Apr 10

My wife bought a new Dyson vacuum to replace our 10-year old Hoover which was no longer cutting it.

Dyson’s strategy: Make the product look cool (so it doesn’t “domesticate”) and show all of the dirt the vacuum cleans up. The result: You feel cool vacuuming and you see it working right before your eyes.

I couldn’t help but make the correlation with selling services, whether it’s consulting, branding or web design. Show the prospect your super-cool process (Dyson’s cool design, the engineering). Then show them as much visually as possible (Dyson’s see through “results chamber,” where the dirt goes).

Too often (maybe I’m just speaking for Merge) we are selling concepts and what could be, but we try to paint the picture using words. Instead, use as many images as possible so the prospect can see the vision instead of trying to “get” the vision.

PS, by the way, I’m still learning. I realized after I wrote this blog, that maybe I should show a Dyson? Brother. By the way, my wife recommends Dyson.

Mar 18

These days I find myself in a fair amount of meetings. It seems like relatively common sense on how meetings should be run, but I’m amazed at the inefficiency of how most meetings are conducted.

Some simple guidelines to making meetings more effective and participants happier:

-Confirm the meeting time, date and location the day before the meeting. In the days of electronic calendars, smartphones and PDAs, we still need simple reminders. There’s nothing that makes the effectiveness of a meeting worse than a key participant not showing up.

-Start on time. No exceptions. Just start. Sooner or later the participants will get the message that they have to be on time for future meetings.

-Communicate the meeting’s objective. “This is what we need to accomplish with this meeting.”

-Agenda. List the items that need to be discussed. This keeps meetings from getting off topic (and becoming ineffective).

-Allocate time so you can end on time. Let participants know from the beginning that the meeting will start at 9 and end at 10. But make sure you allocate time per agenda item so that you can end the meeting on time. If you spend 10 minutes on 8 items, then you obviously won’t make the hour timeline.

If you do these five simple tasks, you’ll be a meeting-running-super-star.

**Update, just saw this post from 37Signals / Ricardo Selma book, and noted that we had almost the identical points. Ricardo puts it in slightly different terms-good stuff.

Mar 16

Great post on the emotional roller coaster ride of the entrepreneur.

I’ve been at it more than six years now. Sales ebb and flow. I ebb and flow. Things are good and things are tough. I’m tired or I have a lot of energy. I’m excited; I am bored. I have vision or I can see nothing.

Ah, the life of the entrepreneur is a volatile roller coaster ride. Cheers!

Mar 14

Ok, so it took me about 7 months to read the behemoth 1959 Ayn Rand classic, Atlas Shrugged, but it is finished.

A blog about the 1,200 page Atlas Shrugged won’t do it justice (see the cliff notes, but even these are long). I do know many-an-entrepreneur have attributed their theory, outlook and success to the book. For me, it has definitely shaped and helped redefine values I have for business. The book is primarily about unabashedly being proud of running a business and contributing to society. The struggle in the antagonist(s) in the book have the theory that corporations have a civic duty to support the general public. The antagonists (government and lobbyists) are referred to as the “looters” in the book. The argument is that without businesses, without the talent of business owners of the private sector, what would the public be without them? They, in fact, do support the general public in the fact that they exist and provide value to society. The looters in contrast, want something for nothing, they expect these business owners to continue to produce, even though they tax them to the hilt, put on unnecessary restrictions to make it difficult.

The looters find out the true value of the private sector, when one by one, they withdraw themselves from society. They soon realize they need the very people they persecuted for the “good of the people.” As the nation crumbles and riots, the looters realized they themselves are the enemy.

Overall, I think it’s a great book and a must read for any business owner. Sure, the political implications are put on pretty thick, and can be very eye-opening depending on what side of the fence you’re on. But I recommend it nonetheless.

Feb 26

Can you name the biggest thing you’re planning on changing this year?

What’s your BHAG (big hairy audacious goal)? What have you decided to go after, to stake claim, to make yours?

What is that big thing?

Why haven’t you done it yet?

Feb 25

Evan Williams, the founder of Blogger and the ever popular Twitter (which, if I’m honest, don’t get), has a “classic” post on the ten rules for a web startup.

My top 3 from his top 10:

1. Be Narrow. Focus. Period. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Merge probably is still too broad in our scope of services. But where we are narrow is that “we do all things web.” We could do I.T., print, photography and video if we wanted to (our clients would pay us to do such.) But we can only do so much and do it well. As such, we’re sticking to just web.

2. Be Different. If you’re not different, then you haven’t differentiated. From our roots, Merge has focused on business strategy and results. Today, that’s cliché and it’s not so different, but it’s truly what we focus on. We’ve seen most firms focus on design or technology, but we focus on results. If we can’t get results, then we need to get out of the business. Like #1 above, we could probably differentiate even more along these lines, and will plan to do so as we hone our services.

3. Be Picky. I like this one. We don’t take any client that comes along and we don’t hire just anybody. My philosophy is that life is too short, and when you’re at work about 2/3 of your waking life, then don’t you want to work with people you like? At Merge, we’re picky. We really like our clients and we really like our employees. If an employee or a client becomes unbearably unfriendly, well, we get picky.

Read the other 7 reasons and even if you don’t have a web startup, I think you’ll see that it still applies to what you’re doing.

Feb 20

The web, or New Media, has been mainstream for a solid ten years now. We’re still calling it new. Probably because “new” is sexy and it makes it easier for marketers to peddle. You know, Web 2.0 = new. Web 3.0 is now being thrown around. Sigh.

There’s no doubt, the web is changing quickly and its changing the business landscape even faster. At Merge, we’ve been seeing a paradigm shift over the last 18 months. Business owners used to think of their web site as “just a web site.” A mere novelty; a necessary evil at best.

Now, companies are getting serious. It’s passe to say the web is here to stay. We all know that, and we know it’s also more than that. It’s not only here to stay, but it is now and it is the future. “New Media Novelty” has now become the key marketing strategy. And it’s not only figuring out how to market using this medium, but it’s also about how companies must change internally to coincide with the medium. (Read Meatball Sundae by Seth Godin).

Sure, throw up a web site. But the tail will no longer wag the dog.

Feb 08

Merge has been on a mission for seven months to find great space in downtown Greenville. Know of available cool space? Contact me.

Here’s the adventure so far:

Great space in the West End #1: Space needed $30,000+ of work just to get it white-shelled and ready to move in. The landlord, and I quote, “…haven’t paid anyone anything, and I’m not going to start now.” So little ol’ Merge is going to invest $30,000 in your building so we can merely move in (this didn’t include our upfit)? We’ll pass.

Building #2. A great space in the West End. You’d know the building by name. The landlords were extremely professional and wanted to get the space leased. Problem: Two huge HVAC units that protruded into our space, requiring yelling just to be heard and the units literally shook the windows. Merge hems and haws but passes.

Building #3. 3,400 sq ft. of sure bliss at a great rate. Problem: The Landlord wants only a one-sided deal (fully in his favor of course). As the deal falls apart he says, “Some friends call me old fashion [sic]. Blessings to all.” Note: His space has set empty for 8 months and I find out that several other deals have preceded ours and fallen through as well. Merge walks (or we’re forced to walk).

I’ve been on commercial real estate crash course for the past several months. I’m learning the hard way. It’s not like a normal customer relationship. So far the landlords I’ve dealt with wants their cake and they want to eat it too. I guess that’s why they’re called Land Lords?

Negotiation, as I understand it is a method used to get to a win / win for both parties. Party A wants something and Party B wants their own thing. In proper negotiations, both parties can typically get what they want. Both parties can end up being happy. Scenario 1 and Scenario 3 above, there wasn’t a negotiation. It was “the old fashioned way” of negotiation where somebody wins and somebody loses. “You want what I have, and this is the deal.” Their tactic of negotiation instead was, “my way or the highway.”

When you’re putting a deal together, understand what the other party wants. For building #3, I simply wanted a renewal option (pretty common in commercial leases) and I didn’t want to be responsible for code issues before I moved in (which he required I assume in the lease). This requirement of him is quite abnormal. What I wanted wasn’t out of line. But the landlord never asked what I wanted. He told me what he wanted and said take it or leave it (his idea was he wins, I lose…sucker).

I would have given it to him too, if he would have understood and met my wants. I’m sure he would have been willing to do so if he would have asked. Now where is he? It’s going to take him several more months in the meantime to lease the space (at a minimum). His “old fashion(ed) ways” will cost him about $40K over the past twelve months or so. Ouch.

Merge on the other hand still needs office space. A mere inconvenience at this point. In the meantime, we’re seeking landlords who are interested in a win/win relationship. Any takers?

Jan 31

What do you do when you get the ballpark question? I had two today. One on the phone (never met the guy) and one from a prospect (our first meeting) that asked, “So….what would a ballpark price be for your services…”

Now, before I go on a rant, I have to say I can’t blame them. It’s a fair question and I’ve committed this same infraction many a-time myself.

But the key is this: the question doesn’t help them. The prospect wants a solution to a problem/potential. They want to solve that problem, and most could argue, at a reasonable rate of return. How much something costs is irrelevant until the size of the problem is identified. Most prospects haven’t taken the time to define that first and by telling them even a ballpark price, they’ll have little context to determine if the price is reasonable.

The prospect wants to solve a problem. They hope you can be the hero. Telling them the price too soon will most likely result in helping nobody-especially the prospect. Now, they’ll flounder until they find some low-cost provider, who’s cheaper than the price you mentioned (congratulations, you set the bar) and they’ll probably get an inferior product or service that won’t solve their problem.

Do your prospect a favor: Don’t ballpark a price for them. Go through your entire sales process and give them the price when you know what the problem is. You’ll both be happy you did.

Jan 11

In the past, I’ve blogged about the importance of benchmarking in your Google Pay-per-click campaign, and how we increased the effectiveness of a campaign by 318% by doing so.

We’ve done the same with our web sites. Here’s an example of what Merge did with a home page of a web site: We measured the ‘bounce’ rate (a bounce is when a user comes to a page and exits the site without visiting another page) of the home page and noted a 60% bounce rate. Wow. We analyzed the page, made some key changes (moved the navigation in a more user-friendly spot and changed the home page content) and waited.

A month later we went back and measured again. The result? The bounce rate decreased by 50% to only a 30% bounce rate. We’ll be making some more changes to the home page to decrease the bounce rate of the home page even more-but the key point is that we increased the effectiveness of the home page by 50% because we measured, benchmarked, changed and then remeasured.

Start measuring your metrics and begin the process of progress. If you do, you may discover a couple months from now how much business your current web site is leaving on the table.