You Don’t Own Your Brand Anymore

Guess Who Does

If you’re spending a lot of money to develop your brand through advertising or a nifty website, you might want to rethink that. You don’t control your brand anymore, so trying to create or enhance it with slick images and thought-provoking tag lines could just be a waste of valuable time and money resources.

A couple years ago, Sun Microsystems theorized that we are no longer in the technology or information ages, but that we are now in the Participation Age, and that the hallmark of the Participation Age is Sharing.

Nobody likes to be told what to do, so their narrative hasn’t spread widely, but I’ve sure jumped on board – I believe there is no question we’re in the Participation Age, and that the central driving force in our economy is Sharing of ideas, resources, schools of thought, and commingling of those into new products, services, and conversations.

There is nowhere to hide anymore. Information is one of those things that is too easy to share now for anyone to try to keep it to themselves or pretend that one thing is actually another. That’s where the brand problem comes in. If the brand you’re putting in that slick brochure isn’t the same brand the admin, dock worker and VP have in your office, you’re in trouble. The Participation Age will expose you because your customers and employees will be sharing openly and freely about your real brand, the one they experience, not the one you put in that brochure.

So I guess I’m being a little coy in saying you’ve lost control of it; what has really happened is that you’ve lost control of pretending what it is. We can no longer market “family friendly” hot dogs and treat our employees like indentured servants, Who we SAY we are and who we REALLY are had better match up, because if they don’t, the conversation our clients and employees are having on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and a dozen other places is going to make the difference glaringly obvious.

Participation comes from Sharing, and Sharing comes from Community. People have more access to information sharing communities than ever before. Iran thought they could control their brand, but Twitter made it impossible – the real brand came out through their “customers” and “employees”.

The best we can do is to influence our brand by 1) creating a community for our clients to talk with others, and us, and 2) being an active part of that conversation. We cannot afford to say “Pay no attention to the man behind the green curtain” as in the Wizard of Oz. Who we are has to match what we do.

We should be actively involved with our customers, letting them know all the great things we do for them and influencing our brand by ensuring they know we’re listening and are working on their behalf. It’s easy to throw stones at the unknown or those at a distance. Companies that know this have come down off their high horse and have joined the Sharing party to actively engage with their customers on a level playing field. And surprise, surprise, these are the companies that are most in touch with what their customers really want from them.

Everyone knows the story of Zappos shoes working themselves into the conversation on Twitter. They didn’t do it just because it was intriguing, but they understand that when people see that the brand they talk about is the same brand they live in their offices, it creates community and connection that is stronger than any slick brochure Zappos could ever put on the street.

What are you doing to make sure you’re in the conversation with your customers and your employees about your brand? They’re already out there sharing it – you might want to get involved and influence what they share.

Start with this question – “What are you buying from me that you don’t even think I know I’m selling?” You’ll make more money in less time with questions like that. And you’ll actually have an impact on the brand that you no longer control.

What an old guy told me that changed my life.

The Time, Money, and Energy Conundrum – When I was just starting out, a creepy old guy (about my age – mid-50s) told me life had a built in problem. He said “The problem with life is this.

When you’re young, you’ve got all the time and all the energy to enjoy life, but no money. When you’re in your middle years, you’ve got all the money and all the energy, but no time. And when you’re retired, you’ve got all the money and all the time, but no energy.”

He then went on to say something very profound. “The key to a good life is to figure out how to have all three at once – you’ll make a lot bigger impact in the world around you if you can figure that one out.”

Lifetime Goals are foundational for figuring out the Time, Money, and Energy conundrum, for a very important reason. The definition of a Lifetime Goals is:

A goal which can never be checked off.

A true Lifetime goal can never really be fully completed – there is always something more you can do to make it better, more complete. Any goal that can be checked off as complete is not a Lifetime Goal. Been dreaming about that house on the spit of land at the edge of the lake with the thirteenth tee behind you? That is not a Lifetime Goal – it can be checked off, and once it is, it will no longer be motivating.

The red herring we’ve been fed is that the accumulation of junk is the same as Lifetime Goals. “My lifetime goal is to have $5 million in the bank, a Mercedes, a 6,000sf house, and a nice boat.” No it isn’t. Making money is not an empowering vision, and a goal realized is no longer motivating. This is just making money so you can check off the accumulation of junk. Wouldn’t get me out of bed for three minutes in the morning.

If you’re initially motivated by those things and obtain them, you’ll be sorely disappointed if you don’t have a bigger reason to have them than just having them. The old bumper sticker from the 80s – “He who dies with the most toys wins.” – was wrong. No, he who lives with the most motivating Lifetime Goals wins.

I believe every one of us was made to do something significant with our lives. Have you figured that out for yourself yet? If you’ve got a burr in your saddle or a blue flame coming out behind you for something that really excites you, you know you’re on to something. And everybody is going to want to be part of your life. Nobody runs to catch a stopped train – get yours moving and watch what happens.

You can solve the time, money, and energy conundrum and have all three at once, and make a lot bigger impact in the world around you.

Retirement is a Bankrupt Industrial Age Idea

Retirement is a really bad, bankrupt, industrial age idea that was never a good idea in the first place. It was invented by big businesses to steal the best 40 years of our lives so they could discard us when our good years were all behind us.

What makes it so wrong? A few very important ideas:

1) A goal realized is no longer motivating.

Retirement is a goal that can be realized, and once it is realized, it’s not what we were promised. In the Industrial Age, the average life expectancy for men after retirement was 18 months. No longer motivated. Out to pasture. Stick a fork in them – they were done.

Men are beginning to live longer after retirement, but for reasons connected to Lifetime Goals – they’re finding meaningful things to do after they stop going to work every day (or choosing to continue going to work).

2) The very concept of retirement teaches us to put off doing anything really meaningful and substantial with our lives.

I heard it hundreds of times growing up from future pasture-geezers still in their 40’s – “When I retire, I’m going to….[fill in the blank.] What a horrible way to live – always hoping for a future time when you’re actually free to do something with your life.

3) The other really bad notion of retirement is that you’re supposed to work until your 65, then begin enjoying life.

The not so subtle message here is that work and play do not mix, and that you are really supposed to live two lives – your work life, and your meaningful life (shouldn’t work be meaningful, too?). And the ideal way to do it is to live your work life first, and hope you have time left to live your meaningful life afterwards, when you have no energy left to do so.

Wealth is the freedom and the ability to choose what to do with my time.

The retirement game teaches us you won’t be free until you retire. What a load of crap. Stop living for a future that never arrives. Don’t be that guy who, when you’re gone, others say “Too bad he didn’t get to enjoy his retirement.”

Lifetime Goals give us something to begin to enjoy today that we find meaning in, the rest of our lives. Do you have Lifetime Goals that you’re already living, without any need to be retired to get after them? Life should be meaningful, fulfilling, and satisfying today.

Tomorrow never comes. Carpe freaking diem already.

The Best Sales Tactic Ever, Isn’t a Sales Tactic

The funniest things go through your mind when riding a bike on switchbacks up a mountain. It came to me today while slogging up the hill that something a client of mine and I had talked about last week riding up the same mountain together was pretty important. Sales people and business owners really don’t get it.

He related that he had been at a gathering and a friend introduced him to an insurance guy, then promptly walked off, leaving my friend with a guy who oozed “sales pitch”. Sure enough, the sales pitch came almost immediately.

My friend was polite but cut in and made it very clear that he was not the least bit interested in insurance of any kind, that he was totally happy with his existing insurance of every kind, and didn’t need any second opinions at this time of any kind. The insurance guy nodded, then went on for 20 minutes about his great insurance. My friend finally had to make up an excuse to get out of the conversation and move on.

If this insurance guy had understood the best sales tactic ever, my friend would have had no annoying story to tell me. What most sales people and most business owners do not understand is that our job is enter other people’s worlds, not get them to enter ours; to meet them where THEY are at, not where we want them to be.

Drawing people into “my world” is what we all want to do. Let me tell you how great I am, how great my product/service is, and how great you would be if you just jumped into my world with both feet and bought my stuff. I know what’s best for you, so I’ll ignore what you’re saying and keep on recruiting you to enter my world.

What if we took the opposite approach? What if we said to ourselves, what does that person want and need, without regard to what I’m selling? What if I was simply willing to enter their world, to mentally and emotionally meet them where they live, not where I live? This is the essence of servant-selling. Serve, don’t sell. We all want to buy stuff, but none of wants to be sold stuff. Serve me where I am at, regardless of your product/service, and I just might be interested in buying from you.

Here’s the simple, but incredibly challenging “sales tactic”. It comes from the book, The Power of Purpose, by Peter Temes, (the subtitle, “Living Well by Doing Good” is my life vision). This isn’t a sales book, but should be. Peter says the highest tier, Tier Three of “thinking” is “What does the other person I’m talking about think and feel about themselves, and how can I help push them forward in that?” Tier Three thinking does not focus on what I feel and think, or even what the other person feels and thinks about ME, but only where they are and what I can do to help push them forward right there.

Start purposing to enter other people’s worlds, and apply Tier Three thinking to everything you do. You’ll be surprised how hard it is to stay focused on the needs of others (it was very revealing to me how self-focused I am). It will also be the most powerful way to break down barriers, make a friend, and put someone in a position where they want to buy from you.

If you start entering other people’s worlds, meeting them where THEY are at, and do it with the right motive, you may never have to sell anything again. People will be too busy buying from you.

How to Get Your Business to Grow Up and Run Itself

Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s, understood that to have his business grow up and run itself, he would need to pay attention to all of the Seven Elements of a Business – so he did.

Kids need to grow up and stand on their own two feet without leaning on you – that is maturity. Your company should do the same thing.

We assume we should wait until we’re big enough before we figure out how to make the business run itself, but – where we start is where we end up. No matter what size your business is, you should be manically focused on getting yourself out from behind the steering wheel from the gitgo. Pay attention to all Seven Elements of a Business, like Kroc did, and watch your business grow up.

Element 1: Vision and Leadership

“I was 52 years old,” recalled Kroc. “I had diabetes and incipient arthritis. I had lost my gall bladder and most of my thyroid gland in earlier campaigns, but I was convinced that the best was ahead of me.” And when he first saw the McDonald’s brothers’ restaurant, he saw what they didn’t, an opportunity to create an international business, not just a restaurant.

“If you’re not a risk taker, you should get the hell out of business,” said Kroc. What risk is holding you back? Get clarity on your vision to take more risk.

Element 2: Business Development

Kroc had to create the need for his product! Fast food was not an existing market – tough job! He clearly knew his niche, learned how to communicate that niche, and stuck to his knitting – he didn’t get sidetracked trying to make great food. And he didn’t let ego get in the way of making money – a very common disease.

Element 3: Operations/Delivery

Work from the result desired. “I didn’t invent the hamburger,” said Kroc. “I just took it more seriously than anyone else…We take the hamburger business more seriously than anyone else.” He built a small business into an international empire by focusing on the operational details and the desired result.

Element 4: Financial Management

When Kroc was asked “What’s the #1 priority for McDonald’s?”, he responded, “The bottom line!” To Kroc, efficient meant most profitable. He didn’t want the best hamburger in the world, he wanted the one that would make him the most profit per fat molecule.

Element 5: Customer Satisfaction

CONSISTENCY of EXPERIENCE was key, not QUALITY of EXPERIENCE. He didn’t need the best food, just the most consistent presentation of it. And if there was trash in the parking lot, that was “a gross affront to me.” A great customer experience was everything.

Element 6: Employee Satisfaction

“None of us is as good as all of us,” Kroc said. A strong believer in teamwork, Kroc knew his growing company could only grow if he had dedicated people. Kroc treated everyone with respect. Every new employee got a badge with the title “Management Trainee” to let them know they all needed to participate in making McDonalds great. His Suggestion Box was legendary.

Element 7: Community/Family/Self

Kroc was an astute businessman who understood that community involvement was a key part of an effective marketing strategy. This tradition of giving back that Kroc initiated so many years ago remains an integral part of the McDonald’s corporate philosophy. Through community contributions, Kroc also established a corporate tradition of creating a positive presence in society.

What did McDonald’s have going for it? Kroc paid attention to all Seven Elements from the gitgo. As small business owners, we’re usually good at a few of the above, and have big holes in a few. Which are you really good at? Whatever you answered, you’re business probably needs help in the opposite ones.

Your business may not be running itself yet. That’s not the question. Are you setting it up to be able to do that at the earliest possible opportunity? If not, you’ll be babysitting it for years to come, and won’t know why every time you come home, your business is there waiting for you!

Let’s learn how to wean our businesses – pay attention to all Seven Elements of a Business. We deserve an empty nest at some point, with a business that can run itself.

Visionaries Make Money, Dreamers Don’t. Which are you?

Dreamer – Someone who can describe some future hoped for situation, but has no clear date for when they want to be there, and isn’t actively right now pursuing that vision. A dreamer loves to think about the future and what it could be like, but there is no concrete connection between that future situation and the work that needs to be done today to get there. And a dreamer never puts a date on when they intend to get there. Intentionality is not part of the dreamer’s tool set.

The difference between a dreamer and a visionary is that a visionary has already taken the three steps required to create real and lasting change:

  1. Make a decision (stop talking about it, stop dreaming, commit)
  2. Put a date on it.
  3. Go public

Visionary – A person who does this has burned their bridges; they’ve put themselves in a position where that future reality is the focus of everything they do. They are actively, right now, every day, doing the things that will get them there. Until you take the three steps that create real and lasting change, and get moving toward that clear objective and date, you’re just dreaming, and playing office.

Conation – the will to succeed that manifests itself in single-minded pursuit of a goal. Conation is one of the 1,000 most obscure words in the English language, but it is central to becoming a visionary.

If you have a clear picture of where you want to go, and WHEN you want to be there, and you’ve let everyone know, you’re much more likely to conate (start acting on that picture and date) and actually get there.

Are you a dreamer or a visionary? Do you know clearly where you’re business is going and exactly when you intend for it to be there? If not, you’re just dreaming about something nice that could happen at some future time, if you only committed to what that was and when you expected to be there.

Seven Words a Business Owner Can Never Afford to Use

1) Try (the uncommitted’s word)

We’re going to try to…”

Yoda – “Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.” Intentionality is a huge key to getting where you want to go. When a business owner uses “try”, their escape route is clearly identified, and they have no intention of seeing things through, especially in the rough times. Great business owners don’t try, they do.

2) But (the victim’s word)

“This could have worked, but outside forces kept us from…”, or “But I don’t know how…”

“But” is the victomology word for business owners. It keeps us from figuring things out and pushing through to victory. Great business owners don’t use “but”. They make lemonade with every lemon they’re given.

3) Can’t (the unbeliever’s word)

We “tried”, but we *can’t*…

Vision is critical. If you don’t have clarity about where you’re going, you won’t believe you can get there. Great business owners are too busy getting where they’re going to give in to “can’t”. They’ll figure it out.

4) Settle [for] (the unmotivated’s word)

“Good enough.”

Great business owners don’t settle. What was the passion that brought you into business in the first place? Why would you allow circumstances to change your commitment to that passion?

Circumstances don’t make us who we are. Our responses do.

5) Goals (the heroic activist’s word)

I have only one set of goals – my Lifetime Goals (things I can never check off as completed). I have no goals for my business, only objectives and waypoints. My business exists to serve me in getting to my Lifetime Goals, so each month, quarter, and year I set objectives and waypoints in my business to use my business to get there. This keeps me from having false victories by beating a quarterly or annual “goal” and or false defeats by not having achieved them. They are merely milestones or waypoints along the way to my Lifetime Goals.

Great business owners don’t get hung up on intermediary milestones – they are completely focused on getting to the end game, their only set of goals, the ones they can never check off – Lifetime Goals.

Conation – the will to succeed that manifests itself in single-minded pursuit of the goal.

6) Later (the thinker’s word)

Bad plans carried out violently many times yield good results. Do something. The #1 indicator of success in early stage businesses is not how great your plan is, or how smart you are, or how much research you’ve done. The #1 indicator of success is Speed of Execution. Later never comes.

Three things changes us when we do them:

  • Make a decision
  • Put a date on it
  • Go Public

Great business owners get an idea, move on it, and figure it out as they go, and they understand the value of going public with their intentions.

7) Alone (the “Rugged Individualist’s [proud loner’s] word)

Everything we do in life, from taking a spouse to joining a bicycling club has the element of “community” in it, except for business ownership. Good luck with that one, you’re on your own.

There isn’t another place in society other than business ownership, where we have fully institutionalized the nonsense myth of the rugged individualist. A friend of mine did a study on leadership and found that the single biggest indicator of success or failure was whether the leader had people close to them who the leader gave the authority and permission to call them on their actions. John Wayne is dead. We should have buried the rugged individualist with him.

Great business owners have Outside Eyes on their business all the time.

Which of these words are you using to run your business? Here’s a way to remember them – “Try” to strike them from your vocabulary, “but” if you “can’t”, you can “settle” for only using a few and make a “goal” of getting rid of the rest “later”, when you’re “alone” and nobody’s watching.

How I bought 10-15 days off, 21 mths from now.

We had five days straight of overcast, rainy, sloppy weather Friday thru Tuesday in Denver, something we almost never see. It dominated Memorial Day weekend and kept us all inside for the most part.

Finally Wednesday was a gorgeous “Chamber of Commerce” day. Not a cloud in the sky, no wind, no humidity, and no appointments the whole day. Seemed like a great day to “reward” myself, play some golf and ride a bike. Why didn’t I? Am I workaholic? No, to the contrary I worked Wednesday because I want more free time, and sooner.

I manage my business using a Two-Page Strategic Plan. The central pulse of my Strategic Plan is my Business Maturity Date. I know very clearly what my business looks like at maturity, and much more importantly, exactly when I expect to get there. Everything in my Strategic Plan is tied directly to the centering influence of my Business Maturity Date like the kiddy chair ride at a carnival – everything spins from that center – my BMD.

As a result, I know exactly what I have to do this month to build a business that makes money while I’m on vacation.

Wednesday I could have easily rewarded myself for having worked hard the last few weeks. The Monthly section of my Strategic Plan told me I needed to get the first draft of my book completed by May 31. Wednesday was a writing day, and I could have blown it off because I am right on schedule. I wasn’t under any pressure, I simply had a choice to make. Do I want to goof off today or gain a day in pursuit of my Business Maturity Date?

I believe that every day saved on the front of an objective can save us 10-15 days on the backend in not having to “catch up”, similar to investing money on the front end creates more on the back end. I made the decision to get ahead on the book to help ensure I meet or beat my BMD, with the belief that I will get much more time to goof off later if I get to my BMD sooner. I’m not a workaholic. I was still able to take a great bike ride late that afternoon.

My Business Maturity Date and my Strategic Plan run my business, and keep me focused on creating a business I can enjoy, with a lot more time to goof off later if I stay focused now. My BMD and my Strategic Plan have made me “ambitiously lazy” – working hard to create more free time, sooner.

My Business Maturity Date is Friday, February 18, 2011, at 10am (see “Is there a Business Maturity Date ticking in your business?” for more on this). I expect to get there a few days earlier because I wrote Wednesday instead of golfing. I expect I’ll get to golf a lot more, a lot sooner because I’m so focused on beating my Business Maturity Date.

What’s keeping you moving and on track?

Seven Decision-Making Principles Leading us to Profitability

Guiding Principles of a business are necessary (honesty, integrity, customer service, etc.), but there is another set of principles that help the Business Owner in particular: decision-making principles.

How we make decisions effects everything we do. Problem – we make decisions subjectively, even when we think we’re being objective. All the research shows this – even at the major company level – we even buy subjectively.

As a result, we react badly to shiny objects, short-term victories and defeats, and strategic planning. So the question becomes, do you guide your biz or does it rule you? Who’s really in charge?

Want to make more money and stop recovering from bad decisions? Get some simple decision-making principles on which you run your business.

Like rails that guide a train, your decision-making principles are a core strategy to having a business that knows where it is going and how it is going to get there.

Here’s my seven decision-making principles. What are yours?

The 7 Decision-Making Principles of TeamNimbusWest Crankset Group:

  1. Business Maturity Date – Know Where I’m going & when I want to be there. (Seriously, you plan your vacation destination and time to be there, why in the world don’t you plan the destination and time to be there for your business. Which one is more important? Duh…)
  2. Make more money in less time. – Why do what others can and will do, when there’s so much to be done that others can’t or won’t do? Yield Per Hour. Distributive Management. Your NOT saving money by doing things below your pay grade. If you want to make $200 per hour, every time you do a $20 per hour job, you just lost $180.
  3. Focus on my lifetime goals, not just on growing my business – A BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goal) will keep us going, but “grow the business” is a lifeless idea. So is retirement. Get a reason to have a business, then watch how much more money you make, and in less time.
  4. Get off the treadmill, own the business instead of the business owning me. – The purpose of our business is to create a lifestyle for ourselves and our family. Stop making money, stop making a living, and start building a business that makes money while you’re on vacation.
  5. Work ON my business, not just IN it. Highest and best use of my time. – The key to growth – perfecting as we go by strategic planning, not just production. Know where you’re going, and regularly adjust. I revisit my Strategic Plan every Monday. Keep steering all the time.
  6. Make decisions on where I want to be, not where I am. – Clarity of Purpose leads to Hope which leads to Risk. Know where you’re going (clarity), which will give you something to believe in (Hope), which will allow you to risk moving forward. Take good risks to grow.
  7. Bad plans carried out violently many times yield good results. Do something. Stop planning. Implement now and perfect as you go. Speed of Execution rules. It’s a both/and thing. Move NOW (stop thinking), then as soon as you start moving, start perfecting. If you just move, you’re going to get clobbered. If you just perfect, you’ll never start moving. Implement now, perfect as you go.

What are the decision-making principles of your business?

You’ve got decision-making principles that are running the show. You might as well write them down and see if you agree with who/what is actually in charge. If not, change them and take control of your business future.

Learn objectivity in decision-making processes. Know where you’re going, delegate, make decisions based on your strategic plan, and not based on where you are right now. And stop thinking about it so long. It’s not how good the plan is, but how committed you are to the bad (incomplete) plan you have. And how good you make decisions as you go.

Guidelines vs. Rules – Creating Wildly Successful Employees

Employees have changed. Rules don’t cut it anymore. The newer generation isn’t sure it even wants to go to work and has in some ways decided to retire BEFORE working. They’re out there “gigging” instead of working. How do you as a Business Owner respond to this new world?

How is the new world different than the old industrial age employee world? The old world had rules the employee needed to live by. The new world has guidelines that create ownership, freedom, teamwork, and creative involvement for the employe:

Employee Guidelines (principles) → → Employee Rules (laws)

  • Provide Framework → → → → → → → → → Box to live in.
  • Gives you a “floor”-minimum → → → → → Gives you a ceiling – “maximum”
  • Encourages innovation → → → → → → → →Encourages conformity/sameness
  • Frees up employees to win → → → → → → →Creates fear of losing
  • Emphasis on effective result → → → → → →Emphasis on process/procedure
  • Emphasis on employee ownership → → → Emphasis on we/they blame games
  • Encourages participation/innovation → → Encourages hiding/work-arounds.
    Examples of each:
    Apple Computers → → → → → → → → → → U.S. Government

A Key Objective in creating happy employees: Create “ownership” of their job, and help them see how it fits into the bigger picture (process mapping is a great way to do this.)

How do you lead in the new world? By becoming a Servant Leader. The best leaders have always led this way, but if you don’t lead this way in the new employer world, you won’t keep your employees.

Leaders do not exist to be served by those “under” them. They do not have the right to have others make them look good. Having a title on a door does not make you a leader. Leaders are focused on how they can make everyone else around them more successful (the servant leader). Employees are very clear that the leader’s job is to champion them and give them the vision, environment, resources, training, and connections to be wildly successful. The smart leader knows that if everyone around them is successful, they won’t have to worry about their own visibility or success.

Be a servant leader – create ownership among your employees for their positions, and focus your energies on making them wildly successful. You’ll have a great business and make more money in less time as a result.