Small Biz Scams

April 18, 2006

This week’s issue of Business Week is full of good information for entrepreneurs.

One article that caught my eye is “Would I Lie to You? Five Cons Still Kicking.”

Among others is the age-old “stuff envelopes at home.” (I’d bet they had some version of this back before they even had envelopes! “Make papyrus at home!”) Of course, there are now web variations “work in your pajamas” and such. But, just about all of them are – sadly – scams, often with some variation of pyramid schemes.

And, even if it’s not an outright con, it’s so easy to get taken when you’re in start-up mode. You’re optimistic, fired up and ready to roll! So, when a marketing agency, PR firm, business consultant or web site promises you great things quickly – you write the check.

It’s not exaggerating (much) to say I could retire if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard something like, “I paid the PR firm $150 an hour and got nothing.” or “He charged $2,000 for the business plan and I can’t get an investor to look at it.” I always feel badly because by the time I’m talking to the person, it’s almost always too late for me to help.

So, as with anything else, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.



Are you making it difficult?

April 18, 2006

So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work.
– Peter Drucker

Sure, sometimes we think we’re helping but we’re really preventing the other person from learning, growing and – um – doing their job. I know how hard it is to step back and give people room to work (and possibly fail) – been there, done that.

But, ultimately your team has to fly on its own, if they’re ever really going to be a team. This means they have to work out conflicts, solve problems without coming to you first. And, you’ve gotta get out of their way and let them do it.

Anyway, that’s my food for thought for this Monday.


Duh! Loyalty to Employees

March 31, 2006

Dunce Last night I attended a fun gathering of the AIBA (Albuquerque Independent Business Alliance) where I won, as is my habit of late, the door prize. This month it was a for a two-hour consultation with local brand maven, Mary Ellen Merrigan. Mary Ellen is well known around these parts for her great work, including entrepreneurial education at WESTT Corp.

Great timing, as she said I was on her call list. And, as we were laughing at the meeting, this “marketing stuff” is so much easier for our clients than for ourselves. (I think I have a “brand” but do I really have a blind spot? Am I being brilliant or just bloviating? This stuff is like sweating blood sometimes.)

One of the things she included with my prize certificate was a “Loyalty Audit” which is two pages of common sense (which is all too uncommon.)

My “duh!” realization as I was reading it: Loyalty to Employees. I talk a lot about customer loyalty as well as valuing employees. But, I never (duh) put the two together in one thought or process. So, here you go, direct from Mary Ellen to you:

1. My direct reports have regularly scheduled reporting meetings with me during which time I give them my undivided attention.

2. I am accessible to employees on a regular basis; from time to time I walk around the facility with no specific agenda.

3. My company has an internal update system that is not required to go through me. (i.e. newsletter brief for employees, etc.)

4. I have a public reward/performance-recognition program for my employees.

I’d add that good ol’ fashioned things like a sincere thank you or a quick handwritten “attaboy” here and there works wonders for employee loyalty. That, and don’t think of them as “heads” to be counted or cut – they’re human beings.

Related Posts: Bad Boss = Bad Worker, America’s Pink Slip Addiction


Meetings are what you make of them.

March 29, 2006

There must be something in the cyberair today, I was just writing a post about mutual accountability (presenter/audience, customer/salesperson) – and up pops this post by Seth Godin, Going to Meetings. Seth makes the excellent point that if we’ve got to go to meetings (with presenters, sales people, whatever) we should make them productive (and – ahem – not eat or sleep during them.) Presenters will do better if you engage with them. Salespeople are people too. And so on. To all of our benefits if we sit up, take notice, ask questions and do our best to be both interested and interesting.

I got on this thought path this a.m. after receiving a hand-written thank you note from a client along with her payment. Wow! That just made my day. Sure, I like the check, but that’s a requisite. The little note made me happy. And, happy vendors, like happy customers, will do mo’, better, faster. Good all the way around. Hmmm. I’ve got to run now – have some notes to write to good people at Verizon.

America’s Pink Slip Addiction

March 29, 2006

The Book The Disposable American validates what I (and many others) have long thought and wrote about. The addiction to headcount cuts as a way to improve business results is – well – crazy.

Wall Street actually applauds CEOs for announcing headcount cuts, even (especially) when those heads have been producing profitable results. And, analysts snip and snap at CEOs that have the audacity to care about the people who work for them (Costco’s CEO is just one example.) Is it really worth an extra nickel a share to demoralize the surviving heads? Even if the company doesn’t care about its people – here’s a hard cold bottom line fact: Headcount cuts also reduces the number of people out there that can buy the company’s product. Even if they get another job, it’s frequently not at the same pay level as they previously had. (A lot of those “new jobs” we hear about are in the lower-paid service sector. Wal-mart greeters and such. Tough to go from $50,000 a year to $18,000 and still buy that new house, SUV or iPod, folks.)

Just a bit from the NYT article about the book:

The layoff, Mr. Uchitelle argues, has transformed the nation. At least 30 million full-time American employees have gotten pink slips since the Labor Department belatedly started to count them in 1984. But add in the early retirees, the “quits” who saw the layoffs coming, and the number is much higher — a whole ghost nation trekking into what for most will be lower-wage work. This is the Dust Bowl in our Golden Bowl, and to Mr. Uchitelle, layoffs in one way are worse than the unemployment of the 1930’s. At least then, most of the jobless came back to better-paid, more secure jobs. Those laid off in our time almost never will.

Mr. Uchitelle effectively wrecks the claim that all this downsizing makes the country more productive, more competitive, more flexible. He is willing to admit that downsizing can be necessary. “The global economy is not to be denied,” he writes. But to lay off is now like a business school tic, whether it makes any sense or not. With fewer employees, many companies begin to crumble. Innovation also suffers. “Rather than try to outstrip foreign competitors in innovation, a costly and risky process, we gave up in product after product,” Mr. Uchitelle writes. As he points out, many of the business stars now are companies, like Southwest Airlines, that have refused to downsize at all. A growing number of economists argue that layoffs cause more problems than they solve.

‘nuf said.


Bad Boss = Bad Worker

March 16, 2006

A recent study by the American Managment Association found that, ” Pressure to Meet Unrealistic Business Objectives and Deadlines Is Leading Factor for Unethical Corporate Behavior” (The desire to further one’s career and to protect one’s livelihood are ranked second and third, respectively, as leading factors.)

According to the AMA/HRI survey, working in an environment with cynicism or diminished morale, improper training about, or ignorance that, acts are unethical, and the lack of consequences when caught are the next leading factors likely to cause unethical behavior. These factors are followed by the need to follow the boss’s orders, peer pressure/desire to be a team player, desire to steal from or harm the organization and, paradoxically, wanting to help the organization survive…The survey also found that the single most important ethical leadership behavior is keeping promises, followed by encouraging open communication, keeping employees informed and supporting employees who uphold ethical standards. If an organization has leaders who simply don’t “walk the talk” when it comes to ethics, there’s little hope of maintaining a strong ethical culture.

Sad that this continues to be “new news” isn’t it? We can natter on all day about written codes and more laws, but the bottom line is we can neither mandate morality nor legislate behavior.

So, if you’ve got an “employee problem” – maybe you need to look at the company first.


Getting to the next level

March 14, 2006

When talking with clients, I’m frequently told “I need help taking my business/group/organization to the next level.” And, I even use that “next level” term sometimes myself in talking about strategic planning and such.

But, what are we really talking about? And, is it even necessary? Often, the reason folks think they need to go up a level is the one they’re already on isn’t working.

Idea: Before you think about moving up (or ahead) – make sure you’re not missing the obvious right where you are. Example: Before spending more money on increasing your web traffic (after all, traffic doesn’t automatically translate into profits) – look at how you answer the phone; how you respond to customer problems; and how often you talk to your customers (even when – gasp – you’re not selling them something or asking for money!).

Bottom Line: There may nothing wrong with your level – you just may need to do some renovation (and look at the basics).

Read More: The Brickyard (great example re getting back to basics)