Archive for category business development

The Magic of a Story

Editor’s note: This entry was originally published at Beneath the Brand, a marketing industry blog.

Ten days ago, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 enjoyed a record $43.5-million premiere — and that was just the midnight showing. By the end of the first day at the box office, the final Harry Potter installment had earned a whopping $92.1 million.

While Part 2 exceeded anyone’s expectations, the success shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone following the $15-billion brand empire built around The Boy Who Lived. Harry Potter is so much more than a gangly teenage wizard; Harry Potter is arguably one of the best-recognized brands in the world. If you’d like to read any of the seven books, you have 67 languages from which to choose, including Latin and Ancient Greek. If you’d like a more interactive experience, you have 10 video games from which to choose. If you’d like an even more interactive experience, you can take a trip to Florida to vacation at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

None of this came about by accident. While Joanne Rowling relays a fairytale story about being stuck on a train when the idea for Harry Potter came to her, the actual idea for the narrative was the only spontaneous aspect of Harry Potter as the world knows him now. Bloomsbury Publishing immediately identified a target demographic — children 9 to 11 years old — and asked Rowling to recreate herself with a gender-neutral name. Not having a middle name, she used her grandmother’s name, Kathleen, to create a second initial. Suddenly Joanne Rowling morphed into J. K. Rowling, which her publishers thought would be less off-putting to male readers.

Like the author, the first Harry Potter book has two names. Americans read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, but the rest of the world read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Again, the marketing minds behind the book wanted to make it as accessible to as wide a demographic as possible, and they thought that an American audience would respond better to a sorcerer than a philosopher.

Tweaking semantics seems like trivial stuff, but making minor adjustments to customize your product to a target demographic sets the approach for an assertive marketing strategy versus a laissez-faire dud. And one of the reasons that Harry Potter is such a world-wide hit that transcends geography, age, and gender is that its product is one of the most sought-after by humankind: a good story.

Try to categorize the Harry Potter series into a single genre. It’s tough. It’s a fantasy, yes, but it’s not so black-and-white that it only appeals to children, so it’s not really a children’s book. It’s very much a coming-of-age story, but that’s not all it is. It also deals with death and the discomfort of the uncertainty surrounding that concept. So it’s dark, but not so dark that a nine-year-old can’t enjoy it.

Now try to categorize your company into a single genre. If that’s an easy task, you need to take a lesson from Hogwarts. Regardless of what you sell, you need to have a story about who you are. That story should have purpose. It should have a cultural impact on whichever culture you’re serving. And while that message should be consistent, it shouldn’t be two-dimensional; it should have room to evolve. It should be able to engage audiences for at least a decade, preferably generations. The best way to achieve that, if Harry Potter is any example, is to invite your audience to participate in that story. People didn’t just show up en masse to see midnight showings of eight movies; they showed up donning wizard hats and capes. They felt like they were part of the narrative. Even now, though she says she will not write any more Harry Potter books, Rowling has extended another invitation to keep the buzz going: Pottermore, the “free website that builds an exciting online experience around the reading of the Harry Potter books,” will be public in October. But those true fans waiting on the edge of their seats can check back on July 31 to learn how to enter Pottermore early.

What invitations have you sent your brand’s clientele recently?

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Don’t talk about your goals.

I just returned home from a weekend in Laguna Beach. Like every resort town (or any town, for that matter!), Laguna oozes with its own distinct character. The local businesses and people comprise the town’s culture, and there was one aspect in particular that I noticed about the people: they all speak in the future tense.

“I’m going to … [fill in something great here]”

Personally, I prefer speaking in the past tense. Notice the difference:

“I’m going to start a business.”

“I started a business.”

Which narrator would you prefer to be? The latter? Me too. So, how do you get to the point where you can talk about your accomplishments vs. your goals? Don’t talk about your goals.

The human mind works on a rewards system. You create a goal, and you work toward that goal for the reward aspect. Maybe you want to lose weight. Why do you want to lose weight? To fit into a new summer bikini, or to stay fit enough to partake in a sport or recreation you enjoy? The weight loss is the goal, but the bikini and sport are the rewards. The same is true regarding business goals. Let’s say you want to grow your business 15 percent in the next six months. Why? Maybe it’s for a more secure financial position; maybe it’s because you value having a reputation as a savvy business person. Whatever it is, you’re working toward the goal (growing your business) so that you can enjoy the rewards (financial security and social value).

Well, when you talk about those goals, and you receive positive feedback, your brain processes that feedback as a reward. So if you’re already experiencing the pleasure of the reward associated with a goal before actually achieving said goal, there is far less motivation for bothering with the goal in the first place. Perception is reality, as the adage goes, and it’s particularly true in the case of goals.

Think about the last time you set a new goal. Now think about a time you when you were talking about that goal with someone and how excited you got and how… accomplished you felt. Strange, isn’t it? By talking about the goal, you created the perception that you were actively working toward it, even though you were merely talking about it. Your brain processed that perception as a reality, and you got a little taste of the reward before taking your first step.

As counter-intuitive as it sounds, the more you talk about a goal, the less likely it is that you will accomplish that goal.

To be clear: I’m not suggesting that you never share your goals with loved ones or close friends — you need a sounding board to bounce around new ideas! But the next time you’re at a networking event or a coffee shop with an aquaintance and get the itch to start gabbing about that book you’re writing (you haven’t typed a word yet), shut it. Won’t it feel better to be able to tell them about your new book once it’s on the shelves at Barnes & Noble?

I’m not a psychologist, but Ramit Sethi is, and he talked a bit about this concept on a podcast I found. I’ve found it an incredible mental exercise, and — guess what? — I’ve accomplished more goals in the last month than I have in a year.

Looking forward to your success story,

Megan Tackett

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What the State of the Union means for business… and why now is the time to go global.

President Barack Obama gave the American people exactly what they need right now in his State of the Union address. And he gave the small business community some much-needed recognition and plan for “winning the future.”

For those that didn’t tune into the speech, Obama spent a bulk of his speech addressing the the Big 3 for staying competitive in a global economy: innovation, education and infrastructure. And on all three accounts, the role of small business was a mainstay.

The mood of the president’s speech can best be felt in this section:

“…yes, the world has changed. The competition for jobs is real. But this shouldn’t discourage us. It should challenge us. Remember — for all the hits we’ve taken these last few years, for all the naysayers predicting our decline, America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world. No workers — no workers are more productive than ours. No country has more successful companies, or grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs. We’re the home to the world’s best colleges and universities, where more students come to study than any place on Earth.”

Increasing American exports is one of the president’s goals for fortressing our economy. In fact, he wants to double American exports by 2014. Steven McGee points out that small businesses comprise more than 97 percent of exporters, accounting for almost 29 percent of export value. Not too shabby.

So for the small businesses out there looking to contribute to the new goal and expanding your company’s reach in the global economy: What’s the first step?

Well, first, you have to take a hard look in the mirror. Are you ready to do some homework? Exporting opens up new channels to new markets, new customers, new currencies for that matter. It’s a great way to take your business to the next level and can be incredibly rewarding. But like almost every other aspect of starting and running a business, it takes work.

If you’re looking in the mirror and you think you see a business owner with international markets, great! And there’s better news still: The U.S. Small Business Administration has a plethora of resources designed to help make this reflection a reality. So step away from the mirror, head over to your computer, and go to www.export.gov/begin.

The first thing you’ll do here is answer a quick, yes-or-no questionnaire about your business. This will — hopefully — reaffirm what you saw in the mirror. When you get your results back (the SBA has a rating scale to gauge your “readiness” to export from a logistical perspective), you’ll find links to more information regarding financing, production capacity, shipping, dealing with international inquiries, international market research… the list goes on.

If your head is spinning, that’s OK! In fact, I’d recommend reconsidering your decision to export if it wasn’t. Exporting is a business in and of itself, so it makes sense to find an industry expert. If you’re willing to relinquish some control of the process in exchange for learning from a specialist, investigate export management companies (EMCs in the biz). The Federation of International Trade Associations is a great resource for finding a good EMC match, as are trade associations and publications.

The world is getting smaller, which means gaining access to it is easier than ever. And the Obama administration is, as was made clear in the State of the Union, a business-friendly one. So if you want to move into exporting, remember to focus on the Big 3: innovation (not a problem for business owners!), education (the information is out there — now go get it!) and infrastructure (building the means necessary to making your export plans a reality). Once you’ve done your homework, write a separate export business plan. Having a written plan with incremental milestones will make the process less daunting.

 

Looking forward to your success story,

Megan Tackett


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Economic gardening has deep roots.

Have you ever been driving and a bumper sticker saying, “buy locally; think globally” catches your eye? I hate to sound demanding, but it’s time to start thinking locally as well.

In light of the sluggish economy and massive lay-offs by large corporations, there has been a lot of focus on growing local economies and pulling oneself from the bootstraps, so to speak. But economic gardening has been around for more than 20 years. If we’re serious about creating a robust future for ourselves, it’s time to open the history books.

Until 1987, if a community started talking about growing its economy, the conversation naturally turned to economic recruiting, or job hunting. The idea was that local communities go out and try to recruit outside companies to open a unit in that community, thus “hunting” for new jobs. That was great in theory, but the recruiting process often boiled down to community leaders appealing to those companies’ bottom lines: “Come here — we’re cheaper than the big city!” Who wants to compete with second- and third-world countries in a race to the bottom wages?

Then, a man named Chris Gibbons found a home for another approach to economic development. In our story, the community was Littleton, Colo. The big-business employer was Martin Marietta. Thousands of people lost their jobs, and downtown vacancy was nearing 30 percent. Sitting at a 10,000-foot-elevation, the term “ghost town” was not unreasonable.

The town had always been a mining town. Gibbons talked to a few local entrepreneurs that had developed a new marketable product within the mining industry. Gibbons saw a future here: don’t try to recruit outside businesses to a town with which they don’t connect. Instead, develop Littleton for what it was: a mining town.

Now, in 2010, Gibbons is working with other communities to create economic gardening programs suitable to the individual needs of the the region. He stresses that economic gardening is more than just buying locally — it’s about changing local cultures to nourish the existing businesses to their next growth stage. Implementing an economic gardening program is complex, but can be broken down into three essential stages:

  • Information. How many business owners have a library card? The correct answer should be 100 percent. Most public libraries offer free access to multiple business research databases that answer most entrepreneurs’ most plaguing questions. Information is available, but community organizers are often ineffective in communicating its availability. If business owners started with information, then plan execution would be far more seamless.
  • Infrastructure. Yes, we’re talking about buildings. Many businesses are actually one person operating from home (including The Write People LLC!). What’s stopping these people from occupying offices? The availability of office space. If rent is insane, most people will shy away from leasing office space. And if they don’t have official office space, many business owners feel silly thinking about hiring addition staff. Or communicating with other business owners. Communities need office space, tech parks, small business development centers and business incubators… you get the idea. If you want to see your community thrive with successful businesses, it’s reasonable that your community provides space for these businesses to operate!
  • Connections. Unfortunately, a lot of businesses remain isolated. The people comprising local businesses don’t connect with other businesses for fear of competition, not wanting to come off as “all business, all the time,” and a host of other reasons. The reason this is a detriment? Most innovations come from conversations! If a community is to truly bloom from economic gardening, it needs to boast a culture of communication and connection. A “business connection” shouldn’t just be someone that you meet for post-work drinks at the local watering hole; it should be someone you’ve met at an industry-related seminar at the local community college.

And speaking of “industry-related,” allow me to offer a teaser topic: industry clusters. Now that you understand economic gardening as a concept, it’s time to start thinking about how to bring its benefits to your community and your business. Start a small group discussion to delve into identifying and cultivating industry clusters and the second-stage growth companies that create industry foundations. Are you a second-stage growth company?

 

Looking forward to your success story,

Megan Tackett

 

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Dear Nonprofits: You’re a business, too.

As I was watching the Oakland Raiders obliterate the Denver Broncos at a local watering hole, I happened to meet two lovely individuals who were in conversation regarding a mutual friend that was in the process of starting a nonprofit.

Clearly, I had to dive into the conversation.

First, as is the case with most nonprofits, it has a wonderful mission: rescuing abused horses.

The problem, as is the case with many nonprofits, is that the visionary is encountering obstacles toward turning her idea into an organization. The topic at hand? Recruiting her first board of directors.

When recruiting initial board members, it’s important to remember: this is a business decision. Just because you’re starting a nonprofit does not mean you’re not going to need a business mindset in order to make it succeed. Translation: as tempting as it might be, do not count on your friends and family to comprise your first board. The end result will be very excited chattering, often with little follow through.

Pull out a piece of paper. Jot down a list of all of the characteristics you’d like in the “perfect” CEO or executive director. Perhaps you’d love someone who used to be an accountant. And a lawyer. And a professional fundraiser. And a motivational speaker. Oh, and someone who has experience starting nonprofits. Great. Now you have a general list of your first five board members.

Remember, your board represents far more than your governing entity — it also represents your organization’s potential network. Think of everyone you know. Now multiply that by the number of people on your Dream Board. Suddenly the two or three potential angels you were imagining could invest in your cause just turned into a potential 30. Your Dream Board is going to be as passionate about your cause as you are, which means its members will act as individual spokespeople on your behalf to their personal networks. Why else would they dedicate their valuable time to the cause?

And therein lies the key to an ideal board member: someone with a specialized expertise that will benefit your organization that is alsopassionate about the organization’s mission. No passion? No commitment. And you need to be upfront with your candidates — they need to expect to commit at least five hours per month to your organization. When foundations are deciding whether or not your nonprofit is worthy of a grant, one of the pinnacle factors is the level of board participation.

Another note: I’ve made a few references to your Dream Board for good reason. You deserve it! So many new founders act as though they’re lucky to get anyone on their board at all. Don’t fall into that trap. Instead, create an application process. Rather than begging someone in an e-mail, “Please join my board! Pretty please?!,” try another approach. Try something like, “I really think your credentials make you an excellent candidate for our board of directors. Attached you’ll find the application; I hope this is something you’ll consider.” If you want others to take your endeavor seriously, you need to do so yourself.

Remember, recruiting your Dream Board is the first step of many. Your organization will need bylaws. I strongly recommend having a written ethics code. You’ll need to file your Articles of Incorporation with the proper local office, usually your Secretary of State. But don’t be overwhelmed — there are plenty of resources that offer guidance.

 

Looking forward to your success story,

Megan Tackett


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A word on incubators…

First, my apologies for the late publication this week. I’ve fallen a bit under the weather and was subsequently in bed, making “Operation Vertical” more of an undertaking than I wanted.

But all clouds have a silver lining, and as I was stuck sick in bed, I knew the subject of this week’s entry: business incubation.

I’m sick. Everyone in my life has been giving me advice. There’s Team “Drink OJ” vs. Team “Drink Tea.” There’s the crowd telling me to stay in bed vs. the one that advises I force myself to stay active. And that wasbefore I called my mother.

The same is true in business. When you’re starting a new venture, or are in your first growth phase, everyone is giving you advice. It can be completely daunting. And let’s face it, like any infant, your business is still weak.

But imagine if you had a place to grow responsibly. Imagine a place that offers small business services tailored exactly to your needs as a new business owner. That’s what a business incubator is: it specializes in nurturing infant businesses. They offer programs and resources to help guide the way. They offer access to local business networks and can even help find lower-than-market rent for new office space.

For my local readers, a good resource to check out is the Roaring Fork Business Resource Center in Glenwood Springs. I am on the Advisory Council as a business plan and marketing consultant. If you are an RFBRC client, you’ll enjoy $75 off your business plan and 10 percent off any other purchases with The Write People LLC.

I worked for the National Business Incubation Association’s publications department for almost two years during my time at Ohio University. It was the first time I had ever heard of the business incubation industry. Two years later, I still think it is sincerely undervalued.

Business incubators’ missions focus on stimulating local economies by making communities more entrepreneurial friendly. By helping foster new businesses, they inadvertently create new and retain local jobs.

If you think your business could benefit from a business incubator, don’t wait! Incubators focus on emerging businesses; if your business is established but still in its first phases of growth, consider a small business development center (SBDC), which offers programs for businesses at all stages.

Of course, incubators and SBDCs, while usually non-profit organizations, have to pay staff and maintain operating costs, etc. Which means there is a minimal fee structure for clients. If you’re on a tight budget and need access to free education tools, the Small Business Administration offers free training on everything from accounting to advertising.

 

Looking forward to your success story,

Megan Tackett


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You need a wesite

I know you don’t want to hear it, but a website is necessary these days.

When I was writing a shopping guide for the Aspen Daily News Summer Guide, the newspaper gave me a list of potential companies to include — at my discretion. So I did what any journalist on a deadline would do: I ran a Google search of each company. Those that did not have websites did not get included in my article.

Would your shop be one that got passed over because you didn’t have a website?

Seventy percent of travelers turn to the Internet to set their itineraries; the statistic is even higher regarding shoppers doing research before making a purchase. Whether you run a restaurant, a boutique hotel or a real estate agency, that website is your portal to 70+ percent of the market.

A website also allows your targeted demographic to come to you. With more than 8 billion websites registered with Google, the Internet does not discriminate regarding demographics. But users do — they are not interested in all 8 billion websites if they are specifically looking for an Irish pub in Boston. To that user, you want to be one of the Irish pubs that he or she finds online. That user may be a 23-year-old female or a 52-year-old male. The advertisement you run in a magazine that targets 20-something females may have been effective in the former scenario, but you would have missed out with the 52-year-old man.

But having a website does not eliminate your need to advertise. Let’s debunk a common myth: a website is not an advertising tool. It should be part of your overall marketing strategy, as you can include your website in your advertising, but it alone is not an advertisement for your business. If you try to create a website that serves as an advertisement, expect it to actually hurt your credibility with potential customers. A website should be a communications tool. If you sell product online, it should have a user-friendly shopping cart, but your content should be substantive and helpful to your clients.

I also suggest hosting a blog as part of your website. A blog will further your communication capacities with your clientele, but it also keeps your website updated with new material, an important strategy for search engine optimization (SEO).

Having a virtual presence is far cheaper than a brick-and-mortar one. Hosting a website typically costs less than $15 per month, and maintaining a unique domain name costs about $35 per year. As for building the actual website, costs vary depending on your needs. For most small businesses, though, expect to pay between $200 and $1,000 for your website. Yahoo! offers website-design packages that are reasonably priced and user friendly.

And here’s a gem: Headwebmasters.com will put together a custom  website for your business… (drum roll, please) … for free.

 

Looking forward to your success story,

Megan Tackett


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