In the Hitchcock propaganda film "Foreign Correspondent" the victim, a diplomat from a small country, says "when the beasts devour each other the world will belong to the little people."
That's the recession story that hasn't been printed. Sure some small sites have died with the big. But far more small sites have thrived than big ones.
Small businesses don't have fancy offices, they don't use big ISPs, they don't buy TV ads, and they don't like losing money. This last (not losing money) was the Key to Success all along.
But not all small Web businesses are created equal. In the last few weeks I've seen some ignore great, proven advice (not from me) because it didn't fit with their preconceptions. One risked alienating his key supporters, the other missed a branding opportunity that could (without new funding) cost him his business. These were smart people, trusted friends, truly "clued-in" folks. But they missed one important point beloved of little people.
Here is is. You only learn when you change your mind. Any businessman, or politician for that matter, who is unwilling to try another way will fail. I can be dogmatic but I'm happy to say I was wrong about Robert Davis (formerly of Lycos), who was smarter than I believed. I was wrong about Bigwords, which failed almost as soon as I endorsed it. The only thing I can guarantee is I'll be wrong again. But (and this is important) I will try to admit my error when it's proven. (Since I make my errors in print I'll admit them to you.) Pride is something the small can't afford.
The bigger the business the higher the cost for errors. That's why consultants like Martha Rogers get big checks before telling CEOs the obvious truths about Customer Relationship Management. The big check guarantees, not just attention, but action.
You don't need to write a Big Check to change your mind. A Big Mac could do it. When you see What Works don't be afraid to try it. Don't consider anyone (even me - especially me) the Final Authority. The Final Authority is what pleases your customers, and what brings more of them into your shop.
Yoda was wrong about one thing. He said, "Do or do not. There is no try." The little people know there is always try, and try again. Don't just listen. Use the good ideas you hear.
After some flames, some unsubscribes, and a bit of soul-searching I've decided to take a-clue.com back to weekly publication. It took me much longer than expected to load five dailies (even with the content in hand) and I need to make a living (this is my marketing, not my work). If you really liked the daily delivery, let me know and we'll see what we can do for you, but you might want to just read one item each day off this issue. (I know, betcha can't read just one.)
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Takes on the News
Simple Clues for a Big Island
Our host and his friends were most anxious to bring the island of Hawaii into the 21st century. A little field research showed the power to do this is in their hands. If the island's current merchants can only maximize their current online efforts they will do fine.
In my own touring I found that many businesses on the island already have Web sites, even Web stores. Low International Food in Hilo has a site featuring home-made bread flavored with island fruits. (I personally think he should feature the almond cookies, which are excellent.) The general store in Waimea has a site featuring Kona coffee and whatever he can overstock, like local honey.
The problem with these online stores is they have no marketing budget, and little knowledge of what works. Low had prices posted on everything in his place, even an old plastic bucket, but his standard handout lacked his URL. (In general his pitches are too busy , too filled with items and prices. He needs to figure out what he does best and concentrate on it.) The general store owner talked glowingly of a pick-up in business after paying some "get your site on the search engine" shyster a few hundred dollars. (The credit should probably go to Yahoo, his store host.)
If you really want to "take back the Net" then find these folks, using the Web or a car. Then, if you really have game, make them an offer they can't refuse. Ask for a chance to help them grow their business, and take nothing for the first 10% increase in sales. Then offer to take just 10% of any remaining increase, up to a maximum commission (a dollar figure or percentage of sales) that you both find reasonable.
Then do some basic stuff. Get Low his own URL, and push the cookies. Get the general store to send e-mail thank-yous a month after delivery. Have them focus on a few good products and make sure the pages describing how to get those products can be easily found.
Or try this idea. Get the merchants in a small town like Waimea together on quarterly "post cards," perhaps using pictures taken with a digital camera. The post card would give the local news in a few sentences, then tell what each town's online business has done for its online customers lately in one sentence each. People love small towns. Imagine a quarterly note from a wired small town in the middle of paradise, one you've "gone to" by buying before. Think you'll want to go back?
Even Wizards Don't Always Listen
The speakers at the E-commerce 2001 to-do in Waikaloa all specialized in one piece of the e-commerce puzzle (I do strategy, not tactics), and I know they often meet other wizards with other specialties. What's sad, but you can learn from, is that wizards don't always listen to one another.
Take John Audette. He's a brilliant online tactician, and shared (in addition to a panel) a lovely dinner with Rob Frankel, the master brand-maker (along with my wife and I). Yet Audette has never tapped into Frankel's wealth of brand-building knowledge on behalf of his own company. He does things himself, on instinct. They're good instincts, but he's not a master brand-maker.
Or take Rob Frankel himself. He does superb work, but he is frustrated that companies may hire him for a day, take in his input, then fail to follow through. His answer may lie in the teachings of Marty Chenard on the proper way to price. His "look at my Costco shirt" schtick is raising three (wonderful) children in the kind of movie set neighborhood you can imagine a Dobie Gillis retiring to, but he could do so much better at the right price. And as Marty has written many times, the right price is often a higher price.
The Clue of the Big Check
Why is it that Lou Gerstner doesn't call on me to fix IBM, and Bill Gates hasn't feted me on the Microsoft campus? It's because the advice I give them, like the advice I give you, is free. I'm a journalist and proud of it. My job is to learn and then to explain, to as large an audience as possible, what happens in my field of Internet Strategy. I'm not here for the big bucks, I'm here to serve.
So who will the leaders of the Fortunate 500 really hear and obey? (This is true for most businesses, by the way, save a few of the very smallest.) Before sitting down with an expert the boss must write a Big Check. (The size of the check, of course, will vary.) Once you write the Big Check, the words you hear will be taken as orders. That justifies the Big Check.
Big-time consulting brands get the Big Check with a lot of smoke and mirrors and froufrou, so that when they arrive they seem like Iron Chef Marketing (or Branding) rising from the floor around dry ice before a more than life-sized portrait of themselves.
How do you get the Big Check? You demand it. You surround yourself with acolytes, you investigate how big a check represents a Big Check to each prospect, and that's the number you present. You refuse to take less, because you won't be effective until you get their price (as opposed to your price). The Big Check doesn't pay for your time. It pays for their attention.
Clued-in is Spammimic, a clever way to "fight the power" of government (and private) e-mail surveillance by disguising a note as spam. If we have to fight our own government and employers to take back the net, let's get to work on it.
Clueless is any reporter who accepts as truth any record industry propaganda, such as the nonsense that a fall in "CD Single" sales proves Napster cost them money. CD sales grew 2% last year despite the horrible publicity of the Napster War (and some really crappy music). People love the music and want to pay for it. Find a way that works for them.