Sometimes you need that extra edge

May 31, 2011

Whether you are a beginner or a pro, when it comes to winning in the innovation game, sometimes you need that extra edge.

Sales Cartoon #5506 by Andertoons
Andertoons Sales Cartoons

Most  innovators can tell you that success is tied to a number of factors.  When they come together in the right order and with the right combinations, it can lead to a winning run.  It’s a bit like a game of pool.  Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

Success Tip: Check out the BIG Game

February 6, 2011

Today is the big day, Super Bowl XLV.  Folks will be donning green and gold or gold and black.  Friends will gather around TV sets across the country gobbling up things they know that should not eat and for this one day of the year the DVR is set not to skip the commercials, but to catch them for instant replay.

Teams have sweated and toiled.  Investing  millions for their time in the global spotlight.

Closed door meetings, strategy sessions, the big chase, and surprising twists… all come together on Super Bowl Sunday.

 

Chevy provides a behind the scenes look at the drama and strategy of creating a 2011 Super Bowl commercial.

Oh yeah, there is a football game too.

In business, every day is Game Day.

Most of us will never field a team in the world’s most  famous grid iron match up or take the leap to bet around $3 million for a 30 second spot in its commercials although GoDaddy’s Bob Parsons will gleefully tell you what they have done for his team’s business.

It’s not a bet if you know the outcome ~ Bob Parsons

As entrepreneurs, investors, leaders or teammates, success in the BIG game means that every day is game day.  Here are a few things to keep in mind as you watch from the stands or from the couch…

It starts with a coin toss – it does not end there.

Success always has en element of luck to it. Good luck may move you forward faster just as bad luck might slow you down.  But being lucky early does not ensure success. Here is a bit of Super Bowl Trivia:

The team that has won the coin toss is 19-22 all time in the Super Bowl and has lost the past 4 straight and 9 of the last 11. (source)

To win in the big game you need a great team

Don’t kid yourself.  The team with strong players, that plays well together has a definite advantage.  Great teams are balanced.  In football you can have a great quarterback, but if you have no offensive line it is unlikely that you will spend a lot of time in the end  zone and if your defense is weak, the other team will.  Successful teams have the right mix to do the whole job, not just one or two super stars intent on carrying the day.

Give the fans something to talk about.

Winning the big game is about the experience.  In football it is the thrill of the win, the roar of the  crowd and the play that fans will talk about for years to come.  In business it is the achievement of goals inside your company, the praise of customers when you deliver on your promises, and the great results  you deliver to your employees, customers, investors, and partners that keep you ahead in the game.

Innovation = Improvement

Don’t confuse flash and showmanship with innovation.  The victory dance in the end zone is not nearly as important as the fact that you got there and need to get there again to win.  Commercials are entertaining at the break, but the real win will be measured when customers walk through your door or visit your website to buy your products and services.  A bit of flash may bring them in once, but products and services that are new, different, and create value for the  customer are what will bring them back again and again.

Success is not built on just one game.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers are playing in Super Bowl XLV because they won a series of games and more importantly they won when it counted.  Winning at the right time matters, just ask the Jets and the Bears. 

Football is more that a game, it’s a big business. And winning in the world of business is a game where the points are measured in value created.  Take a look at this ranking by Forbes of the most valuable NFL Teams.  You’ll need to keep searching all the way down to #14 for Green Bay and #17 to find  the stats for the Steelers.   Sustained value is a combination of smart investments, the right resources plus  a strong team in the front office, on the bench and on the field that creates long-term, sustainable value together.  Interestingly, the Redskins have one of the best track records for value creation in recent years yet they have LOST 55% of the games they played on the field. It’s not just about winning under the lights, everything matters.

So sit back and enjoy the game…

The Super Bowl is an American tradition.  You may watch it for the game, for the commercials,  or simply as a way to spend time  with family and friends.  But as you dig into that pile of chicken wings, tray of nachos or bowl of chili, keep a look out for the big game changers.  You might have something new to talk about at the office come Monday morning when all the “quarterbacks” come out.

So place your bets, rally your team, and enjoy the game.  It’s almost time for the coin toss whether the Big Game starts at 6:30pm ET on FOX or come Monday morning when you and your team take the field once again.

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker


Free – Isn’t

January 12, 2010

There is a lot of talk about all of the things that you can get for FREE these days.  Not surprising in an era where budgets are stretched and we are all looking to get more for less.

Last week, I had the pleasure of listening to Lon Safko, co-author of the Social Media Bible speak to a group of counselors from SCORE and the SBDC as a prelude to Greater Phoenix SCORE’s Social Media Event this January 14th and 15th.

During his presentation, Lon kept emphasizing the reasons, excellent ones BTW, that businesses need to pay attention to and utilize social media.  And repeatedly he punctuated his message with a continuing theme…Oh Yes!  It’s FREE!

But is it?

While access to these new social media platforms is free or in the case of some emerging premium products relatively inexpensive, let’s look at some of the costs.

FUNDING and Economic costs

Based on reports from Tech Crunch, the four most prominent platforms in their categories (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google) raised over $1 Billion in equity funding to get to where they are today.

  • Twitter is free – $160M in funding to date according to this time line from TechCrunch
  • Facebook is free – $716M in in funding to date according to this time line from TechCrunch.  With over 350 MILLION active users worldwide (if you are a demographer an interesting side note is that if Facebook users were a nation, they would now have exceeded the population of the United States of America making the Facebook Nation the 3rd largest country in the world!) 
  • LinkedIn is free (although new premium features carry a price)  – $103M in funding to date according to this time line from Tech Crunch. With more than 45 million users representing 150 industries around the world, LinkedIn is a fast-growing professional networking site that allows members to create business contacts, search for jobs, and find potential clients.
  • Google Search and many applications are free.  The search engine activity has been estimated at over 2 Billion searches each day with a related estimate of 300 Million unique users daily.  Google received $25.1M in funding according to this time line from TechCrunch

And that does not take into account that these are simply mediums across which information is shared.  The platforms have no value without content creation – think people sharing information –  and that takes time.  If we estimate that a combined 1 Billion visitors spent just 1 hour on the platforms entering/sharing their content each year at MINIMUM wage of $7.25/hour – content creation across the platforms would cost $7.25 Billion dollars – and that is for only 1 hour per year at minimum wage!  Now think about what your time is worth?  How many hours have you actually spent?

There is no such thing as a free lunch.

We’ve all heard it.  Heaven knows who said first.  “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”  I’ll attribute this one to my Grandma, she may not have been the first to say it – but she was the first to say it to me.   Everything has a cost, whether in time, money, or the opportunity cost (what you could have gotten if you used your time and money in a different way.)   Until you truly understand costs, you can never calculate value since cost is a key component of the value equation.

Value = Benefit – Cost

The concept of a wanting a free lunch is pervasive today across our entrepreneurial and business communities – not to mention our society as a whole.  Whether the benefit is accurate information provided by media outlets, advice from thought leaders, time with business advisors, or creative content like books, films and movies – there is a growing perception that in the new information age, knowledge and content is free.  But if we continue along this line of thinking, we may begin to find it is just the opposite.

No need to buy the cow if you already have the milk.

This was another favorite “Grandma Quote.”  For those of you who are smirking, no this post is not going down THAT avenue.  This maxim took on an entirely new meaning when I moved from a salaried position in corporate America to the role of an entrepreneur whose livelihood and business was based on providing valuable information for a fee.

In the early years of my business, I was actively networking and sharing ideas.  Soon my calendar was filled with invitations for FREE coffee, FREE Lunches, FREE dinners where a new business friend wanted to ‘pick my brain’ or ‘share’ an idea.  But more often than not, all that came out of the exchange was a few more inches around my waistline.  Over those meet ups, I would answer their questions, offer contacts, help create solutions.  And more often that not, my potential new business evaporated.  They had gotten what they needed from me over lunch while all I got was a hamburger and a diet coke!

Then Grandpa, an attorney, came to my rescue with some simple advice.  “The first exploratory hour is FREE, after that you go on the clock. Your time and knowledge IS your business.  If you do not value it, no one else will either.”

I’ve gotten better over the years.  (Although, I have to admit that I still give away “gallons of milk” because I often share a lot of ideas in that first hour and enjoy connecting with new people or volunteering within organizations that help entrepreneurs.) But now, when someone asks to come back to the table for second, third or fourth helpings, I am a bit wiser about knowing when to graciously decline those invitations to just get together and ‘chat’ over lunch.

For as Grandpa helped me understand… if you can’t find a way to run a profitable business, the business won’t be around to help others profit.

Google has figured this out and is making money.  Eventually, the other social media giants will too.  Old media will need to learn to monetize their ventures in new ways and the new cadre of consultants emerging from the rolls of corporate layoffs will learn the same lessons I have.  There is no free lunch – especially when you are the one serving up all the free information.

Well enough of all this for now. I need to get to work.  Understanding how to use Google Apps for a new project is the next item on my To Do List today.  To quote my friend Lon… “and did I mention that – it’s free?”  Well except that it will probably take all my ‘free’ time for the rest of the week to figure it all out.

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay Tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker


Talk of the Town – 2010 will be MY Year

January 9, 2010

j0426527[1]Each year in January, I try to plan my calendar to meet with friends in the first two weeks.  I have a diverse group of friends ranging from entrepreneurs to folks from corporate America, from local community volunteers to national leaders, and from neighbors to old school chums.

By reaching out, reconnecting, asking questions, and listening, I get a really good cross section of what is happening and what is on people’s minds.  It also gives me a pretty good feel for what to expect in the year to come.

It probably comes as no surprise that, when I did this is January of 2009, there were lots of rumblings of rough weather ahead.  People where battening down the hatches and preparing to hold on to investments, jobs, and businesses by sheer will.  Folks that I talked to did not know what to expect – but one thing was pretty consistent… they we not expecting it to be good.

Yet, this year, there is a different feeling in the conversations.  I don’t know  what it is  – the stars in alignment, something in the water, or just the impact of moving into a new decade, but once again a message is emerging from all of these conversations – a common statement and theme that  I am hearing from others…

2010 will be MY year!

The first time I heard it expressed by a friend with such confidence that I felt it too, I thought – ‘Wow, good for you.’  Then I heard it again – this time by a business owner – “This will be OUR year”.  And then again from an entrepreneur, then a scientist, then a developer, then a non profit leader, and so on.  The words were slightly different each time, but the theme kept repeating over and over again.  2010 was going to be the year when they made a break through, grew their business, did something new, made a difference.

So, will 2010 be YOUR year? 

We all have the chance to make 2010 our year.  Here are a few things you might want to put to work for you.

1.  Write down your goals and put them somewhere where you see them every day.  A series of small goals that build on one another are better that one great big one.  That way, as you achieve each small goal or milestone, the sense of accomplishment gives you more incentive and energy to tackle the next one.

2.  Gather Great People Around You.  Whether you call them a team, a posse, a workgroup or just friends, surround yourself  with people who share your values AND your goals. By working together – things happen faster.  The shared experiences of your team can also help you avoid pitfalls and mistakes that might shift you off course.

3.  Focus in on the things that will make the biggest impact.  It is too easy to be distracted by little things that can keep you from doing the important ones.  Take the time to understand how you are most productive and then work with others to delegate or off load non core activities.  Paying someone else to do the time consuming nuisance projects can save BIG money in the long run or free you up for more impactful or productive activities.

4. Use Processes and Systems to Your Advantage.  The best businesses, projects, and ideas are those you can replicate over and over again.  Figure out what works best, get it down on paper and integrate it into HOW you get things done.  By creating repeatable systems or processes, you save time, save money and often by analyzing the system – continue to improve it.

Never forget that “2010 will be MY year”. 

Stay positive and positive things happen.  Don’t let anyone tell you differently. 

Make 2010 your year.

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay Tuned.

Joan Koerber-Walker


Exploring The Entrepreneurial Myth – an interview with Michael Gerber

December 26, 2009

Gerber M 0020

I first met Michael Gerber in November of 2006 when he generously gave of his time and knowledge to come to Phoenix as a volunteer to speak at the First Annual Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference.  OTEF was a fledgling organization in those days – but we had a dream – to provide entrepreneurial education, mentoring, and support to at risk populations in finding economic sustainability through entrepreneurship.  To do that we needed the funds to offer programs and the conference was a way to share our message and raise the funds to pursue the dream.  Our project captured Michael’s imagination. 

Since that day, we’ve had the opportunity to get to know each other better.  During my years as CEO at the ASBA, Michael was a wonderful supporter, sharing his knowledge on teleconferences with our members, coming, with his wife Luz Delia, to share in the celebration of the 2007 Arizona Companies to Watch, sharing ideas with me and our small business community at the Enterprise Business Conference in 2008 to celebrate Small Business Week, and best of all inviting me to The Dreaming Room and plopping me down in the Hot Seat for a challenging one on one session.

Over the years he has had many titles – but my favorite – is Chief Dreamer.   When you get to know him, you see how important the dream is to him and to the tens of thousands of entrepreneurs he has worked with.

In the video below from the Cisco Innovators Forum, Michael shares some of his thoughts on how entrepreneurs can get it right from the beginning.  After the video – I have a few questions of my own to ask the one and only Michael Gerber.

“A life without a dream is a life without a purpose. A life without a purpose is a life without meaning.” Michael Gerber

JKW:  Michael, in your books, seminars, and programs, you share the secrets of entrepreneurial success.  You have spent decades sharing these secrets – WHY do you do it?

MG: What else would I do? Everywhere I look, people are suffering for a lack of direction. During my life I have worked with thousands of those people, and as they begin to see their lives through the entrepreneurial prism dramatic shifts occur. It’s a fantastic feeling to witness those shifts.

JKW:  You have made a career helping entrepreneurs succeed in achieving their dreams.  Have you always been successful or was there a time when something happened that others would term an entrepreneurial failure?  If so, how did you recover?

MG: I’ve had so many failures I can’t count them. In fact, I don’t even want to, the pain is too great. But, at the same time, my failures have always led to successes. Not necessarily connected, perhaps, but the one, the failure, taught the other, the success, that the deliberate straightforward path is not always the best path, that the success is most often realized as an epiphany that arises out of the failure in a completely unexpected fashion. So, I have come to look forward to the unexpected.

JKW:  You have written over 13 books for entrepreneurs and you have a new one being released in January 2010.  Can you give us a little sneak peak at what it’s all about?

clip_image002[3]MG: It’s name is The Most Successful Small Business In The World: The Ten Principles. It speaks to the essence of what I believe must exist in an enterprise, and an entrepreneur’s relationship with it, for it to truly flourish. You’ll have to read it to find out the secret.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JKW: When you are not writing, speaking, and inspiring others, I know that you like to read – a lot. Whose book inspires you – and why?

MG: I read fiction, not business. I rarely read anything to do with business. The reason is, I don’t learn from books, I learn from action. On the other hand, I highly recommend that all small business owners and entrepreneurs read my books. Because unlike all other business books, my books are born out of the actions I’ve taken, and the conclusions I’ve reached as a result of those actions. In short, they are less books, than they are cautionary tales.

JKW: You and I have talked about social media, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter as it has been evolving. So Michael, do you tweet?

MG: Not yet, but soon.

JKW: I’ve heard that this year, as a special gift, you are hosting a FREE con call on New Year’s Day with entrepreneurs to help them kick the year off right. How can our readers participate?

MG: Very easy. Just call in at +1 (866) 951-1151 (Conference Code Number: 1984938# ) 

It starts at 4 p.m. PST and will last 90 minutes. I do this every year, but this year is special, as my new book comes out on January 6th, and during my Teleconference I’ll be sharing The Ten Principles for creating the most successful small business in the world.

 

JKW: Thanks so much Michael for taking the time to answer a few questions. As you know, I always have more. I guess I’ll just write them down and heave them ready for when I see you in Phoenix for a Meet Up on January 25th. (Readers: Stay tuned to @joankw for more details in January.)  Who knows – maybe some of our readers will be there too and have new questions for both of us.

So readers, what do YOU think. Are you ready to kick off the new year right? I’ll be on the call – will you?

Thanks for stopping by. Stay tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker

Tags


Customer Service – Be Careful What You Automate

December 9, 2009

Few companies will argue that that customer service is important.  We see messages relating to the importance of customers appear in mission statements, value statements, and strategic plans on a regular basis.

Yet, when you call these same companies, too often you reach not a customer sensitive employee, but instead an automated voice response unit or VRU.  These marvels of efficiency creating technology are happy to give you a wealth of choices – often without an obvious or expedient option to talk to a real person.  Worse, when you actually discover the secret code, you get a very pleasant voice sharing with you that ‘due to high call volume, your call will be answered in ____ minutes.”  Sometimes the wait time is short, others not so short.  My favorite was the company that shared how important I was as a customer and that the anticipated wait time was FORTY MINUTES.  Then to add insult to injury, their hold message was bragging about their recent prestigious award for customer service!

Yes, reducing costs and increasing efficiencies is important.  But, be sure you understand the REAL message you deliver to your customers by your service or lack of it.

As you can see in this humorous clip from my friend Dave Griffiths  (@Bensonix on Twitter) automatons don’t make the best customer service agents or tech support staff.

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay Tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker


The Quest- In search of a transformational company

November 9, 2009

clip_image002In literature, as in legend, there have been many great quests. One in particular that has captured imaginations, for over two thousand years, is the search for a simple cup used in a great tale of transformation. Yes, The Quest for The Holy Grail.

This quest has been the inspiration that sparked great literature, epic poems, and motion pictures running the gamut from Monty Python to  Indiana Jones.

While my quest is not one of such mythical proportion, as I sat pondering how to share my plans with you, the legend of The Holy Grail leapt to mind. 

My Quest

I am, together with a valued group of friends, looking to acquire a controlling interest in a very particular company.  Our search and the legendary quest have more than a few things in common. In both cases they combine Innovation, Leadership, and Growth to create Lasting Value.  These are my personal passions. There is nothing like the feeling you get when you discover something with true potential and then do what it takes to Make It Great.

What’s been happening?

This year, I have been working with a small team of friends and advisors to search out really cool deals.  We’ve found some great ones, but not the right one. Not yet. 

Along the way, I have gotten much more active in connecting to friends old and new via a range of social media tools

However, it all came together when I was having lunch last week with Morris Callaman at a beautiful resort nestled against a mountain in Paradise Valley called Montelucia

Morris asked –

“Joan, what do you think about expanding this search and inviting your social media network to participate? You could literally ask for help crowd-sourcing this acquisition search.”

And that’s how it started.  So, here I am asking if you will help me locate the company I would like to lead next. If so, then what follows are some of the criteria we find necessary to successfully recognize our “grail” when we find it.  Ready? OK. Lets discuss a little detail around what this company is, and perhaps even more importantly, what it is not. An ideal company will be one where we can combine Innovation, Leadership, and Growth to create Lasting Value.

Innovation

Innovation in my book is doing something in a new way to make life better for the people who matter most to us – in this case employees, customers, investors, and strategic partners.  It is a company with a product or service that can transform an industry or niche.  For example, my friend Amilya Antonetti changed the way we look at soap in her quest to save the life of her son and now she is on a quest to help other entrepreneurs ask the right questions, get the right information and the things they need to succeed.

Criteria #1:  A product oriented company that will transform its market by creating new value through a better way of doing something(s). 

Unlikely Fits: Singing pop bottles, Presidential Pet Rocks, the corner store, or the next great social media tool.  While there may be lots of investors looking for these, I am not one of them.

Leadership

A great idea only gets you so far before it needs more.  In this case more is the ability to see the future direction of the company’s journey and to predict and obtain what it will need along the way.  Many a great new company has lost crucial momentum when the leader that led the way for the first stage of the journey is not ready for the next stage of that steep uphill path, which many entrepreneurs forecast and yet few would want to travel alone. 

The prize we seek on this quest will have a founder and a team that is looking for a new guide as they begin the climb to revenues and profitability so that everyone, employees, customers, investors and strategic partners alike, benefit from the next stage in the company’s growth.

Criteria #2: A dedicated team in search of experienced leadership and resources to help them successfully move along the growth path.

Unlikely Fits:

  • If ALL YOU NEED IS MONEY so that you can continue along the path you are already on.
  • If your goal is to maintain the status quo.
  • If, as the owner, you are not interested in passing the baton to the next runner in the growth relay.

 

Growth

The company must have solid growth potential and demonstrate how it could scale to provide a more than reasonable return to the investors.   

Growth curves come in all shapes and sizes.  There’s the steady incremental growth of a mature business, the graceful leaps of the Gazelles, and the inevitable ‘Hockey Stick” that appears over and over at every venture conference I have ever attended.  Yet, in the real world, it’s not the pretty charts and pictures that matter, it’s the foundational elements that make a transformational company stand out.  Some Gazelles grow to be great companies, while others rapidly run out of steam after the initial burst of growth.  Hockey Stick Growth Curves can be ‘the big pay day’ or they can simply be a sign of a business in danger of snapping under the pressure of too much, too fast.

Criteria #3:  The best true indicators of growth potential are not charts and graphs, but rather how does the company (or product) provide a solution that is usable by a large number of people and BETTER than substitutes (or lack thereof)?

Unlikely Fits:

  • One more “me too” solution in an already overcrowded market.
  • A terrific solution for a very small customer base (since these rarely can scale.)
  • Product or services that are not designed to fill a genuine customer need (since customers must ultimately be willing to pay and karma is important to me).
  • A ‘great idea’ that has not ever been built, tested, or sold to ANYONE (since I’d like it to already have at least one customer).

Lasting Value

And in the end, building a great company is more than just creating a widget, jobs, or shareholder value. 

Criteria #4:  It’s creating something to believe in, and be proud of, for the people who matter most to us (employees, customers, investors and strategic partners). 

Unlikely Fits:

  • Products or services you would be embarrassed to discuss with your parents.
  • Products or services that add no value to or potentially even harm the community, the environment, or others (since that just isn’t who I am). 
  • Any product or service that makes promises it cannot keep (since that certainly isn’t me either).

So that’s my list.  Have YOU seen this company?

Of course, there are at least two BIG differences between my quest and the search for The Grail of legend.  One, I know that I’m going to find what I am seeking, and Two, this is more than a personal journey, it is also an experiment in the power of social media.  So, if you’ve seen this company please let me know.   You can always leave me a note here, on my blog or, if you want to keep it confidential, you can also contact me by clicking here.

As long as we are on the subject, if you happen to be looking for a company too, just let me know what YOU are searching for and I’ll be happy to pass along what I may find for you along the way. Unlike the fabled Holy Grail, there is more than just one great opportunity out there.

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay Tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker

clip_image003P.S.  One of the best parts of this journey is connecting, engaging, and being inspired by fellow entrepreneurs.  On Thursday, November 12th in Phoenix Arizona I will be doing just that at AZEC09.  Who knows maybe I will see YOU there and we can chat.