Florida (1036)

In developing a strategy, creating a new business or launching a product line, intensive preplanning is what can make the difference between success and failure. This same principle applies to negotiating just about anything. No matter what you want to achieve, be it selling a new customer, buying a competitor or hiring a superstar, you must determine what is the end result you want before you put pen to paper or make that first introductory call.

We’ve all heard hundreds of time about the importance of “putting yourself in the other guy’s shoes” or showing some empathy. Good basic advice, but do you really follow these suggestions?

In many business relationships, if it becomes a win/lose transaction, at the end of the day, one side is going to be very unhappy and the other side, albeit temporarily satisfied, could ultimately lose, too. In most instances, both sides have alternatives. Unless you have found the Holy Grail that no one can live without, the other side always has choices. One of which can be to do nothing and take a hike.

Most negotiations begin with the thought, “What’s in it for me?” Instead, the first question should always be, “How can we enable the other side to win (or feel as though they have won)?” It’s all about looking at the objective through the other person’s eyes. This simply translates into giving the “opposition” something that they must have, even if they’ve yet to realize it, while meeting your own needs. Rather than start with figuring out how much can you make on the deal or the positive result that will accrue to you if you hire a particular superstar, ask yourself, “What can I do to make the other side feel like the winner?”

For your next initiative, start at the end and work toward the beginning. You might just be pleasantly surprised with the road map you construct using this technique. Here are a few examples.

You want to buy a competitor because it has a product that will enhance your offering, but you don’t need all of the other widgets that this target manufactures. The traditional strategy would be to make an offer knowing that, if you succeed, you’ll scuttle all of the company’s other operations, cherry-picking what you want from the carcass. This could work and might be the easiest way to achieve your goal, but this Machiavellian method of taking no prisoners likely won’t play well with the target company owner, who has spent years building it and is emotionally invested in the business and the organization’s employees. When you look at the situation through the lens of the founder, you determine that a different approach, such as paying a good price for the entire business, plucking the item you want from the company, and then selling the rest of the company back to the employees could be the ticket to getting discussions started. This way the owner gets his money, he is a hero with his employees, and you acquire the product you need to grow.

Let’s say you want to hire the best salesperson in your industry who, unfortunately, works for your competitor. Instead of just going in and offering a big salary and bonus, which he or she most likely has already been offered by someone else, try to determine, after doing your homework, what this superstar’s hot buttons are. Maybe he has made it known that he would like to work remotely from a desert island while continuing to build his book of business. Looking at it from his perspective, you figure out that you can buy him his piece of sand somewhere with a beautiful view, obtain highspeed Internet connectivity to his paradise and allow him to work six months per year in his dream location. Rather than just making a cash-rich offer, start the negotiations by providing a solution to your target’s fondest expectations.

Putting yourself in the other guy’s shoes is far from a new idea. However, too many executives forget that creating a win-win is preferable to having it only your way. Remember, many times, instead of just knowing the answers, you first have to figure out what questions to ask to ensure success.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at mfeuer@max-wellness.com.

A unique new book with an unorthodox, yet proven approach to achieving extraordinary success.

What does it take to grow rapidly and effectively from mind to market?

This book offers an unconventional philosophy for starting and building a business that exceeds your own expectations.

Beating the competition is never easy. That’s why it requires a benevolent dictator.

Published by John Wiley & Sons. AVAILABLE NOW! Order online now at: www.thebenevolentdictator.biz

Also available wherever books and eBooks are sold, and from Smart Business Magazine and www.SBNOnline.com. Contact Dustin S. Klein of Smart Business at (800) 988-4726 for bulk order special pricing.

Scott Kirsner spent three years immersed in the movie industry in order to write a book called “Inventing the Movies: Hollywood’s Epic Battle Between Innovation and the Status Quo, from Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs.”

He talked with directors like Francis Ford Coppola and James Cameron, editors, cinematographers, studio chiefs, producers, tech companies that sell technology into Hollywood and even actors with an interest in new technology like Morgan Freeman.

He discovered that Hollywood serves as a great case study for how any long-established, successful and self-satisfied industry responds to new technologies and new ideas.

Even when a new idea seems to have obvious merit and even when its inventor can make a strong case for it, 95 percent of the people involved in the industry fight the new idea with all their energy for as long as they possibly can until they realize it has the potential to grow their business in surprising ways.

Case in point: Within a decade of Hollywood’s fight against the Betamax video recorder, which went all the way to the Supreme Court, the studios were earning more from home video business than they were from ticket sales.

Here are several movies — all of which you’ve likely seen — each with an important backstory that innovators can learn from.

Sometimes technology needs to be just good enough, not perfect. “The Jazz Singer” will forever be remembered as Hollywood’s first talkie — even though it wasn’t among the first dozen to try to sync up the pictures on the screen with a soundtrack. But the technology that Warner Bros. banked on, developed at AT&T’s Bell Labs, was better than what came before it. It was just good enough to turn “The Jazz Singer” into a hit — especially combined with a performance from Al Jolson that practically leapt off the screen. The system still relied on phonograph records that could scratch. If the film broke and needed to be spliced back together, the entire movie would veer out of sync. The Warner Bros./AT&T technology was just good enough to start the sound revolution in Hollywood, though it didn’t endure for very long as a standard. Five years after “The Jazz Singer,” even Warner Bros. had switched over to a technology that more reliably linked the audio with the visuals.

Innovators never underestimate the importance of allies. Shot in glorious Technicolor, “Gone with the Wind” won the Best Picture Oscar in 1939, marking the start of Hollywood’s transition from black-and-white to color. But Technicolor had been working on its technology for making color movies since 1915, developing new kinds of cameras and film-processing techniques.

Like most start-ups, the company nearly ran out of money several times and had to continually hunt for new investors and allies who’d make movies using Technicolor’s technology to show how it was improving. These allies included the swashbuckler Douglas Fairbanks and Walt Disney, who won one of his first Oscars for a short cartoon made in Technicolor. Technicolor co-founder Herb Kalmus met another key ally at the racetrack at Saratoga Springs: Jock Whitney, a rich playboy who used his money to option a novel by Margaret Mitchell and help turn it into a movie starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh.

Innovators spot market opportunities first and chase them relentlessly. Entrepreneur Andre Blay had no connection to Hollywood, but in the mid-1970s, he was among the first to realize that home video machines like Sony’s Betamax (which sold for about $1,000 at the time) presented the potential for a new business.

He sent “cold call” letters to most of the major Hollywood studios asking them for the right to sell their movies on videotape. Only one studio, 20th Century Fox, consented, offering movies like “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Blay’s first ad in “TV Guide” netted his company $140,000 in revenue, and within a year, Fox acquired his company for $7.2 million in cash.

Innovators find collaborators who share their vision, and they’re prepared for things to take longer than expected. Computer graphics pioneer Ed Catmull, while he was still a graduate student at the University of Utah, was one of the first people on the planet who believed that it’d be possible to make a full-length computer-animated movie that people actually would pay to see. As he marched toward that goal, he connected with two people who bought in to his vision: John Lasseter, an ex-Disney animator, and Steve Jobs, who purchased the fledgling Pixar from George Lucas and helped develop it into a company that could stand on its own two feet, selling hardware and software while also pursuing Catmull’s ambitious, audacious goal.

Catmull admits that he thought the goal of making Pixar’s first film would take a decade — it took two. Disney eventually bought Pixar in 2006 for $7.4 billion.

As a business owner, there are many lessons to learn about innovation from the movies.

Guy Kawasaki is the co-founder of Alltop.com, an “online magazine rack” of popular topics on the web, and a founding partner at Garage Technology Ventures. Previously, he was the chief evangelist of Apple. Kawasaki is the author of ten books including Enchantment, Reality Check, and The Art of the Start. He appears courtesy of a partnership with HVACR Business, where this column was originally published. Reach Kawasaki through www.guykawasaki.com or at kawasaki@garage.com.

Left or right? Up or down? Yes or no? The human life is full of choices. We make them on a minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day basis. It’s what we do, how we live and move and have our being in the world.

Consider some choices you may have made in the last few years:

  • What car should you buy?
  • Should you ask her to marry you?
  • Are you ready for another baby?
  • Is this house right for you, or should you keep looking before you make an offer?
  • Who should be let go in the next round of budget cuts?
  • Will your department reach its goals this year?
  • Should you ask for a raise?
  • Is it time for your mom to enter a nursing home?
  • What do I need to do to lose weight?
  • What will you eat for dinner tonight?

Decisions are usually easier when we are only faced with two choices. Blue or red car? Two-story or ranch-style home? Slim Fast or Weight Watchers diet plan? Our brains are somehow wired better to choose between two competing choices.

It’s when we have more options that we sometimes stall, flutter or downright choke.

  • Three people from a team of eight in the department must be let go.
  • Should we marry now, when we finish college or after we find secure jobs?
  • In order to best reach our yearly goals, should we focus our attention on X, Y or Z, and how much of our remaining budget should we allocate to the project we choose?

Life is full of hard choices, and the bigger they are and the more options we have, the harder they get.

Through my years in working with individuals, groups, companies and organization, I have narrowed the questions we need to ask in order to make the right choices both in our life and in business.

Here are 3 of my best tips for making the right choice:

1. Analyze outcomes, not pros and cons.

Many of us have been taught somewhere along the way to take out a sheet of paper and divide it down the middle with a line. On one side we list the “pros” of a certain choice, on the other, the “cons.”

This old school way of making choices is time worn and tested, but I think there is a better focus: outcomes. In the end, the outcome of a choice made is what truly matters.

Working through a big decision can give us a kind of tunnel vision, where we get so focused on the immediate consequences of the decision at hand that we don’t think about the eventual outcomes we expect or desire.

When making a choice, then, it pays to take some time to consider the outcome you expect. Consider each option and ask the following questions:

  • What is the probable outcome of this choice? (This is the list we should make.)
  • What outcomes are highly unlikely? (This allows them less weight in the choice.)
  • What are the likely outcomes of not choosing this one? (These are negative outcomes.)
  • What would be the outcome of doing the exact opposite? (Play “devil’s advocate.”)

Our thinking should be in terms of long-term outcomes and not short-term pros and cons. And we should broaden our thinking to include negative outcomes. In doing so, we will find clarity and direction in making the right choice.

2. Ask why – five times.

The Five Whys are a problem-solving technique invented by Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota. When something goes wrong, you ask “why?” five times. By asking why something failed, over and over, you eventually get to the root cause.

Although developed as a problem-solving technique, the Five Whys can also help you determine whether a choice you’re considering is in line with your core values as a person and a business.

For instance:

  • Why should I take this job? It pays well and offers me a chance to grow.
  • Why is that important? Because I want to build a career and not just have a string of meaningless jobs.
  • Why? Because, I want my life to have meaning.
  • Why? So I can be happy.
  • Why? Because that’s what’s important in life.

We now see how the first two tips are interrelated. By asking the Five Whys, we learn that having meaning and being happy are desired outcomes that influence the choice made in asking the first question: Why should I take this job?

The continued relationship can be seen in revealing the third tips for making the right choice.

3. Follow your instincts.

This tip affords you the ability to work through the first two tips with a sense of personal confidence.

Why?

Because research shows that:

The conscious mind can only hold between five and nine distinct thoughts at any given time. That means that any complex problem with more than (on average) seven factors is going to overflow the conscious mind’s ability to function effectively, leading to poor choices.

Our unconscious mind is much better at juggling and working through complex problems. People who follow their instincts actually trust the work their unconscious mind has already done.

In summary:

When we allow ourselves to focus on long-term outcomes rather than short-sighted pros and cons, take on the task of asking “Why?” five different times, and trust and follow our instincts, we put ourselves in a much better position to make the right choice in any given situation in life and business.

Like anything we go through as human beings, this process takes work. Get to work and let me know how it goes.

DeLores Pressleymotivational speaker and personal power expert, is one of the most respected and sought-after experts on success, motivation, confidence and personal power. She is an international keynote speaker, author, life coach and the founder of the Born Successful Institute and DeLores Pressley Worldwide. She helps individuals utilize personal power, increase confidence and live a life of significance. Her story has been touted in The Washington Post, Black Enterprise, First for Women, Essence, New York Daily News, Ebony and Marie Claire. She is a frequent media guest and has been interviewed on every major network – ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX – including America’s top rated shows OPRAH and Entertainment Tonight.

She is the author of “Oh Yes You Can,” “Clean Out the Closet of Your Life” and “Believe in the Power of You.” To book her as a speaker or coach, contact her office at 330.649.9809 or via email atinfo@delorespressley.com or visit her website at www.delorespressley.com

Wednesday, 01 August 2012 13:53

Why not use a book to tell your story?

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Being able to tell your story is critical in today’s fast-paced world, where cutting through the noise to be heard gets harder each day. With so many media options fighting for attention, it’s imperative to identify new channels where you can stand out.

That’s why as part of our expansion last year, we saw an opportunity to tell entrepreneurs’ stories in greater detail and share lessons learned by launching a book division.

Our book division is unlike traditional publishers, because we do all the work for you. We develop the story and outline, conduct the interviews with the author and other contributors, and then write the book and handle all of the other elements through publication of an e-book and hardback editions.

The time commitment from you is minimal. Once the story is determined, we will conduct a series of short interviews to get the information we need to write the book. You approve everything that goes into the story and have final say on every aspect of the project. We help you take an idea for a book and turn it into a reality that you can share with others.

As an example, last year, we worked with auto dealers Rick and Rita Case to produce “Our Customers, Our Friends.” In the book, the Cases lay out their theory that the secret to successful retail sales is through building long-lasting relationships with customers and treating them as you would your best friend.

Whether your goal is to use a book as a business card for your organization by sharing knowledge with others or to further a cause and help raise awareness for something you believe in, we work with our author-entrepreneurs to identify what makes them unique and what insight they can share with others. We also build an author’s website and set up social media channels to help them promote the book. And, we’ve recently established an authors’ speakers’ bureau that will help extend the reach of sharing that entrepreneur’s knowledge across the national footprint of Smart Business Network.

So far this year, we have eight books in various stages of production. Among them are books for the CEOs of three publicly traded companies on topics ranging from mergers and acquisitions to building sustainable businesses to how to conduct successful turnarounds. We’re also publishing books that introduce exciting new business theories, as well as one that explains how to lead with a philosophy of giving back to the community.

What direction your book takes is up to you. It can tell the story of how your business started small and grew into what it is today, or it can explain the details of what you see as the keys to being successful in business.

Breaking through the clutter of information is tricky, and writing a book is one way you can make yourself heard. It’s also a great way to explain your philosophies to employees, customers and your peers.

There’s a widespread belief that everyone has at least one book within them. In the business world, that’s even truer. If you think that’s you, we’d be happy to help you turn your ideas into reality.

If you are interested in learning more about publishing a book, please contact our publisher, Dustin Klein, at dsklein@sbnonline.com or (440) 250-7026.

Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or fkoury@sbnonline.com.

Wednesday, 01 August 2012 10:32

Why smart companies do dumb things

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Not a day goes by when I don’t ask myself, “Why do smart companies do such dumb things?”

A sweeping answer is that companies are run by smart people, and smart people do dumb things. However, when smart people assemble in companies, they are still capable of doing dumb, if not even dumber, things. Here are some reasons why.

Consensus. When it comes to doing dumb things, the sum of the parts is less than the whole. Throwing more minds at the problem means more data, more perspectives, more possible solutions, more critiques of these solutions and more minds (and hands) implementing the solution, right?

Possibly, but there’s also the downside of more people: Once consensus starts to build, it’s harder to alter a decision. It’s one thing to argue against a few people; it’s much more difficult to argue against the wisdom of a crowd. Individuals who hold out, question or disagree are labeled as clueless, uncooperative and not team players.

Conviction. Consensus rears its ugly head during the decision-making process. The situation can get worse once implementation occurs because the organization marches along with a firm belief in what it’s doing. At that point, a decision takes on a sacred life of its own, and a company cannot see flaws. Conviction is not inherently bad, and truthfully, it’s an important component of success. The trick is to combine conviction with open eyes and open minds to reduce the likelihood of having a conviction in the wrong thing.

Experts. If there’s anything smart people worship it is other smart people. It’s tough to be strong enough to not defer to an expert. Most experts have a tough time accepting surprises that are outside of their comfort zone.

Good news. A company is constantly assaulted by its competition, customers, governments and schmexperts (schmucks + experts). Faced with this onslaught, good news is an addictive, illegal and dangerous drug. It makes you crave more good news, and you refuse to communicate bad news up the chain of command. Ultimately, it may even make you refuse to hear bad news at all.

Lofty ends. Lofty ends can justify all sorts of weird and inappropriate means. Look no further than the quests for peace that produce mayhem and violence. Or, the desire to make a profit (something that is genuinely good for shareholders and customers) that warps a company’s code of ethics even though the company is made up of smart, honest people. Companies trying to achieve a lofty goal can start believing that any means to achieve it is OK.

So what can you do to prevent doing dumb things?

• Say, believe and act in a way that convinces employees that differences of opinion and diversity of thoughts are good things. Frankly, a couple of curmudgeons is a good thing for a company.

• Don’t be in a rush to meet consensus. In particular CEOs should not rush into a decision even though the image of decisiveness is so seductive.

• Spell things out. It’s not enough to say, “Plug this leak in our company,” and assume that it will be done legally. You should say, “Plug this leak in our company by using only legal, ethical and reasonable methods.” That’s when you’re done.

• Move the crowns. When employees go around saying, “We need to do it this way because Bill/Steve/Carly/Larry wants it this way,” you’re in trouble. It means that employees are making decisions based on what they think will make kings and queens happy, as opposed to what’s right for the customer, employees or shareholders. Good CEOs put the crown on the heads of customers, not themselves.

• Restrict the use of experts to narrow areas. Never use experts to create your product roadmap or marketing plans unless you want MBAs who have never run anything larger than a school snack bar to decide your fate.

• Ask for bad news. Don’t assume it will find you — you have to find it. You should allocate a time that’s specifically for communicating bad news.

• Don’t shoot the messenger who brings the bad news unless he or she caused it.

• And finally, don’t reward the messenger who brings good news unless he or she caused it.

Guy Kawasaki is the co-founder of Alltop.com, an “online magazine rack” of popular topics on the Web, and a founding partner at Garage Technology Ventures. Previously, he was the chief evangelist of Apple. Kawasaki is the author of 10 books including “Enchantment,” “Reality Check” and “The Art of the Start.” He appears courtesy of a partnership with HVACR Business, where this column was originally published. Reach Kawasaki through www.guykawasaki.com or at kawasaki@garage.com.

We’ve all seen it before, where co-workers in a company recognize a problem performer, but these same people can’t understand why the boss hasn’t yet taken action or has taken so long to come to grips with the issue.

Conversely, as the boss, how many times have you made what you considered to be an extremely difficult personnel decision and have done so only after protracted analysis, a fair measure of agony and more than an adequate amount of second guessing yourself?

Case in point: One of your top managers has hit the skids, and in your gut, you know that a change is needed. Fearing the worst, you play over and over in your mind the potential negative consequences that could occur if you were to fire this individual. Finally, after all else fails, you pull the trigger and decide to part ways with the onetime A player. Before you tell associates, you rehearse in your mind how you will explain your decision. Once you gather your lieutenants together and finally utter the previously unthinkable, the reaction is almost a unanimous, “What took you so long?”

After you breathe a sigh of relief, your team members start making not-so-subtle comments suggesting that they weren’t surprised, followed by a litany of examples of why your now fallen superstar wasn’t hacking it.

This begs a bigger question: Were you really the last one to realize that there was a problem? Furthermore, did it actually take you too long to make that final decision that, as they say in spy novels, this person was “beyond salvage”?

This provides a good opportunity for introspective analysis. The end result just might help you understand that you were not the last to know, but in fact, you may have been the first to recognize what was looming on the horizon.

Virtually every leader has to rely on experience, combined with instincts, to decide when to either cut and run or try to rectify a problem. Being an executive requires being a very good teacher. When a pupil is not measuring up, the first question is how can you help and what can you do to improve a person’s performance? Most everyone at one point in his or her career hits a rough spot, and with a bit of mentoring, a fair number of wayward employees can turn the corner and again blossom. Also, it’s more economical to at least try to turn someone around after investing time and money in developing the individual. After a certain period, the employee has gained valuable empirical knowledge about the ins and outs of the company and, just maybe, a little extra coaching can make the difference.

However, in some situations, your optimism for achieving Mother Teresa status through patient mentoring wanes, and you begin to come to grips with the fact that it’s time for a change. You then map out your what-if scenarios. Not only one but several. You ruminate over your game plan until you have the best probable solution locked and loaded in your mind for that moment when you have concluded that you’ve run out of road.

Most times, trying yet failing is not a bad thing; actually, it is a good thing and the way a responsible leader must approach an important human resource decision. You can never forget that you’re dealing with the life and livelihood of a person and his or her family, which can be adversely affected by the decision. Many top employees who veer off course and don’t work out were, at one time, effective and loyal contributors to the organization. It’s mandatory to make the effort not only to try to stem the negative tide of poor performance, but also to develop an alternative replacement and transition strategy. This takes time and can be a very solitary task depending on the level of the person to be replaced.

In reality, the boss knows in his heart of hearts before most, if not all, others when something ultimately has to give. Being the boss requires making the difficult decisions after meaningful deliberation and then living with them and making them work.

The boss the last to know? Highly unlikely. Instead, he probably is the first to know when the time to act was finally right.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at mfeuer@max-wellness.com.

A unique new book with an unorthodox, yet proven approach to achieving extraordinary success.

What does it take to grow rapidly and effectively from mind to market?

This book offers an unconventional philosophy for starting and building a business that exceeds your own expectations.

Beating the competition is never easy. That’s why it requires a benevolent dictator.

Published by John Wiley & Sons. AVAILABLE NOW! Order online now at: www.thebenevolentdictator.biz

Also available wherever books and eBooks are sold, and from Smart Business Magazine and www.SBNOnline.com. Contact Dustin S. Klein of Smart Business at (800) 988-4726 for bulk order special pricing.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012 20:15

Safeguard your success

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It’s the big day. You’ve managed to score a meeting with one of the biggest companies in the world to talk about your brilliant, one-in-a-million business concept. You can’t wait to talk with their executives and share your vision for your ideas — ideas that are guaranteed to change the face of business forever, while earning billions of dollars in the process.

One problem. Unless you’ve been diligent in protecting yourself, you might well find yourself taken advantage of, or even have your ideas stolen altogether.

Sad to say, but there have always been people out there just itching to pick your brain and take your original thoughts without paying for them. Sometimes it’s inadvertent — they may not realize that your ideas have monetary value — and at other times it’s purposeful and with ill-intent. Either way, it’s important to recognize this reality and do everything you can to safeguard yourself.

Earlier in my career, I would often find myself in a meeting, and with my inherent enthusiasm (It’s for real, folks!), I’d elaborate on everything from product concepts to marketing and sales strategies. The next thing you know, the people I was meeting with would all be whipped into frenzy and we would verbally agree to continue the dialogue and develop our business plan in the weeks and months ahead. We’d have numerous phone calls and even some follow-up meetings.

And then suddenly … nothing. When I finally managed to get hold of them again, I’d be told they had changed their minds and were not going through with the project. Yet months later, I’d find they had actually gone ahead with the product without me — and using all the ideas I had given them in our meetings. Think I wasn’t royally peeved?

Because I knew that what I had to say was worth something, after this happened to me one time too many, I decided that I needed to start protecting myself. So here’s what I’ve learned to do now: If I’m coming to someone with an idea for a product I’ve developed, before I take the first meeting, I make sure I protect my ownership. I file for a patent, trademark or copyright — everything and anything that is appropriate for what I’m offering. I also ask the people that I’m meeting with to sign a nondisclosure agreement and make it very clear from the beginning that I’m prepared to protect myself.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that others won’t still try to take my idea without my permission — patents are worked around all the time — but it does mean that I have some leverage. Without it, I’d be dead in the water.

At the moment, I have a product line that I’ve been developing for several years, for which I have four or five patents, eight to 10 trademarks and 10 to 15 copyrights. These protections give my product value for a possible third party sale in the future. When you come right down to it, if I can’t protect the ownership of my product, it has absolutely zero value.

Besides my ideas for an invention or product are the thoughts I have for developing business strategies, which I present in a meeting or conference call. This is a more difficult situation because I can’t patent, trademark or copyright these ideas. Yet, the success or failure of the product or business idea will hinge to a large degree on how it is presented to potential customers.

These days I proceed with much greater caution that I ever did before. If I’m approached by a company that wants to meet with me because of my expertise in an area, I often charge an engagement fee upfront. I won’t share my best ideas until I know we have an agreement that protects me. Half of the money is paid up front with the balance paid out of royalties or perhaps as a straight licensing fee if we decide to go ahead with a product.

You’ll never be able to stop people from trying to take advantage of you. But whether you’re talking about your idea for a new product or the strategy for how to make it a success, keep in mind that what you have to offer carries genuine value, so never let your excitement override good judgment.

Tony Little is the president, CEO and founder of Health International Corp. Known as “America’s personal trainer,” he has been a television icon for more than 20 years. After overcoming a near-fatal car accident that nearly took his life, Tony learned how to turn adversity into victory. Known for his wild enthusiasm, Tony is responsible for revolutionizing direct response marketing and television home shopping. Today his company has sold more than $3 billion dollars in products. Reach him at guestbook@tonylittle.com.

As former firefighters, brothers Robin and Chris Sorensen know that quality and quantity are both important when it comes to a sandwich. So when they co-founded Firehouse Subs in 1994, their vision involved providing better service and a better restaurant experience for their customers. It also involved more meat.

“We made a list of things we thought we had to do to be different and be competitive, and it came down to the concept, and it came down to the experience at the floor level and service levels,” Robin says. “And then it came down to the food.”

Over the years, Firehouse built a reputation for its appetite worthy portions of premium meats and cheeses. With the advantage of being one of the least expensive brands in the fast-casual segment — competitors include Five Guys and Panera Bread rather than Subway — the company steadily grew its regional foothold from Jacksonville, Fla., to 300 locations in 17 states.

But at the beginning of 2007, all of that changed. The restaurants started losing traffic.

“Up until that point, we never had a down quarter,” Robin says. “We’d been building on a continuous basis, and we didn’t even realize how good we had it.”

While the brothers didn’t know it yet, the company’s problem went deeper than the economic recession. The problem was “crappy” marketing.

“What we learned is that people who weren’t eating there — they didn’t really understand what we were,” Robin says. “The Subway customer assumed when they saw our sign that we were just like Subway.”

Root out the problem

Facing some of the darkest days in Firehouse’s history, founders Chris and Robin knew that the company’s franchisees were looking to them for reassurance. Feeling that they owed it to them to look at every opportunity to revive business, they took input from owners and employees, realizing that many of the ideas weren’t viable options.

“For the first time, we could feel the weight of the system on our shoulders, almost literally looking at us and asking, ‘What are we going to do?’” Robin says.

“Some of them were saying we should cut our portions down — which my blood pressure is going up thinking about it. But we had to look at different opportunities. That whole process — all it did was lead us to say, ‘We’ve got to do something.’”

Both felt strongly that they couldn’t jeopardize the quality or quantity that defined the Firehouse Subs brand in exchange for short-term profits. But they agreed they couldn’t stand still either. So as they debated how to handle the declining numbers, the Sorensens also started taking a hard look at their advertising agency.

The company had talked about changing advertising agencies in the past. And seeing the poor results of recent efforts, its leadership offered the agency one last opportunity to present its ideas on how to resuscitate customer traffic. Needless to say, they weren’t impressed.

“Basically, we were out of options,” Robin says. “We weren’t in great shape. So we did something drastic.”

Feeling more and more that the reason for poor performance stemmed from ineffective brand marketing, the leaders proposed a radical change.

In the summer 2008, they decided to rescind the 2 percent in royalties that franchisees paid the company for its corporate marketing efforts. Instead, they told franchisees that they could keep the money — if they agreed to do their own marketing.

“We came up with a comprehensive plan on what they need to do with that money at their discretion, the old fashioned stuff — hiring sign wavers, developing catering, knocking on doors, ‘touching’ people, speaking at the chamber — all of the things that helped us build the company,” Robin says.

Then they hopped on a bus, traveling around the country to present the new marketing plan to store owners with a national founder’s tour. A key part of the presentation was showing franchisees how to execute the new, guerrilla-style marketing initiatives.

“We’d have 10 people from our office get off the bus and we’d all hit three, four or five stores depending on the city,” Robin says. “We would go out and market those stores on the ground ourselves with them to show them how to get it done. We always built sales wherever we were at. So it was radical, but we tried it.”

After six months, about 20 percent of the system was really on board and executing on the suggestions. So the brothers decided to extend the efforts for another six months.

In the end, the local marketing ramp-up wasn’t enough to stop the decline. Continuing to lose traction, the company closed out the 2008 year down 6 percent in comparable store sales. By 2009, the company was falling nearly 7 percent. The Firehouse Subs brand still wasn’t registering with the customers; and Chris and Robin went shopping for a new advertising agency.

Focus on the right customers

As they began their search, the brothers looked for a smaller agency where they would know the owners personally. So they were skeptical when their consultant proposed a meeting with Zimmerman Advertising, an agency worth $2 billion whose clients include high-profile brands such as Papa John’s Pizza.

“I said, ‘Let’s not even go down there to Ft. Lauderdale because they are too big,’” Robin says. “‘We’re going to be lost in the shuffle.’ And the consultant said, ‘They are different people down there. They are a unique agency, and I’ve seen a lot of them. … I think you guys are going to hit it off.’”

Compared to the last 20 presentations they’d gone through, Zimmerman was the only agency so far that had no marketing ideas to pitch. As they sat down to meet with the company’s leadership, its staff admitted that they didn’t know much about who Firehouse was. Instead, they pitched themselves.

The agency’s founder, Jordan Zimmerman, pointed out that both of the company’s previous agencies had pitched their ideas for the business before they even had time to research who and its customers were. But Zimmerman did things differently.

“His point was how do they know if that’s right when they haven’t had enough time or money to go out and really do thorough research?” Robin says. “And he was right.”

So when the meeting was over, they hired Zimmerman as their new agency. They also gave them the money to go out and do the necessary market research to develop their brand strategy. The agency used techniques such as intercepting customers — going into other stores and offering them a free lunch at Firehouse Subs in exchange for feedback — Zimmerman soon figured out why the company was losing customers. The brand needed to reach more people.

At the time, the company had lost about 10 percent of its traffic. But while the owners were so focused on getting those people back in the door, they’d also overlooked an essential question: are these the right people?

“The point is — they’re gone,” Robin says. “We weren’t really focusing on the 90 percent that are OK with our proposition. So we started trying to better understand who those customers are and who other customers are.”

The agency also told the brothers that it would take a 4 percent investment from each of the franchisees to execute a new brand marketing strategy.

“I said to them, ‘So you’re asking me to go our franchisees and say not only do you have to give me the 2 percent back that we let you keep temporarily, but you’re required to, and you need to give us two more that you’re not required to?’” Robin says. “It was radical.”

But while knocking on doors worked occasionally, the customer data made it clear that Firehouse Subs had to reach more consumers with its message if it was going to stay profitable.

“The simplicity of it was just 'find more people,'” Chris says. “Tell them who we are and why we’re better. With the economy down, there were a certain number of people who couldn’t afford to eat with us, and we weren’t going to get them back until the economic situation was corrected. But there were thousands upon thousands of people that we could reach, which is what we did.”

Try a new tactic

With the help of Zimmerman, Robin and Chris began making the changes to the company’s marketing and advertising. First, the company increased its emphasis on the items that make it different from competitors — its big portions of quality meats. At the heart of the strategy was the radio.

The agency suggested that, as founders, Robin and Chris should represent the brand in radio commercials. Instead of discounting the price, they’d focus on Firehouse Subs’ bigger portions and fresh-sliced, steamed meat and cheese. The commercials would also include a new slogan: “Our way beats their way. If you don’t agree, it’s free.” By mentioning the price in the commercials, customers would know exactly what to expect coming into the restaurants — a medium hook and ladder for $5.39, not a $5 footlong.

“We’re giving a guarantee,” Robin says. “So if you take one bite and you don’t like it, we’ll give you your money back. While everybody is talking about smaller sandwiches — $2 torpedoes, $5 footlongs — we’re going to be the only one talking about premium.”

At first, Chris and Robin were hesitant about going on the radio, even as they helped write and develop the spots. So they began a 10-week test run, doing radio spots in Jacksonville, Fla., Knoxville, Tenn., and Augusta, Ga.

“We were concerned about not doing it well, and we don’t want the system thinking that we think it’s all about us,” Robin says. “What if we fail at it? So Zimmerman was like, ‘If you suck, we’ll be the first to tell you.’”

Within days of starting the radio campaigns, the stores saw 10 to 15 percent lifts.

“Without discounting, without changing who we were, without coming up with the next cheap sandwich, we stuck to what’s made us who we are and just started blasting the airwaves and finding new customers,” Chris says. “And it worked.”

Bring the fight home

The company now had real data in its back pocket showing that the radio worked. But now, Chris and Robin had to go back to owners with the new marketing strategy and convince them to invest in it. In summer 2009, the company held its first ever corporate-wide conference to introduce the new agency and new marketing investment.

The brothers explained the tests and the results of radio campaigns. They explained the big picture and the vision. Because the plan to give owners the reins over marketing hadn’t worked, they felt that they had even more authority to ask franchisees to support the changes.

“If we hadn’t given them money to try it on their own, they may have demanded some other options,” Robin says.

“We said, ‘You’ve had this for a year. We tried an agency. We couldn’t get results. We gave them an opportunity to present their ideas. They weren’t good. We tried it. Check. Then we gave you the money for a year. It didn’t work enough to turn us around. Check. Now we have a new agency.”

They asked the 80 percent attendance of franchisees in attendance to double down on their investment into the corporate marketing. In the following five months, they held meetings with the other 20 percent to get their support. In the end, everybody who was eligible to be on the radio voted to do it.

“As much money as we spent, it came down to buying the right media to talk to the right group of people, and hitting it heavy with the right message,” Robin says.

“The bottom line is that it was a major risk, a double down in a bad economy, and it absolutely was the most phenomenal thing we’ve ever done.”

Since the second quarter of 2009, the company has continued to increase sales 4 to 6 percent every year, fueling its expansion to approximately 500 locations today. Revenue for 2010 was an impressive $256 million. The brothers have already invested close to $5 million of their own money in the radio campaigns. Yet there is still one thing they would have done differently a second time around.

“Fired our agency earlier,” Chris says.

How to reach: Firehouse Subs, (800) 388-3473 or www.firehousesubs.com

Takeaways

1.         Figure out where you need to improve.

2.         Rethink your market of customers.

3.         Step outside your communication comfort zone.

The Sorensen File

Chris and Robin Sorensen

Co-founders

Firehouse Subs

Born: Jacksonville, Fla.

Favorite Firehouse sub:

Robin: Smokehouse Beef & Cheddar Brisket

Chris: Smoked Turkey Breast

About the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation

Founded: 2005

Mission: To buy life-saving equipment for fire, police and other public safety institutions

Robin: We’ve saved lives with the equipment that we’ve donated, and it’s really taken on a life of its own. People understand Ronald McDonald House, and that’s big part of who they are. We want the same thing with Firehouse, because not many companies have really made a great connection like that, like we have. We started it from the heart because we enjoyed it and thought it would be great. One of our agencies put it as one of our brand pillars in who we are. It’s one of the pillars of building a great business in the community.

About 50 percent of the donations come from the store and our customers. The other 50 come from our vendors, franchisees, Chris and I and our partner Steven. We’ve put in almost $600,000 of it ourselves.

What are the best business lessons that you’ve each learned in your careers?

Robin: One of the biggest failures — there’s two parts to it. One is people just aren’t willing to do what it takes to grow their business. You hear it in the way they talk about it, ‘I’m willing to do this, but I’m not willing to do that. I’m not willing to put the hours in.’ They set parameters on themselves: ‘I’ll work five days a week, but I’m not working on Saturday during the college football season.’ When we opened up, it wasn’t that we said we’ll do anything; that was our philosophy and mindset. The other part of is, are you in it for you or are you in it for the company — the frugality piece.

Chris: I was told this advice from an old mentor of mine. He told us if you want to be a smart business owner, you don’t buy expensive cars or a yacht. He told us if you can’t write a check for it, don’t buy it. My brother and I still practice this to this day.

“In the Internet industry, the easy thing to do is give a client exactly what they ask for. The right thing to do is to give them what they need to achieve their goals,” says Kevin Hourigan, president and CEO of Web design, Web development and online marketing agency, Bayshore Solutions. “I find that when I ask the deeper question of ‘what do you expect the (insert web technology or service here) to do for you?’ the answer is usually a form of ‘grow my business.’  I rely on a seven-stage method to deliver the Web technology and marketing expertise to deliver those growth results.”

Smart Business spoke with Hourigan about the sequence of steps that creates a high-performance Web presence and drives business growth.

Is there a reliable recipe for the best Web results?

Based on our more than 16 years experience and evolution of serving clients, our team has developed a Web methodology consisting of seven stages, with each successive stage building upon the previous one and providing feedback for the continual improvement of the entire Web program. Depending on the industry, business model and other dynamics, a specific business may need to incorporate just few or the full range of elements in each phase to accomplish their goals. Generally, however, each stage needs to be addressed to build and maintain a robust Web presence that competes and performs well.

What are the seven steps of Web success?

1. Envision. This is the ‘Business and Marketing 101’ that needs to be complete before any Web design, development or technology issue is addressed. You need clear answers to questions including: What is your Business brand and personality? What are your goals and objectives for your Web presence? Who is your target audience and what makes them click, or what are your customer personas? What actions do you want to elicit with your Web assets? This step is the foundation that all later steps must be aligned to and built upon.

2. Design. In this stage the styling, design and architecture of your Web presence is created that strikes the perfect balance of brand personality, message, visual communication and user interface to resonate with your target audience and entice them to perform the desired action. Much more than layout, color and imagery, it is a purposeful, strategic blend of science and art applied to your business’s online identity.

3. Build. Now the design is applied to the appropriate platforms and devices for your business needs. Web functionality and features are developed to create the best user experience and technology integrations are connected both on the public facing and administrative facets of your Web presence. As this stage is completed, you have a ‘live’ website from which to launch your online growth initiatives.

4. Attract. In this step, the basic Web marketing tactics appropriate to your business model and markets are developed and deployed. This includes search engine optimization; paid search advertising including pay-per-click, display and retargeting campaigns; email marketing campaigns; and online initiatives to attract targeted attention and traffic to your business.

5. Examine. This essential stage ensures that the right tracking and analytics are implemented so that your key performance metrics can reliably guide ongoing marketing and business decisions. Regular research and testing rooted in this step will confirm current validity of the elements in all the stages, signal needed adjustments and guide incremental as well as dramatic gains in ongoing results.

6. Connect. More advanced outreach and web interconnectivity is deployed in this stage. Content marketing and syndication utilizing both written forms of communication, such as articles, press releases and eBooks as well as visual multi-media such as videos, webcasts, podcasts and interactive apps are the tactical tools used in this step. Establishing a corporate blog is a natural part of this stage and creating presence and active engagement in social media puts you in touch with your audience wherever they connect to your topic or brand.

7. Engage. This is the most often missed step that can powerfully differentiate a business’s growth results. Here your workflows, communication, measurement and management are linked together with marketing automation, lead qualification and customer relationship management technology. Streamlining the processes in this stage will help you efficiently move your leads into sales and further into satisfied repeat customers and referrals to new customers.

Web technologies, best practices, the latest networks, trends, tools and ‘shiny objects’ do change, often rapidly, in this digital age. These seven steps and their strategic considerations provide a consistent, grounded framework in such a dynamic environment. It is important to have a solid core established in each stage before moving on to the next one when developing your business Web presence and to evaluate your best next steps.

Consulting this end-to-end methodology will cause you to ask the right questions and take a holistic, strategic approach to each aspect of your business’s Web presence, better understand how one interconnects with the rest and help you create the Web presence that brings your business the best growth results.

Kevin Hourigan is the president and CEO of Bayshore Solutions. Reach him at (877) 535-4578 or http://www.BayshoreSolutions.com.

For more info on Bayshore Solutions Web marketing methodology and case studies that illustrate results visit: http://www.bayshoresolutions.com/about-bayshore-solutions/methodology.aspx

Insights Web Design, Development & Internet Marketing is brought to you by Bayshore Solutions

Businesses cannot overestimate the importance of a well-planned transportation infrastructure. Easy commutes for employees build morale and productivity. Faster response times for mobile service crews produce loyal customers. And gas prices of more than $3 per gallon impact the bottom line.

For Shermco Industries — a thriving company specializing in electrical power system and wind generator repair — proximity to airports, highways, customers, and comfortable and diverse neighborhoods for employees to live in were all keys to its corporate relocation success story.

“Relocating to Irving – Las Colinas provided us with an extensive network of highway systems and transportation options that help us meet and exceed our customers’ expectations for timely arrival, and allow us to attract and keep top talent,” says Lonnie Mullen, vice president of operations for Shermco Industries.

Smart Business spoke with Mullen about how the thoughtfully planned infrastructure of the Greater Irving – Las Colinas area enticed his growing company to relocate its operations from Dallas.

What factors make Irving – Las Colinas a great place to do business?

The cost of doing business in Irving has a respectable value compared to the surrounding cities, and Texas real estate in general has maintained its value despite the recent downturn. Irving is an established, business friendly city, centrally located in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. More than 10,000 businesses call Irving home, including Fortune 500 companies ExxonMobil, Fluor, Kimberly-Clark, Celanese and Commercial Metals Co.

Irving is regarded highly as one of the top cities for business in the nation and recently was ranked one of the nation’s Top 50 Best Places to Live. Not only is Irving a great place to work and build our company, it’s also one of the best places for our employees to reside and raise their families. Irving had exactly what we were looking for.

We were established in Dallas, a short drive from Irving. In 2000, our success demanded that we move to a bigger facility, and Irving offered the business solution we were looking for with a selection of cost-effective and functional real estate opportunities. We settled on a great building in an ideal location within an industrial complex next door to Frito Lay — one of our customers.

How has the move impacted Shermco’s bottom line growth?

When our customers need us to work on their equipment, they need help right away. Having easy access to Irving’s transportation infrastructure, including several highways, two major airports, commuter rail and the planned light rail service, is a great value to us as well as our customers.

The transportation infrastructure in and around Irving is a very important function for our company. We are an international provider of testing, repair, professional training, maintenance and analysis of rotating apparatus as well as electrical power distribution systems and related equipment for the light, medium and heavy industrial base. A lot of our business is service-oriented, so time truly is money.

Since relocating to the city of Irving, our business has continued to flourish. When we moved to Irving we had 100 employees. Today we have 425 employees, including 280 at our Irving location. We are very proud to be consistently ranked among Dallas’ finest companies by the Dallas Business Journal, which recognized us as a mid-sized company finalist for the publication’s 2010 Best Places to Work. More than 400 companies entered into the survey process, but only 23 mid-sized companies were chosen as finalists.

Another factor driving our growth is Irving’s Economic Development Partnership group. The group is engaged in both the business and governmental sides of our city. It’s extremely helpful in a sense that I’m able to ask the same group of people questions that involve either subject, essentially speeding up the process for our business to make a solid decision. And it gives you a sense of pride to know you have a partner that’s invested and supports your success.

How does the city’s transportation infrastructure help attract top talent?

To be the best you have to attract the best talent. In Irving, we have access to a work force of more than 3.1 million people within a 30-minute commute. Being established in a city like Irving that offers an excellent quality of life, an affordable cost of living and reasonable commutes has allowed us to attract and maintain our valuable employees.

Our employees and their families have access to many culturally diverse activities in and around Irving, including the Irving Arts Center, the Dallas Arts District, Six Flags amusement park, several water parks, and professional sporting venues including the Dallas Cowboys, Mavericks basketball, Stars hockey and Rangers baseball.

What are some of the best-kept secrets of doing business in Irving?

There are none. The city and the Greater Irving – Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce work very hard to make sure there are no secrets. They are truly invested in business and they want all the businesses in Irving to succeed. Come to Irving and you’ll quickly find out the city is very pro-business.

The Greater Irving – Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce comprehensively helps businesses large and small with plans to relocate their headquarters or expand operations to Irving. The Chamber is prepared to guide companies through a comprehensive process including business development strategy, strategic site selection, community demographics, expansion management, location selection, site consulting, corporate real estate management, corporate office relocation, location analysis, corporate site selection, corporate real estate strategy, corporate headquarters relocation, business relocation and corporate relocation management.

Lonnie Mullen is vice president of operations for Shermco Industries. Reach him at (972) 793-5523 or lmullen@shermco.com.Visit Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce at www.irvingchamber.com.

Insights Economic Development is brought to you by Greater Irving - Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce