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Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Update by John Beagle,
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How SMBs Can Punch Above Their Weight

 

by Kieran Flanagan & Dan Gregory

One of the opportunities we have as we travel around the world working with organizations of different sizes and from virtually every business sector is that we get to observe the macro-trends that are redefining the way we do business. One of the macro-trends we’ve identified is the rise of entrepreneurship and intra-preneurialism.

In other words, pieces of large corporations are peeling off and becoming start-ups as employees become business owners, and internally, corporate culture is scrambling to develop this kind of free-thinking enterprise in a world where playing safe is the new risky.

This requires a big shift in the way we think about work and just as importantly what we consider is necessary to have an impact at scale.

Much of this is being driven by the digital revolution that is quite literally making the “two people in a garage” scenario a credible and ever-present threat to the big end of town. Whatever the reasons behind this shift: what’s immediately obvious is that these are indeed interesting times for small business owners with big ambitions.

In this environment, those who do well, those who stand out from the competitive chaos and establish a strong hold in their industry are those who demonstrate a new set of critical skills.

So what are these new skills that SMBs require?

1. Love someone better than anyone else does

We all like to feel like we’re important, like we matter, that we’re special and respected for our individuality. But this is scarcely the experience most of us enjoy from the commercial entities we interact on a daily basis. When we do have this kind of experience, it is not only noteworthy, it seems extraordinary.

The café that has the regular’s names printed on cups and hung on the wall so they feel a sense of “membership”, the photography school that specializes in teaching new and expecting parents how to take amazing photographs of their newborns, the florist whose database keeps a log of your important dates and prompts little acts of thoughtfulness with a text so you never miss a birthday, anniversary or special occasion. These are the businesses that develop loyalty beyond reason (to draw on the language of Kevin Roberts).

2. Understand the business you’re in, not just the job you do

This is a problem businesses of all sizes often find themselves in. It’s easy to be so distracted by the day to day activity of our “job” that we forget the business we’re really in.

Hairdressers, for instance, may cut your hair, but if they hope to justify a premium pricing, they had better be in more than the business of shorter hair!

It’s useful to think not in terms of the service or product you provide, but rather in terms of the value your customers or clients gain from this experience.

Sometimes, this is as simple as being clear about where the money trail leads. At the risk of sounding like Cuba Gooding Jr in the movie Jerry MacGuire, show me the money can often be sage advice. For instance, those optometrists who make considerably more money in selling frames than from their medical consults are in fact in the retail fashion business, not medical services. This distinction should inform the way their store in designed, how they communicate with customers and also the language their staff use in store.

3. Design “nowhere else” experiences

In many ways, these experiences are the very things that justify the existence of your business in the first place. This should be more than a superficial point of difference and should define the way you would like to see your industry change.

It’s the restaurant with the “arrogant” chef who tells you what you’ll have and kicks you out if they see you perusing a menu (in doing so a “weakness” becomes uniqueness), the jeweler who shows the little girl choosing a charm for her bracelet the same attention of an engagement ring shopper and the airline that makes those monotonous safety warnings at the beginning of a flight more tolerable. These are the experiences we remember and importantly, want to share.

4. Create stories worth sharing

As word of mouth has become word of mouse, the stories, experiences and opinions our customers share about us have become increasingly important and either an incredible asset or else a pressing liability.

Social media has largely been a distracting annoyance for a lot of small to medium businesses, where perhaps the thing we should be focusing on, is not the channel, but in generating stories that a worth sharing, then making them easy to share.

5. Focus on the boring bits

Too often we become distracted by the “big” things in our business. This makes logical sense, but these are often areas that small to medium businesses struggle to find a competitive foothold. We fight to compete on range, or pricing or distribution, simply because scale makes this factors an easy win for the big end of town.

However, it is the small things, the areas in which SMBs can perform, that are often overlooked by big corporates. More importantly, they are often the friction, or “breakage-points” that drive customer dissatisfaction where SMBs can stand out by paying more attention.

6. Understand who you help them to be

All human behavior is ultimately driven by our sense of identity – this affects us at a far deeper level than simple logic or emotion. In fact, human beings can be compelled to commit incredible acts of heroism or cruelty, things that defy logic and can even cause emotional pain, simply by aligning these actions with our underlying definition of identity.

However, this is rarely the level at which businesses seek to engage their staff or customers. Key in this process is asking the question, “Who do we help them to be?” By engaging with our business, using our services or buying our products, what do they project to the rest of the world about who they are?

This is critical, not just to inform our sales and marketing strategies, but also how we attract, inspire and lead members of our team.

The point is, SMBs can punch above their weight and stand toe to toe with the big guys, so glove up and start punching!

 

Kieran Flanagan & Dan Gregory are behavioral researchers and strategists, specializing in behaviors and belief systems–what drives, motivates and influences us. They have won business awards around the world for Innovation, Creativity and ROI working with such organizations as Coca-Cola, Unilever, News Corp and the United Nations in Singapore. They are passionate advocates for the commercial power of creativity and a return to more human engagement, cultures and leadership. Published by WILEY, Kieran and Dan’s new book Selfish, Scared & Stupid is available in paperback RRP $22.95 from www.selfishscaredandstupid.com.


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Thursday, February 12, 2015
Update by Andy Wendt, Editor
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Tips To Help Protect Your SMB This Tax Season

Quick tips to help you protect yourself and your business this tax season:

SMB Tax Season Safety Tips

· Make sure you have internet security software. Security software is the first line of defense you need between cybercriminals and the sensitive/financial data you keep on your computer, in your network, or in the cloud.  And traditional antivirus software is no longer enough. Small businesses should consider robust, multilayered solutions like Norton Small Business, which was designed specifically for businesses with fewer than 20 employees, and Symantec Endpoint Protection Small Business Edition, which was designed for small business with more than 20 employees and more complex IT needs.

· Internet security software alone is not enough; you also need to back up your important data. Having a digital copy of your critical business information ensures that you can recover your critical data in the event of an attack or a system crash.  

· Utilize encryption for sensitive data. If you plan to use a wireless network to electronically file your taxes, be sure to use a secure Internet connection – never use public wireless hotspots.

· Be suspicious! Scammers are quite good at making emails and links look legitimate, and the most lucrative tax return schemes are based on identity theft, so ensure your email is truly sent from the advertised source before opening it. Also, always be apprehensive about providing financial information, such as your Social Security Number (SSN), bank or credit card account numbers, or security-related information like your mother's maiden name, online—look for trust identifications like the Norton Secured Checkmark before submitting.

· Require Password Protection. Password protect directories and accounts to ensure your data is defended from outside threats. Choose passwords with care—don't select a recognizable word, or something obvious, such as "password" or your name. Make your passwords as long and as complex as you can.

· Always log out completely. Whether you're on a tax site, an online store, or any site in which you've entered personal information, remember one step: log out when you're done. If you don't, you're exposing identity information to cyber thieves. This is especially true if you're using a public computer or a shared work computer.

· The IRS will never email you. Ever. If you get an email from the IRS or EFTPS (Electronic Federal Tax Payment System), don't respond. Instead, forward it to phishing@irs.gov. You should also know that the IRS will never call you by phone. Email threats about consequences for failing to respond or blocking access to your funds are always fraudulent.

· The postal system is not the safest way to receive checks from the IRS. Criminals look for unlocked mailboxes at tax time to steal tax return envelopes. Always have your refund directly deposited into your bank account to help ensure your money reaches you.


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Wednesday, February 04, 2015
Update by John Beagle,
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Shouldn't Government Support SMB's?

Picture: Ad in tomorrow’s Politico featuring Heidi Ganahl, CEO and Founder of Camp Bow Wow, a leading pet care franchise.

by John Beagle

The Job Creators Network (JCN) is highlighting their national advertising campaign that criticizes the National Labor Relation Board's (NLRB) recent recommendation that franchisors be considered "joint employers" with their franchisees.

The Senate HELP Committee is holding a hearing to examine the "joint employer" recommendation tomorrow, and JCN will have a full page ad in Politico to coincide with the hearing.

"We are confident that the Senate HELP Committee’s hearing on the 'joint employer' standard will demonstrate that the NLRB General Counsels suggestion is wrong for American small businesses,”" said Alfredo Ortiz, CEO of the Job Creators Network. “Our members provide real jobs and real opportunities for the middle class in America, and the government should support such small business growth instead of increasing the barriers to entry for those seeking to invest in the franchise model.”

The ad is part of JCN’s ongoing national advertising campaign defending the franchise system that is under threat by the NLRB's General Counsel's recommendation that franchisors be considered “joint employers” with their franchisees, a major shift in labor law that will drive up the costs of purchasing a franchise and choke off opportunity for tens of thousands of new small business owners.

The three people who are speaking for JCNs national campaign and the SMB franchise systems in America are:

Heidi Ganahl, CEO and Founder of Camp Bow Wow, has widely spoken about the negative impact of the NLRB recommendation from her position as a franchisor. Stephen Bienko, Founder, and President, 42 Holdings; a franchisee of College Hunks Hauling Junk, has spoken about the position of a franchisee.

Michael Lotito, Co-Chair Littler’s Workplace Policy Institute, Labor Lawyer and NLRB expert, speaks on the legal specifics of the NLRB recommendation.

Job Creators Network (JCN) is the voice of real job creators that has been missing from the debate on jobs and our economic crisis. JCN members talk about paychecks, not politics, helping the public and policymakers understand how to create jobs. For more information please visit www.JobCreatorsNetwork.com and www.DefendMainStreet.com.


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Wednesday, January 28, 2015
Update by Andy Wendt, Editor
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Uversity: An SMB Case Study From Dropbox

Uversity helps colleges boost student enrollment with Dropbox for Business
Steve Carpenter

College admissions can be an intimidating and confusing process. But applicants who have a chance to see what campus life will really be like—often by speaking with current students—typically enroll at higher rates to universities that are a better fit for them. That's the premise behind San Francisco-based Uversity, which uses real-time data to help colleges and universities improve enrollment and retention rates. 

With five million students across 140 partner schools (like Washington State University and Columbia College Chicago), Uversity has built an online community where students can interact with future classmates and admissions officers, to learn more about the university and campus life. Using algorithms to crunch large volumes of demographic and behavioral data, Uversity predicts which prospective students are most likely to enroll in—and stay—at their partner schools, so those schools can target the right candidates. 

But performing these predictive analyses requires the ability to store and share massive volumes of data, and Uversity had no central repository for its information. While staff members initially resorted to storing data on local hard drives and sending files over email, as the young company grew, the team realized they needed tighter control over their information. 

“Our data was very fragmented,” recalled Operations Manager Meghan Strauss. “Not everyone had access to the files they needed. There was no visibility into our file-sharing environment and no security over our proprietary information. It was like the Wild West.” 

They knew there had to be a better way—so they took a cue from the student world. Solutions like Dropbox, for example, are already a favorite among college students for accessing class materials from anywhere or easily sharing term papers with professors. And because students often use the service in high school, too, the transition to college becomes that much easier; there's one less thing they have to acclimate to during the first few stressful months of college. 

So after evaluating multiple solutions, Uversity decided the best way to regain control over data access and file sharing was moving to Dropbox for Business —and they quickly saw a difference. “Dropbox for Business has brought our team together,” explained Strauss. “Our employees can access the exact information they need. And from a business perspective, we know our data is secure and always available to us whether we’re working remotely or in the office.”

With Dropbox for Business, the Uversity team no longer has issues accessing and sharing large files, especially because Dropbox's LAN sync feature reduces the time it takes to update and share files within the same office network. Now the marketing and sales teams can quickly download and share large multimedia presentations and webinars; finance can easily access spreadsheet archives, sales contracts, and partner agreements; and the product team can work with large volumes of data without issue. “With our large files and everyone working on a wireless network, availability could be a big issue for us,” said Strauss. “But Dropbox for Business does a great job of managing bandwidth and transferring data.”

By keeping the company's files securely stored and backed up, Dropbox ensures that Uversity's information is always accessible when it's needed, yet ensures that it never falls into the wrong hands. For example, if a Uversity employee loses their smartphone or laptop, the company can remotely wipe the Dropbox files from the device whenever it next comes online. Similarly, if an employee leaves the company, Uversity can easily reassign his or her files to another user, thanks to Dropbox's account transfer feature. “Security is really important to us,” she added. ”With Dropbox for Business, we know our information is always safe.”

For Uversity's small but growing team, deploying such an easy-to-use platform has allowed them to save on training costs, while boosting productivity. "We've never had an IT person on staff, and Dropbox for Business lets us maintain our do-it-yourself approach," says Strauss. "We can keep resources lean and use our capital to invest in product development, sales, and marketing."

With data storage taken care of, Uversity can spend more time focusing on their mission of helping students find the best college experience. “Dropbox for Business is an indispensable part of our daily lives," said Strauss. "We don’t ever have to think about it, so we can focus our attention on what we do best: helping students make the right college decisions.”


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