Tag Archives: Business Plan

Small business success through life-long learning

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” It’s a popular phrase, but in the Age of the Customer small businesses are learning the hard way that their old dogs need to learn some new tricks — and quickly.

In the second century B.C., the Roman statesman, Cato, began learning Greek at the age of 75. When asked why he was undertaking such a challenging educational enterprise at his advanced age, he replied, “This is the youngest age I have.”

BusinessLearningNo matter what we do, no matter where we go, owner or employee, we must continue to study, train and learn. Everyone in your organization. Everyone, every day, needs life-long learning. And in the age of globalism and interconnectivity, it is more important than ever before.

Are you feeling threatened, maybe even frightened these days with all of the economic challenges, plus the changes brought on by the advent of the information age? Me, too. Sometimes it seems we’re like Alice – running as hard as we can just to stay in one place. And in our Wonderland, everything is changing so fast that what we learned today may be obsolete tomorrow.

The irony is the thing creating so much potential for anxiety is also the thing that can help you stay competitive. That thing is called technology. Specifically, the unprecedented wealth of information available on the Internet.

When I feel threatened by all of the new knowledge and capability that’s emerging, I just make a point to learn something new every day, with emphasis on social media and e-commerce, or how my industry is adapting to the virtual marketplace. When I acquire that new understanding or capability, I smile like Alice’s Cheshire Cat because learning makes me feel stronger, as if I’ve gained a little ground in the marketplace. Maybe today I put the heat on a competitor.

Advantage: Me.

Give it a try. The only thing better than your garden variety smile is one that comes from knowing you just got a little smarter.

Remember the wisdom of the statesman: This is the youngest age you have.

It’s your moment of relevance. Take advantage of it.

Don’t be stupid — eliminate barriers of customers to your small business

A while back, I needed to reach an acquaintance who worked in a local branch of one of the national banks. When I looked for the local number in the phone book, all I found was a toll-free number that connected me to a computer answering system. That’s right – a local business didn’t publish a local number in the phone book, and here’s the stupid part: The answering system didn’t offer an option to connect to any branch or person.

Brilliance, Stupidity Green Road Sign Over Dramatic Clouds and Sky.From this one encounter stemmed a powerful story and four equally powerful lessons I thought worth sharing to big and small businesses out there.

Lesson 1 - Don’t create barriers to customers and prospects.

If you have any, take them down NOW! I know you think you don’t, but in the name of efficiency and the advent of new technology, you might.

Undaunted, I called a local board member of that bank who gave me the local number (yes, they had one). When I called, I was told that my acquaintance, a loan officer, had recently been laid off.

“Why was he laid off?” I asked. Since the bank was losing money and, for the sake of the stock price the CEO needed to impress the stock analysts with his guidance on the next quarterly conference call. So an edict came down that almost 2,000 employees across the company would have to hit the bricks. Never mind how valuable they were, or what such cuts would ultimately do to the bank’s long-term ability to compete, “We’ve got to cut costs and the quickest way is to cut payroll.”

Lesson 2 - Quarterly goals are important for planning.

For a publicly traded company, quarterly guidance to stock analysts is a counter-intuitive and dangerous practice for long-term success. Small businesses have to remember that customers don’t buy based on quarterly schedules, so don’t let your quarterly pressure on sales people cost you lost business and, worse, lost relationships.

I learned later that even though my acquaintance was the top loan producer, he was the last one hired, and also the first to go. Now he’s no longer a payroll drain on this bank, but he is now kicking the backside of his former employer as a high-producer with a competitor.

 Lesson 3 - In the 21st century, seniority doesn’t trump productivity.

Today, this bank is one of those that had to be bailed out by the government. The bank CEO, who allowed blind devotion to stock price undermine the tried-and-true management practices of building a strong team and taking care of customers, is now no longer a drag on that bank’s payroll.

How much business did this bank lose because of that phone answering strategy? What would have happened if this bank CEO had simply installed an answering system that made sure anyone who wanted to call a local branch could not only find that number easily, but quickly connect to a local person? The answer might be that the CEO would still have his job, and so would my friend and several hundred other former employees. Who knows? By simply adopting a customer-friendly phone system, this bank might have actually needed to hire more employees to handle all of the new business.

Lesson 4 -  If you need more sales revenue, make sure your organization’s people, systems, and policies aren’t getting in the way

Recently, on my small business radio program The Small Business Advocate Show I talked about the potential dangers of quarterly policies with sales management expert and Brain Trust member, Skip Miller (m3learning.com), author of The Ultimate Sales Tool Kit. Take a few minutes to listen to what this smart guy has to say and be sure to leave your smart thoughts.