Saturday, June 30, 2007

 

Great buzz for 24-Hour Fitness

It's a beautiful day in Kirkland, and I'm driving around town this morning running errands. Then, like thousands of other drivers today, I had a positive, buzz-worthy experience with 24-Hour Fitness. And it cost them nothing.

At a busy downtown intersection, two stationary exercise bikes were sitting right in the middle of the sidewalk, with two young women in sunglasses getting in a workout. They were smiling and waving to cars as they passed by.

How easy was that? Take two of your stationary bikes, put them outside, and invite guests to workout and sunbathe at the same time, while also driving awareness and buzz for the gym.

It's hard to measure back how this stunt will drive incremental memberships for 24-Hour Fitness, but that almost doesn't matter. It's a completely risk-free, win-win for the gym, passers-by, and the participants sunning themselves while cycling in place. Brilliant.

Great job, guys.

Friday, June 29, 2007

 

Elevator Questions

If you're in business, you should know your elevator pitch. In a five-story elevator ride, how would you describe your business? How would you tell a prospective partner, customer or employee why your business is remarkable?

The concept of the elevator pitch is not new. But I hadn't really considered the elevator question until reading Tim Connor's great book, 91 Mistakes Smart Salespeople Make.

According to Tim, an elevator question is any question that cuts to the heart of your prospect's challenges, concerns or fears to make them think. It's a question that implies you or your organization may have a possible solution for their problems.

Of course, elevator questions are not confined to elevators. They can be used on the trade show floor, at the start of a phone conversation, even in voicemails.

Get right to the heart of what your customers care about, worry about, and are themselves paid to do. Imply with the question that you may have a solution. Then watch your prospects engage.

Thanks, Tim.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

 

Strategic abandonment

There's absolutely no chance your business can successfully operate in the same way today that it did five years ago. Too much has changed - customers, competitors, business conditions, technology, etc. The ingredients that made you successful five years ago have changed, disappeared, perhaps strengthened.

And yet change and innovation is one of the most complicated and challenging issues facing existing business. It's why start-ups can gain such incredible traction on entrenched market leaders, because they're starting from scratch with a new set or rules, assumptions and business practices that more directly map to current conditions.

Peter Drucker called this systematic abandonment, the deliberate process of letting go of familiar products in favor of the new or as yet unknown. He offered clients three key questions to focus their thinking on strategic abandonment:

These are difficult questions to answer, and far more difficult to put into practice. But the hard questions, and even harder conversations, are key to innovation and growth.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

 

Making your customers right

Bashing your competitors is easy. It's also a very slippery slope.

Leveraging a competitor's position to accentuate your strengths is smarter. It allows you to acknowledge that you're not the only player in the field, but that you offer a superior product or service.

Seth does a nice job with competitive positioning in his recent riff on Verizon's iPhone positioning strategy this week.

Rather than bash the new competitor, demonstrate your relative strengths in the marketplace. Let your current customers know that they've made the right choice with you, and help prospective customers understand your comparative strengths.

Seth also rightly points out the enormous opportunity the iPhone has created for cell phone marketers everywhere. Yes, the iPhone is exciting, but it's also already introducing new challenges, problems and pain points (such as battery life, complexity and durability) that other manufacturers and service providers can build on in their own marketing - without even mentioning their new convergent competitor.

 

Drucker on Focus & Innovation

The father of modern management will be teaching us new ways to innovate and improve our businesses for a long time, despite his passing earlier this year. Peter Drucker's insights and strategies have not only stood the test of time, but seem to get stronger and more relevant as things change and evolve.

Case in point: Throughout the nearly 70 years Drucker worked with clients in numerous industries and verticals, he typically started with these four questions:
Most of us can reasonably get through the first question, but tying that customer identification to perceived value and expected, customer-centric results is where we often go astray.

If you haven't done so in awhile, apply these questions to your business. Make sure that both you and the rest of your management team knows, understands and believes the answers.


 

Who are you selling to?

In our increasingly complex world, identifying your customer isn't as straightforward as many assume it to be.

Your customer, for example, may not actually use your product. They may not even really care about your product.

Let's assume for simplicity's sake that customers come in three categories:

1) the user
2) the buyer
3) the influencer

All three exist, in nearly every product and service available in the market today. But do you have a strategy for how to reach and mobilize each group? Do you know how to identify each customer individually?

This is all about relationships and leverage, and knowing your customers intimately. Getting to that level of insight, and knowing how to leverage the complex relationships your customers have amongst each other, is a critically important element of marketing strategy.

And if you haven't thought about it this way before, you might find that it immediately opens up new opportunities within your business for growth and market share.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

 

MoM Links for June 26, 2007

Marketing plans are for suckers: Scott started with something complicated, then ended up with something brilliantly simple.

What has your intern taught you?: Make this summer's "seasonal help" a two-way street (like Pete did).

Eight steps to creating brand evangelists: Mack nailed it, and there are plenty of things on this list you can start to execute today!

Alignment: Seth gives two examples of creative sponsorship opportunities that quickly and immediately would pay dividends in brand awareness and perception. But would you have the guts to do it?

Guilt-Free Self Promotion: Promoting yourself is perfectly acceptable, if you do it right. Scott tells you how.

Retailing Best Practices: Check out these marketing and promotional ideas straight from the retail world. Could they apply to your business? Think outside of the box...



 

Welcome home

Making your customers feel special often doesn't take much. Sometimes, just two words will do it.

Many companies attempt to create customer loyalty by building large, complicated loyalty programs - often essentially paying their customers to stay loyal. These programs take months to plan, build and launch - then often are over the top, too complicated, and not really hitting home with customers.
On the other side of the spectrum, take this story about an experience with U.S. Customs. Very different, but with the same goal in mind.

What are you doing to help make customers loyal to your company, products and brands? Despite the success of your current retention and loyalty programs, what simpler things could you execute - today in your organization - that could have an equal effect on customer satisfaction?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

 

What's your time worth?

Like you, I have a thousand things to do every day. Work, family, errands, responsibilities.

They all need to get done. But too often, I do them the hard way. Much of the time, it's not really worth my time to do it that way.

There are things in my life that I now outsource. Things that may cost a little money to do so, but let me make far better use of my limited time.

For example, I have an older, diabetic cat. She needs special diabetic dry cat food, which is only available at one of two vet clinics in the area. In the past, to get a new bag of cat food, I've had to make a special trip to one of these clinics.

What if I could get that food, and not have to make the trip? Don't I have something better, more productive, more efficient to do with that 30-40 minutes?

I'm not talking about paying someone else to run that errand for me. There are far cheaper ways to get that bag of food than that. Instead of 40 minutes to get that food, I spent five:

That's 30 minutes I have back - to spend more time with my family, squeeze in a quick workout, or crank out another quick project at work. It's my choice what I do with that time, but I guarantee it's better spent than sitting in my car (burning gas, sending more emissions into the atmosphere, etc.) And that cat food is one of several things I can automate to get more time back in my personal and professional life.

What's your time worth? What would you rather be doing?


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

 

MoM Links for June 19, 2007

12 Tips to Organize Your Desk: It'll look nicer, feel better, and help you stay focused.

Headlines are stop signs: They're not "buy" signs, as Copyblogger points out, so don't worry about making them work too hard. More great copywriting tips follow.

54 questions for entrepreneurs: Good list for product planners and business leaders as well. Thanks, Scott.

Why the iPhone will fail: Laura is absolutely right. Despite similar names, it's the anti-iPod.

Simple, brilliant customer evangelism: Started with a simple customer effort, then magnified by an even simpler company effort. Brilliant.

Don't do it: Why Marc Andreesson thinks starting your own business is a bad idea.

Monday, June 18, 2007

 

Three Questions about Productivity

Mark at Productivity501 asks three very important questions, and challenges others to provide answers.

Click on the question below and you'll see how several prominent productivity experts answered. Then see my personal answer below:

What is the single biggest way people waste time without even realizing it?

Not knowing what your top priorities are. If you established a top five and "first of five" every single day (I'm talking work days primarily, but this would work on weekends too!), then you could manage everything else accordingly. You would know that you can leave your email alone, for example, because it can't be more important than your "first of five" priority.

What change has made the most difference in making you effective in life?

Getting up early. I wake up at 5:30 a.m. every weekday morning now, and it's had an incredible impact on my energy and productivity throughout the rest of the day.

If someone were to read just one post from your site, which would you recommend the read and why?

Here's one of my favorite recent posts about Cooks in the Kitchen. It identifies a key problem that almost every professional has, with tips on how to get stuff done in spite of it. I think it's a good example of the kind of topics I like to write about, with practical advice that anyone can follow.

 

How to instantly be credible

A few months ago I read What Clients Love by Harry Beckwith, and bookmarked several passages I intended to later think more about.

One such passage had to do with creating credibility and believability in record time.

The secret? Admit a weakness.

Tell your audience (whether it's one or many) about something you did wrong, something you're terrible at, or something that has always been a steep challenge.

By showing honesty in this way, your audience will assume the rest of what you say is the truth. Admitting a weakness will also disarm your audience, and serve as a stronger ice-breaker in a sales situation than you might think.

Choose your publicized weakness carefully, but find ways to use this to your advantage.

Get more great advice and insights from Harry here.

 

Breakthrough ideas from a change of scenery

Aside from the occasional out-of-town trip or out-of-office meeting, I spend most of my time working in two locations - my office at HouseValues and my home office.

The majority of that work time is at the HouseValues office. I feel fortunate to have a great working space here, but sometimes it's way too familiar. The same distractions and stimuli surround me every day, people know exactly where to find me if they need something, and I typically have the exact same things to stare at (in the office, and out the window) in my constant search for inspiration.

I spend less time at my home office (thankfully), but still enough that it's a steady work environment for me. Same issues apply there - the window I stare out at, the cat that constantly wants to sit on my keyboard, etc. - all the same, almost every day.

Despite the significant time I spend at these two desks, some of my best ideas have come elsewhere. Sometimes it's something on a weekend that sparks the right brain cells. Sometimes it's forcing a lingering cup of coffee with my Molskine notebook on a weekday afternoon.

Too often, it's in the shower or during a workout, when neither the Molskine or Jott are readily available.

So if some of my most productive, creative thinking comes away from my primary work stations, why not capture more of that time for myself?

How could you plan such "out of office" work time into your schedule, specifically to think about particular challenges you have in your work or personal life? How can you use this time to spark new creativity, and actually increase your productivity?

Don't fall into the trap of thinking about this time as less productive or valuable. If you need a chance of scenery to be creative, do it. Use your primary work stations for execution, not creation.

 

Category before brand

Laura Ries does a nice job explaining the hierarchy of consumer thought, especially when it comes to choosing brands.

Yes, having a strong brand is important. But it's even more important that your brand leads in a relevant, vibrant category. You can have the clearest, most compelling brand in the world, but if it's playing in a largely irrelevant category, it just doesn't matter.

So what happens when your once-great brand is suddenly in a category that nobody cares about anymore? Figure out where your customers went, which new category they care about how, and create a new brand to dominate there. This is the challenge facing Dell right now, and many others in shifting markets.

Read more from Laura here.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

 

MoM Links for June 17, 2007

Corporate blogging at its best: Patagonia launched its corporate blog just five months ago, but it's already one of the best in the business. It's a clear, engaging reflection of the company's core values.

Getting Up Early, Part II: Here are 15 more tips for how to get a better start to your day.

15 ways to become a better presenter: Guy does it again with another fantastic contributed post on practical ways to better engage your live audience.

Email Zen: Simple tips for keeping a clean inbox, no matter how much email you get.

Why testimonials do (and don't) work: Great post explaining why many testimonials backfire, plus tips for how to make your happy customer quotes work even harder.

Do you love your job?: If so, tell people! (it'll only cost you a dollar...)

A day in the life of a productivity master: Check out how efficient, how effective, and how happy this guy is.

When being predictable is a good thing: Smart advice from that guy.

Friday, June 15, 2007

 

Get Buzzed with Buzzoodle

Special thanks to Ron at Buzzoodle for helping to spread the buzz about the new Web marketing book from HouseValues.

Ron runs one of the Web's best marketing blogs, has written the book on buzz marketing, and has a knack for providing highly practical and applicable marketing recommendations to everyday business challenges.

I recently had an opportunity to chat with Ron about his approach to buzz marketing, and here's a quick transcript:

How and why did you decide to focus on buzz marketing?
We began by helping people with Internet Marketing. What we realized over time was that getting more people involved, including employees and the public, could get clients incredible results for a very low cost. So we decided to focus on Employee Evangelism and that morphed into Buzz Marketing with a heavy emphasis on helping organizations get a team of employee evangelists creating buzz.

What strategies have been most successful in creating buzz for Buzzoodle?
My blog is the top lead generator for me. It has led to book sales, speaking opportunities, partnerships and more. Even though it is a lot of work to maintain, it is more effective and fun than most other activities I could do.

One problem people do not realize is that having a blog is not enough. You have to promote it and use it to build relationships. You have to spend time creating content and spend time building relationships. And if you need fast results, it is not the best option for you.

Why do so many products and businesses fail to generate buzz?
People, including myself, have trouble looking at their business and products with a fresh eye. Most small businesses start with an idea, then they build the idea, then they see if people will buy it. The general public will almost never care as much as you do. So they will not pass on information about your product unless it is really incredible or useful.

Saving me 5% on something probably is not worth the time it takes me to change services. You have to fundamentally enhance the quality of my life with little effort on my part to get me excited about something.

That said, Buzz Marketing has really become the new PR. It is all about crafting good stories and finding people that care and can pass that information on to other people. If you look at it as a marathon where you are going to create some buzz every day, forever, you are more likely to succeed.

If a business owner or employee reading this has 15 minutes this afternoon to create buzz, what should he/she do?
Buy my book (just kidding, no really...). Then if they have time left over, I would say email some people you have not talked to in a few months and ask them how they are doing. Let them know if there is anything new (buzzworthy) going on with you. I regularly do with and it gets good results because so many people exchange a few emails and then move on.

What are you reading right now? What’s the best book you’ve read in the past six months?
I am reading The Dip right now by Seth Godin. I just read the Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss and that one got me really excited. I am changing my business model based on some of those concepts, so that I can stop working 10-12 hour days.

I find it very funny that you can read two books like those that have very different and seemingly contradictory messages and agree with both. Like most things in life, you can make them make sense together with some mental stretching.

Aside from reading the Buzzoodle blog on a daily basis, where else can folks learn about effective buzz marketing?
I do read additional marketing blogs, but I also look at technology blogs to see what new things are coming out, and even look at HR resources to learn more about helping people be more effective. I think the best way to approach Buzz Marketing is to remember it is about empowering (technology) people (HR) to communicate more effectively and more regularly with minimal effort. For a list of good marketing blogs you can visit the power 150 and you get a list of more than you can ever read.

 

Everyone's a contact

For many people, networking feels like hard work. But if you really step back and think about the myriad ways to build your network, it's quite simple. And it's not confined to cocktail parties, mixers and conferences.

Networking, quite simply, is the act of building relationships. With everyone.

There is no contact too small, too irrelevant, or too distant. Yes, meeting peers in your industry, your job function, and within your professional community are important network members. But so are the ad reps who cold-call you for your business. So are the random people you meet at a concert or ballgame tonight.

The barista? Your bank clerk? Your spouse's colleagues (no matter what he or she does)? All a part of your network.

Why? It's simple. We live in a small and shrinking world, a world in which everyone's connected to everyone. Your barista? She might play ultimate frisbee with your next big business deal. That ad rep who keeps cold-calling you? He might soon get a biz-dev job at a company you've been dying to do business with.

The guy at the ballgame? What if he mentions your name and/or company to someone in his network that helps you:

The lesson here? Always be networking. Always take the opportunity to meet a new person, introduce yourself, and make new contacts.

Then simply keep in touch. At a minimum, add them to your rolodex, or Outlook Contacts, or LinkedIn account. Get in the habit of sending quarterly e-cards to your entire network. The end-of-year holidays are the easiest excuse, but summertime well wishes aren't bad either. And your network will appreciate you being proactive about staying in touch.

Take advantage of every opportunity to meet new people, make an impression, and expand your ability to get things done - for yourself and your business.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

 

10 great things about Seattle

Two of my favorite bloggers are moving from Chicago to Austin this summer, but clearly not because they disdain the Windy City. They've left on their own blog a top ten list of why they love Chicago, and challenged other bloggers to do the same for their home towns.

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, moving up to Seattle for school long ago. I love it up here, and here are my top 10 reasons why:

1. Weather: It really doesn't rain up here as much as you think. And when the weather clears, it can be downright stunning. Imagine standing on a lake beach two blocks from your house and seeing mountains in all four directions. That's Seattle.

2. People: This isn't a granola town, but it ain't Manhattan either. People in the Puget Sound area have purpose, but are also polite and accommodating. I've found this city very easy to meet others, build a network of generous individuals, and quickly reach common ground on a variety of personal and professional issues.

3. Closeness to Nature: From where my wife and I life in Kirkland, it's a 20-minute drive to downtown Seattle. It's also a 20-minute drive into the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, and a 45-minute drive to skiing at Snoqualmie Pass. Not to mention a 15-minute walk to a natural preserve. Everywhere you look, nature is closeby.

4. Water: Seattle is wedged between the Puget Sound (right on Elliot Bay) and Lake Union, which feeds into the much larger Lake Washington. From mid-spring to early fall, boating season is in full tilt here. Fishing, tubing, or just floating with a glass of wine and friends. The water is a big part of Seattle culture.

5. Baseball: Yes, Seattle is a great baseball town! Very knowledgeable fans, strong attendance at Safeco Field, and a good overall appreciation for the game. The greater Seattle area also boasts two minor league teams (both affiliated with the Mariners, no less), which are great family experiences at a fraction of the major-league cost.

6. The Huskies: This is a great college sports town, with several area schools competing at high levels in their respective sports. But the University of Washington Huskies are still king, and despite a challenging couple of years still pull large crowds to Husky Stadium on Saturdays in the fall.

7. Canada!: It's a faster drive to Vancouver, BC than it is to Portland, Oregon. Vancouver is a great city, especially in the summertime. Seattle's proximity to Canada also gives us access to the Vancouver CBC channel. This means great hockey coverage on Saturday nights, and the best Olympics coverage I've ever seen (light years better than NBC's recent efforts).

8. Summer Festivals: It's this time of year that nearly every weekend is filled with one or another summer festival or fair around Seattle. This culminates in the early August Seafair, which features a weekend of hydroplane races and an air show starring the Blue Angels. This is a highlight of Seattle summer, and is an event that transcends the activities themselves.

9. Ferries: I think Seattle natives take these for granted, but the ferries are awesome. Tens of thousands of commuters use the ferries every day to travel from cities on the Olympic Peninsula to work in Seattle, but on a nice day in the spring or summer (or even the fall), these ferries are also just fun to ride for a round trip on the water.

10. Relative Isolation: Yes, it occasionally sucks that Seattle is tucked way up here in the Pacific Northwest. We're not close to a lot of other major cities, people often complain about having to come all the way up here for something, and everyone assumes it just rains a lot and we all still listen to grunge music. Then again, that's just fine with me. If Seattle's going to remain our little secret, so be it. If you need me, I'll be out on the lake...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

 

Blueprint for a successful online community

I'm a BIG fan of SparkPeople.com. It's an online healthy living community, focused not only on helping people lose weight, but establish long-term healthy living habits to maintain users' ideal weight.

Sure, a lot of diet companies talk about "keeping the weight off," but this time I believe it. I'm two and a half weeks into using SparkPeople, and have lost 10 pounds already. Best of all, I don't even feel like I'm dieting. Just eating healthy, eating correct portions, and working out more regularly.

And SparkPeople is helping me do this, in a number of different ways. Here are a few reasons why I think SparkPeople works, and why it's a great example of how others can create an active community-based service:

Long-term goals with daily action items
When I signed up, I set a long-term goal. My goal is a set weight by Halloween. But what's great about SparkPeople is that, after setting that goal, I really don't have to think about it again. Based on that goal, SparkPeople tells me what to do every day to meet my long-term goal. If I want, they'll tell me exactly what to eat and what fitness plan to follow. Or, if you want more flexibility, just keep your daily food intake within their set calorie ranges, and follow their weekly fitness recommendations.

That's it. If I do the relatively easy daily goals, I'll reach my long-term goal. Great way to keep me engaged, and un-intimidated by the aggressive long-term plan.

An active, supportive community
SparkPeople is full of people doing exactly what I'm doing - trying to shed some pounds and live healthier. Their discussion forum is full of success stories and users encouraging each other, all with opt-in, customized "meters" under their signatures that indicate their starting weight, goal weight, and current status. Very encouraging to see others who are following and succeeding with the system. It's a great way to keep newbies engaged, by showing them that the system works!

Daily motivation and reinforcement
Every day, I get 4-5 emails from SparkPeople. I've opted in to each of them, and most days read each one. Some have interesting food comparisons, others have fitness tips. But at least once a day, I get a motivational article about how to optimize my plan, get more out of meals, how to mentally stay in the game, etc. Yes, this is a LOT of emails from one company, but for many SparkPeople users, their participation in the program is a BIG part of their lives at the present time. These emails are daily reminders of what you're doing, why you're doing it, and how to do it better. All opt-in. Each one incredibly valuable.

Points
Almost everything you do on SparkPeople earns points. Drink eight glasses of water a day? Earn points. For every five minutes of cardio? Earn points. Log-in every day? Spin a wheel for points. Earn enough points and the size of your online "trophy" grows. Eventually, users have a chance to win prizes based on their points.

The points don't really mean anything, and even the "prizes" are usually t-shirts and water bottles. But these points make the site fun, and add a level of group and individual competition beyond the weight goals and daily tasks.

 

MoM Links for June 12, 2007

Better productivity via multiple positives: Sounds geeky, but give this a shot. It makes a lot of sense, and we can all do far more of it. Oh yeah, avoid the multiple negatives too.

12 ways to decompress after a stressful day: Another great set of suggestions from ZenHabits. Even more great suggestions from readers in the "comments" section as well.

What does that office-talk really mean?: Here's a quick set of translations from Penelope Trunk (with a healthy layer of sarcasm added). An entertaining read.

Tired of the same old blogs?: Pick a new favorite from this list of the industry's top 150 marketing blogs.

Edit your life: Start with your commitments, and make sure they're all important. Thanks again to ZenHabits.

PR agencies of the world, unite!: Great work by Paul Holmes describing how PR agencies need to evolve to not just survive, but thrive in a consumer-driven marketing world.

The brand is everything: Doesn't matter if your marketing and executive suite are united and consistent. If your front-line staff doesn't live it, you're screwed.

Monday, June 11, 2007

 

How to get 80% fewer voicemails

Special thanks to Tim Ferris for inspiring this tip with his fantastic new book.

Until a couple weeks ago, I regularly received 6-8 voicemails almost every single workday. A few were from people I truly wanted to hear from, but many were sales calls from vendors, ad reps and others interested in selling me something.

I don't have time to return 6-8 voicemails a day, especially from vendors I don't yet know. But it's always really bugged me that I basically ignore most of these calls. They might actually have something I need, but I don't have time to do the weeding out.

I also got in the bad habit of just letting my phone ring most of the time, and letting it go to voicemail. If I didn't recognize the inbound number, I'd just ignore the ringing. This was in part to avoid the cold calls, but it was also to avoid the interruptions.

But now, with one simple phone feature activated two weeks ago, I get 80 percent fewer voicemails and am responding to 100 percent of inbound messages to me (yes, even from unknown vendors and ad reps).

That phone feature is Call-Forward. Except for when I'm expecting an important inbound call, my work phone now always forwards calls direct to my voicemail.

This means that when you call my work line (give it a shot at 425-952-5664), you'll be sent immediately to the following message:

Hi, this is Matt from HouseValues. You'll get a much faster response from me by sending email to matth@housevalues.com. If you do leave a message, please leave me your name, number, email, and the reason for your call. Thanks, and have a great day.

My phone still rings a lot. But I get very few voicemails. I also get very few emails from the cold callers. The emails I do receive typically get a response within 24 hours, sometimes with a polite "no thanks", and other times with a note that I've forwarded their information to a more relevant person within the company.

What about all those callers who used to leave a message, but now don't send me email? If they can't bother to change communication channels, then they probably don't have anything worth interrupting me for.

This simple change has allowed me to condense the time I spend sorting through inbound information, and also allows me to focus that time on a channel (email) on which I'm far faster and more productive.

 

Getting the cooks out of the kitchen

We've all been there. You're working on a project, and 14 people want to give feedback. You're writing a press release, and eight people have substantial, sometimes contradictory edits.

You're trying to launch a new project, and far too many people want to put their footprint on your work. Too many people involved. Too many cooks.

How do you get most of those cooks out of the kitchen?

It's not easy, but here are several strategies to get back control of your projects, and get them done faster (with your sanity intact).

Establish clear objectives up-front
Projects big and small often devolve into tactical debates when the primary objectives aren't spelled out clearly up front. Why is the project important to begin with? What does success look like? Determining a project's objectives at the onset can reduce a significant amount of mid-project bickering, and gives you a foundation to point folks back to when their comments go astray.

Establish a clear, and single, project owner
This is perhaps the most important recommendation of the bunch. Too many projects suffer from having too many cooks in the kitchen, because multiple people see themselves as the owner of the project! Even if they're not directly leading the effort, some people will still feel responsibility for the project's success or failure. Before work begins, designate one person (yourself, for example) as the project owner. Never assign more than one person as the primary project owner. If there are multiple people who want to be owner, make a clear decision and assign the others as "approvers" (see next tip).

Assign "contributor" and "approver" roles
You may still have plenty of people interested in your project, but clearly assign the role of "contributor" and "approver" to a few folks before your work begins. This way, even though you may get lots of feedback during the project, you know which people have been pre-designated as relevant enough to provide official feedback, and which smaller group of people (or better yet, a single person) needs to give the official thumbs-up to continue.

Establish project milestones and check-ins
Many potential cooks feel they need to help control the progress and outcome of a project simply because they don't understand the path from start to finish. If you're the project owner, give everyone a clear idea not only for what the finish line looks like, but also how you'll get there. Identify at least 2-3 milestones with check-ins for various constituents to look in at what you're working on. Even though only the "contributors" and "approvers" can officially provide comments on and modify the project, these check-ins will give a potentially larger group of "cooks" the visibility they need to feel comfortable.

Present options when necessary, but make clear recommendations
Project leaders who want to be seen as collaborators often present a short set of options for key decisions. Problem is, without designating a strong recommendation up-front, you're giving the room of cooks permission to debate the options in a very unfocused and inefficient manner. As project leader, it's your responsibility to bring your recommended decision to the table first, backed up with a short set of potential alternatives. Give your team confidence that you've considered a wider variety of options, but also make it crystal-clear that you're putting your weight behind a single option. This will give the "cooks" confidence, and will keep many of them from offering a debate.

Manage to objectives, not tactics
If you've successfully laid out the project objectives up front, then force yourself (and the "cooks") to manage the project with objectives in mind, not tactics. Don't let others enter into long debates over how tactical things should be executed. Constantly bring debates back to the end-game, and keep everyone's eyes on the finish line. Debates over tactics (whether in a room of cooks or with an individual cook) are an easy way to waste time and get your project off-track. Don't let it happen.

Nobody thinks too many cooks is a good idea!
This may sound counter intuitive, but it's true - and it's a good tip to end on. Even your worst "cooks" intuitively know that "too many cooks in the kitchen" for any given project is a bad thing, and a quick way to waste a lot of people's time. Up front, and throughout the project, gently remind team members (in a group and individually) that you definitely want to avoid the "too many cooks" effect. Make a joke of it, and refer to past projects that will remind others of the pain involved. This will help get the issue clearly on the table, and will grease the wheels to make many of the above strategies work far better.


Sunday, June 10, 2007

 

200 entrepreneurs...

Kudos to the team at BizNik for putting on a fantastic small business conference yesterday in West Seattle. Called BizJam, the conference hosted nearly 200 small business owners from across the Puget Sound area.

The variety of businesses present was incredible. Real estate agents, florists, spa proprietors, copywriters, aerialists, DJs...you name it. But they all had in common an incredible passion for their business, a burning desire to be more successful, and a need to tap into the regional community of small businesses to make each other better, happier and more profitable.

Great speakers, great networking, and amazing energy. This is the first "big" conference for BizNik, a Seattle-based organization that helps small businesses (they call them "indies") meet virtually and locally with each other to share best practices, provide moral support, and grow.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

 

MoM Links for June 7, 2007

Are your customers your friends?: Read how Maker's Mark took humble beginnings and changed the way they look at customers (with great results).

Craig On Breathing: Good, short interview with Craig Newmark of CraigsList fame, with a particularly good suggestions for reducing stress (hint: breathe slower)

The Power of Scarcity: Steve riffs on when scarcity is good, and how you can put it to your advantage to create demand, premium demand.

Beer can make you more remarkable: This post is about blogging, but its lessons go far deeper. Drink and read responsibly.

YouTube for Entrepreneurs: And there's not just one! Vator.tv is about to launch, but so are 'competitors' from Business Week and Incuby. Ain't nothin' like a video business plan!

Bullets Kill: People AND Power Point presentations. Cliff has a new idea, worth checking out.

Applying the 80/20 rule to your life: Here are 20 ways to get you started.

 

The government is blogging

Check out this great example of how a City Manager in Kent, Ohio is using a highly-popular blog to stay in touch with residents of his city.

The blog is only a year old, but is now the most important communication channel the City Manager has with his constituents. Check out this report on the blog's one-year anniversary to read about the impact it's had on the city, its constituents, and the level of two-way communication going on in real-time about how to make the city a better place to live and work.

Congratulations Dave on leading the pack. You've created something that City Managers and community leaders everywhere can emulate.

 

That's the best you could do?

Self-promotion really isn't my thing. That was on display big-time last night.

The Seattle Direct Marketing Association held their season-end networking night in Seattle, and asked if I would donate a few copies of my new book as door prizes. Great opportunity, right?

The SDMA president even asked me to join her in front of the crowd to pick the winners. Before we picked winners, she asked me to say something about the book.

That's where everything went wrong. Instead of giving an elevator pitch, making the book sound interesting, telling people where they can buy a copy, I said the following:

"Uh, I wrote a book!"

So, at least for now, I'm officially the worst book promoter of all time. But please, don't take pity on me (unless, of course, you want to buy a copy of the book to demonstrate said pity, then it's fine. See, I'm getting better already!)

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

 

MoM Links for June 5, 2007

Avoiding the Pedigree Pitfall: See, mom, I really didn't need that MBA!

Think like a child: Paul's right, we would do ourselves a favor by emulating kindergartners more often. Hat tip to Rob Eastaway's new book, too.

Buy your buddies a drink online: With coupons redeemable at the local bar, thanks to this enterprising online event-finding community.

Mark Andreessen's Guide to Personal Productivity: A long post, but some really great advice on how to focus more on what's important, plus eliminate the typical distractions that keep you from doing so every day.

Harsh but true: Honda cancels a hybrid version of the Accord. Kiley's right, in today's environment of heighten environmental awareness and ridiculous fuel prices, there's no excuse for that kind of failure, and he blames it all on marketing.

Traveling at the speed of blogs: Great recap here of how a disgruntled customer's story went form personal blog to national, headline news in just three days.

 

Marketing before manufacturing

Too often, we build products first, then figure out how to market them later. We build great tools, solutions and services that help our target customers, but save the hard positioning work until the end of the development cycle.

This is backwards execution.

We may start with a high-level vision for what our customers want, a vision that goes into the product plan and inspires the work your manufacturing or technology team begins to build. But then reality sets in. Production schedules get constrained. Sacrifices and compromises are made. Features are shaved to meet launch dates.

The product or service you end up with may no longer match your original vision, or worse, it may no longer directly address or solve the problems and pain points of your customers. How could you have avoided this?

By doing the marketing in advance. By writing the launch press release on day one. By teaching each other the product or service's story before any manufacturing or coding takes place.

Understanding your customers and having a product vision is important. But if you don't know how to talk about your product to customers, if you don't really understand the story it's telling (and how press, influencers and others will also tell it), then it's impossible to ensure that the final product will match that story.

As you engage in the manufacturing or development process, compromises and adjustments to the original plan are inevitable. But every single adjustment - no matter how small - needs to be vetted against the story you want to tell customers.

Will this feature change enhance or detract from our story?

Will taking out this feature to meet a launch deadline hurt the effectiveness and simplicity of our message to customers?

Do the marketing before you begin manufacturing. Know the story you want to tell, and make sure your entire organization knows that story as well. This will ensure that the final product or service not only matches that story when it's completed, but will also ensure that you have far more evangelists (inside and outside of your business) who can effectively tell that consistent story on launch day and beyond.

Monday, June 04, 2007

 

Building a Web 2.0 business is this easy...

Probably a little more complicated than this description makes it sound, but the premise is still absolutely correct:

1. Smart ideas don't need much to get rolling
2. Stop thinking and just start doing!

Thanks to Guy for this great reminder, and for the suggestions!

 

Give and take

There are two types of managers - those who give, and those who take.

Many managers, unfortunately, focus on themselves. They extract from others what's necessary to make themselves look good. Their management styles, both with their teams and in prioritizing corporate strategy, are focused on what's best for them - not necessarily what's best for the company or their team members.

These managers take far more than they give, and although many may appear successful, their impact on your organization can be dangerous.

The best managers know that their job is to serve. Their job is to make those around them better, more efficient, more focused, and more successful. They know that their own success will ultimately be measured by the success and progress of those around them, and they make investments accordingly.

What kind of manager are you? Are you a giver or taker?

Both paths can make you successful and wealthy. But only one will do the same for your organization, and your employees.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

 

MoM Links for June 2, 2007

At the intersection of HR and marketing: Business Week is right, it's cheaper to raise spirits than raise salaries.

KnowFat!: A health-conscious restaurant chain has sprung out of Massachusetts. and is making its way to a street corner near you. Very cool concept, and ripe for organic marketing growth.

Turn your stairs into drawers: This isn't business-related, but was just plain cool. Talk about creating significant added value out of a commodity!

Why do ATMs have braille keyboards?: Here's why, with an economics lesson to boot!

The new advertising frontier: It's not just for GoldenPalace.com anymore. You're either advertising or sporting, which is it gonna be?

The art of schmoozing: Some very good advice on how best to work the room, courtesy of Susan RoAne (via Guy Kawasaki).

Search for hotels by Wi-Fi availability & speed: Jarvis is right. Someone should create a Google mapping mashup to help us choose where to stay when we travel.

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