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Facebook = Zuckerberg Tycoon

Facebook and those who use it (I’m one of them) remind me of the pseudo SimCity games Roller Coaster Tycoon and Zoo Tycoon that my kids used to play. Both games were a great way for kids to play in a virtual world and learn business management lessons. The game’s player would design a virtual property, a theme park in Roller Coaster Tycoon or a zoo in Zoo Tycoon. The player would need to spend money to build rides or exhibits, in adddition to food vendors, restrooms, gift shops, and more. Employees would need to be hired and assigned to areas to work.

The games included consequences. If no employees were hired to clean animal litter in the zoo, the exhibits would stink and no patrons would visit. If there weren’t enough restrooms, the patrons would be unhappy, would quit spending money, and might leave the park. So it was up to the game’s player to get employees to clean the animal litter, build the bathrooms, keep enough food vendors, and more to keep the customers happy.

There was a flip side too. The game’s player had to observe cash flow. If the player spent all his or her money, then there was nothing in reserve for repairs or unexpected expenses. That could lead to bad outcomes as well. As  a result, the player had to learn to play the game all successful business owners know very well: juggling meeting multiple customer needs with a limited budget. When the player did well, both the roller coaster and the zoo flourished.

That’s the neat, academic analysis of Roller Coaster Tycoon and Zoo Tycoon. Bear in mind that these games get played by ornery kids. Sometimes they make mistakes just to see what will happen. In Zoo Tycoon, if you put predatory animals in the same animal exhibit as small animals, the predators will eat the small ones. Or for more fun, you can fill your zoo with exhibits of animals, get happy patrons, and then remove all the exhibit cages. Then the animals will run amok and patrons will run screaming for their lives. In Roller Coaster Tycoon, you can design a roller coaster that’s so thrill-filled that all its riders throw up during the ride.

And yes, there are children who do all of the above just to see what happens so they can laugh. I could be related to some kids who did this. It’s part of the game.

Translate that to Facebook World. The game has 800 million players and is still growing strong. We are the virtual zoo and roller coaster patrons. We do different things in Facebook World – share pictures, talk with friends, and express ourselves. Some of us play the arcade games like Farmville or Bejeweled. Others shop in the theme park/zoo shops, clicking on the ads on the sides to spend our money.

Some of us, business owners, set up shop in Facebook World, hoping to build our own businesses. The problem with that is it’s Zuckerberg World, where Mark Zuckerberg makes the rules because he is the Creator. He can change the rules or guidelines on a whim, just as my kids could in Zoo Tycoon and Roller Coaster Tycoon. We don’t pay to be there – he pays the bills, he built the game, and he makes the rules. The business rules are called promotional guidelines.

So what’s a business owner to do? Our customers are all playing at Facebook World. We need the face time with them. If we resolve to never set foot in Facebook World, we lose opportunities. If we build our entire business in Facebook World, without other outlets, we place ourselves at the mercy of Zuckerberg. So what we do is create virtual storefronts in the virtual Facebook World – store fronts that offer a window back to our real business. We link blogs and links back to our website. We post great photos, promote special events, and build our communities.

The challenge then becomes maintaining a consistent flow of information on a business Facebook page – content that your customers like and respond to. That can take so much time it’s hard to run your real business.  Some business owners then hire experts (not interns) to help them develop strategies so they can be smart and fun with their Facebook World adventures.

Zoo Tycoon and Roller Coaster Tycoon provided hours of great fun for my kids. Facebook World offers me opportunities to have fun and get to know people better. But never ever forget that we aren’t the creators; we are the players in a virtual world who sometimes have to escape to the real world just like Tron.

And when we do, we may pause if someone asks us if we want the blue Facebook pill, or the red Twitter pill, or whatever new pill colors the Creators develop next.

Get Good Rowers

If you want to succeed in business – or anything else – with a whole lot of trying, you’re going to need to get good rowers.

Your dream – your project – is a boat starting a journey across unknown seas. Carefully choose who rides in your boat. Who do you want?

  • Rowers – people who roll up their sleeves, grab an oar, and get to work.
  • Cheerleading rowers – people who row and encourage the team. Some sing, others joke, and they always inspire others to keep going.
  • Analytical rowers – people who row but also think of ways to make the rowing go more efficiently so you’ll last for the duration.
  • Navigating rowers – people who row and also navigate your position to help you stay focused on your destination so you don’t get off course.

Note who is not on the boat:

  • Photo op rowers – those who show up for the photo op and then jump off your boat to swim towards the next greatest Twitpic.
  • Talking rowers – those who talk more than they row or help anyone else
  • Sinkers – those who envision holes and predict doom and gloom on a regular basis

Sometimes your top rowers will surprise you. Someone you thought would be your top rower never touches an oar and never utters an encouraging word. No harm, no foul. Let them choose other boats. You choose the right rowers and build your team.

You’ll pick the right team so you can reach your dream.


Beware the Send Button

For years, I’ve warned students in email classes to beware the send button. I tell them that if you’re angry, shut down your email. It is much easier to type something in anger and hit send than it is to repair the damage it can cause.

There are times I haven’t followed my own advice.

With the advent of smartphones, that message is even more important. Beware the send button. Don’t get frustrated at someone and quickly bang out a message. You don’t know where or when the receiver will read it and what their frame of mind will be.

Last night, I made the mistake of checking email after an 11 hour marathon family day and time on the road. There was the message from a friend, typed in frustration, on a so-called smartphone. Exhausted and tired is not a constructive frame of reference to read “those” emails.

It also applies to text. Once, a friend of mine asked a plumber for help. Afterwards, he accidently texted her instead of someone else and called her a “stupid b*tch.” Guess who hired a new plumber after the fact.

Bottom line: just because a phone is smart doesn’t mean everything you do with it is smart too. Beware the send button. If you’re mad, turn off the phone and wait till you cool down.

You never know the damage you can do or the feelings you can hurt with that simple word, “send.”

My resolution after last night is to do a better job of monitoring my own sends. What do you do to avoid sending the toxic text or irate email when you’re angry?

I Invite, 6 Platforms

Imagine you’re inviting people to a big party at your office. How will you reach them? Each communications platform has its own style. Smart business communicators use each correctly.

Text: <3 our kewl partay next week! Be there!!!!!

Email: Our office is holding its annual customer appreciation day next Thursday from 1-5. We hope you will join us.

Blog: Blog on how much customers are valued with a graphic that shows the theme. It might include an Eventbrite for reservations, or it might just be an open invite.

Facebook: 5 days till the customer appreciation party – just bought the decorations. Hope to see you there! (attached to a link on the blog about the party)

LinkedIn: Please join us next week for our annual customer appreciation party. (attached to a link on the blog about the party)

Twitter:  We love our customers! Join us next week! (shortened link to blog attached)

Business professionals need to know the vernacular of each communications platform and use it. When I text, don’t expect me to ever type “kewl” or “partay.” On the other hand, I might reply back with a “k.”

I am over 40. When you send me an email, I expect it to include complete sentences, with appropriate capitalization and punctuation.

When I get an email that is phrased like a text, unless it is from a digital native under the age of 20, I am offended and question the sender’s professionalism. “Kewl Partay!” comes across as effectively as showing up for work, dressed in a bathrobe, going commando, wearing no pants, with varicose veins popping all over the place. As I read such messages I cringe just like I do when someone talks to me who has bad breathe.

Know each platform. You can follow its standards and maintain your own voice. At the same time, remember that the voice we use in the board meeting has a different inflection than the one Ma Kettle used when she clanged her triangle and hollered for her kids to come in for dinner.

And the person who wears a tux and tails to the beach party is going to look like an overstuffed lobster ready to be baked.

When you use the wrong form, people notice your bad form and miss your message.

Are Your Clients Your FB Friends?

When I taught a full house class of business owners on social media for businesses, I was surprised when I asked the question, “Are your biggest clients your Facebook friends?”

None in the class said yes. Their vision of Facebook for business was entirely wrapped up in the business page.

Why should most of us friend our clients?

  1. Stronger communication
  2. Better relationships
  3. An additional opportunity to better understand each other
  4. More visibility

Friending clients also means we need to learn to use Facebook well and to communicate with it, not sell. (By the way – I can help you with that and personally coach clients to better communicate socially.)

Friending clients also means communicating with them across other social platforms – Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google Plus. Each has a little different style and purpose. Here’s how each platform works for me with business networking:

  • Facebook – nurture and build relationships with friends and those who could be friends
  • Twitter – talk about stuff that interests me and meet new people all over the planet
  • LinkedIn – meet professionals and brand myself with my blogs on business topics.
  • Google Plus – a hybrid of all of the above where I increase visibility with more tech-oriented people.

As my relationship with someone grows, we might increase the different places we talk online. What begins with Twitter or Google Plus could venture to LinkedIn.

It’s like business networking in real life. I meet someone at a networking group on Thursday and then discover that we’re both also involved in a community event. Then we meet in a different venue. Over time, we build a relationship.

Better relationships provide more opportunities for business.

That’s why business owners should friend their clients and prospective clients on Facebook.

Top 5 Words Needed in Online Marketing

If you interview a web designer or social media strategist to help develop your business’s online marketing strategy, ask them about 5 words: enjoy, search, mobilize, share and measure. If they scoff at any of them, run the other direction as quickly as you can.

What are they?

  • Enjoy. Fun content is read, revisited, and shared. That counts for websites, Facebook business pages, Tweets, blogs, videos, and more. If your content creators aren’t having fun on the job, their products will be boring, nonsharable, and the biggest thing they will impact is your budget on what you paid for overpriced and underutilized marketing. Your content should be fun and updated early and often with even more fun stuff. Enjoying of course also includes engaging.
  • Search. It will not matter how great your website or blog looks if no one can find it. The purpose of a business website is to grow visibility to boost sales which means people need to find you. That’s why businesses on major highways get more traffic than those who are on one-way gravel roads by the county dump. Good SEO wins search.
  • Mobilize. Everything you post on the web should be mobile. Apps can be a great back door to reach your customers if you can provide valuable content or promotions.
  • Share. When you post great stuff – on social media, your blog, your website – the hope is your friends and customers will share it. Modern customers prefer referrals from people they trust. Make your information shareable across social media platforms – not just the Facebook like.
  • Measure. Clicks, shares, likes, and more can be measured. Repeat: Social engagement CAN be measured. Evaluate what times and campaigns are most effective. Are your customers telling you which products or services most interest them? Listen to them.

If your online marketing strategists or designers can’t discuss how they implement all of the above, run, don’t walk in the other direction.

Your website or Facebook wall may be the best designed of the year. It could be gorgeous. But if these 5 areas aren’t addressed, your gorgeous website might as well be a pretty post card you send to the customers you don’t have with a single message:

Wish you were here.


6 Keys To Managing Freebie Requests

“Can you donate your services for free?” is a question with which every business owner wrestles.

Volunteerism is so close to my heart that last year my husband told me to focus my fundraising efforts on the Biever Family College Fund. Even so, my volunteer hours this year will far exceed 100. 

The first promise of a request is always: if you give your services for free, you’ll gain visibility in new markets. That’s great when you begin. It gives experience along with that visibility.  What happens after you have visibility and have a full roster of paying clients?

Manage Your Freebies – don’t let them manage you.

  1. Target Your Donations: Select one or two organizations you wish to help and funnel your energies to them.
  2. Budget Your Donations: At the beginning of the year, budget how many free hours you can afford to donate, schedule them, and hold to it. If others ask for free services, explain that you’ve already maxed your nonprofit donations for the year.
  3. Evaluate the Request: In the last two years, my volunteering has gained me 3 paying clients.  If the person who is requesting help gives you warm referrals, helps you in other ways, or generates business for you, consider the request carefully.
  4. Make a Strategic Donation: Talk with your accountant; if you donate your fee back to a 501(c)(3), can it be a tax deduction for you? If you’re asked to speak, can you offer back of room sales of a product that can generate income? Can you offer a door prize or giveaway if people sign up for your contact lists so you can contact them later? Can you discount your rate?
  5. Value your work: If you don’t value your work and what you can provide, no one else will. One of my clients told someone who asked her to speak for free, “I don’t work for coffee cups. When you ask me to speak, I plan my talk, pack my supplies, travel, spend my time with you, answer questions afterwards, travel again, and unpack. What I’m charging you is a bargain for the number of hours involved.” 
  6. “Profit” is not a 4-letter word. Neither is “no.” It’s ok to decline a request.

There are other ways to promote worthy causes besides donating your services.  Promote the organization’s events and services to your friends and family. If you believe strongly in their cause, pencil them in for next year’s budgeted donations.


6 Keys to Corporate Training Success

For the past 15 years, I’ve worked as a computer trainer, helping businesses in the Evansville, Indiana and Henderson, Kentucky area make the best use of their software. Sometimes, I’ve been part of a team training thousands of corporate employees on new computer systems. Other times, I’ve worked with solo business owners and others. My job is to best connect with each class, to lower their walls of resistance to training, and to help them succeed.

The following keys help a successful class for clients from the small office to the large corporation.

  • Questions: Class begins the moment I start talking. I always begin with icebreaker questions to get to know my audience better. Each class has its own personality and needs. When I start with questions and give instant, encouraging feedback, I set the tone that we’re working as a team.
  • Learning Styles: People learn visually, by hearing, or hands on. I offer solutions for each learning style. Students who tune me out to work through the book on their own may be visual learners who know what they need to succeed. Some may rarely if ever open the book and listen. Others will mix and need hands-on practice.
  • Learning Motivations: I need to explain why something is important to learn before and after introducing new material. Some students will pay closer attention to a new concept if they know in advance how it will help them.  Others get their “aha” moment after material is covered.
  • Start Small: When children learn to read, we often begin with nursery rhymes or simple books. We don’t pull out a copy of War and Peace and explain to kindergarteners that they must learn to read so the too can savor the joys of Russian literature. We start with basics and build upon them. It’s easy to err on the side of big picture and spend so much time talking big picture that we lose a class before we’ve started teaching them the alphabet.
  • Practical Examples: The more practical examples I can provide, the more a class will pay attention.
  • Repetition: The ancient Romans said “repetition is the mother of learning.” We often need to practice a new skill several times before we can implement it. That’s why sports teams practice regularly before the big game.

These 6 keys can help more than just a corporate trainer. Our family’s business  provides digital graphics for marketing campaigns for Fortune 500 companies across the United States. I help businesses (small to large) learn how to market themselves in our new economy.

Anyone who works with sales or customer service can benefit from these 6 keys, whether they serve residential customers or large corporate clients.


White Knuckle Business Rafting

'White Water Rafting (on The Nile)' photo (c) 2007, Pete Bellis - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/White Water Rafting requires skill, strength, teamwork and timing. Those who learn to manage the dips and falls build their skills and strength.

In a rocky economy, running your own business can feel the same. Up go the unemployment numbers and down goes the Dow – we sometimes feel like all we can do is hold on and hope we land upright at the bottom of the falls.

As we run our business – 11 years old and still going strong – we’ve gotten better results when we pay less attention to the national media doom reports and more attention to our customer base. What can we do to make their lives easier, to decrease their stress and provide the best high end graphics possible on the market today? The more we focus on our customers, and on improving the quality of our product, the better business becomes.

Yes, there are hard times. Yes, sometimes the waves splash in the raft, we grab the paddle and are not sure what’s going to happen next. If we don’t dodge the next rock, bad things could happen.

The best part? People pay hundreds of dollars for the thrill of a white water rafting trip. We not only get it for free but turn a profit living the same adventure, running our family business. Our adventure isn’t for those who seek the security of a paddle boat in the middle of a pond. It’s for those who want to test their limits and grab the next big adventure.

Bottom line? Keep your focus on the water you’re in and where your raft is in it. Don’t get so distracted by bad economic news.

It could be because Indiana is in a better financial position than several states, or that Evansville’s German heritage is such that people are frugal. In any case, I know businesses who are hiring. That means they have enough business to need more help to deliver their product.

And that is a good thing, regardless of the doom of the evening news.

6 Opportunities for Young Adults in a Tough Economy

'Graduation' photo (c) 2007, Andrew Schwegler - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Our tough economy does have opportunities for young people just graduating or seeking that first real job.

How do I know? I was twenty-something during the last bad economy. My friends and I struggled to find our way, sometimes to find ANY job, let alone THE job for which we had trained or hoped to get. Our struggles when we were young prepared us for future business successes.

  1. Stretch dollars. As you learn to cut costs in real life and on the job, you develop skills for a lifetime. I have been on my own since I was 18 years old and don’t regret my early struggles – not even the months I couch-surfed with friends or the times when I completely ran out of food the day before payday.
  2. Work harder. Even in a tough economy, I see young people who don’t put their all into the jobs they have. They don’t worry about the profit of their employers. I know business owners who would love to hire people right now: prerequisite – willingness to work hard and well on the job. If you become known as a hard worker, opportunities will present themselves.
  3. Improve customer service. Providing the best customer service ever is going to mark the winners from losers in our new economy. Be the front line worker who goes above and beyond for every customer. If your employer doesn’t notice it, someone else might. Even if they don’t, you’re developing skills for a lifetime.
  4. Take unexpected paths. So the dream job isn’t there. What jobs are? What can you do to build that job into your dream job? What skills can you learn to prepare yourself when the dream job opportunities appear? Where do you need to be – physically, mentally, and emotionally – so you are in place when the dream opportunity happens?
  5. Learn from every opportunity. I learned my first customer service lessons on a paper route when I was 10 years old. No matter what the job I held – cashier, waitress, secretary, sales clerk, teacher, or analyst – I learned from them all and draw on those lessons daily.
  6. Think success. Surround yourself with highly motivated friends willing to work hard and do well. The more time you spend with people working to gain their dreams, the more likely you are to achieve your own. 

Just remember most business opportunities are born from an idea, are wrapped with sweat, and tied with elbow grease.


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