The Sweeney Todd Guide to Blogging

Halloween doesn’t get the respect it deserves. It’s a great holiday to tweak your thinking and consider unconventional tactics. As we try on new identities and new ways to coerce strangers into giving us candy, maybe it’s time to dust off some of our outdated ideas.

Today, I thought I’d take a look at what the legendary character Sweeney Todd can teach us about blogging, marketing and communication.

Always be on the lookout for more ways to extract value from your readers

A little out-of-the-box thinking let Sweeney Todd establish multiple streams of income.

First, he challenged outdated assumptions about pricing. Instead of toiling day after day to make a few shillings for a shave and a haircut, he cut his customers’ throats, and was able to take all the money they might have in their pockets. This simple move was able to increase his average transaction size by 500-1000%.

But Sweeney Todd wasn’t just an early challenger to stale ideas about pricing and value. His business partner Mrs. Lovett developed a truly creative add-on. She turned a liability (dead bodies to be disposed of) into an asset, by cutting the victims up and making them into meat pies, generating a collateral source of revenue. Sadly, we don’t have the precise numbers for this bold lateral move, but some estimates put the increased ROI at as much as 150%.

Perfect your system

Sweeney Todd didn’t just chase his victims down in an alley and ambush them. These would have been amateurish moves, unworthy of his creative intelligence.

Instead, he offered something of real value (a shave and/or haircut) that his market was looking for. He was able to keep his price point extremely attractive, given his assertive commitment to the back end, which allowed him to recoup those costs as the customer moved through the funnel (or trap door, as the case may be).

Marketers call this kind of attractive loss leader an “ethical bribe,” although you probably don’t get to call it ethical if you in fact murder your customer afterwards.

Potential downsides

Before you try the Sweeney Todd method yourself, remember the significant downside: cost of acquisition of new readers. Since repeat business (never mind word of mouth) is impossible when your customers are all dead, the Sweeney Todd method requires marketing at the top of its game to bring new readers in the door.

For a blogger, this might translate into Google AdWords, banner ads, or you might even consider moving offline into direct mail. Guest posting strategies are probably not in the cards, as most bloggers are uncomfortable with aggressive strategies like murder and cannibalism.

However, Twitter may be an option. Just be sure you mix up your Tweets with interesting personal comments. A steady diet of “oops, just slaughtered another reader” gets tiresome, and you’ll lose followers quickly.

Happy Halloween!

Dumb Things Small Businesses Do:
#2: Failing to Make a Business Plan

chihuaha in a watering can

Don’t think I can’t see what you’re doing right now. You’re making that face you have, and muttering, “Ugh, crap, business plan. Can’t I just stab my eye with a fork and we’ll call it good?”

I am right there with you, my friend. But hear me out.

That long complicated thing the SBA calls a business plan? That’s not a business plan. That’s basically a job application for your bank. You might need that if you want someone to give you money (however, see #3 coming in a day or two), but you don’t need it to run your business.

On the other hand, as Michael Martine tweeted me last week, “The shit, meet wall; wall, meet shit plan only takes you so far.”

The so-simple-it’s-scary business plan:

  • Who’s my customer? (“Anyone with a pulse” is not a valid answer.)
  • What problem can I solve for them better than anyone else can?
  • Where can I go to find this kind of customer? Where do they hang out?
  • What products/services do I have today that I can sell them?
  • What products/services are they going to buy after they get product #1?
  • What additional products am I going to develop over the next six months? (Hint, give some serious thought to how you can create consistent recurring income, like with a membership, a club, or a subscription.)
  • How many customers x how much money = about how much I’m going to bring in every month. Take 75% of this number as a “reality check” figure.
  • How much will I need to spend every month? (No, you do not need a new Aeron or a new Macbook or a $10,000 Web site to start your business. Keep it to actual necessities, like your phone bill & postage.) Take 125% of this number as a reality check.
  • Do I have more cash coming in than going out? Cool, we’re good.
  • Do I have more cash going out than coming in? Not so good. Figure out the steps I can take to get the cashflow moving in the right direction, then take those steps.
  • Hoping like hell I will get more customers does not count as taking a step.

Now if you’re running a business of any size at all, you know there’s more to it than this. But if you know the answers to these questions and you keep making sure that for the most part, there are more dollars coming in than dollars going out, you’re going to do fine.

The reason most small businesses fail

In the words of a friend in a politically incorrect mood, “most small businesses fail because they’re run by dumbasses.”

It’s not actually about being dumb. It’s about letting yourself get fuzzy on one or several of these points. (Trust me, I know lots of supergeniuses who aren’t too good on those.) Get clear on all of them and your odds suddenly become quite fantastic.

If you want to get very slightly more formal (but still really quick and simple), check out the excellent book The One Page Business Plan. It boils things down to the essentials, and getting your ideas onto paper will do great things for your thinking.

In the next post we’re going to dive into really scary Dumb Thing #3, Getting Upside Down (without a good plan for getting right-side-up again).

7 Dumb Things Small Businesses Do

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Two Cool Things

Two quick notes before you get the second installation of the “7 Dumb Things.”

The Age of Conversation is Here!

The Age of Conversation is an insane project managed by Drew McLellan and Gavin Heaton, in which 237 cats bloggers and marketing pros from 16 countries were herded brought together on a collaborative project about this new social media conversation thing we’re all part of.

The first Age of Conversation book was a compilation from 100 authors. It was published last year, and raised nearly $15,000 for Variety, the international children’s charity. This year’s successor, creatively named Age of Conversation 2, goes on sale today. All proceeds (less printing and shipping) will again go to Variety, the children’s charity.

Here’s a little snippet from my chapter. I’m going to pick up a couple of copies, they’ll make great pass-arounds for some colleagues who need a rapid-fire introduction to the new world of content marketing and social media conversation.

The new corporate message doesn’t flow smoothly from PR agency to journalist to media consumer, or from advertiser to the compliant masses. The new message gets passed around by amateurs. It has to be tougher, smarter, more resilient.

Here’s a test for you: If you get into a cab anywhere in the world and tell your organization’s message to the cab driver, will he get it? Would he repeat it?

(Note, I don’t get any royalties or anything from this one. We’re making sure as much revenue as possible gets to Variety.)

Click here to order Age of Conversation 2

Great Blogs, No Readers

Chuck Westbrook has a great project going to get more exposure for blogs that have terrific content but no readers. This one is dear to my heart, as I know exactly what it’s like to work hard on content and then have eight people actually reading it.

Chuck’s gathering a group of bloggers to add a new blog to their reader every two weeks. No commitment to link, comment, promote, or anything else unless you feel moved to do so. We’re just checking in on a promising new blog and seeing what they have to say. Two weeks down the line, we move on to another blog.

If this sounds like a cool idea to you, check out Chuck’s post for more details. (And spread the word!)

(P.S. If your own blog needs a little boost, this is a terrific way to lend a hand to a fellow blogger and expand your own network.)

7 Things Dumb Small Businesses Do That
You Can’t Afford (Especially Now)

curious chihuaua

Last time we covered the painful, expensive mistakes made by Big Dumb Companies. That was fun, but the clever Michael Martine had the brilliant idea of talking about what small companies do that’s just as dumb.

Which saved me all the trouble of bending my brain to think of a post topic, so yay for Michael.

This week I’m going to try something new. Instead of giving you one post that’s zillions of screens long, I’m breaking the post up into more manageable chunks. We’ll see if you guys like it or freak out to get multiple posts a week from me. Let me know!

So today you get Dumb Thing #1:

Dumb Thing #1: Deciding you’re “Just Not Good” at marketing

I hear this all the time from solopreneurs. “I have the best handknitted dog sweaters/organic tattoo parlor/gourmet hair products in the city, there’s no one else coming close to putting out stuff as nice as mine. I’m getting some clients here and there, but you know, I’m just not good at marketing. I’m working 18 hours a day, so I figure it’s got to work out eventually.”

Do you tell the IRS “I’m just not good at bookkeeping”? (If you do, you might want to rethink that.)

Do you tell your vendors “I’m just not good at paying invoices”?

I can’t remember who I’m stealing this from, but if you’re going to decide it’s ok to give up on marketing, you might as well take all your working capital to Las Vegas and blow it on whatever combination of hookers and drugs that might appeal to you. It saves time, and the end result is the same.

It’s not rocket science

Business is about relationships and solving problems. Marketing is just communication about those things. If you have a working language center in your brain, you can get good at marketing.

A strongly related dumb thing is thinking you can turn the whole shebang over to an ad agency. (See: Crucial Facts Your Ad Agency Forgot to Mention). Agencies have useful resources, but they’ll never know your business or your customers like you do. And most agencies that handle small business are, frankly, terrible. (A few are amazing. But I’ve seen a lot of terrible.)

You need to know your marketing message so well it’s completely second nature. Know your unique selling proposition, know your benefits and your features, know your individual story, know your customers, know the media that make sense for those customers and that message.

Then and only then will you be ready to make good use of an agency. Until then (sorry), you have to get good at marketing.

Let us know in the comments what about marketing you just don’t think you can get good at! We’ll help.

7 Dumb Things Small Businesses Do

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Linky Tuesday: Anti Recession-Freakout Edition

Since, let’s face it, this dismal economic news is on a lot of our minds (especially if we’re trying to start or run businesses), most of my links this week fall into that rough category. Here’s a little anti-panic tool kit for you. The sky is not actually falling and we are not all actually doomed to wandering a blackened landscape trying to keep from being eaten by Reavers.

Feels that way, but it’s not. So here’s to optimism:

  • Tom Hoobyar is a smart guy who has run lots of businesses and has a very practical, no-nonsense approach to just about everything. (I found him through a terrific interview he did with Perry Marshall.) His post on a Dark and Stormy Night gives a little mindset-framing lesson on how to approach those “oh-shit” moments.
  • Relationship Marketing Principles. It’s not just me who goes on about this relationship stuff; there are a few (very few, in my experience) “real” ad people who get it, too. James Hipkin is one of them. Check out his outlining of the principles of relationship marketing from the ad agency view. Very useful.
  • Jane Chin’s Liberation Story. Clay Collins is running a series on folks who have successfully escaped day jobs and gone on to freer, more fulfilling lives. The whole series is great. I liked this story of a woman who found a way to thrive as an entrepreneur (with a new baby and a giant Bay Area mortgage, at that) by redefining her day job to be more ethical, more far-reaching, and defined to solve a problem that needed fixing.
  • There’s no one better than Havi Brooks at taming the full-on freakout. She’s the ninja of nonagression, the contessa of calm, the diva of destuckification. She’s doing something called the Non-Sucky Yoga Month that involves packaging a yoga DVD that doesn’t make you want to shoot anyone, with a bunch of Havi add-ons to help you actually benefit from it instead of watching dust gather on your good intentions. I recently bought Havi’s similar program on the insane Dance of Shiva practice, so I can vouch that she has good stuff to offer.
  • Michael Martine wrote a great Recession Post about how to keep your head when all around you the Marketing Reavers are trying to make you even more freaked out, in order to sell you crap you don’t need. I won’t tell you blogging is “recession proof,” but relationship and content marketing does provide a pretty good innoculation, and some highly useful tools for times of great general craziness.
  • I wrote a post on Three Ways to Grow Your Community in an Economic Crisis for Copyblogger, to answer some questions folks had about just how bloggers and content marketers can use the current economic crappiness to benefit themselves and their readers.
  • And last, I offer you this Late Night “Whoa” Moment, purely because it is weird and entertaining. In the words of Dr. Seuss, “these things are fun, and fun is good.”

Stay fun, stay sane, keep your head.

Flickr Creative Commons image by cloud nine.

How to Get Delightfully Rich
(and Still Keep Your Soul)

Thinking about the post I would write for Blog Action Day, I started to realize just how powerful this “poverty” idea is. In the developed world, swimming the way we are in material abundance that we can’t really see, just changing your thinking about poverty can have profound implications for the kind of success you can start to create.

I don’t believe in the Law of Attraction, but I know from experience that you tend to see more of what you focus on. Focus on poverty and you’ll see more poverty. Focus on wealth and you’ll see more wealth. And just like keeping your eyes on the road ahead when you’re driving, you have a natural tendency to “go where you’re looking.”

I see two patterns that tend to shape the lives of both rich people and poor people.

Rich People Learn from Experience that Taking Action Leads to Results

Poor People Learn from Experience that Taking Action Is Pointless

Now here’s the interesting part:

If You’re Reading this Blog, You Get to Be in Group #1

You have Internet access. Which means you either have a computer or at least access to a good library. You can read. You live in a place with infrastructure. You have access to components that you can put together to fix people’s problems and create success for yourself.

Just as important as any of this, you have essentially unlimited access to models of success. You can find the stories, techniques, tactics, resources and mindset of thousands of successful people. Do what they do, and you’ll start to succeed. Do a little more, and you’ll succeed faster.

You have the privilege of deciding to believe that if you take action, you’ll get results.

Now you do need to keep one thing in mind:

The Odds of Failure Are Pretty Close to 100%

If something’s worth doing at all, you’re going to have to work through some cycles of “huh, nope, that wasn’t it.”

Because rich people know that taking action leads to results, this doesn’t bug them. What some of us call “failures,” they call “data points.” They figure it’s a particular approach or technique or vendor or marketing message that didn’t work, and they try a different one. They know that if they take enough action, they’ll get a good result. So they just keep taking action until that happens. Tweak and relaunch, tweak and relaunch until the thing starts moving in the right direction.

Successful people fail as quickly as they possibly can so they can find the thing that won’t fail.

Poverty Is Not an Illusion

It’s become chic in successful circles to say that poverty is all about mindset, that it’s just a bad dream and all the poor need to do is snap out of it. Essentially, that poor people are poor because they are stupid, lazy, or just misguided.

This is bullshit. Lack of infrastructure is not an illusion. Catastrophic crop failure is not an illusion. The complete absense of success models is not an illusion. The limitations faced by a woman with HIV who can’t get out of bed, and the 10 orphaned kids she can no longer take care of, are not an illusion.

You Can Take Action to Eliminate Poverty in Our Lifetime

That woman with HIV? Your donation can get her antiviral medication. An organization ships the medication to her country. A volunteer gets on a bicycle and brings it to her house, and shows her how to take the drugs. She gets out of her bed and starts to take care of those orphaned kids again. It’s called the Lazarus Effect, and it’s happening every day.

The thing that kept her on that death bed wasn’t her illusion, it was ours: that HIV is too big a problem to stop, that the millions who are dying, and the children they leave behind, are beyond our hope. Better not think about it, because it’s too big a problem to fix.

Except it isn’t. We in the developed world can make donations, and incredibly passionate, energetic people will turn those donations into saved lives.

We take action, and that action leads to results. We are rich.

Your Success is an Obligation

I read something recently–that the word “opportunity” should be replaced with “obligation.” (Was this in Chris Brogan’s latest newsletter? I’m dying to reread the quote but I can’t find it.)

No matter how freaked out you are about the economy today, you aren’t dying on a mat on the floor, too weak to move, with no idea how your kids will eat tomorrow. You are, in fact, gloriously wealthy and successful. You are awash in abundance, and if the TV news has been making you forget that, turn off the TV news.

You get to make a decision. Keep your head or lose it. Focus on finding the path to more success than ever before, or focus on how frightened you are, and become too weak to take care of yourself or anyone else.

All this economic garbage doesn’t mean things will get worse for you. These are millionaire-making times. When a lot of people face big scary problems, you can create a lot of success for yourself in solving those problems.

The keys to wealth are confidence and a habit of action. You can create more of both for yourself by making a donation to help the genuinely poor. (And yes, there are plenty of genuinely poor people right in this country.)

Not because you feel guilty. But because when you take action that helps someone who needs a hand, you benefit and they benefit.

A Lot of Us Think these Two Outcomes Are Mutually Exclusive

  • There is less suffering in the world.
  • There is more money in your pocket.

These two things in fact can go very nicely hand-in-hand. Believing otherwise is the most toxic illusion of all.

No one succeeds because you fail.

Here are some charities I like a lot because I can easily visualize how they turn my dollars into action. I can recommend that: pick an organization whose story you find motivating. That will keep you donating and keep you connected to this most important of all ambitions–to help relieve the suffering of people who are hurting.

As I’ve written about before, I donate 10% of my self-employment income to these organizations, or ones similar to them.

This practice makes me very ambitious and very energetic. Send an invoice to my clients, receive some money, send a piece of that along to save a little kid’s life. It feels amazing. Please give it a try.

Smiletrain. These guys take a disfigured, isolated and in some cases physically starving little person and fix her up so she can smile, receive love from her parents, go to school, make human connections and live a full human life. It’s the best $250 bargain you’re going to find. (If $250 is a lot, which of course it is, contribute what you can today and then keep chipping in. You’ll get there.)

World Vision. These are the guys who educated me about the Lazarus Effect. They do a lot of great work for kids in various kinds of horrible trouble, all of which are exaggerated by poverty. They are a Christian organization and I am not a Christian, but that doesn’t bug me too much.

Unicef. Yep, good old boring Unicef. They send mosquito nets to places infested with malaria, and anti-parasite medication to kids with belly worms that are killing them. I still dig Unicef and I still contribute to them.

Of course there are thousands more. Lean, cutting-edge new ones like The Acumen Fund or Room to Read, old faithfuls like Habitat for Humanity and the Red Cross. Some of them are very efficient. Some are less so on a percentage basis, but they still deliver a huge amount of relief to folks who need help. If you have another favorite, let us know in the comments about what they do and why you love them.

The worst thing you can do is get knotted up about whether an organization is perfect. That’s poverty thinking. Find a good group whose mission speaks to your heart. Use a guide like Charity Navigator to do some quick due diligence. Then make a habit of donating to help people who need help. There’s nothing else you can do to more quickly reset your poverty mindset to a wealth mindset.

Are You Participating in Blog Action Day This Year?

If you have a Blog Action Day post you’re proud of, please post a link in the comments. I’ll post every non-spammy link in this post. (If you can’t write or post it today, don’t sweat it. The offer stands all week. Find your own take on this topic and let it shine.)

Blog Action Day posts as of 2:15 my time:

  • Why Jessie Won’t Go to College. Brian Clark uses his copywriting skills to let us know about Jessie (a real person), who’s doing everything she can to take care of her siblings, leaving not much room for any kind of future for herself. He’s also donating $25 for every donation of at least $10 to Save the Children. (I donated $100 because some folks peeved me in the comments. So there.)
  • Poverty Snowball: What Is Your Life Worth?. Get-your-damned-life-where-you-want-it Uberninja Dave Navarro talks about the fact that you matter (a lot), and challenges you to make the most of that.
  • Solving Poverty. Lori Cole talks about the role of heroes, commitment and education in tackling poverty.
  • How $10 Can Actually Make a Difference. Zoe Westhof blogs about her friend Lisa Nesser, who founded a nonprofit to help educate hill tribe kids (who have no official government IDs or access to services) in Thailand. These folks run a fantastic project on a skimpy $1500 a month.
  • The Lack of Chances is the Source of Poverty. Daniel writes about seeing poverty up close, and how education can make profound changes.
  • Four Easy Reasons to Ignore World Poverty Charlie Gilkey addresses a pet bug of mine–the nagging voices that tell us “this can’t be fixed, it’s too hard, let’s not think about it too much.” I particularly loved this quote: “Imagine if we saw the starving children as a personal problem that we need to do something about rather than an issue.”
  • Helping Those Less Well Off. Ultra Rob talks about how you can turn your love of biking into good ways to help others.
  • When Did You Last Show Anyone How to Fish? Janice Cartier posts a beautiful little personal story about taking one little action, human to human, and making a connection that touches a kid’s life forever.
  • The Roots of Poverty Mary H. Ruth talks about poverty and state of mind, and the idea that “none of us is saved until all of us are saved.” Very nice.

If you like this post, please link to or Stumble it!

Flickr Creative Commons image by the incomparable babasteve

7 Things Big Dumb Companies Do That
You Can’t Afford (Especially Now)

corporate

Not every big company is dumb. There are actually a decent number of big smart companies that do things we can learn from. But big, well-capitalized companies have a mortal enemy: inertia. It’s very hard to change the direction they’re already headed. It’s very hard to fix the cultural mistakes that have been ingrained in the company since its early days. It’s very hard for most big companies to learn.

So if you’re a small company (maybe even a company of one brave, stalwart soul), here are some ideas about how to outsmart and outmaneuver your big competitors. With the economy generally falling down around our ears, this is a great time to get a lot smarter. As Godin said, Small is the New Big. Use that to your advantage.

Here are 7 big-company mistakes not to make.

1. Printing 10,000 Brochures . . .

. . . and then having to dump 9,950 of them. This happens so often it would be funny–if it wasn’t your money getting flushed down the toilet.

Most small businesses don’t need a brochure at all. Brochures are typically “me-me-me” communications that talk about how great your business is. No one cares. They are inherently unremarkable. Brochures are created and printed to satisfy the ego of the business owner–and that’s a big dumb mistake you can’t afford.

If you want a physical piece to give your customers, assemble it more like a media kit. Have some nice-looking folders printed up, then create short inserts on different points of value for your customer.

Each insert needs to speak to something your customers give a damn about.

  • Print up some case studies that show the different kinds of customers you’ve helped.
  • Compile lists of great resources for your customers.
  • Create a buying guide for the type of product you offer. (Will that buying guide frame the question to suggest that you’re the best solution? Gee, ya think?)
  • Create white papers and how-to worksheets that let your customers solve important problems.
  • Offer a free educational series by email (like my marketing tool kit or email marketing class), then create an insert that tells customers how and why to subscribe.

Some of these inserts can be glossy, four-color jobs. That’s optional. Most will be simple black-and-white photocopies. They’ll be organized nicely in your folder, and you’ll include a business card and a personal, handwritten (not a computer handwritten font) note.

The contents of this folder must be intrinsically valuable to your customer. If you can’t imagine a customer tacking any individual insert to her bulletin board and referring to it daily, put some more work into it.

Every page of every insert will have your Web, phone and email contact information printed on it.

Your folders might cost as much to print as those brochures do, but now you have an infinitely flexible, configurable piece that allows you to start a meaningful relationship with that individual customer. Remember to take great care not to put anything on your printed folder (street address, phone number, hours, etc.) that has any chance of changing over the next 5 years. Instead, print that stuff on a professional-looking sticker that you attach neatly to the back.

2. Failing to Double-Opt In your Email Subscribers

Big companies figure they’re so special and their brand is so darned valuable that anyone dumb enough to email them is fair game for follow-up junk.

They can afford to throw away all that good will and email deliverablity. You can’t. Any autoresponder or newsletter-style email (as opposed, of course, to email sent by one individual to one individual) needs to be sent on a double opt-in basis. This means that your customer requests your stuff, then confirms that request.

Short-sighted email marketers think this leaves too many customers out, since invariably you lose a few people in that confirmation step. (For your reference, I lose about 2-3%.) Experienced email marketers know that a) if prospects don’t like and trust you enough to confirm an email subscription, they don’t like and trust you enough to buy your stuff, and b) deliverability on double opt-in email is much, much better, so more messages will end up in in-boxes rather than spam filters.

3. Assuming All Customers are White Guys

Executive management and boards of directors of big companies are mostly white guys. Now there’s nothing wrong with white guys, but when all decisions are being made by them, it gets easy to start thinking that all customers are white guys, too.

In many markets, most buying decisions are made by women or influenced by women. And the degree to which big dumb companies (unless they’re selling diapers or diet soda) just leave women out of the communication equation is genuinely shocking. Some big dumb companies do slightly better with the realization that a good chunk of the population is Latino, Asian or African-American, but there’s plenty of room for improvement there, too.

There are millions of customers out there who don’t look like the typical American corporate executive. Talk to those customers in a personal, relevant way. Respect them. And check your assumptions whenever possible.

4. Lawyering Up

Big companies have a lot to lose. They’re appealing targets for law suits of all kinds, from employment to consumer class action to environmental. They live in terror of pissing off their shareholders with bad publicity. They worry, legitimately, what the New York Times might have to say about their behavior.

They therefore play it safe. Now I won’t say this is stupid–it’s just a limitation that they have by virtue of being big. But it’s an expensive limitation.

Most big companies are very nervous about being straightforward with their customers. They don’t admit when they screw up. They don’t engage in the social media conversation. They don’t let customers post unmoderated feedback for everyone to see.

Big companies have armies of gatekeepers–lawyers, PR people, and the like–whose job it is to make sure the company doesn’t say anything remarkable.

When they do talk to the general public, they sound like . . . well, a big dumb company. They put forth mountains of irrelevant junk on spectacularly useless Web sites, and issue stiff, self-serving press releases no self-respecting reporter would spend more than 3.5 seconds reading. The only time they use conversational language is in TV ads–which most people Tivo past.

A big company has to hire “creatives” to talk to customers like human beings. You just need to be yourself. That’s a pretty significant advantage.

5. Forgetting that “We” Includes the Customer

Steve Yastrow recently had an interesting post on the Tom Peters blog about We relationships. He defined them as when your customer never thinks of you without thinking of both of you.

Pepsi, Microsoft and Nike have identities. They go around the world doing stuff that has nothing to do with us. When Microsoft says “we,” their customers don’t necessarily see themselves as included in that.

But when you think about your accountant, your real estate agent, and your hairdresser, you’re a pretty intimate part of that picture. Of course these people have lives that go on without you, but you don’t really think of them that way. As Steve put it, “When [your customer] can’t think of you without thinking of both of you, you have connected yourself to what she really cares about: herself.”

6. Valuing Systems over the Intangibles

Big companies can almost always make and distribute stuff more cheaply than you can. They get the best prices for raw materials. It’s relatively simple for them to outsource to whatever country is cheapest this month. They can essentially own entire distribution and promotion channels. It’s easy to think that the economies of scale will always make them more competitive than you can be.

But scale is the enemy of mystery. It’s the enemy of creativity. Scale needs robust, unchanging processes or it falls to pieces.

A few big companies include ingredients like delight, gratitude and enthusiasm in their processes. Most don’t. Your competitive advantage lies in the intangible, hard-to-quantify stuff that it would be hard to create a process around.

(Smart big companies do create processes around the intangibles. Fortunately for those of us in little companies, there aren’t too many of those.)

7. Making it Hard to Say ‘Thank You’

The Made to Stick boys had a good column about this in Fast Company this month. Big dumb companies (grudgingly) create ways for customers to complain and maybe get those complaints resolved. But they usually don’t have good mechanisms for customers to express delight.

One of the pleasures of any relationship is being able to express your appreciation. Most giant organizations don’t have good venues for their customers to talk about how much they love being customers. Which not only robs employees of the chance to feel loved, it also robs customers of the chance to feel wonderful by passing some of that love along.

Of course, appreciation needs to go both ways. Expressing your appreciation for your best-loved customers is something that takes a complicated system for most big companies to implement. (There’s that process thing again.) You can just send a warm, personal thank-you note. And maybe some cookies.

(If you subscribe to either of my free e-classes, I’m going to send an interesting idea you can use to send a compelling thank you to your customers–one that gets you a nice whoosh of business, as well as making your customers happy. If a whoosh of business + happy customers sounds good, get signed up today so you don’t miss it.)

How about you? Seen a big, dumb company mistake you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments.

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Linky Tuesday: October 7, 2008

Be more creative, more productive, more fearless about selling, more powerful in your writing, and laugh at a LOLcat.

  • The Difference Between Great and Average Copy. A moving little film about the difference between what you say and how you say it. (A client sent this to me saying “this reminded me of your stuff,” which I thought was a pretty fabulous compliment. So a big <mwah> to Candace.) Don’t miss the follow-up post analyzing the specifics of why the story works the way it does, which in turn links to a terrific classic post from Monday Morning Memo about the art of what not to say.
  • In all the current financial freefall craziness, a lot of us are seized up by fear, which is the sworn enemy of creativity. If you’d like to unleash the creative potential that is lying within you, visit Charlie Gilkin’s great post this week about Demystifying the Creative Process. It’s not some secret ritual guarded by the annointed–it’s something you can use today and tomorrow to start solving problems from a healthier, more joyful place.
  • Productivity rock star Dave Navarro wrote a post that really jolted me out of some of my everyday assumptions, about what he calls mid-lining. If your wheels are spinning, this post just might be what you need to get some traction.
  • Don’t forget that Blog Action Day is coming up in less than two weeks. This is a very cool project to herd the thousands of blogging cats out there to move in a single general direction, one day a year. This year’s theme is poverty, which is one I can see a thousand different ways to explore. (Content hint: try not to preach. I struggle with this one myself, but make the message relevant and useful to your readers, not just finger-wagging to donate more to charity.) Make a connection, open up, have a conversation.
  • This week I re-stumbled across a classic post from A List Apart about Writing for the Living Web. This is a wise, enduring manifesto (it was written in 2002) about the nuances of writing for the “living web” (in other words, this content net we all happily swim around in).
  • Since I didn’t manage to get a linky post up last week, I’ve got two Copyblogger posts for you this time. The first is a post on How to Stop Being Afraid to Sell, outlining some non-yucky techniques for you. As we’re all dealing with the fairly crappy economic situation and accompanying panic, it’s time to come to terms with our issues and start working to promote our businesses in healthy, respectful ways.
  • And if that’s just too darned serious for you, you can decide which cheesy 60s starlet more closely resembles your blog, Ginger or Mary Ann, which may well be the silliest blog post I’ve ever written. (Bonus line/subhead for Remarkable Communication readers, which was cut from the Copyblogger version for decorum’s sake: “Mary Ann’s were real.”)
  • And in honor of the general economic/panic stinkiness, sometimes nothing says it better than a LOLcat.

Flickr Creative Commons image by evanosherow