Build a business that is good for you

You’re no doubt aware that marketing is about creating something that people want and convincing them to buy it from you. But in small business, do we take too narrow a view of it?

Consider the ‘official’ definition of marketing as presented by the American Marketing Association: “Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

It’s easy to understand the first part about creating and delivering value to customers. But take a look at the last part of the definition: it also includes doing things in a way that creates value for our partners and society in general.

This is a part of the equation that big businesses forgot over the years, as they selected suppliers based on the lowest possible price, regardless of how those suppliers had to slash their own margins or screw their own employees to do that.

They also closed local factories and went offshore to source ever-cheaper goods, and tried not to think about conditions in those factories. In terms of affordability, this was great for the customer: think about what you pay for clothes and electronic goods compared to 10 or even 20 years ago. But it was not so good for local suppliers, or workers in those factories.

When businesses realized the damage this approach caused to their reputation, they went down the path of corporate social responsibility, investing in ‘good works’ to restore their reputation.

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You can’t do it all

From my NETT blog:

Technology can help you accomplish a wide range of business tasks without needing to engage other people to get them done. But that doesn’t mean that it’s the way you should use it.

In a past life, I worked for the 2000 Sydney Olympics writing speeches for the CEO of the Paralympic Games. Most of the speeches I wrote back then revolved around the same theme: interdependence.

The CEO would often explain to audiences that when you’re a child, you’re dependent upon your parents for all your needs. As you grow up, you learn to take control of your own life and become independent.

Most people believe independence is the end game. However, as the CEO would point out, independence is only a step along the journey of interdependence. Working with other people and developing relationships of mutual co-operation is a higher form of psychological and social development, she would say.

This philosophy was an eye-opener to me at the time. It’s what the idea of community is all about – people working together to enrich their lives and accomplish more than they each could on their own.

Despite this epiphany, when I started my small business several years later, I forgot what she’d taught me. While I engaged contractors to perform some of the work, I focused on doing as much as possible myself – client liaison, project management, invoicing, marketing and sales, even bookkeeping.

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The more things change…

From my NETT blog:

When the iPad was released last year, there was a cacophony of ooohs and aaahs as geeks, early adopters and visionaries welcomed Apple’s shiny new thing. But if you listened carefully, you could also hear sighs and mumbles. That was from the people who were saying under their breath, “Oh s@!?# – another new technology to try and master – I give up!”

As a small business operator, it can be frustrating to try and stay on top of all of the technologies that may or may not be relevant to your business. It’s easy to question the justification for learning new things that may turn out to be a flash in the pan. Why get immersed in Facebook when it might turn out to be the next MySpace? So tablets are buzzing at the moment – didn’t the Palm Pilot have its day in the sun, to end up on a shelf gathering dust next to my Ipaq Pocket PC? Has Twitter peaked? Should I hitch my star to Foursquare, or Facebook Places – or neither? And I just signed up for a long contract with my iPhone 4 – don’t tell me that Android is the next big thing!

No one has a crystal ball that can tell you which technologies and platforms are going to be winners, or how things will evolve in the future.

Classic examples I use with my marketing students include the VHS vs. Beta wars of the 1980s, or the Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD stoush this past decade. Many people – and retailers – who invested in Betamax players and tapes or HD-DVD collections were left with expensive but useless equipment when they lost the marketing battle with their technologically inferior rivals.

It’s an understandable human reaction to say “Enough!” and refuse to adopt a technology until they work out the bugs, or until the winning format becomes clear. When I was a kid, my older brother installed a state-of-the-art 8-track player in his first car. When that technology collapsed soon after, he was so annoyed that he refused to buy a cassette player in case that technology became superceded, too. It did eventually get replaced by CDs, but in the meantime he spent more than 10 years in the music wilderness.

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– Ray Welling

Target those who need you most – NETT blog

Our politicians have shown they could learn a thing or two from small business when it comes to marketing their wares.
You can be the best at something, but if people don’t know about it, that fact won’t get you anywhere.
The federal election brought home for me the importance of positioning and promotion when you’re marketing your business. The shambolic campaign and aftermath showed that you can be running the only western economy to emerge unscathed from the global financial crisis, which should be enough to get you elected a saint, but if you can’t sell your accomplishments – and you let your competitors dictate the agenda – you will be severely spanked.

Policy waffling, backstabbing and leaks didn’t help, but history tells us that Australians give a neophyte government a second chance, even if it’s made mistakes. For the government to have so many runs on the board, the election should have been a walkover. To my mind, Labor’s biggest problems were a lack of firm positioning and an inability to sell itself to its customer base – uh, I mean the electorate.

These principles also apply to running a small business. It’s not enough to be the best-in-class for service, delivery, reliability, range or innovation; if your customers and potential customers don’t know it, you won’t survive.

The first step in this process is positioning. You need to work out what you’re best at; what your salient attribute or point of difference is, and why it’s meaningful to your customers. It’s only worth focusing on a defining attribute if:

Read the rest of Ray’s column here: