Category Archives: 1

Do you treat your clients like Tiffany customers?

No matter how good your company is, sooner or later you’re going to mess something up. You won’t mean to, but you’ll do something that upsets a client. Maybe you’ll miss a deadline, maybe costs will come in higher than you estimated, maybe one of your employees will unintentionally offend a client with a stupid joke. The question is not whether or not something will go wrong in a client relationship. Something always goes wrong.

The real question is: what do you DO when something goes wrong? A trusted business advisor once told me that it’s always a good strategy to overreact to a mistake. Don’t assume that just because the client says it’s no big deal that it’s no big deal.

Here’s a great example of the right sort of overreaction from the little blue box of high-end retail: Tiffany. A friend’s husband ordered her a necklace from the Tiffany website as a Christmas present. He selected a shipping method that would get it there by Christmas Eve. For reasons that may or may not have been Tiffany’s fault, the necklace didn’t arrive on time. They assured him it would arrive the following week.

But in the meantime, they overnighted — for Saturday delivery, no less — a complimentary gift card for $100. I don’t care who you are, a hundred dollars for free makes an impact. It’s a heck of an apology. My friend says she’d never really been a big fan of Tiffany before, but now she’s a true believer. Her husband, who had planned to have another jeweler knock off a celebration ring Tiffany makes to save a little money, now feels it’s imperative that he buy that ring from Tiffany, regardless of cost. His takeaway: “I know Tiffany will do it right.”

Of course, the reverse happens often enough. There’s a dime store in Atlanta that has been here for about three generations. It’s a well-loved institution. They’ve built their reputation one happy customer at a time, year after year after year. It’s the kind of place where parents take their kids for a ride on the same mechanical horse they rode as children. A ride on the horse still costs a dime.

One day I watched a cashier eradicate all those decades of goodwill, at least for the one customer she was serving. This guy handed her a clapping monkey he wanted to buy. You know the one, with the striped trousers and the brass cymbals. The price tag on the monkey said one price. The register rang it up at a higher price. The customer said he wanted to pay the price on the price tag. The cashier said, well, I can’t sell it to you for that, because the register says it’s supposed to cost such and such. They went around and around and around until finally the customer said, you know, I’ve been shopping here for years, but now I’m not coming back again. What’s more, he promised to tell all his friends what happened with the clapping monkey. And he walked out — monkeyless and not happy about it.

Wouldn’t it have been worth the few bucks difference in price to keep a long-time customer happy? I like to think that if the owner had been there, he would have apologized profusely to the customer. And then given him the clapping monkey for free.

Checklist: 7 quick ways to promote your blog after every post

If a tree falls in the blogosphere, is anyone there to hear it? Unless you already have all the readers you want for your blog, you’re going to want to promote your new posts. One of the best ways is to develop a standard system of the things you do each time you publish something new.

Here’s a handy checklist of the steps I take:

1. Ping it: Ping-o-matic is a free service that updates search engines so you don’t have to. Visit pingomatic.com, and go ahead and bookmark it. Then every time you post something new, just click on that, and it will do the pinging for you.

2. Tiny it: Next thing I do is make a shortened version of the URL for the blog page where my new post appears. I  use bit.ly, but there are plenty of other options.

3. Tweet it: Then I send out one tweet to let my followers know there’s some new content they might be interested in. Some people like to do several tweets about one post, or even many tweets a day promoting an inventory of past posts. In the tweet, I’ll include the shortened URL to take them straight to the post. (If you use WordPress, you can also set it to auto-tweet your new posts.)

4. Digg it: To use this content sharing service, you’ll first need to register at digg.com. Then every time you post, you can go to their Add New Content page and submit your post. Check the box for news article if it’s a text post and the video box for a vlog, of course. You also might want to poke around Digg to see what other people have posted and give the ones you like a thumbs up, just for good karma.

5. Stumble it: Stumble Upon leads visitors directly to websites that match their interests, out of a list of nearly 500 possible topics. So it helps more like-minded people discover your blog. Again, you’ll need to first register as a member and download the toolbar into your browser. Then you can give your blog posts a thumbs up and submit them for other people to find.

6. Contribute it: You might find a few websites out there that allow you to post content, usually as an article or a blog. These will generally be sites that focus on a specific audience, like working mothers or budding entrepreneurs. Depending on the topic of each of my posts, I may or may not contribute it as content somewhere. When you do contribute content, you generally are allowed to tag the post with a brief description of who you are and what you write about, along with a link back to your own blog site.

7. Link it: This last one is so easy, you only have to set it up one time and then your blog becomes part of your LinkedIn account. Install the free BlogLink application and then it will automatically add your new posts to your profile page, and also let your contacts know every time you post something new.

Small Business Strategies: Starting a workplace wellness program might be easier than you think

Meditation room at Tribe

What can you do in the new year to improve employee morale and productivity without spending a ton of money? Easy answer: start some level of wellness program in your office. If you’ve ever considered doing something like that, this might be the perfect time.

Wellness programs allow you to give employees something they find meaningful without handing out big pay raises. Many small companies froze salary increases last year. In others, employees watched people in their company lose their jobs, and were understandably meek about pushing for their own salary reviews. But don’t think that means they’re not thinking about what they give the company for what they get. A workplace wellness program can be a very good way to let employees know you value their contributions.

Of course, it’s also the beginning of a new year. The perfect time for fresh starts, healthy new habits and lifestyle improvements. Your employees are probably already thinking about what they can do in 2010 to be healthier. A wellness program can help support them in their individual goals. It’s also a powerful way to bring new energy into the workplace.

How do you do it? You don’t have to build a company gym or pay for an on-site spa chef (although you could). Think in terms of providing flexibility (time) or resources (access). You can pick one element of wellness, like fitness or stress management or healthy eating and focus your program around that area. Or you can put together a small smorgasbord of wellness offerings. Here are a few examples:

• Allow employees extra time for lunch two or three days a week so they can fit in a walk or a run. At Tribe, we tell employees they can put up to three hours a week on their time sheets for exercise during the workday. We’ve found that whenever someone manages to fit in a workout or  yoga class during the day, they’re likely to come back to the office with a good idea or solution for something they’re working on. If nothing else, their energy level is higher that when they left.

• Use one of those empty offices for a meditation room. Move the desk out and put a small couch or a comfortable armchair in there instead. Or just put out a few yoga mats or some big floor pillows.  Add a few meditation CDs and a CD player, and you’re good to go. If employees feel comfortable spending 20 minutes meditating in the middle of the day, alone or with a coworker, that can go a long way towards reducing stress levels.

• Put a bowl of fresh fruit in the break room, and stock it weekly. When employees hit that pre-lunch or mid-afternoon slump, being able to skip the vending machine and grab an apple or banana instead can be a highly appreciated perk. Supporting wellness in the office can actually come down to some very simple (and inexpensive) changes.

The biggest thing employees are looking for in a wellness program is a way for the workplace to support them in living a good life. As a business owner, you do that by providing meaningful work and fair compensation. But lately, many companies have been asking employees to work harder without the hope of a big, fat salary increase. Especially in this economic environment, one of the best things you can do for your employees is to provide the flexibility and resources for them to take care of their own health.

How a tough year for your business in 2009 might mean a fantastic 2010

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but 2009 was actually a great year at Tribe. And I’m thinking it might have been at your company too.

Of course, we did lose our largest client, due to the slump in the housing market. We had to lay off a few talented, hardworking people that we’d hire again in a heartbeat. We cut back on some perks, like having a fresh flower in everyone’s office each Monday and providing free takeout for lunch five days a week. We froze salaries for most of the year. We gave a somewhat smaller holiday bonus than usual.

On the other hand, we’ll enter 2010 ready to compete on a much higher level than ever before. We’ve used this slow year to reinvent, and to move into some new territory. We’ve expanded our internal communications practice area to incorporate social media and engagement tools. We’ve created some interesting initiatives in new media, for both consumer audiences and employee ones. We’ve developed expertise in some key research areas, like the widely varying perspectives of Gen Y, Gen X and Boomer employees in the workplace, and recession spending by affluent couples. We’ve dabbled in creating our own content and products, like our “Start Your Own Company” card deck and iPhone application.

Other small business owners I’ve talked with seem to have done their own share of reinventing. This year has been about accepting that the recession is real, having time to reflect on what works and what doesn’t about our companies, and exploring some new areas we might not have had time to spend time on before.

Everyone’s talking about how companies are stronger for trimming expenses and figuring out bow to do more with less. Thinking small is a good exercise.

But an even better way to think is how we could get bigger. Ways we could expand to serve other types of clients than we have in the past. How we could fill some new need that’s not being met. What we could do next that would make us wake up excited about getting in to the office.

Nature moves in cycles, and business does too. New moon to full moon. High tide to low. Winter to spring. 2009 has been a good year for sending our roots deeper and in new directions. Soon, hopefully beginning in 2010, certainly in the next few years, our economic downturn will swing back in the other direction. The economy will grow, our clients will grow, our companies will grow. The quiet reinvention so many small businesses have done in 2009 will position us well to reap all the benefits of the next boom time.

Online or in person: Don’t make it all about you.

When we talk about social media at Tribe, one of our strongest recommendations is to make sure you don’t talk about yourself too much. We encourage people to make comments on other people’s updates and blogs, to retweet or post about others’ work, to spend some time promoting others. If it’s all about you all the time, you’ll wear people out. Even more importantly, you’ll be missing an opportunity to create a connection and build a relationship.

Same thing applies to actual face-to-face networking. I had lunch today with someone referred to me by an old neighbor. He recently moved from San Francisco to Atlanta and his work has some overlap with ours, so she thought I might be able to connect him with some people in town he’d like to know. (I’m not naming any names, but Michael, you know who you are.)

This guy is filled with energy and ideas and plans. Over our Flip burgers and Cokes, he talked about innovation and change and shaking things up. He talked about a major conference he’s planning. He talked about his speaking career. He talked and talked and talked.

At the end of our lunch, I told him I was going to give him some unsolicited advice. (My business partner said, fairly loudly, she claims, “Don’t do it.” I didn’t hear her, but I’m not sure that would have stopped me anyway.)

I will introduce you to a few people I think you’d enjoy knowing, I told him, but you have to promise to let them talk about themselves a little. I pointed out that we’d been at lunch for over an hour and he had not asked either of us one question. Not about our company, not about either of us personally, not even about where we managed to find a parking place.

Easy mistake. One I’m sure I’ve made myself. But driving back to the office, it struck me once again. Courtesy is courtesy, whether you’re online or sitting across the table from someone. You have to flip the focus back to the other person once in awhile. Like your mother always told you, it’s important to be a good listener.

A Book For Christmas Elves, Created Overnight

Have you seen these Christmas elves? I think the Magic Elf craze originated in the Southeast several years ago, but has grown in popularity and geography since. They’re sort of rag-doll like elves that visit each year during the holiday season and play pranks each night until Christmas Eve, when they return to the North Pole with Santa.

My son’s elf is named Cameron. A friend of his got an elf named Mansfield. My nieces’ elves are Colette and Megan. Some kids from our church have an elf that arrived with the unfortunate name of Enus. Each elf has his or her own personality, and the kids’ bound out of bed each morning to see what those nutty elves have been up to while the rest of the house was asleep.

That’s all very magical for the kids, but for the parents, it’s hard work. Night after night, you have to come up with trick after trick after trick. Often, I find myself heading upstairs for bed when I suddenly remember I haven’t done the elf. My sister has been known to pitch hers out the back door when she’s particularly tired, and then tell the girls the next morning that the elves must have wanted to play in the backyard. Wouldn’t it make things easier if parents had a whole bunch of tricks all figured out ahead of time?

Today we launched an e-book called “50 Elf Tricks: The Busy Parent’s Shortcut to Christmas Elf Magic.” Actually, Tribe is not really in the business of creating content for kids; Most of our clients are more the Fortune 500-type. But we have a policy of looking for where we can help, and this seemed, in its own small way, like something we could do to help.

Each of the 50 tricks includes a rhyming note for the elf to sign, explaining his or her tricks that range from leaving a trail of baby carrots to lure reindeer inside to a special shaving cream message written in shaving cream on the bathroom mirror. There are quick and easy tricks for nights when parents are particularly exhausted and more meaningful tricks that encourage the spirit of giving — or even good habits, like teeth brushing.

The e-book is $9.95 at the site we created for it (www.elfideas.com) and 50% goes to Santa. We’ll be able to donate half of each purchase price to the Emmaus House Christmas program, where Santa Claus will hand out gifts to over 700 kids who otherwise might not have much magic in their holiday.

This is one of the things I love most about owning a small company. You can think something up and make it happen. I had the idea driving home last Tuesday and a week later, the e-book is written and art directed and for sale on the worldwide web. So fast, it can be almost like having elves at work during the night.

Paid ads in Twitter updates: Trust busters?

What do you think of a Twitter update that’s a paid advertisement for M&Ms or Cheese Doodles? Brad Stone’s column yesterday in the New York Times explored this new trend, which seems to be an anathema to the whole spirit of social media. At least at first glance.

The idea is that “people trust recommendations from those they know and respect, while they increasingly ignore nearly every other kind of ad message in print, on television and online,” according those interviewed for Stone’s article.

Then again, a social media update that’s actually a paid ad could quickly erode that trust. At Tribe, we counsel our clients to confine the sales messages to their websites, and not to use their blogs or social media updates as free advertising. Social media is for  starting conversations, building relationships, and offering your expertise, we tell them.

But really, most grownups who are blogging and tweeting are doing so to build their business. It’s an indirect form of sales, but behind all that social media you’ll generally find specific business goals which include increasing sales. We are all working to be helpful to others and engage in dialogue and connect with people beyond our existing circle. But it would be dishonest to say we’re doing that just to be nice. We’re doing it to attract clients and customers.

So maybe the paid ad for M&Ms is more honest in the long run. A tweet that begins with a hashtag like #ad or #sponsored is at least transparent. What do you think? Is a paid ad in a personal update a slap in the face of social media’s non-commercial spirit? Would you unfollow someone on Twitter if they sent you an ad? If you were asked to promote a product to your followers, for a fee, would you refuse?