Monday, May 27, 2013

Is Your Business Reactive or Proactive?

Business moves at the speed of communications. Excellent communications lets your firm get and stay ahead of the competition. Some businesses only interact with their customers after a change in the marketplace. The more successful firms are those who move the market.
Proactive businesses thrive at the expense of reactive ones.
Reactive firms are like surfers who sit inside the break line. A big wave comes and swamps them. Proactive firms are like the surfers who sit on their boards outside the break. When the big swells come, they are ready to go for a long, exhilarating ride.

Is Your Firm Reactive?

Reactive firms are those who wait for their competition to make the first move then respond. An example is a company that is the only one of its type in a given territory. One day, a second firm opens its doors. The first firm only takes action—it reacts—after its competitor arrives.
Another example involves technology. Does your firm still use fax machines? Do your clients?
If so, you and your clients are living in the past when facsimile machines were standard practice. Now email is far faster and offers better quality  than faxes. Faxes are poor quality (150 dots per inch) black and white only. Screen resolution is 72 dots per inch, but with millions of color possibilities. Screens—and emails—also have the option of attaching documents of at least 300 dpi, which is the minimum standard for quality printing.
One example of how this quality shows up is sending images to clients and potential customers. If you want to send yellow text on a red background, it will look colorful in an email. It will look like gray mush in a fax.
Ah, so you finally equipped your sales staff with laptops? Good for you … except you’re behind the times.
Today having a sales force with cellular tablets—ones that can connect to the Internet and thereby send orders directly to you—is the wave of the present. Tablets have screens large enough to be readable but small enough to fit in a purse or small satchel.
Reactive firms are stuck in the past, both technologically and in their mindsets. “The old days were good enough for us” is their mentality.

Is Your Firm Proactive?

Proactive firms are ahead of the curve, not behind it.
These firms are constantly aware of what their competition is doing. They also make steps to protect their territory by asking questions of current and potential clients. Proactive companies take steps to make it unprofitable for anyone else butt in.
Proactive firms are those who were among the first to adopt the latest technology. They look at new hardware products—tablets for example—and software—like Pinterest—and see how they can serve the company’s needs. They are also keeping their eyes on emerging technologies and threats for potential impacts good and bad.
Instead of shrinking their business, proactive firms are looking to expand it. This expansion might include broadening the physical scope of where they operate, such as going from one city to an entire state. The expansion may include broadening their product and/or service lines, adding kid’s wear to a firm that traditionally only sold women’s clothing.
Proactive firms are active in the present and looking at the future. “Yesterday was OK, today is good but we will make tomorrow even better” is their approach.

Moving From Reactive To Proactive Starts With SWOT

How can a company move from being reactive, responding to intrusions into their sales territory by either abandoning it or taking action when it’s too little, too late?
Start with a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Honestly examine your own firm. Also look at your top competitors and those on the rise.
Where are your strengths? What do you do better than everyone else?
What are your weaknesses? What does each competitor do better than you? Where do other firms out perform you?
Where are there opportunities for you to become more efficient? Where are there places for you to grow?
In what areas are you seeing sales reductions? Where are you seeing drops inefficiency, an increase in customer complaints, a decline in morale?
Don’t say that the current approach is adequate. Constantly ask yourself, “How can we be better?”

There Are Costs In Money, People And Pain

Going forward—growing—is a painful process. You are going to spend money and you may well lose a few long-time employees in the process.
Consider this example. Your SWOT report says it’s time to dump the one centrally located black and white copier you’ve had for 5-10 years and replace it with several smaller printers closer to where people work. If you follow that course of action, you will dump an older piece of equipment. You will also end a business relationship with the firm servicing your copier.
Hiring relatives or friends is always a bad move, no matter how well qualified they are. There comes a time when they get too comfortable and start under-performing. They also may not respond positively to your criticism and performance review.
Use the result of your SWOT analysis to look at ways to move forward. This may mean:
·         Bringing in an outside evaluator to assess each person’s performance. Consider including top management in this evaluation. Is this the right person for their current job? Is someone else better qualified in terms of knowledge, experience and personality for this position? Is this person being underutilized in their current occupation?
·         Evaluate your business relationships with other firms. Are they providing the goods or services you need in a timely manner? Are they providing them at a good price? Is a slightly higher price or slightly longer delivery compensated by consistent products and services?
·         Evaluate your current markets. Compare your progress over time both to your firm and to your competitors’. Are you moving faster than they are, or are you falling behind?
·         Where can we grow?
·         Use social media, such as Facebook, to ask the public, “how can we improve?” You just might get some product ideas you hadn’t considered. Even in a worst case scenario, many people will respond positively because you are asking them for their opinions. You don’t have to act on them, but at least consider what current and potential customers say.
This knowledge m ay well mean ending some personal and business relationships. Long-term employees may be reassigned, asked to retire or fired. Other people may be given a heavier workload without any additional compensation.
Cut out the deadwood—the people who are being paid for doing nothing—and bring in people wanting and willing to work. Get people who are excited to come to work, not those who are more excited about going out for a beer after hours. Make the workplace fun and exciting, not full of stress.
Ask a woman if giving birth to her children was a very painful experience. She will say yes … but the results are worth it. The same thing applies to growing your business. It’s painful but in the long run, your firm will be better for it.
Use your data to make a plan for growing your business.

Use Your Data To Make A Plan

Information filed in a drawer or stuck in some folder on a server is worthless if it is never used. Use the results of your SWOT analysis and any comments from outsiders to create a plan.
Have immediate, moderate and long-term goals and objectives plus plans for achieving them. Make the goals realistic and achievable. If the goals are too outlandish, you can never accomplish them.
On May 25, 1961 President John F. Kennedy said the U.S. should have a man on the moon by the end of the decade. On July 21, 1969, Neil Armstrong fulfilled Kennedy’s promise.
Landing a man on the moon was the long-term goal. The immediate task was creating an organization and infrastructure to make the end goal possible. Kennedy used an existing organization—NASA, founded in 1958 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower—for this purpose.
If your goal is to double the number of products you sell, start by using your marketing and sales department to determine which products best fit those currently being sold.
Kennedy’s intermediate goal was creating the vehicles necessary to achieve the final goal of landing a man on the moon. Your intermediate goal may involve adding (and training) staff and equipment to achieve your goal.
Kennedy’s long-term goal was achieved only after the short- and long-term goals were reached. If you use and existing department, or create a new one, then staff and equip it, you can reach your goals.

Be Flexible

Military officers will tell you that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. In the war of business against business, a competitor’s action may make your new business plan obsolete.
For example, if you are planning to market a new line of active wear aimed at older adults, and your number two competitor beats you to it, pause for a second. You might well decide to continue with your own plan as it is. Alternately, you might make some changes to take advantage of holes in what your competitor is doing.
Older adults, for example, tend to get most of their information from traditional media sources such as print publications and broadcast media. If your competitor is only advertising on social media and ignoring print, you’ve got an opening to skewer them royally.

Create A Plan For Creating Plans

Having a plan for creating action plans allows you to move faster than creating each action plan individually.
Start by working backwards from your long-term goals to your intermediate goals to your short-term goals. You already know where you are. After determining your long-term goals, you know where you want to go.
With start and ending points in hand, and a flexible mindset, create the policies and procedures needed to achieve your goals.
Once you’ve created a rough plan, ask your staff for feedback. Ask the people who will do the work these questions:
·         Are our goals achievable? Why? Why not?
·         Are there steps we can eliminate to save time? Are there steps we should add to protect ourselves?
·         How would you change this plan to make it more effective?
Once you’ve gotten feedback, consider rewarding people whose comments made a difference. Everyone likes a reward so people may try harder if they have something to gain.


Being proactive means taking steps to move forward, not sitting around waiting for someone else to act.
Proactive firms are constantly seeking to improve and expand. They conduct regular SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analyses both to see where they are and how they can get better.
Consider the human element, not just the facts. People are going to be impacted by your actions.
Be organized. Create a plan for creating plans so you can respond faster to threats and new opportunities.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Think Like A Reader

Think Like A Reader when you write ... anything.

How many writers do you know who write from a reader’s perspective? Odds are, you know few if any writers using this approach.
My take is writing exclusively from a corporate perspective is not only old-fashioned, but very ineffective. Writing from a reader’s perspective is essential if you want to capture not only their attention, but their desires.

The ‘Old’ Way Of Writing

In The Beginning … there were stone tablets and ponderous, stone-like marketing methods. Companies decided what products to make. They made them. They decided what products to make available to consumers. Consumers picked the products they liked from the limited—compared to today—choices. Manufacturers were happy. Consumers were slightly satisfied, but often not thrilled.
Business writing followed the corporate edict of. “This is what we have. This is why you should buy it.” This method was based on the desires of the corporation not the needs or wants of the consumer.
Then things changed.
The Internet appeared and all of a sudden—overnight in the eyes of some slow-moving corporations—consumers had access to many more choices. Instead of one brand of breakfast cereal, there were 30, 50 or more. And with this explosion of products all competing for the same consumers, business writing was dragged kicking and screaming into a new century.

Consumer-Centric Writing

“Think Like A Reader” simply means that writers must include the needs of their audience when writing … anything.
Audiences don’t go to movie theaters to hear someone preach a religious gospel. They don’t go the nearest cinema complex to be lectured about morality or the problems with the political party in charge. Audiences go to theaters to be entertained.
Reader’s don’t pick up a gun magazine expecting to read about the latest in women’s fashions unless those fashions happen to relate to camouflage clothing. And they don’t read a cooking magazine expecting to learn how to field-strip a pistol.
Readers pick up different print publications seeking information and/or entertainment. They do the same thing with their online sources. When they go to a news site, they are looking for information. When they go to an entertainment site, they want to be transported to a world far away from their current problems.
And when readers go to a business-oriented website or blog, they want to know why they should spend their hard-earned money on your products instead of someone else’s.

‘Why?’ Is At The Center of This Approach

Journalists use the approach of the “5 W’s and 1 H” in their writing. This stands for who, what, when, where, why and how as in, “who was involved?,” “What happened?,” “When did it happen?,” “Where did it take place?,” “Why did it happen?” and “How did it occur?”
Effective business communications uses this same information but presented differently. Consumers still want to know, “who is selling this product or service?,” “what is this product?,” “when is it available?” and “where can I get it?” A key difference between journalism and marketing is that consumer are not asking “why did something occur?” but instead, “why should I buy it?”
That is where “Think Like A Reader” comes into play.

Consumers Need To Be Sold, Not Told

Back in the days of small towns having one grocery store, shoppers had one practical choice: buy what was available or go without.
Now in the days where even small towns have two, three or 300 grocery stores, consumers have become far better educated. If they don’t like the local selection, they can order it online from anywhere and have it shipped to their door. Consumers want to be sold, not told on what to buy.
Granted, there are some people who will “do as they are told” and buy what a given corporation is selling … but there are a lot less of them to day than there were 20, 30 or 50 years ago. We have access to a lot more information, more than our grandparents often even dreamed of. Your average homeowner can buy a computer hard drive that can store the entire plain text works of the Library of Congress and have extra space, too.

The Essential ‘Think Like A Reader’

“Think Like A Reader” simply means persuading each and every reader that the material you are presenting to them has value to the reader. Your blog post, web page or press release can have value to an organization or corporation as well, but it mustcreate value to consumers before it does anything else.
Your documents must clearly and explicitly explain why your message fulfills a need or want that individual reader has.
Tell each reader why they should care about your product. Explain how it meets their immediate or future needs. Don’t say these message once, but at every opportunity.
For example, let’s say your company sells smart phones. You can list a string of features your newest phone has, but only if you explain how each feature or the combination of all features meets their needs.
Let’s say your phone includes a feature called “parental controls.” Just listing that feature without any explanation is going to generate a shrug at best.
Ah, but change your message and “Think Like A Reader.” “Our newest phone has parental controls. These controls let you limit which websites your children visit and who they can talk to.” You’ve now told readers why your parental control feature is important to them.
Some people like to compare and contrast products. You can create documents that explain the difference between your own products or between your products and those of a competitor.
Phone A, for example may be your lowest priced model. It has a set of features one person could describe as “stripped down” while another person calls them “essential.”
Phone B would likely have all of the features of Phone A plus additional options. For example, if Phone A has a single camera pointed away from the user, Phone B could include a second camera facing the user. You could explain the difference as “allowing users to enjoy face-to-face conversations even when they are miles apart.”

Provide Value

The difference between any combination of similar products today is not in what they do. Three cell phones all let you send and receive calls and surf the Internet. The difference is in the value they bring to specific consumers.
A tablet with a built-in voice to text software offers a value to a select set of workers—say doctors taking notes on a patient—versus one requiring a clunky keyboard. A mobile phone with tiny keys may be effective for writing brief text messages, but lousy when taking notes at a meeting.
Your documents should provide value to your readers. They should give them reasons to read the headline, the first paragraph and every successive graph.
The more value your documents provide, the more likely readers are to come back to you for more.

Think Like Your Readers, All Of Them

Thinking like a reader means not only writing for one group of readers, but adjusting your writing to handle the different needs of varying groups.
Teenagers have one set of requirements in a cell phone. Parents have other needs when buying cell phones for their teenagers. Hunters need one type of weapon. Police officers and soldiers have drastically different requirements.
Taking each of these needs into account means either creating one document that explains everything to everyone or creating a series of documents oriented at specific groups.
For example, your cell phone website could have a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). On it you could rephrase the same essential question of “why should I buy this model?” from several perspectives.
You could explain features aimed at youth, such as its ability to send text messages. You could explain how it has a feature that converts speech to text so users can concentrate their attention on other tasks, such as walking. You could even explain how your service plans allow unlimited text messages for a low monthly rate, regardless if these messages are sent by an individual, a family or a company.
Corporate communicators might create one document aimed at consumers and another at executives. Consumers want to know why they should purchase a product. Executives want to know if they will make enough profit to justify making the product.

Tell ‘Em, Tell ‘Em What You Told ‘Em

There is an old advertising adage that goes like this: “Tell ‘em. Tell ‘Em what you told ‘em. Tell ‘em again.”
Good communicators essentially do the same thing. They give readers a reason for reading their document. Then the good writers give them another reason to keep reading and another and another, etc.
Good writing also has a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning tells people what the article is about. The middle gives them the details and the end wraps it up. Every document gives you at least three spots where you can explain why a consumer will want to buy your products.


“Think Like A Reader” is a writing style that puts the needs of the readers first. You are writing blog posts, web page stories and press releases to be read, not tossed in the recycling bin. Readers are the reason you are writing. Write with their needs in mind first, second and always.
“Thinking Like A Reader” means writers seek to persuade readers that the information in each document provides value to them. Tell them what a product does then explain how it benefits them.
Corporate communications that consider the consumer first will succeed while those that put the corporation first will fail. Why? Because you will not have a corporation if all of your customers buy from the competition.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Fund Raising Events Should Have Three Goals

This Bishop Lions Club pancake breakfast raised money plus awareness and interest in the group.


The sponsoring group at a fund-raising event I attended several years ago was thrilled with the money it raised, even though participation dropped slightly from the year before. Using a different approach, though, would have generated a lot more money, a much greater turnout and probably increased the group’s volunteer base.
Non-profit organizations are always holding fund-raisers, or so it seems. Yet some seem to attract hundreds of people and raise thousands of dollars for their causes, while others are barely noticed. Why do some events work well and others bomb?
Effective events have clear goals and well thought-out ways of achieving those goals. They also have teams of people working together to achieve them. A good communications strategy will help achieve these goals while a bad or non-existent one will event doom the event.

Goal 1: Increasing Public Awareness

Non-profit organizations should always have three goals in mind for every fund-raising event. In order of importance they are:
1. Increasing public awareness about its cause and educating the public about the organization.
2. Recruiting new members.
3. Raising money to help achieve the organization’s goals.
Increasing public awareness about a cause is a task that needs constant work. The minute the public forgets about a cause and the group working on it, both the cause and the group are banished to obscurity.
Here’s an example. Off-shoots of two nearby local Parent Teacher Associations (PTA) are dedicated to helping low-income student have good shoes. Group A has a website, regularly updates its postings and shortly before the school year starts, runs a massive publicity campaign. Group B does not have a website, has several people who could care less and never seeks publicity or donations. Guess which one is successful?
A good way for many groups to gain public attention is by finding and attending other local events, primarily those attracting a lot of people. If your event promotes literacy, having a booth at high school football games helps since both students and their parents attend. Every person you talk to is one more person exposed to your message.
A second method is by holding events that generate press coverage. You will want to tread that fine line between getting enough press to help your cause but not dominate the local media at the expense of other non-profits.
A third way to gain exposure is using the Internet. A website and social media presence are required for non-profits today just as they are for every business. List all sorts of details about what your group does, who it is and what it needs online. Include a calendar and testimonials from people who have been helped by your group.

Goal 2: Recruiting New Members

The biggest problem most non-profits have is a lack of manpower. People have fantastic ideas that they want to see turned into action but the group does not have enough bodies.
Getting out among other local residents lets groups promote their agendas. They can also find people who might not have any money to spare, but do have free time.
The more active volunteers a group has, the better its chances for survival.
A key to recruiting new members—and this cannot be stressed enough—is be sure your group accepts everyone who expresses an interest. I’ve seen many civic groups that had declining membership despite an effort to recruit more people. Why? Because the existing members only recruited among their friends, not the general public.
Community service groups such as the Lions Club and Rotary International often have problems keeping their chapters going. The issue is they do not recruit enough younger members to replace the older ones who lack the stamina to work large events.

Goal 3: Raising Money

The stated purpose of a fund-raiser is adding funds to your group’s coffers. The more money your group has, the better it can help your cause. But if you are going to raise money, do it wisely and effectively.
Most fund-raisers get their money through a combination of three methods:
1. An admission fee, which often includes a meal.
2. Raffles, with people buying chances to win donated items.
3. Auctions of both the silent (write a bid on a piece of paper, with the highest bid getting the item) and live (highly entertaining) varieties.
Other methods include selling beverages at an open no-host bar and specialty events such as “casino nights” where the money and friendship flow.
Earning money wisely means charging the right amount for the people your group wants to attract. A rule of thumb is the more money you charge, the fewer people will show up.
Also, make sure your admission fee and meal relates well to the local economy. For example, don’t charge a high meal fee in a depressed area. Instead of a catered event, cook hamburgers and hotdogs or spaghetti. You’ve just lowered your charge and your cost and made more money through a higher volume.
Lower fees also tend to attract an ethnically diverse younger crowd, rather than only middle-age Caucasians. Opening the event up through lower prices also means a greater opportunity to recruit volunteers.
Now let’s take a look at raffles. These items are typically donated by group members, such as bottles of wine, and local merchants, such as gift certificates. Make sure there are plenty of good-quality donated items for your raffle, but keep the top-tier stuff for your auction.
Auctions are where the real money is. Get several top-tier items—like designer dog dresses for an event benefitting a pet charity—and many more medium-grade items for your auction.
Lessons I’ve learned from attending and working these events are: set the initial prices high enough to raise money for your group, but not so high no one will bid on them. If an item does not get any bids, save it for a future event and place a different, lower price on it. Even better, have the auctioneer say something like, “We don’t want to store these great items so we’re forgetting the minimum bid. Who wants to make an offer?”
Good auctioneers can then get the crowd going and the money flowing. You may not make the previous minimum bid, but you might make more. 
Also, request people write their names on silent auction items, not anonymous numbers. The idea is to make bidding a game, pitting friends against each other in a gentle competition to see who “wins” the prize. When you don’t know who you’re bidding against, this competition and fun vanishes.
Good fund-raisers generate thousands of dollars for their charities. Why? Because they use both a silent and live auction.

Effective Fund-raisers Also Educate the Public

Effective fund-raisers raise lots of money for their non-profit organizations. They also increase public awareness and provide a venue for recruiting new members. Good ways to achieve these goals are:
Have an organization member speak briefly about what the group accomplished last year and what its goals for next year are. For example, have the president say something like, “With the $5,000 we raised last year we were able to buy 200 new books and several large print volumes for our vision-impaired patrons.”
Explain what the group does, how often it meets and what it focuses on. For example, the president of a pet charity could say, “Our goal is to make sure every pet has a good home and that none go without food or shelter. We meet the first Tuesday of every month at the local animal shelter. Everyone is invited to attend.”
Consider having a booth at the event with photos of past events and items the group bought with money raised from similar fund-raisers. This same booth, staffed with volunteers, can be used at other events to raise community awareness. Let your photos tell people what your group does. Have some printed materials available. Include your website link on everything.
Be sure to publicly thank key sponsors and staff. The organization president should always thank the staff members who volunteered at the event. Sponsors and top donors should also be publicly thanked before the night’s entertainment starts.

Other Ways To Raise Money Include …

When one event starts generating a lot of money and enough interest where larger halls are needed to hold it, consider holding a second similar event, but in a different area. This way, you attract new people who may not be able to make the main event and bring those who had a gas back for more fun.
You can also think about selling advance raffle tickets. Either have a high value prize (one charity holds an annual drawing for a fishing boat, motor and trailer and sells tickets year-round), or prizes limited only to advance sales. The easiest way to do this is by using different color tickets.
Persuade local merchants to attend the event in person. If you can get the top merchants in town to show up—and promote their attendance—people who know and respect them will also come.
Have contests that help generate interest in the event. Pet events could include several animals available for adoption.

And Finally …

When your event is over and all the trash picked up, it’s time for three more tasks:
1. Thank the people who did all of the work. Without people to pick up and buy the food, rent the hall, gather chairs and clean up the trash, you would not have an event.
2. Send thank-you letters to sponsors and key donors. The letters should list the dollar amount of their donation for tax purposes and explain how the event wouldn’t have been a success without their help. These letters ensure you get more donations next year.
3. Take stock of what you learned. Make notes of what worked, what could be tweaked and run better next year and what flopped. This way, you can always a good event better and raise even more money for your charity.
Good luck in your fund raising adventures.