Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Christmas!

Happy Holidays from the Black Marble Consulting family to you!  I have to catch up on posts from this last week!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Friends and Events

So last night I went out to support a friend Andrew S. who had his first time spinning at a club (V2O) as one of the DJs.  Very cool night!  Big shout out to the whole BF tribe - Barb, Ali, Pete, Bryce, Annika, Drew and of course Andrew who was rocking it out!  It was so high energy and fun. I realized last night how much I have missed the club scene.  Of course, now it is entirely different for me - as one of the "old guard" at 35, it was a different perspective. Further, I felt entirely delighted to end our evening at about 12:30 am - after all, most of us were over 25.  There is something to be said for the connection of this group.  It was the recognition of a member of the tribe's creative activity.

By the same token, I recognize this in other teams - like Julio, Cameron, Dave & I at the shop. We protect one another, make sure that we focus on the same objective and help back each other up. It has This has been true of Jim B.,  Ali, DJ, Deb and the rest of Navigaytour team - we all are trying to move the product forward.  It has been interesting to see how teams react to both challenges and successes.  Again, I feel often that I am a broken record, but acknowledge the efforts of team members even in areas outside of the workplace.  The support you provide will be a huge part of their engagement.  Plus, more often than not, it is great fun!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Developing a team

Today I had the opportunity to meet with 10 energized members of the Seal Beach Chamber of Commerce to talk about marketing.  What is the secret for forming a productive team?  I would say the following:
  • Enthusiasm for the team objective
  • A prepared meeting plan with some thoughts to drive discussion
  • A watch - keep meetings under an hour and move things forward quickly
  • Actively listen to group participants - they need to feel involved
  • Form triads - three way groups to achieve specific tasks within the scope of work of the group
  • Share authority with team members - have them select the direction of the team
  • Facilitate so that the team stays on track
The objective in my consulting business is to "help innovators transform their ideas into strategic documents." I find that working with entrepreneurs in teams - their staff, their partners or even their investors to come up with more ideas and more effective execution of those ideas is the best and most effective use of team meetings.

I would encourage you to take a look at your business and your customers - there are resources that could form a team to help you.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Video opportunities

Who knows who might walk through your business door?  Today I filmed with Beach Fitness for a new TV program "Gym Make Over" - much like the redo programs for people's homes or businesses.  You never know when a filming crew may wish to use your business in a film, commercial or other episode.  Be open to the opportunity to have your business featured in these media.  So check it out and be willing to be filmed!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Fresh Ideas? Recycle!

All too often, small business tries to "reinvent the wheel."  This usually consumes huge amounts of the two resources entrepreneurs are usually short of: time & money.  I had a great staff meeting with a new client last night - Bogart's Coffee.  What was so wonderful about this meeting was that the team had many helpful, insightful and positive suggestions to improve the business.  All JoAnn & I will have to do is implement many of these ideas!  Look to staff for ideas in customer service, product selection and process improvements.  Look to customers for price point reactions, new products & services and the efficiency / friendliness of the employees.  By studying what the competition is doing, you may also get a better handle on what is working for them - thus, what can differentiate you.  A perfect example is Main Street in Seal Beach - there are many places which serve coffee, but each business has a distinct niche of product, service and customers.  This segmentation allows for multiple providers of a substitutable product.  The experience at each location is different.

Boat Parade

Well, this past Saturday night (12/13), I had the privilege of going to the Naples Island boat parade - what fun!  This event which has both a small and large boat component starts around 6 pm and goes for 2.5+ hours.  The boats are decorated and often have themes, what is more impressive than the boats are the homes along the canals!  Wow are they amazing!  Often with a theme and judged by their neighbors, these homes are epic visual fantasies in lights.  I will be sure to post a few photos of this evening.  Special thanks to Barb B., Ali L., Pete & Andrew S. for making me feel so welcome during this whole experience!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Back & Better than Ever - SEO Style

After my day off, I have to say that I am brimming with excitement regarding the new opportunities that this economy presents.  I encourage clients to look to the web for key advertising opportunities.  I have done several tests recently with print media and have come to the following conclusions about traditional print advertising:
  • Builds brand awareness
  • Communicates how to reach out to a business
  • Creates a sense of community to the business & its credibility in a community (it costs money to advertise)
  • Accesses a niche of readers - a community, a demographic, a type of customer (think fitness magazines or gay resources - they self select for a particular reader)
On the other hand - online seems to do the following:
  • Facilitate research of competitive choices (what service should I use. . .?)
  • Price comparisons of related businesses and their services
  • Create a buying opportunity NOW (like an online shopping cart)
  • Allows for direct feedback on products or services in an interactive way
What has thrilled me was a session of "Business Web Basics" with my friend and client Ann P.  Her business, Premazon Internet Consulting  took a complex web of information about search engine optimization (SEO) and made it comprehensible.  I didn't become an SEO expert, but I did become an expert in understanding what my SEO expert should do for my & my client's sites.  Thanks Ann!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Class & more to come

Today I went to a very cool all day seminar with my friend Ann P. - I plan on sharing more, but I have run out of time today. Also, in observance of, I will not be blogging tomorrow. Talk to you all on Thursday.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Modern Parable

Thanks to Gerry & Denise for sharing this!  Credit to whoever wrote this - I would attribute it if I could!

 A Japanese company (Toyota) and an American  company (Ford Motors) decided to have a canoe race on the Missouri River.  Both teams practiced long and hard to reach their peak  performance before the race. On the big day, the Japanese won by a mile. The Americans, very discouraged and depressed, decided to investigate the reason for the crushing defeat.  A management team made up of senior management was formed to investigate and recommend appropriate action. Their conclusion was the Japanese had 8 people rowing and 1 person steering, while the American team had 7 people steering and 2 people rowing

Feeling a deeper study was in order; American management hired a consulting company and paid them a large amount of money for a second opinion. They advised, of course, that too many people were steering the boat, while not enough people were rowing. Not sure of how to utilize that information,  but wanting to prevent another loss to the Japanese, the rowing team's management structure was totally reorganized to 4 steering supervisors, 2 area steering superintendents and 1 assistant superintendent steering  manager. They also implemented a new performance system that would give the 2 people rowing the boat greater incentive to work harder.  It was called the 'Rowing Team Quality First Program,' with meetings, dinners and free pens for the rowers.  There was discussion of getting new paddles, canoes and other equipment, extra vacation days for practices and bonuses.  The pension program was trimmed to 'equal the competition' and some of the resultant savings were channeled into morale boosting programs and teamwork posters. The next year the Japanese won by two miles. Humiliated, the American management laid-off one rower, halted development of a new canoe, sold all the paddles, and canceled all capital investments for new equipment.  The money saved was distributed to the Senior Executives as bonuses. The next year, try as he might, the lone designated rower was unable to even finish the race (having no paddles,) so he was laid off for unacceptable performance, all canoe equipment was sold and the next year's racing team was out-sourced to India . 

Sadly, the End. 

Here's something else to think about: Ford has spent the last thirty years moving all its factories out of the US, claiming they can't make money paying American wages. TOYOTA has spent the last thirty years building more than a dozen plants inside the US   The last quarter's results: TOYOTA makes 4 billion in profits while Ford racked up 9 billion in losses. Ford folks are still scratching their heads, and collecting bonuses... 

Showing up

It may seem simple, but in business, simply showing up ready to work and prepared is often more than half the battle. I continue to be amazed by entrepreneurs who think that once they have "put in their time" that the business should run itself. This is simply not the case. You may not be in the office/workspace for the hours, but you are constantly working on or with your business. For employees of those businesses, if you don't show up, the customers don't receive the goods or service and as a result, not only is revenue lost, but the customer downgrades the business because you are simply not available. Make a commitment to showing up regularly and being a demonstrative leader for the rest of the team!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Chicken and the Pig

In high school, I had a great football coach - Al Pisano.  He helped me understand what team was all about.  Though we had an awful 4 seasons (losing terribly for all of my high school experience), I gained a great deal of respect for the idea of commitment.  Today I work with clients and often find a story Coach Pisano used about commitment helpful to illustrate the focus of a team on a goal.  My dad also uses this story - thanks Dad!  Check out the photo to the right as you consider the story. . .

A farmer sits down to his breakfast and thinks about what it took to make that breakfast.  The chicken is involved, but the pig, the pig is COMMITTED to that breakfast. - get it?  

The chicken might have laid the egg, but the pig died for that breakfast.  Commitment is a through and through experience.  I am thankful to have clients who are committed to success - it is part of why I work with them.  One of the advantages of owning my own firm is that I don't work with clients who I don't want to be committed.  Sometimes it limits the client pool, but it helps me love what I do that much more.  When you are working in business, work from commitment, not just involvement.  Let me know what you think about commitment. . .

Friday, December 5, 2008

Christmas Parade & Know when to say when

The Christmas Parade is here! The street is being cleared and chairs started going up on Main Street at 10 am. It is 4:18 pm and the street is already covered with chairs. Thankfully, I have a space on the Big Red Bus (tell Peter I sent you!) and my mom, stepdad and partner are all going to dinner at Walt's Wharf. Jim K., who owns Baytown Realty and is this year's chair of the parade (as he has been for 25 years) does an amazing buffet and gathering at his place. . The parade had 75+ entries and drew thousands. I know my mom & stepdad loved it.

You know, when you get out for the holidays, be sure to remember that you need to cut back when the libations are really flowing. Alternate from alcoholic drinks to non. It is simple - don't drink and drive. Your life and the lives of those around you are too valuable! Tonight will be great fun with loads of people (10,000 expected) and lots of food, beverage and bands. All the merchants are staying open and making it extra festive.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Getting ready for the holidays. . .

Seal Beach has a tradition - the Christmas Holiday Parade. It falls on the first Friday in December every year. In its 28th year, this event goes 3 blocks (from Ocean to Pacific Coast Highway on Main Street) and takes two and a half hours. There are nearly 100 entries from all over California which come to be part of our small town parade. Last year was my first year and I had NO idea what it was all about. It is the best of small town with the joy of the holiday season. It is also an amazing period to connect with customers for Main Street merchants. The poster for the Tree Lighting was designed by Simone M. and is fantastic! She also did the Christmas Parade and this header for the OC Weekly to "Shop and Dine Main Street". I would invite all of you to come down to Seal Beach and celebrate the season! The City, the Chamber of Commerce and the local Lions Club all get together to produce this amazing event. Major kudos to Jim K. and Scott N. who have made this event happen - also, special thanks to Erik D-G for representing the Chamber so well with all of his support.

Lights are all strung on Main Street and I am beginning to play all that holiday / Christmas music. I have made a decision this year - no gifts except to children. No over consumption in my family! How about yours?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

How bad will it get?

What is happening in the economy? How does it affect small marketplaces and small business? I don't have a crystal ball, but I would agree with many economists that we are NOT even at the trough yet of this recession. Since it began in December of 2007, the average duration of recessions would suggest that we have more than 12 but less than 24 months. I submit that is still too short - we are already 12 months in with at least 8 more to go. We will likely see unemployment reach double digits (at least in California) and a continuing pressure against consumer goods. We will likely not even see the light at the end of the "tunnel" until 2009 Q3 - say September.
The photo to the right is symbolic for me in many ways, but it seemed particularly relevant to the economy. It was taken by one of my best friends - S. J. Carter How much pressure will it take for the American Citizen's heart to feel the agony that rampant consumerism and consipicuous overconsumption has wreaked upon our lives and our values? We need to begin to understand the way out of this economic hardship is not by spending more than we earn or creating greater debt, but by focusing on things truly needed rather than simply wanted.
I would advise all clients now to husband their resources, stay focused on their core business and expand only if the opportunity seems right for the next several years with current market conditions. Now is the time to be creating strategic alliances, batering for needed services and lowering aggregate overhead.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Quick Aside - Video link

I wanted to link a quick video I did for the Summer Concert Series in Seal Beach. The address is Don't laugh! It was totally off the cuff and I just threw it together.

Financial performance

Financials for clients in this marketplace are of particularly focus.  Thankfully, all of my clients are seeing increased year over year performance (with one exception).  While I would like to say this is due to my work alone, it is not - it is due to the focus on team performance that the leadership of the business owners has.  What we all need to remember is that all economic times come in cycles - this may be a down time for many industries, but is a boom time for some.  As a fellow entrepreneur said to me recently: "In good times you can make good money, in bad times you can make fortunes!"

Focus not so much on the gross top line, but ensuring that now your business gets lean, nimble, profitable and very client driven.  A great example of how to look to add on to your business is the same model that amusement parks use - the careful extraction of money while you are enjoying the experience: food, gifts, games and mementos (like photographs).  Take time to look at the business through the eyes of the client / customer rather than the bottom line.

I also recommend against the "cost cutting" or discounting that the holiday season typically brings - instead offer ways for the customer to feel more value, then they will readily share their resources with you.  Regardless of what the news says, people are spending money in this economy, it may as well be in your business.