Entries Tagged 'business' ↓

Don’t give the hole away

You hear this a lot if you’re out on the golf course for an “easy” round of 18.  It’s meant for the short to medium length putts that have just enough break that you can’t just aim straight for the hole.  Typically you’ll over estimate the break and you’ll miss the putt badly because you played it outside of the hole.  Instead, you need to focus on how hard you hit it and aim just inside the edge of the hole, so that the ball can USE the gentle break and ease into the hole for your routine birdie.

It’s a simple reminder of a simple concept. Don’t overestimate the break and aim for the freaking hole.

It’s been a while since I’ve reminded myself to quit being stupid.  This is one of those moments.  You’re constantly facing small and medium sized decisions that aren’t going to have an exact clear path to an answer.  Of course this is especially true if your trying to build a business and your resources are extremely limited.  Your trying to maximize effort so that you’re hopefully adding value to the biz.  So when you’re a bit unsure of an answer to the current problem, or whether the problem even makes sense in the current context, go back to the ultimate goal and aim in that direction with your solution.

Go get it, and don’t give the hole away.

Changing Perceptions

Not the easiest thing in the world by any means, but I work on it a lot.

It’s almost certainly why I started writing.  It’s definitely why I quickly jump out of a conversation about software development (what I do and what I know) and into what your doing with your business and how your making it happen.  Probably directly into the challenges you faced trying to make it happen.

People always have a very limited view of who you are.  It’s inevitable.  Take steps to start making those perceptions different than they are.  It’s as simple as engaging a person you don’t normally talk to in something completely unrelated with what you do on a daily basis.  Figure out what they are doing and what their challenges are.  It’s going to make you better.

Most importantly, always be listening.  You’ll start hearing things you don’t agree with all over the place.  Then you can take your shots about what people are missing, which is where you’ll make your mark.

Take it to the bank

I love to think about ways that banks could be better.  It’s especially fun right now, while banks are folding left and right, and taking on government money. Small disclosure here, as I spent the first part of my career learning at a rather large bank, and took away invaluable experience.  I loved it.  BUT, don’t love the parts of banking that scream opportunity.

Here’s 3 things that my bank (and I’ll keep it annonomous) can and should do to make customer’s more happy and attract more of them:

1.  Build more intelligence into online banking. I’ve talked about this before.  It’s just a no brainer to me to use the online banking platform as your primary marketing/face of your organization.  People going to branches all the time is a thing of the past. Invest capital accordingly.

2. Start streamlining loan processes.  I should be able to do most things though the site above that gets me 95% of the way towards my loan needs before I even talk to anyone.  Its not that hard.

3.  Give me a 1 stop shop.  I know this is difficult, but take one example.  Most banks have investment arms that are just so out of tune with reality, that I can’t believe people even use them.  It’s sick even thinking about paying $29.99 a trade or higher.  Especially with how easy it is to move money electronically.  So if you can’t compete, what’s the point?

Simple.  Technology is your facilitator on all fronts.

Opportunity is absolutely all over the place right now in this business as customers are willing and READY to take their money elsewhere.

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Choose Wisely

Market is going either up or down today, how should I play it?
Which direction should I turn for lunch, left, right, or straight?
What color should I paint my walls, blue, red, orange, or magenta?

More than anytime in your life, possibly in history, you are presented with choices in almost everything you do.  Its no different in business.  Customers are more squirrely than ever.  They want the latest thing yesterday and fads pass in an instant.

So how do you mitigate this choice risk?  Make small, marked decisions and don’t anticipate wildly far off into the future.  This sort of goes along with my views on  “Happy Path” development, but I think it goes deeper into business fundamentals.

Lay the groundwork for future business growth, but don’t build it out fully until the need is there. If you THINK you are going to have a nice niche in another space with what you’re doing now, great. Get revenue first, analyze your business metrics and whether it still makes sense, THEN start to tap into what might be in that other space.

Customers have choice, and its tough to forecast what they will choose tomorrow, much less next year.  Choice is also a behavior., and behavior’s are hard to change. So swim downstream by building incrementally and don’t anticipate years into the future. Whether your involved in a startup or work for a company, lay the groundwork for accomplishing the future, but be patient, smart and incremental in tackling things you think might be successful.

Do You Really LIKE it?

If this question isn’t the most popular of all time, it has to be close: “How is your job going?”.

Inevitably the kosher answer to this question is, “It’s going good”.

Rarely do you get the outlier event of a person telling you how much they LOVE what they are doing.  And if they do tell you that, they probably are a bit disillusioned about what they are doing and their impact outside of their 4 walls.  (Don’t get me wrong here, there are people that are in this camp that are making a difference. They are also higher burnout candidates. People that will be crashing hard in several years.).  A bit more often you will get the other side of the coin.  It’s the people that tell you they really are having a hard time with their job.  They don’t like it for a myriad of reasons.

The boring “It’s going good” is something I try to avoid.  I’m always taking a side with such a question. Incidentally, it’s probably why my friends think I am a bit TOO opinionated.  Having an opinion is interesting. Being in the middle is easy.

So back to my central point.  If you are in the middle ask yourself “why?”.  What is it about your job that you find incredibly interesting.  What is it you DON’T like.

There is a really easy barometer for this if you have a hard time sorting those two things out. Do you easily forget details about aspects of your job?  Those are probably the things you don’t like.  The things you have to CONSTANTLY remind yourself of.  Write that stuff down and keep a list of it.  Don’t worry you probably already do. You have reminders set up to tell yourself to do it because you won’t naturally want or REMEMBER to.  That will make up your list of things to look for as negatives in your next career move.

This is just some quick and simple personal career and goal planning advice that I try to follow. It can really help immensely, because making career decisions is incredibly hard on either side of the “How is your job going?” question.  Being armed with REAL QUALITATIVE information will be fruitful.

What Your Missing in Managing

There isn’t a more frustrating thing in the world than dealing with management that doesn’t get it.  I know everyone fundamentally has some issue with someone in power at work above them, whether its their direct manager or being out of tune with someone above that lives in the clouds.

It’s only natural. It is like some crazy class system that has been adopted for capitalism.  It kind of makes sense to me, but the lines are getting super blurry as knowledge workers are starting to make up the lions share of the workforce in America.  The difference in skill sets between managers and their minions is getting ever so small.

So what are companies missing?  Why is it always tough to find good people, especially in middle management?

To me it’s simple.  Find people that others WANT TO FOLLOW.  It is a very natural thing for some people to lead. Its a whole different skill set than understanding technology or process or the rest of the underlying business principles.  Those are the skill sets that can be taught.  Having the ability to get others to WANT to follow you IS NOT.

I don’t care if someone has been at a company for 10 years and they work really super hard, and glow in the dark because they are so smart.  It DOES NOT translate into managing teams of people.  You are constantly going to be fighting resistance in these situations because in reality, you have never been a leader.  You have never been able to get several people going in the right direction and hitting on all cylinders and communicating. It’s a really hard thing to accomplish, don’t get me wrong, I do understand that.

So next time you are thinking that a person deserves to be managing because they are really good at their job, step back and give them a huge deserving raise to keep them around.  Take a hard look at them and see if people WANT to follow that person.  OR are they just BETTER at their job than others which deserves merit, but in a whole different way than promoting into managing.

Make Your Own Rules

Corporate America is an awesome place to find all kinds of things that need changing.  I’ve wrote about them before here.  Another concept I have been trying hard to get myself into is “making my own rules”.  Of course this is within reason, and I’m talking strictly about furthering the business.  For example, I’m not saying go take tons of unsolicited time off. I’m also not saying to DON’T get your work done.  Also it’s probably good practice to follow corporate HR policy.

I AM saying find ways to push your management and their management.

When you spend a couple of years working, you quickly figure out there’s a formula everyone’s following. It’s the “blueprint” of the game.  You get to work, respond to emails, check your calendar of the day, head off to your meetings, put out fires, and hope to keep the project(s) your working on completely on task while getting everything done on that project you can.  All the while being distracted by a myriad of different things like the internet, lunch, and impromptu hello’s with co-workers.  It can be dizzying, especially if you work at a place that works hard to follow some sort of process that everyone cares immensely about following.

So there it is.  That’s what the current formula is.  I challenge you at some moment to change the rules.  Figure out something different to do while staying within your corporate framework.  Push the envelope, its the only way you are going to keep things fresh.

If you’re not GETTING challenged and challenging others, you can guess that you are getting super complacent and not getting the best out of what your doing.  So take a step back, and ask some hard questions AND make people answer them.

Your rewards, fiscal or otherwise, may lay behind those questions…..all which might not have been exhausted if you didn’t decide to “make your own rules”.

Beautiful Blue Sky

So, in reality we are all searching for the thing that is going to make us the MOST happy.  Something that will keep our interest.  Something to keep us working hard, honest and feeling rewarded at the end of the day.

Y combinator had a great post HERE about ideas that they would like to fund. I find posts like this interesting, but not for the fact that you might find some blueprint for a business, but just something that will spurn ideas about a particular niche. It makes brainstorming incredibly easy. Send a link to some friends, stir up the pot about your thoughts, and then start conversing about viability of your combined ideas.

That’s what I spent part of my Monday morning doing, expanding on one of those points. I at least have one idea that I think is valid and viable: A niche auction web presence.

The market is huge and there is just so much that is being done wrong. It operates on pure volume in the eBay world domination model. In general I think you could to try to exploit the market of valuables and goods that need to be verified (Think jewelry, antiques, purses, etc) by a third party for authentication. A couple of things make me think there’s a space for this. First,it’s a totally fragmented marketplace made up of small brick and mortar businesses selling higher priced goods and buyers skittish about whether those goods are authentic. Second, there is also a nice healthy trend of eBay selling counterfeit items. Both of these point towards opportunity.

Execution and figuring out the details are of course the hard part, BUT its also super interesting.

You might find my thoughts interesting, or maybe not. It’s irrelevant to the central point. Staying on the sidelines won’t get you anywhere.

Start blue sky’ing your ideas on something you want to do. There are so many things that need to be improved it’s just silly.

Put Your Gaurd Down

Probably like a lot of you out there, I had no idea what to expect when I entered into corporate America.  I was likely more unprepared because I was trying to break into a technical field with a business degree and really no software skills other than ones I learned myself. I keed, UofL gave me SOME skills, but I lacked the in demand web skills which I had to foster through self discovery.

I spent a lot of my initial career working very hard and putting in a ton of hours. I was super fortunate to have a mentor that filled in the blanks I needed through my first couple of years, but I still always felt like I was behind my peers. This uneasiness led me to keep my guard up a lot more than I should have. Sometimes when I didn’t grasp a technical concept or business direction I would gloss over it and try to play catch up. For example, take bank accounting. It’s a ridiculous world where credits are actually debits and vice versa. Try developing internal accounting systems in that jacked up world. Furthermore, technical concepts are ALWAYS complicated because we’re in a field that fosters abstraction. Your abstraction of something is 90% of the time wildly different than what mine would have been.

So my advice to you is this, put your gaurd down and NEVER be afraid to say the stupid stuff that your always thinking. I’m usually in this camp. When a meeting starts off and you have 10 people that are trying to discuss something that no one fully understands, it will help when you ask that dumb question 9 other people are thinking and don’t want to ask. It will get everyone on the same page and working towards solving problems instead of wasting time.

Push vs. Pull

A lot of people have asked me about what I am doing on the web, using technologies like Twitter, Facebook, etc.. It’s something that is hard to explain and is a bit nebulous. I use it to help build my social reputation on the web because of the industry I am in, but I also talk about its implications in marketing, and business value. This is where things get a bit dicey for most people. They have a hard time grasping this concept. Most people think of a company having a twitter account that blasts coupons out to people following them. To me that misses the big picture.

Social media is playing an important role in an emerging landscape that is destined to blur lines of what traditional marketing was aiming towards. What does that mean? In a nutshell, things are moving from corporations from “pushing” product ideas to us, to “pulling” them from users and customers and building a community around the product.. This business model flies in the face of what we normally think of with TV ads, newspaper ads, and other forms of traditional media. For a good example of this, take a look at what Threadless.com is doing. Products that are totally built around the community deciding them. This example is a bit to the extreme, though, since they have become established around the last 5 years. So how do big companies use these tools to their advantage? Well, it isn’t pushing coupons through media outlets like I stated above.

Big companies need to get creative. Social web outlets can go a long way to create buzz about your products without “pushing” them. For example, have a your product manager “plugged” into communities you might think your product is designed for. This can be twitter, pownce, or any of the dozens of services out there. Chances are, you will get people to start looking at your product through these media channels. Especially the early adopter types. This will help build a community around what you are selling. From this community, you’re going to hopefully get a lot of ideas to “pull” information from to make your product better. You don’t have to completely abandon your traditional strategies, but incorporating some form of social web strategy is the important part. Start moving your marketing strategy from “push” to “little bits of push, and mostly pull”.

Using this information to hone your product into something your customers want and like, is a helpful recipe to making something people are willing to use and possibly even pay for. The paradigm is shifting, and companies big and small are going to need to recognize it and capitalize.