Sunday, June 26, 2011

QR Codes

“Our Age of Anxiety is, in great part, the result of trying to do today's jobs with yesterday's tools.” ~Marshall McLuhan~

When new technology comes out, you have to make a very careful assessment of whether it is appropriate for your business or not. Additionally, you must ask yourself if this is a passing fad or will it change the way we use technology. Here is one of those new technologies that, I believe will change the way you are currently using this type of technology.

Quick Reference codes are a new trend in software technology that will have wide applications in business. Most commonly referred to as “QR codes,” they were developed in Japan more than 10 years ago and are widely used there, but are just now catching on here. While a normal one-dimensional barcode can only contain 20 characters, a QR code can handle thousands. Their value is that they can quickly and easily transmit information through a smart phone.

Though QR codes are just beginning to see widespread use, now is the time to start considering how you can implement this technology so you can be ahead of the curve rather than behind. So far, the most common use is directing a customer to your website, but QR codes can also be used to promote discounts and new products, and even as business cards. If you go to you can see what QR codes look like and read about the many ways the technology can be applied, including temporary tattoos.

Creating a QR code is quick and painless and there is no learning time required. Even I was able to do it! Using sites such as ScanLife and Kaywa, all you have to do is enter your website information, and your QR code is generated in seconds. You can then copy and store the code for future use.

To read the QR code, you need a scanner app. iPhone, BlackBerry and Android all offer a number of options. The i-nigma and RedLaser apps for iPhone are both free and allow you to take a picture of the code with your phone. The photo is converted into the appropriate action (visit a website, for example).

Likify is a neat service that uses QR codes to help generate “Likes” for your Facebook page. Users who scan your Likify QR code are directed to a page where they can tap the “Like” button. Find more information at QR codes are great, and they will be even greater with time. However, it will take a while before adoption is complete, so when considering using QR codes, you will want to make sure you have the right audience. Customers who are into sophisticated technology will be the ones most likely to accept and utilize QR codes right now. You may also find that a certain amount of education will be necessary to teach customers how to use them.

Now go out and find out if QR codes can benefit your business.

You can do this.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Criteria-the Heart of Decision-Making

“Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide.” ~Napoleon Bonaparte

There is no question that the ability to make good decisions is at the heart of a successful business. For entrepreneurs, especially those with small businesses, the cost of making mistakes is extremely high.
In one case, a firm selected the wrong vendor to supply a critical part and nearly went out of business when the supplier could not deliver. A second firm paid a high price when their software vendor delivered the software over a year late.

In a third example, a firm’s board of directors was considering what benefits to provide the CEO. The board made a tragic error by selecting the wrong provider and watched the CEO’s morale nosedive as his benefits shrank.

In each of these cases and many more, the entrepreneurs did not take the time to develop criteria to guide their decisions.

When making decisions, it is easy to go with a gut feeling. However, gut feelings do not require analytical ability or consideration of any objective criteria. As such, they can quickly lead you astray.

A firm was considering hiring a bookkeeper, which is such a critical function for every business. As they sorted through the resumes that had been submitted, they also looked at the applicant’s picture. This is not bad if one of your criteria is that the candidate be good-looking. However, if it is not one of your job requirements, including that as part of the initial screening could end up leading you down the path toward a wrong decision at a very high cost.

In order to make great decisions, you must determine the criteria ahead of time and apply these requirements to your decision-making process. For example, if you are going to hire a bookkeeper, your criteria might be that applicants have five years of experience, availability to work overtime, and knowledge of your specific bookkeeping software.

However, just identifying your criteria is not enough. You must also weight them according to their importance. For example, experience could be weighted at 60 percent, availability to work overtime could be 10 percent and knowledge of the bookkeeping software could be 30 percent. Weighting the criteria can be really helpful when ranking the candidates or alternatives.

An entrepreneur was evaluating possible locations for his new restaurant. His initial criteria were the traffic count, parking area and neighborhood demographics. On the initial pass, prior to applying weights, the entrepreneur selected one location based on these criteria. Once the entrepreneur applied weights to the criteria, however, the first location was tossed in favor of a second location that better met the owner’s requirements.

I guarantee that if you take this approach, you will make much better decisions. Now go out and fine tune your decision-making process by identifying criteria and weighting them according to importance.

You can do this!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Your Beliefs

“If you don't change your beliefs, your life will be like this forever. Is that good news?” ~Dr. Robert Anthony

All of us have a set of beliefs that guides us through this life we live. These beliefs might be something like “theft is bad” or “with hard work I can achieve anything.” There are, unfortunately, a bunch of beliefs that we do not even realize we have, and these unconscious beliefs tend to shape our behavior. If we are responding to events around us without recognizing the forces that are driving us, it is a recipe for disaster.

We were helping one woman who was struggling with her restaurant. Her husband had just lost his job, and she had to keep the restaurant going as it was now their only source of income to care for their ill son. There was just no other viable alternative.

After working with her for months, I could see that she was a business owner who really wanted to be successful, but she just could not put the pieces together no matter how hard I coached her. In my last conversation with her, I tried to get her to see that in order to make a decent income, she would have to go out and sell her catering services. While we both knew this was her best alternative, she just could not break free to put the plan into practice.

As I was talking to her about this paradox—wanting something to happen but being unable to make it happen—she finally admitted the reason she did not go out and sell more is because she was afraid her staff would think less of her if she was not in the restaurant cooking. I replied, “So you are letting the feelings of your staff determine whether you succeed or not?” A light seemed to go on as she came to the realization that this belief—a belief she had not even known she had—was destroying her business and her life.

As she left our meeting, I could tell she was walking lighter because the burden of that belief had been lifted by exposure. While it is too early to tell how successful she will be, at the very least, she has the opportunity to succeed now that she no longer has an unknown anchor dragging her under.

Another entrepreneur has been struggling for more than five years with flat sales and very little forward progress. When I got to talking with this entrepreneur, he discovered that he had an unknown belief that he did not deserve to be successful. On the outside, he has the appearance of someone who is very aggressive and successful, but his belief is keeping him from truly realizing his potential.

In most cases, beliefs form because they served us well at some point in our lives. However, as circumstances change, some beliefs become obsolete and no longer serve us at all. A great way to ascertain whether an unconscious belief is holding you back is to ask a family member or close friend—someone who can be very candid with you. Typically, once these beliefs are recognized, they dissipate and no longer affect behavior.

No go out and make sure that you and your business are not being held back by a belief that is no longer valid.

You can do this.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Knowing When to Change Your Business Model

No matter how far you have gone on a wrong road, turn back.” ~Proverb

Being realistic about what is possible and, more importantly, what is impossible, is absolutely critical when running a business. There come times in most entrepreneurs’ lives when they will not be able to accomplish the task they have set their sights on. Recognizing this is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength. Being realistic about what is achievable is so important as it keeps you from wasting energy trying to move an immovable wall.

We were helping a very neat couple who was working so hard to make their business successful. After four years of laboring, the business had stalled at $1 million in sales. They were struggling since they had not been taking much money out for themselves in the hopes that the business would gradually improve and they could recoup some of the dollars they had invested. But no matter what they did, their sales remained flat. They came to us for help improving their sales efforts and a number of other areas of the business. They figured if we improved some of these other areas, sales would follow.

Trying to help them was so frustrating for me. These clients did everything I asked and had good results in every area except for sales. They were just working so hard without much to show for it. With clients that are both good people and hard workers, it is very frustrating to watch them give it their all and still fall short of the results we all are hoping for.

Finally, exasperated with the lack of results, we had one of those serious and life-altering conversations about whether the cause was something they were or were not doing or market conditions. We all agreed that the market was fully saturated and there was very little they could do now to improve sales.

Once they understood that it was impossible to gain market share effectively – there was just nowhere to go – we began discussions about other services they could potentially offer to differentiate themselves from their competitors. They determined they could add three or four additional products and services to their mix to revive their business. I really believe that with some time and energy, they will be able to grow their business by concentrating on these additional areas.

Another firm we were assisting was having a tough time staying competitive in the Tallahassee market. The State was spending less and less, which was significantly impacting the firm’s sales. I tried over and over to help this entrepreneur realize that he was swimming upstream and that no amount of hard work would ever change that. I am very concerned about this business as the entrepreneur has yet to recognize that in order to survive, he must change.

Now go out and make sure that you are competing in markets where your business can grow and increase profitability. If your sales – either overall or of a specific product or service – stall for longer than two years, you need to consider how you can expand into other markets. Working harder is not always the answer.

You can do this!