All the best "Seeds of Growth"

All the best "Seeds of Growth", principles that grow business, gathered from our own articles and from around the web. Just add water, plant properly, and grow your business.

How will you be viewed?






I love optical illusions. It is fascinating how our minds can be tricked. The good folks at grand-illusions have a dragon illusion that you can download and build yourself. Here is a video showing the illusion in more detail.

This seems to be another example of the brain assigning a symbol to something (see earlier post) to make processing lots of information quicker. In this case, it seems the brain "knows" that if a dragon is looking at us that its nose would be closer to us than its eyes. It is called the "Hollow Face Illusion".

Just as our brain can interpret what we see as two completely different views, it appears it does the same thing with people. For example, let's say you are looking at a playground and you see a child climbing up a slide. You also see an adult in the shadows hiding behind a nearby tree peeking out and watching the child.

If you don't know this adult chances are you will remember being taught "stranger danger!" and you will immediately become suspicious that this might be a predator. However, if you knew this adult you would assume that they are playing hide-and-seek. Two completely different conclusions from the same situation. Obviously, previous experience colors our perception.

Inevitably you, or someone in your company, will make a mistake. At that point your customer's view of you will determine the conclusion they draw. If you are a stranger they may view the mistake as a callous disregard for customers from a company that only cares about its profits. However, if they have had several good experiences with your company they will be more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt.

If your customers only hear from you when you are selling something you are missing out on a chance to build trust and change from being a stranger to a friend. Why not send a non-salesy greeting to them on their birthday, let them get to know you, it is good insurance for future mishaps and it is what friends do.

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The Original "Long Tail" Entrepreneur

The Original "Long Tail" Entrepreneur

Chris Anderson's recent book, The Long Tail, has gotten a lot of press over the last few months. His main premise is that with modern technology it is now financially feasible, and even rewarding, to focus not on the center of the bell curve by offering a general product that will appeal to the largest group, but to focus on the many well-defined, micro markets that exist in the "tail" of the curve with specialized niche products. The purpose of this post is not to agree or disagree with Chris's book--others are already doing that. This post is about the original "long tail" entrepreneur: Eli Whitney and what we can learn from him.

Eli didn't want to be in the long tail of the curve, but he lived there along with all the rest of the world in the late 1700's. Everything was one-of-a-kind and custom made. Eli's dream was to go up the curve into the center of the bell by creating a system that could produce identical, interchangeable parts. Because we take that capability for granted now, it's difficult to comprehend what a significant thing it was.

One of Eli's greatest moments came in 1801 when he went to the new capital, Washington D.C., and demonstrated the power of interchangeability for several dignitaries including President-elect Thomas Jefferson. The demonstration? Eli disassembled several firing mechanisms and mixed the parts, then he had those attending choose a part from each pile and he put together a musket with the parts they picked. The fact each part was identical and not custom fit was amazing to those in attendance. Several federal and state contracts followed.

The impact that Eli's interchangeability invention, or the "American System of Production" as it came to be known, had on the course of history would be hard to overstate. It wasn't Eli's first "history-changing" invention either. He is best known for inventing the cotton gin. In the years following the revolutionary war the south had no cash crop and thus no economy. While staying at the plantation of a friend, Catherine Greene (widow of Nathanael Greene, General in the Revolutionary War), Eli met many locals who lamented the need for a machine that could remove seeds from the cotton.

By early 1793 Eli had a working model that was simply described as "wire teeth which worked thro' slats and a brush." The result: southern cotton production went from nearly nothing to 200 million pounds a year by the time Eli died in 1825.

George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." With that in mind, here are a few learnings from the life of Eli Whitney, the entrepreneur:

  1. Eli seemed to have a knack for staying in touch with the market and delivering what it wanted. As a fourteen year old during the revolution he talked his dad into installing a forge at the family farm. Then he made nails and knife blades (sold enough to have to hire a worker). When the war ended and English nails became available at prices he couldn't compete with Eli quickly shifted production to hat pins and walking sticks. He was only eighteen at the time. He did the same thing later in life when he shifted from the production of gins to the production of fire arms.

  2. He understood the importance of connections. At the age of twenty-three he decided to go to Yale--not because he wanted to go into law or theology which were the main courses of study at the time, but because he wanted to "become a gentleman, accepted by other gentlemen." The connections he made at Yale served him well throughout his entrepreneurial career. It was Oliver Wolcott, a Yale alumnus and Secretary of the Treasury, that helped Eli get his first contract with the government to put his interchangeability ideas to the test making firearms.

  3. He failed. Eli made very little off his cotton gin invention even though he secured a patent on it. He spent a lot of time in court rooms trying to enforce that patent, but in the end he had very little to show for it. At one point he wrote to a friend, "Bankruptcy & ruin were staring me in the face & disappointment trip'd me up every step I attempted to take. I was miserable...loaded with a debt of 3 or 4,000 dollars, without resources and without any business that would ever furnish me a support."

  4. He learned and succeeded. At about that time things were heating up in Europe and the Federal government was looking to become self-sufficient in arms production. With his knack for delivering what the market needed, and his connections, Eli got a contract to supply 10,000 muskets to the government in 28 months and got an advance of $5,000 to get things started. Having learned from his cotton gin experience that patents guaranteed nothing, he determined the road to success lay in producing more, at a faster rate and better price than any competitor could. So he set out to create a factory that could produce interchangeable parts. Success wasn't immediate. It took him 8 to 10 years to produce all 10,000 muskets but in the process he invented the milling machine. in 1811 he got another order for 15,000 muskets and produced them all in 2 years.

To learn more about Eli Whitney check out the Eli Whitney Museum I also like the book American Made by Harold C. Livesay.

Customers who feel that you are listening to them are more likely to recommend you to a friend. How do your customers know that you are listening? Learn more

How does this work?

How does this work?

Imagine that your local grocery store just implemented some new policies. Here they are:

  • We don't want just anyone coming into our store so we are going to make all of our customers get a photo ID and we are going to check it at the door on the way in. Oh yea, and we are going to charge them $50+/year for it.
  • We are no longer going to be stocking every item. We are just going to stock whatever we want and can get a good deal on. People will have to come in and see what we have.
  • We have too many payment options. We are only going to accept American Express, our own credit card of course, and a PIN based debit card. No Visa, Mastercard or Discover card.
  • We are no longer going to give bags to our customers, in fact, we are not even going to have bags at all. We'll just use old boxes stuff came in, if we run out too bad we'll just put the groceries in their cart. Oh and we are not going to help anyone to their car, they can do it themselves.
  • We are concerned that even though we have IDs of our customers, we think they are ripping us off. So we will frisk them on the way out of the store and make sure things in their cart are on their receipt.

What do you think would happen to your local grocery store if they implemented these?

It is amazing that those policies loosely describe a very successful company that has very loyal customers, Costco.

Why does this work? Why do people do it? Is it the allure of being part of a club? Is it that it is an adventure to find out what is there and then be able to tell others about it? Is it that people like to tell others how much they saved? When I talk to people about Costco they often bring up the great food on the way out, the low gas prices, and the deal they recently found. They also always say they are saving money. A quick google search will reveal the arguable nature of that. But whether they save or not is not the point. They believe they are. Costco does that right.

I think they might qualify as one of Seth's "purple cows". They always have "deals", if you want something for less, look at costco. They don't pretend to be anything more and their customers like it that way. They know what their customers like and they give it to them. Not all people will like how they do it, but those are not the people they are after. The store is remarkable to its customers and they are always "remarking" to their friends about the deals they found. Those comments bring in other like minded folks and their business prospers.

Who are your loyal customers? What do they really like about your company and are willing to talk about? Are you trying to be all things to all people and end up not being remarkable? Discover what makes you remarkable and makes your customers talkative. It will lead to ideas on how to grow your company with a happy talkative customer base.

Get customer feedback, generate referrals, and increase repeat sales for as little as $150 a month. Learn more

It's not easy not liking tomatoes

It's not easy not liking tomatoes

For those few of you out there that don't like tomatoes you know what I'm talking about. "Why don't you try this fresh one from the garden? They are so good!" But the result is always the same, once the slimy seedy acidy insides hit my mouth its over.

I know all the arguments for liking tomatoes..."How can you like salsa, ketchup and spaghetti sauce and not tomatoes?" Sorry, they taste different.

Put yourself in my place. Everytime you order a burger you have to special order, and half the time they blow the order so you are picking off the tomato yourself. Like that's easy...the carcass comes off pretty well but the seedy sludge left over reminds me of trying to wipe up...well, it is too gross to specify. (Let just say it happens when kids have eaten then you drive through a winding canyon.)

Ever try to get a salad without tomatoes? There is no pulling those out, the tomato fluids are lost in the forest of lettuce, just waiting to get you.

I would like to love tomatoes, I have tried, honestly. I would love to have a life where I enjoy them. But I don't. No one seems to accept that. There is always a bit of judgment as you tell them you would not care for tomatoes.

I heard once that they were a member of the nightshade family. A very deadly plant. Ever wonder who tried those first? "Hey, Eb, give these a try..."

My favorite places to eat are those that are happy with a "special order" or the ones where you have to pay extra for tomatoes (why should I pay the tax for others tomatoes?).

OK, this is going somewhere. The point is we all have different tastes and preferences. And no matter how much we educate or communicate, those tastes and preferences remain. And trying to change them is like trying to teach a pig to sing, it wastes your time and annoys the pig.

Think about your business. Do you have customers that prefer things a little different than the rest? Do you have policies or people that just refuse to change.? This is a great chance to give them a bit of your own "secret sauce" where you show them you take care of the customer. Sometimes things shouldn't be changed for the special case, but if your competitor will change for them you know where your customer will be.

You work hard to make sure your customers are happy. Don't waste happy customers. How easy is it for your customers to share with their friends? Learn more

Would you recommend Cingular?

Would you recommend Cingular?

Yesterday my bill from Cingular arrived. Two months earlier I had added my daughters phone to our family plan. For the first month a new phone gets free, unlimited text messaging which allows you to figure out which messaging plan to sign up for. Let me tell you that teenage girls text a lot!

After the first month I got on Cingular's web site, logged into my account, and changed her texting plan to allow MANY text messages, 3000. Turns out that's just enough. But, when the phone bill arrived yesterday it showed that I didn't change the plan so the text portion of my daughter's phone bill was $170. If you're wondering, that represents 2700 text messages in one month (busy fingers).

I called Cingular, 611 on my cell phone. I explained to the customer service rep how I got on the web site and made a change to my plan to accommodate my new rapid texter. She checked the records and found out that I made a change to the account but that I ended up with the same plan. To me that means "no change" but they have record that I did something that day. She said she would refund half of the $170, not because she had to but to show good faith. "I don't have to do this sir". She didn't believe that I made the change. By-the-way, if you didn't already know, Cingular has a website that frequently has problems. Well, at least that's been my experience over the past 1 1/2 years.

While having this discussion with the customer service rep my Cingular call just dropped. It makes a sound when that happens, "da-da-da-da-daaa".

I called right back, got a different rep, and told my story again. She listened. She checked and found out that I had the same plan before and after the "change". Then she said "I'm making changes to your account sir, I'm post dating your text package to the date you tried to make this change". Then she took care of the overage and other assorted things she needed to do to get it to all work out so that my bill would be correct.

THANK YOU!!!

Cingular is an immense company. I won't argue that Cingular is a good wireless provider or not. Mostly it's worked well for me but a bad experience with them and I would be pushed to change providers, it's hard to have a lot of loyalty to a mega-company. It's hard unless they deal with you correctly in all circumstances The experience with the first rep wasn't good, it was exactly what I had feared would happen. That coupled with the extra $170 and other fruity action from their web site and I had plenty of reason to leave Cingular's service. Had this story ended there I'd be with another wireless company right now. But, one customer service rep made all the difference for me. She made it all right, over the top of the first one and other bad experiences I've had with the company. A huge company and one person in it makes the difference. A remarkable person.

I don't talk about my cell phone company unless something gives me reason to, whether it's good or bad. It's good this time and I'm telling others. I'm using a megaphone (this blog) to do it. If Cingular were my company... I'd be rich! No, no, no. If Cingular were my company... I'd find out who my happy customers are and give them a megaphone to tell their friends about how great a company I have.

If you have a company you should do the same with your happy customers. Find out who they are and give them a megaphone to tell their friends about what a great product or service you have. You can do it and you should do it. If you need help with the finding and the megaphone you can get it here.

If you are not regularly staying in touch with your customers someone else will. How do you stay in touch? Learn more

Seeds from the blogworld
We search the business blog world looking for posts that illustrate principles, or "Seeds", that if followed, or "planted", will help small businesses grow. We list them here for your convenience. Enjoy.

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