Jim's Marketing Blog

Marketing tips & ideas to help you grow your business, by Jim Connolly

Month: May 2012 (page 1 of 3)

How to make better decisions and massively more progress!

Today’s post is about how to make better decisions and how to improve your decision making process.

Decision making can not be avoided

I discovered something a long time ago, from working with great decision makers and also studying people, who were self-confessed, poor decision makers.

I found that it’s impossible not to make a decision!

Even those people, who believe they are dodging decisions, are making decisions all the time.

For example, let us imagine that Barbara is a small business owner who is thinking of attending a one-off business conference, which takes place next month.

  • If she decides to book herself a ticket, she has made a decision.
  • If she decides not to go, she has made a decision.
  • If she decides to ask the event planners for more information, she has made a decision.
  • If she decides to think about it for a week or two before committing, she has made a decision.
  • If she decides to think about it for so long that there are no places left, or the event has passed, she has also made a decision.

Decision making and commitment

People will often believe that they can avoid decision making, simply by not committing to a yes or no answer. The reality, is that their decision not to act, is also a decision.

So, the challenge in these cases is not about decision making, as a decision can’t be avoided. The challenge is a lack of commitment. The most successful people I have studied or worked with, tend to be committed decision makers.

Their process looks a lot like this:

  1. They make sure they understand exactly what the decision ahead of them is. It’s easy to make the wrong decision, simply because you misunderstood what the decision was.
  2. They then get the information they need, in order to make an informed decision. They talk to people whose opinions they respect and do as much research as necessary.
  3. They then allow the decision to percolate for as long as it needs to, but not too long. Otherwise, the decision may be taken out of their hands.
  4. They then commit to a decision.

Decision making and progress

It has often been said that it’s not what life throws at us, which determines our success – but what we decide to do with it. My mentor Jim Rohn put it beautifully when he said:

“It doesn’t matter which side of the fence you get off on sometimes. What matters most is getting off the fence. You cannot make progress without making decisions.”

By proactively making committed decisions, we grab the rudder of our business and direct it deliberately in the right direction. This is how progress is made. It’s how we avoid straying off course or going backwards. By avoiding committed decisions, we are like a boat without a rudder. It’s hard to direct a boat without a rudder.

I’d also like to share something about decision making, which a very smart client of mine reminded me of earlier today. It’s something Zig Ziglar says and it goes like this:

If someone presses me to make a decision immediately, unless the decision is critical literally right now, I tell them, “If I have to decide now, the answer is no. After I have had a chance to catch my breath and review the facts, there’s the possibility it could be yes.” I then ask them “Do you want my decision now, or should we wait?”

That’s something worth thinking about!

Photos: Sailor Bill & Marco

From rags to riches?

This blog post is about those rags to riches stories we love and how they are not always quite what they seem!

People love a good story. So much so, that facts are often changed in order to make the story more compelling.

Now, with some types of story, it’s unlikely to cause us any problems if the story we hear has been embellished a little. If that prince was a little less hansome in real life than in the story, it’s okay. Similarly, if the fish Bob caught wasn’t quite as big as he told us, that’s fine.

Where we have a challenge, is when the stories we hear are intended to provide us with a business lesson, yet they have a key piece of information missing. Like the rags to riches stories, which contained no rags!

2 Types of business story

There are 2 types of story, which are commonly highlighted in business books, self improvement seminars and business blogs:

  1. The first kind of story is by far the most popular. It’s where we hear about the kid, who is born into poverty, yet goes from rags to riches. We love these stories, because many of us start off with nothing and aspire to make a success of our lives. As the son of penniless immigrants, I know I found these stories inspirational. They helped me believe anything was possible, even starting from zero.
  2. The second kind of story is also powerful and used as a warning. It’s the story of those wealthy business owners who self destruct.

However, there is a third type of story – a story which is seldom told, because it seems to lack the obvious impact of the other two.

A third type of story

Today, I’d like to salute a third group of people, whose stories don’t neatly fit into either of those 2 popular stereotypes. I’m talking about those who come from a wealthy, comfortable and / or privileged background, but elect to use it as a springboard for something even greater.

Wealth to extreme wealth

Such is the demand for rags to riches stories that many riches to greater riches stories have been incorrectly retold, usually for the sake of emphasis.

I remember listening to the charismatic Easyjet founder, Stelios Haji-Ioannou being introduced on a radio program as ‘a poor kid who did good‘. Stelios politely interrupted the interviewer, to remind her that he was in fact, the son of an extremely wealthy shipping magnate. Stelios’ father gave him £30MILLION to start up his shipping business.

However, our desire to believe that hard working people like Stelios, must have come up the hard way, means these stories often mutate into one of rags to riches.

Sir Richard Branson

Like Stelios, Sir Richard Branson’s success story is often referred to incorrectly, as rags to riches. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sir Richard was actually born into a wealthy, extremely influential family, in Blackheath, London. He is the grandson of The Right Honourable Sir George Arthur Harwin Branson and the son of a leading UK barrister. Sir Richard’s story is one of wealth to extreme wealth. His achievements have been incredible, but we gain nothing in learning from his achievements, if we change the facts to make the story sound better.

As we all know, many people born into that kind of wealth, choose to sit on their butt or self-destruct. Others spend their lives travelling the world spending their trust fund and then their inheritance, which is their prerogative. Few have done as Branson did (starting at age 16) and put their assets to work for them, to grow multiple successful businesses, in many different industries worldwide. That should be a good enough story, without story tellers inventing a rags to riches beginning to the storyline.

Seth Godin

Seth Godin’s business career started with a superb business education at the best place possible. His father, a millionaire entrepreneur and owner of the largest business in it’s niche, in the whole USA, saw Seth educated at the world famous Stanford Business School (see Stanford Graduate School for Business). For those who don’t know, Stanford is regarded by many as the finest business school in the world. Seth’s fellow Stanford students went on to become CEO’s of; Microsoft, eBay, Paypal, Trader Joe’s, Gap, Nike, Wells Fargo, Ford and countless other multinational corporations. It’s a great place to get a world class business education and build a priceless network of super-influential contacts.

Seth started his blog with a bang, thanks to super-influential contacts. For example, he wrote his first blog post, sitting next to Google’s co-founder, Sergey Brin – a fellow Stanford student. Seth’s story is regularly shared by others, as one of rags to riches. The reality is very different, with Seth enjoying access to many of America’s most influential people and starting off with the support of his wealthy family.

We learn nothing from incorrect information

Bloggers, authors and trainers don’t need to pretend these inspirational people grew up in poverty, in order to make their journey an inspiration for us. The stories behind the success of people like Stelios, Sir Richard and Seth, are inspirational and have lessons we can all learn from. My point, is that these stories do not need to be repackaged. They stand up as they are. Bloggers, authors and trainers don’t need to pretend these inspirational people grew up in poverty, in order to make their journey an inspiration for us.

On a more serious note, by repackaging those stories, so they sound like rags to riches, the stories can become toxic. New entrepreneurs often find themselves stuck, wondering why they are not seeing the kind of results that their inspirational, rags to riches role models did; unaware that their role model may have started off with a world-class business education, the most influential contacts imaginable, the support of wealthy family and friends – or all of those assets.

It’s also worth remembering that in every case I have researched, including the 3 examples I mention here, the people themselves never claimed to have started from zero. If you really want to learn from what they do, read THEIR books and what THEY have to say.

In short: Be careful measuring your progress against anyone, but especially people you do not know. In my experience, the best way to gauge your success is to have a well balanced set of goals and ensure you are making measurable progress toward them, in reasonable time.

Not a touching experience.

I visited an art park yesterday with my wife and our 6 year old son. The park is spread over acres of beautiful countryside and it markets itself as a great venue, for a family day out.

The outdoor art that surrounds the park is mainly made of resin, which had been moulded into huge, interesting shapes. One of the things each of these sculptures had in common, was that although you can apparently ‘touch’ them, you can’t lean on them, sit on them or ‘hug’ them. This was rigidly enforced, even when one little girl sat her doll on a sculpture!

Not a touching experience

As a result, the park was ringing to the sound of parents telling their inquisitive children not to touch. Other parents were trying to explain to their children, why someone decided to build a park full of tactile art, which kids were forbidden from interacting with, the way they love to.

I wanted to make sure I didn’t just experience a couple of staff having a bad day, so I asked another staff member what the deal was regarding people touching the sculptures. As best as I could work out, you are allowed to place an outstretched hand on a sculpture without being warned, but that was it. Unbelievably, their marketing makes a big point of saying you can touch the art – making it sound a lot more accessible and hands-on than the reality I experienced.

What kind of message was being made, regarding art?

I wonder how many children went home thinking art was boring, rather than excited because art was magical? I wonder what the committee behind the park were thinking, when they decided to fill a family friendly venue, with tactile, rugged, outdoor art, which was as good as untouchable? I can fully understand them saying do not climb on the objects, for safety and insurance reasons, but to forbid a child from hugging or leaning on an object, which weighs tons and is built to withstand extreme weather, is a curious step.

The unfriendly enforcement I witnessed several times by the park employees, was also unlikely to win any new, budding artists.

An alternative approach

I then compared that approach, to The Tower of London. At The Tower of London, children are encouraged to take part in their surroundings. They are shown how interesting history is, with the chance to dress up as knights or princesses, kings or queens. They get to watch sword fighting and falconry displays. They have spaces available for kids to draw pictures of what they have seen, and enthusiastic staff are never far away to answer questions.

The fact that The Tower of London contains priceless objects, is not a hurdle in making it an exciting and interesting place to visit. Kids leave there seeing history as a vibrant, exciting subject.

Yes, I am sure the committee that run the art park had good reasons to use such a hands-off approach.

However, I can think of many reasons for them to have adopted the polar opposite approach – such as encouraging kids to take an interest in art, rather than position art as something that’s unfriendly and untouchable.

Photo: D Brekke

Your choice: Act now or react later

Imagine this:

  • Imagine a business, which provides a unique range of services, rather than the same generic range of services as it’s competitors.
  • Imagine a business, which puts customer service before revenues, knowing that this is the best way to grow its revenues and profits.
  • Imagine a business, which invests time every week on improving its processes.
  • Imagine a business, which has developed a highly effective marketing strategy that generates high quality results regularly and consistently.
  • Imagine a business, which has a dedicated customer retention program, so that it seldom loses a client or customer.
  • Now, imagine a business just like that moved into your area, targeting your clients and your future clients!

Do it first!

Before something like that happens to you, I have a suggestion: Do it first!

Tick off every item on that list and eat their lunch.

Most business owners will wait until their business is under a sudden threat, before they up their game. They miss years worth of business development, because they fail to push and reach their full potential unless under external pressure. Sometimes a super smart, agile competitor comes to town and takes chunks of their market share. Other times, a business owner will lose a major client and see their revenues suddenly drop dramatically. In either case, the business owner is driven to improve as a reaction.

In short: Don’t wait for something negative to happen, before you learn just how high you can fly!

Marketing and an open mind – The undeniable link.

When it comes to marketing, how often do you question what you believe?

Black hat – White hat

I was prompted to write about this, when I read a very interesting blog comment earlier today. It really made me think.

Here’s the gist of it. The commenter stated that in his opinion, all SEO could be defined as black hat (or unethical.) His point was that Google claims it wants only the most valuable sites to rank the highest, yet Google actively encourages so-called white hat (or ethical) SEO tactics. In other words, business owners who learn SEO or pay for professional SEO, are welcome to gain an advantage over sites with better content, with Google’s blessing.

The interesting thing for me there, was NOT whether black hat SEO is worse than white hat SEO.

The interesting thing for me, was that until I had read that comment, I’d never really thought about things that way before. I saw SEO as a very black and white thing (excuse the pun). White hat was good, black hat was bad – period. Now, I see there are shades of grey, too.

In short: It’s so easy, maybe too easy, to become stuck in our thinking. It does us all good, from time to time, to question our beliefs and check we’re not making decisions based on incorrect assumptions.

Photo: Heather

What everyone needs to know about Passive Support

Passive support is interesting and it’s everywhere. It’s why prices can be artificially inflated, why some companies can run roughshod over us and why other companies are able to get away with offering us poor quality service.

For example:

  • I know a guy who regularly has lunch at a local place, which he is constantly slamming for it’s high prices. The fact he eats there so often, means it’s hard to take his complaint too seriously.
  • We see passive support all the time on Facebook, where people will rant about the Facebook approach to privacy, yet still decide to use the service daily. After all, they enjoy visiting Facebook and it’s where their friends are. The same is true of Google and other services.
  • Phone and cable companies see passive support all day every day. Millions of customers decide to carry on paying them each month, even though the service is poor, because it’s easier than switching providers.

Passive support is the child of inaction

The reason passive support is so common, is that it is the natural by-product of inaction. Yes, it’s easy to talk the talk and fail to back it up with action, but we have to be aware that there’s a price to pay for taking the easy route.

The price?

Every time we elect to passively support something, which we claim to be against, we feed the very thing we are opposed to. It acquires our support.

Passive or otherwise, each time we give support to something we are opposed to, we fail to be the change we want to see in the world.

Love and Light

Someone recently asked me why I often use the 3 word term ‘love and light’, when I comment on other blogs or chat with some friends on social networks. So, here’s the answer.

Love and light

I grew up in a very tough environment, the son of penniless immigrants. I saw people try and fight hate with deeper hate and I saw what happened when good people embraced darkness. By the time I reached 21, I’d already seen many of the kids I grew up with incarcerated, addicted to drugs or dead. These were not bad kids, just kids who made some bad choices.

I’m not capable of explaining why I use the term love and light, as elegantly as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr did. Here’s what Dr. King said:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever challenges you are experiencing today, I wish you love and light!

Bloggers: How I went from thousands of daily spam comments, to zero!

comment spam, blog comments

I wrote recently about a real challenge I was facing, regarding spam comments here on the blog. Today, I have the answer I need and also a wonderful piece of advice for any of you, who use WordPress and have a spam problem.

My comment spam challenge

As I wrote a couple of days ago, the volume of comment spam here was around 2,500 a day and increasing. Almost all this spam was being successfully caught by the Akismet plugin, however, in with this spam were some legitimate comments from readers. My challenge was the amount of time it took, for me to find legitimate comments, when a reader emailed me to say their comment had not been published. This was made harder, as many would forget to send me the email address they used for their comment, so I had no way to do a quick search.

When I wrote about this challenge, I saw 2 possible solutions:

  1. Install a 3rd party commenting system, like LiveFyre or Disqus, with everyone needing to register in order to comment.
  2. Turn blog comments off and have readers respond to the posts via social networks.

In the end, I did neither!

How I cured my comment spam problem (for now)

This morning, for the second day running, I went to my blog to find there were no spam comments in my spam filter. There were also no emails, from people whose comments had not been published. So, no spam comments, yet every legitimate comment went through. Here’s how I did it!

I received a huge amount of feedback from people regarding how to resolve my issue and 5 different people recommended the same simple plugin, which they said would solve the problem in minutes. They were right.

Conditional Capture for WordPress

The plugin is called Conditional Captcha for WordPress.

It works with Akismet, so whenever Akismet identifies a spam comment, it asks the sender to complete a simple captcha (see image.) If they complete it successfully, their comment is accepted. If they don’t, the comment is deleted.

Another thing I like about this plugin, is that unlike other captcha plugins, where everyone has to fill it in, this one is targeted. Unless Akismet thinks you are a spammer, you will never see it. This means it’s as quick and easy to comment here now, as it has always been.

Two additional lessons learned

After writing the blog post asking people for their feedback, two things became very clear, very fast.

The first was no surprise. It seems a lot of people dislike commenting on blogs, which use 3rd party commenting systems. Some, including me, find them unnecessarily confusing. Others dislike the idea of handing their details to a 3rd party Internet start-up or giving them access to their Twitter, Facebook accounts etc – Just to leave a comment. Many also said, they disliked how sites using 3rd party commenting systems often loaded slowly. Speed is a big deal to me, which is why I have dedicated hosting.

The second thing I learned, came as a huge surprise! I was amazed that the majority of people thought it was perfectly fine to simply turn blog comments off and have the conversations about the posts, on social networks instead. I was ready to be attacked for even suggesting this as a possibility, yet it seems people spend so much time on social networks now, that it’s easier for them to comment there, rather than on the actual blog. This was especially the case for those, like me, who usually read blogs on a tablet or phone. I currently get around 80% – 90% of my comments AWAY from this blog.

Best of both worlds

I can now provide you with the best of both worlds. Readers who like to comment here (I’ve had almost 30,000 comments so far) can do so and without any fuss. Those who like to comment on social networks will carry on doing so. I have also been able to save myself a lot of time and frustration, now that comment spam is no longer an issue.

I’m hesitant to recommend anything after using it for just 2 days. However, as I was getting as much blog comment spam in 2 days as many get in a month, I can confirm that Conditional Captcha for WordPress has been extremely accurate and easy to use. This plugin is also free, though ‘d have liked to have been given the option to either buy it or at least donate to the plugin’s creator.

Finally, I’d like to thank everyone who chimed in with their feedback, suggestions and fixes.

It’s beautifully ironic, that it was you, the reader community, who solved the problem for me.

THANK YOU!

Photo: Andrew Hyde

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