, the Coworking Company, 1309 E. 7th Street.