When the Internet boom was going full force, we began investigating ways to use Internet technology to better serve our audience -- top decision-makers of local companies. As we were putting the finishing touches on our plan, the bubble burst.
Undaunted, we moved forward with our vision of building a Web site that not only met the needs of busy executives but did so profitably. The revised SBN Online (www.sbnonline.com), launched as a pilot site in our Cleveland market, has met both our goals.
Each subscriber to SBN Cleveland has been pre-registered for SBN Online. By using the user ID and password we supplied by mail, readers can activate their registration and get a personalized home page containing local business news and information relevant to them. Our database of thousands of articles, ideas and resources is filtered using a reader's profile, resulting in the display of news, events, presentations and other information that best matches the profile.
The response has been great. We are ahead of our projections for users and site activity, though SBN Online is only a few months old. We are so pleased with the success that we plan to expand the concept to other cities this summer.
As I look back on what it has taken to relaunch SBN Online, a number of important lessons stand out.
1. Stick to what (and who) you know. We spent a great deal of time and money researching our concept for SBN Online. What became clear is that while we may not be concentrating on the biggest market, we are concentrating on the best market. Middle-market companies account for only 10 percent of all businesses, but they boast nearly half of all corporate revenue and purchasing power.
2. Work within a budget. In the headiest days of the Internet boom, we were quoted incredible prices for products and services. While many of these offers would have met our needs, we continued to look for the right deals with the right partners.
3. Stay the course. Even as events conspired against us, we pressed forward. The bursting of the Internet bubble had everyone rethinking the role of the Internet for businesses. As the economy weakened, more doubts crept into people's minds. Then came the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Each one of these developments could have caused us to put the project on hold. Instead, we made adjustments and kept moving forward.
Having done these things, SBN Online was reborn even as the bursting of the Internet bubble caused other business Web sites to fold or take significant steps backward.
If you haven't registered for SBN Online, I encourage you to do so soon. If you receive SBN Magazine under your name, you were sent a user ID and password. If you've misplaced it, e-mail your name, business and address to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will reply, or call us at (216) 228-6397 and ask for SBN Online customer service.
And please let us know what you think. We already are at work on improvements and welcome your feedback.
Have you ever stopped to think about what this means? The customer is the lifeline of a business. Besides employees, customers are the greatest asset a company can have and must be treated accordingly.
For many companies, this has been a difficult time. People are waiting it out and treading cautiously through this first quarter, keeping purchases to a minimum. However, some have prepared for a time like this and are in a position to stay on the offensive and press forward.
Those companies took careful measure of their return on each investment, assembled the best management team and are quick to adapt to new circumstances. They instill confidence in their customers.
For customers to continue to make investments, they have to be reassured yours is one of those companies.
Here are four principles customers look for before making an investment with you.
1. Innovation. Are you leading or following? Find new ways to set yourself apart from the competition.
2. Value. Give customers more for their money. When people receive more than they expect -- in goods or services -- they place more perceived value on that transaction, which leads to higher customer satisfaction.
3. Sound leadership. Good leaders make good decisions. Evaluate whether you have the right leadership to keep your company on top.
4. Customer service. Service doesn't end after the transaction is done. If you want to keep customers happy, stay in contact after the purchase. Stay up to date on their needs and find out what they like and dislike about your product or service, which will help you fine-tune it for the next customer.
Even when you think customers are wrong, if you listen carefully, they're probably telling you something about your business that needs correcting.
In the current economic climate, you can't afford to ignore them. If you and your staff remember the customer is always right, you'll never go wrong. Fred Koury (email@example.com) is president and CEO of SBN Magazine.
If you want to survive, it's important to have a list of key measures to navigate your business through these tough times.
Each day, I talk to business owners who have high debt levels and are easily discouraged. The Federal Reserve Bank keeps dropping interest rates, but consumer confidence continues to decline, unemployment is rising, and there doesn't seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel. It's hard to give people advice when they ask what they should do because there are so many unknowns.
This changing business climate will invariably result in changes in many companies. Change brings uncertainty to your work force, which leads to a drop in productivity as people wonder about job security and the viability of their employer.
Internal and external communication are key. Internally, it's important so everyone is on the same page. If people are not aware of what's going on within the company, they will be forced to reach their own conclusions.
This is bad for morale, because conclusions may be based on incorrect information. Everything needs to be put in perspective. If you are in management, it is your responsibility to keep employees informed.
Externally, it's important to communicate so customers and vendors can work with you. Make sure your relationships are strong and that they are aware of what's going on with your company.
When you're not sure what to do, honesty is the best policy. You'll be surprised how willing people are to help if they're asked -- look at how much money was donated to charity after the Sept. 11 disaster.
Here are five more measures to help navigate your business through a rocky economy:
1. Manage your fixed costs. Continue to find ways to bring these down. It's important to closely manage your budgets in a time like this. When you can replace fixed costs with variable costs, you should do so.
2. Provide more value. When it comes to someone deciding between you and your competitor, this is how you differentiate yourself. Find ways to give the customer a little more than your competition does.
3. Measure investments, and measure every cost. It's important for your investment to yield a return. Set a realistic timeline of when you expect a return, and if it doesn't happen, cut your cost. Look at each piece of your business and see which are paying for themselves and which are not.
4. Refine your niche. Position yourself in the marketplace as a dominant player and distinguish yourself from the rest of the pack to make it clear why people should do business with you. Concentrate on your core products or services and do what you do best.
5. Adapt quickly. Make decisions in a timely manner. During times like these, leadership is needed. Adapt quickly to the circumstances around you or your competitors will. But don't make blind decisions; it's important to consult with your management team, then act based on the feedback you've gathered.
Now is not the time to get discouraged. It's time to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. The boom times are over for now, and it's much more difficult to run a business than it was just a few months ago.
Not every business will survive, but those that carefully navigate the perils ahead will come out stronger and ultimately more profitable.
Fred Koury (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president and CEO of SBN Magazine.