I just read American Express’s Small Business Saturday Event Spurs Backlash on WSJ.com. It’s sad but not surprising to see what seemed like a wildly successful small business promotion turn sour like this. Putting big companies together with small business and development organizations is tough. Compatible goals are a frequent problem.
Here’s a quick summary:
Now, some small-shop owners including California’s Ms. Blanchard are boycotting the Saturday event. “The reason I’m not participating is because it’s not affiliated with the 3/50 Project,” Ms. Blanchard says. For American Express, “it’s a monetary boon if they can get more people to use the card,” she adds. “But there’s been no reciprocal kindness back to the merchants. The 3/50 Project looks out for the interests of the merchants.”
I think it’s a built-in problem. Is Amex’ marketing program compatible with the development organization’s socioeconomic goals? Does a big company spend money altruistically without getting marketing benefits from it?
The WSJ article refers to a blog post by Cinda Baxter, organizer of the 3/50 movement that was designed to boost sales for small businesses, explaining why she cut ties with Amex.
From what I can read in Cinda’s blog post. Cinda was promised something by AMEX, during phone discussions and meetings. But as I’ve learned through many great relationships with big companies talking on the phone is GREAT. But until a contract is signed or something is in writing – talk means nothing. I think Cinda’s mistake was not presenting a formal proposal to AMEX and getting their written approval. That’s what I would have done. Small businesses (as I and Cinda are) might get very excited hearing from a ‘big company’ that they’ll do x, y, z. But keep in mind a ‘big company’ is made up of many teams of people and bosses. Hence once the ‘talking’ is over, it’s time to put ink on paper or words in an email. That’s the ONLY way to really know that the talk (intention) is action.
I get that completely. I’ve been exactly there, where Ramon suggests. I’ve made that mistake too. Sad, but it happens. Actually, I’d go simpler than a contract, just a letter would be enough. But something in writing.
Think of the quick comedy scene where a guy steps on a rake and bonks himself in the face with a handle. Got it? Now ask yourself whether or not you’re bonking yourself with the tech tools in your own business.
For example, do you switch your to-do list software instead of working the list? I do it too. Instead of solving our real problem, which is time management and prioritizing tasks, we get halfway there and change tools.
I’ve done it for decades now. I jump from browser to browser, then fuss with the add-ons. I change my email client software, and re-do the folder instead of answering emails. I go from one blogging solution to another. I change the photo organization software instead of organizing my photos. I’ve even changed the word processing software I was using to fool myself into believing I’d get more done with the new one.
Do you do it? I see it all the time with other people. We’re lying to ourselves, playing with new toys instead of bearing down and making our own systems work. The real problem is discipline and consistency, and instead of solving that, we do just the opposite. We change the tools.
I’ve been a regular reader and fan of Ramon Ray’s Small Business Technology blog for several years now. I’ve watched how it’s grown in readership, coverage, and prestige. And I’m very happy to join up with Ramon next Thursday March 31 to present the free webinar shown here, Dumb Ways Smart Entrepreneurs Fail in Using Technology. Please click the picture to go to the site and register. I’d like you to join us.
Last night I was halfway through a draft post patting myself on the back, illustrated with champagne glasses, when my youngest daughter, Megan, called from San Francisco, where she lives now. That’s @MeganBerry to you, blogger and social media expert, marketing manager of Klout.com. So I asked her this: “What do I do with my 1,000th post?”
“Do something that matters,” Megan answered. “Do something special.” She talked about favorites, lessons, advice, and reflections.
So, about 12 hours later, this is it, number 1,000. Gulp.
I started in 2006, but did only a dozen posts in the first year. I really started in April 2007, with reflections on family business, a personal note about passing the torch to a second generation. I changed jobs then – my choice – from owner-entrepreneur-president to blogger president of Palo Alto Software.
My personal favorite posts are on the sidebar here to the right. My favorite search is the one for fundamentals, particularly the series of 5 posts on planning fundamentals. My favorite categories come straight from the blog title: planning, startups, and stories: that’s specifically the categories planning fundamentals, true stories, and starting a business. And I also really like advice, reflections, and business mistakes. But I like most of my posts here. You kind of have to, to keep doing it.
Here are 10 blogging lessons I’ve learned:
Imitation isn’t just flattery, it’s learning. When I said I wasn’t a blogger, Sabrina Parsons said “you will be. Just start reading blogs.” So I did. And I imitate a lot of other bloggers I like to read. So many that I can’t name them all here; but my thanks to Guy, John, Pam, Anita, Ann, Steve, Seth, Matthew, Ramon, and so many others. Every blog on my blogroll here to the right.
Titles make a huge difference. That’s not just blogging. It’s been true for a long time. My daughter Andrea Breanna, CTO at Huffington Post, teamed up with his younger sister Megan to teach me titles. And Ironically, what they taught me was a lot of what I learned at UPI plus the power of questions, and lists of 5 and 10.
Short and simple: short sentences, short posts. Short thoughts? I like one-word sentences, and one-sentence paragraphs. And short posts, in theory: despite how much I admire Seth Godin’s short posts, I try, and usually fail.
Break grammar rules. Carefully. Rarely. Like right here. There’s no verb in either of the previous two sentences, so this post would have gotten me an F in Brother Salvatore’s 12th grade English class. 30-some years later, I’m glad he gave me that F on a 10-page paper for using “it’s” instead of “its” once. That lesson was worth it. But jeez!
Pictures add meaning. Thanks to John Jantsch for that one. And to Shutterstock for supplying me with the bulk of the pictures I’ve used on this blog for the last year. And don’t ask me to explain the illustration on this one. I didn’t want champagne glasses or cakes and candles.
Write Often, and keep writing. Find your pace. Honor consistency. Once a month doesn’t feel like a blog, but three good posts weekly is better than two good and three not so good. Break your routine occasionally for mental health. I write a lot and like it. I’ve done 1,000 posts here in three years. Plus 700 on Up and Running, and another 200 or so on Small Business Trends, Huffington Post, Amex Open, Industry Word, and Planning Demystified. Plus some guest posts on others. It’s easier to maintain momentum than overcome inertia.
Love the comments. Thank you. Not you spammers. But even you critics with annoying comments. Especially you critics with smart well written disagreements. Not the dumb generic praise intended only for your own SEO benefit, which I delete. But I love the comments, they make it live.
Love Twitter. Twitter has done wonders for my blogging, my daily work flow, and my growing satisfaction with web 2.0 or social media or whatever you call it. If you don’t get twitter, it’s not clutter, it’s not what they had for lunch, it’s blog posts and links and what’s going on in the world, as shared by people you like, now. My 18-point Twitter Primer feels as valid today as when I posted it.
Tell the damn truth. You can’t fake it for long. Keeping track of all your various personae is exhausting. Write as yourself, or maybe (just maybe) who you really want to be. I know this is a lame old quote, but I heard it first from Chris Guilleabeau and I like it: “I have to be myself. All the other people are already taken.”
Tell don’t sell. Lots of us blog for business. Much as I sincerely love the books and software I’ve done, I don’t blog about them here. Sure, the sidebar sells, I hope, but my posts don’t.
Here’s advice, in honor of this being post number 1,000:
Anything anybody can believe is an image of truth (paraphrasing William Blake).
Time is the scarcest resource. Time, not money.
Your relationships with the people you love are WAY more important than proving that you were right.