Advice I Gave to a Young Entrepreneur

outer space galaxies stars nubulae
No do-overs in this universe.
We don't get do-overs in this universe. What's done cannot be redone. Your successes and not-quite-successes stay on your private resume throughout your whole life. A young friend of my three sons, whom I refer to as my fourth son, is an engineer and approached me about getting some advice and guidance on starting his own business providing engineering and construction services. He knew I had some experience starting, operating, growing, and selling a business in a similar industry. We agreed to meet in a few days, and the prospect of discussing business formation and growth prompted me to consider what I had really learned from my (gulp!) many years of experience in the trenches.

I started musing about what I know now that could have been very helpful to me if I had known it when I was a cub business owner. I share my thoughts below in no particular order. Some might have some redundancy, but I decided to present it pretty much the way it spilled out with a minimum of editing. Perhaps you have some you might add.
  1. Every outcome has a probability. In any situation there are countless possible outcomes. Each has a probability. For the decision maker, it is important to avoid the false euphoria of being sure of an outcome. Other outcomes are possible, even though the likelihood of their occurrence may be very small. Recognize the range of outcomes that have reasonable probability and have a plan for their occurrence.
  2. Have a plan for succession or dissolution. When a business is started, the principals are often excited and full of hope. Nothing wrong with that, but a written agreement should be made that delineates the terms the govern if one of the principals decides to leave the venture. While the discussion is akin to a couple hammering out the terms of their divorce while attending their engagement party, having this agreement in place at the outset can avoid conflict at a later date.
  3. Avoid letting your hair catch fire. This is an expression, probably outdated, that refers to an overreaction to a newly presented problem. Problems are seldom solved by histrionics. Calm, systematic, and rational approaches will work best at overcoming challenges.
  4. Everything is fine – until it is not. Especially in contracts with customers, employees, and partners, outlining what terms and procedures shall govern when things do not go as anticipated can avoid wasted time, conflict, damages, and other occurrences which will negatively impact the business. This is especially applicable to informal verbal agreements or understandings. If the issue has a reasonable probability of occurring, better to solidify an understanding among all involved parties at the outset, before their view is impacted by actual occurrence of unforeseen events.
  5. Agree on things before they become things. The best time to reach agreement on anything is before anything happens. This is especially true when money is involved. People think and act more rationally when the object of the agreement does not yet exist.
  6. Do not underestimate the power of greed. Study and understand greed and how it can affect the behavior of your partners, employees, customers, and suppliers. Also examine how greed can impact your own behavior. People you know and love may do some pretty harsh and unexpected things when in its grip.
  7. Or fear. Everyone has fear of something. At a primitive level, it is what helps us survive. In a business environment, identifying your own fears, as well as the fears of those you work with, can be valuable in decision making and planning.
  8. If you want someone to do something, make them believe it is their idea. Don’t worry about not getting credit for the good idea. Your goal is to make money. If sharing or relinquishing ego boosting credit for success or an idea motivates an employee or partner to higher levels of performance, let it happen. Better yet, make it happen.
  9. Never discount the potential impact of luck. Luck, good and bad, is the occurrence of those events that, in your estimation, had very low probability. Luck can also be the occurrence of an outcome about which you were not even aware. There is a substantial amount of chaos in the world. Be aware of chaos, and as prepared as you feel is prudent. Oh, almost forgot, do not take professional credit for lucky positive events. Show some integrity and call them what they are.
  10. Recognize the most basic purpose of your business. It is to collect checks, revenue, money. The manner in which you go about collecting checks reflects your dedication, professionalism, and ethics.
  11. Marketing makes you money – create solid presence and discoverability. This has always been true, but the manner is which you go about it has dramatically changed. Presence and discoverability are essential for growth in the modern business environment. They lead to opportunities for contact and revenue.
  12. Revenue generation is paramount. For small businesses, I mean genuine small businesses with owner/operators that know the first names of everyone working at the company, keeping money coming in is the number one priority. Be sure not to forget that for even one day.
  13. Pay employees first, then taxes, then suppliers, finally yourself. Your business plan should have allowances for paying everyone, especially yourself. As owner, you are last in line to get paid. Your employees and suppliers put their trust in your integrity and ability to make everything work and generate the revenue needed to pay them for their contribution to your business.
  14. Revenue generating activities take precedence over everything else. There is never a shortage of things that need doing in a small business. Prioritizing and delegating tasks in a manner that balances all the needs of the business is your responsibility, Boss.
  15. Suppliers can be your greatest source of short term financing. Materials and subcontracted work can be a substantial component of the deliverables of certain businesses. Even terms of net 30 days gives you a month to complete work and get paid. Do not underestimate this value. Good financial relations with a partner supplier can pay off when you need a small extension for a big project.
  16. Take liberal advantage of opportunities to outsource. Your human resources have some level of specialized knowledge or skill that directly relates to your company's revenue generation. That is what their pay is based upon. Avoid applying specialized resources to tasks outside of their specialization. Their pay is based upon their value as a skilled operator. Make sure you leverage that cost and skill to its maximum level. Outsourcing frees up the time of the specialists to do the important work.
  17. Avoid growth into areas subject to automation and AI takeover….unless you are the one taking over.  In this case, I took a liberty and applied my past experience to the current times. A more generalized appropriate maxim might be "Don't forget to keep a keen eye on the future of your industry". Many areas of work are being changed forever by automation and AI. Learn to recognize tasks or projects your company performs mostly with human resources that might be targets for automation and AI invasion. You should either innovate into automation and AI, or avoid those market segments as potential areas of growth.
  18. Establish and describe the value each person brings to the business. This includes all principals, current employees and new hires. The description of that value is the baseline that can be used to assess whether their value has increased, or even if it is being maintained. It’s important not to keep paying people more money for doing the same thing. Pay should be commensurate with value.
  19. Examine and understand your risk tolerance profile. Your appetite for risk, or your aversion to it, will impact your decisions in ways you need to understand. Excessive tolerance or aversion can result in a failure to capitalize on growth opportunities, or getting involved in projects with elevated probability of a negative outcome. Knowing your risk profile will help you to temper your enthusiasm or reservations to make prudent decisions. 
  20. Put systems in place that can easily scale up 20x. When you start your business, everything is small except your expectations. Putting business systems in place that can remain in place and easily scale up as your business grows will save substantial amounts of money and help you avoid the disruption that comes from changing from one system to another.
  21. Be prepared for big opportunities. They usually come without warning.
  22. You will likely overvalue your business. If you ever reach a point where the sale of the business is in play, recognize that your own valuation probably includes some very subjective elements related to your personal experience. Don’t be offended by a potential buyer’s failure to share your enthusiasm. Be prepared to show tangible evidence that supports your valuation.
  23. Plans for growth and success should be based upon the use of human resources with average levels of performance. You are not going to hire a staff of super-humans. Companies with tons of cash will hire all the super-humans. Don’t worry, with the right plan, you won’t need them.
  24. Nobody will do it as fast, or as well, as you. Accept that and plan accordingly.
  25. Downtime away from work is where inspiration is found. Find or make time to let your mind freewheel. When your mind is not occupied by the daily grind, room for free thought is plentiful.
  26. There will always be more customers. You don’t need to work with the bad ones. Avoiding an overly risky project, or a customer that demands too much of your time, can be a positive move for your growth.
  27. Suppliers may be your most important business relationship. A customer is unlikely to have the power to put you out of business. A supplier might, though. You do not want suppliers talking badly about your company’s demeanor (through interactions with your employees) or its payment record.
  28. Resources are limited. If you give something, be sure to get a return. This applies to everything. The return need not be monetary. It might be information you can use to build your business. Have a simple plan for every contact that outlines a simple goal you wish to achieve that will constitute your return on the time or money invested in the encounter. 
Now my young friend is prepared for success!

Follow, comment, contact me with your questions. I can be contacted directly at CMS4i by putting @TomO in the message section. At CMS4i, we help small companies build their brand and web presence, so contact us anytime.

While You Are In Pursuit of Success...

homemade chocolate brownies cut in squares
This image is actually related to the article.
Often enough, I catch myself pounding away at my business pursuits with that "I've got to get this done" attitude. For many of us, business takes up a big part of the day. In my work, I frequently rummage through articles and other content generated by others. This is mostly a quest to build and maintain my level of familiarity with the industries and companies that we serve here at CMS4i, but once in a while I come across a piece that stops me dead in my tracks and hits my reset button. This happened recently when I opened up the January newsletter from SVF Flow Controls. The company president, Wayne Ulanski, with whom I am not acquainted, penned up a list that he called "Little Rules of Life". I wanted to share the list with you, and give all the credit to Mr. Ulanski for a thoughtful and interesting list of things for us all to ponder. Sometimes it helps to step away, far away, from the daily mind grind and think a little about what we can do to make ourselves, and those we contact, a little happier.

Here is the list, and it's a little long but worth reading. There is something in it for everyone. You can also see the entire newsletter, or see what SVF Flow Controls is all about. My favorite, probably my credo, is number five.

  1. Sing in the shower.
  2. Treat everyone you meet like you want to be treated.
  3. Watch a sunrise at least once a year.
  4. Leave the toilet seat in the down position.
  5. Never refuse homemade brownies.
  6. Strive for excellence, not perfection.
  7. Plant a tree on your birthday.
  8. Learn 3 clean jokes.
  9. Return borrowed vehicles with the gas tank full.
  10. Compliment 3 people every day.
  11. Never waste an opportunity to tell someone you love them.
  12. Leave everything a little better than you found it.
  13. Keep it simple.
  14. Think big thoughts but relish small pleasures.
  15. Become the most positive and enthusiastic person you know.
  16. Floss your teeth.
  17. Overtip breakfast waitresses.
  18. Be forgiving of yourself and others.
  19. Say, “Thank you” a lot.
  20. Say, “Please” a lot.
  21. Avoid negative people.
  22. Buy whatever kids are selling on card tables in their front yards.
  23. Wear polished shoes.
  24. Remember other people’s birthdays.
  25. Commit yourself to constant improvement.
  26. Carry jumper cables in your trunk.
  27. Have a firm handshake.
  28. Send lots of Valentine cards.
  29. Sign them, “Someone who thinks you’re terrific.”
  30. Look people in the eye.
  31. Be the first to say hello.
  32. Use the good silver.
  33. Return all things you borrow.
  34. Make new friends, but cherish the old ones.
  35. Keep a few secrets.
  36. Feed a stranger’s expired parking meter.
  37. Plant flowers every spring.
  38. Always accept an outstretched hand.
  39. Stop blaming others.
  40. Take responsibility for every area of your life.
  41. Wave at kids on school buses.
  42. Be there when people need you.
  43. Sing in a choir.
  44. Don’t expect life to be fair.
  45. Never underestimate the power of love. 
  46. Drink champagne for no reason at all.
  47. Live your life as an exclamation, not an explanation.
  48. Don’t be afraid to say, “I made a mistake.”
  49. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.”
  50. Compliment even small improvements.
  51. Keep your promises no matter what.
  52. Marry for love.
  53. Rekindle old friendships.
  54. Count your blessings.
  55. Register as an Organ Donor.
  56. Losing yourself in new surroundings is the best way to find yourself.
  57. Call your mother.


Hey Industrial Manufacturer's, Rep's and Distributor's: Consider Web SEO When designing Your Literature!

Bad Web PDF SEO
Bad Web PDF SEO (click for larger)
Just about every company we deal with makes the same mistake with their online literature. SEO titles and meta information is commonly overlooked.

Literature is always done on some form of desktop publisher (Word, InDesign, Quark) and generally always done by people with print publishing backgrounds (not web design). The nicely designed brochures, line cards, and engineering documents are then sent to printers for handing out, and outputted to PDF versions for the Web.

The problem arises during the conversion to PDF from the desktop publishing software. These software packages almost always default the creator's file name as the "meta title" of the new PDF, leaving an often cryptic and useless SEO document title.  For instance, seeing a document name like "Jan 2017 Line Card" or Jan 2017 Eng Doc", or worse yet seeing "Doc.01012017.3425" is of no value at all for Web indexing.

Good Web PDF SEO
Good Web PDF SEO (click for larger)
While Google and Bing index a PDF's full content, adding a good title, description, author, and copyright to these documents is very important for SEO.

Creators of literature need to be aware of these items before and during their design, and either input them to the right fields in the desktop publishing software, or later edit them in Adobe Acrobat.

Recommendations for good SEO for Web literature:

  1. Start off with a good SEO title for the document including the company name and maybe even good search terms. Ex: "Line Card Jan 20, 2017" should be something like "ACME-Rep-Company-New-York-New-Jersey-Process-Control-Line-Card-1-20-2017"
  2. Start off with a good SEO description for the literature. Ex: "ACME Flowmeter provides more accurate control in low flow applications". 
  3. Make the company the author of the document.
  4. Assign a copyright statement referencing the company, such as "All rights reserved ACME Widget Company".
These small steps during the creation of the PDF will payoff in much better search results for your products and company brand.

To discuss in more detail, email info@cms4i.com and we'll start a dialog.

What is the Purpose of Your LinkedIn Company Page?

LinkedIn logo
LinkedIn Logo
So, Small Business Owner, your marketing people or your nephew that's a computer wizard told you to get a LinkedIn page for your company. Without full understanding, or maybe with what you think is a full understanding, you have your internet marketing provider create a page for you. Check the box next to that item....done.

No, not done. While you may have completed the task, what you may not know is what that company page is really for. What is it going to do for you? Is it "just there", or do you need to have some ongoing program of posting, like with your other social media sites?
What is the goal of a company LinkedIn page?
Sell stuff, right? We want to sell product or service, somehow, through the presence of that company page. Well.....no, that's wrong. Very wrong.

Let me get right to it. Your LinkedIn company page is a primary public facing part of your organization. Your physical location continues be of less importance to potential customers when they are evaluating whether to bring you in to consult on a project, or offer your solutions to their challenges. Your customers want to make an assessment, before they meet with you, about whether you can provide or accomplish what they need. How they do that is by browsing through your online presence. Potential customers are getting their first impression of your company without your awareness, without even interacting with anyone from your organization.

Your online presence is comprised of your website, social media pages, blog, and any other internet locations identifiable and discoverable with your company name. Your website is of your own creation, but social media pages have general themes associated with them, each presenting your company in a different fashion. For example, Twitter is heavily weighted toward current events with it's constantly rolling news feed. Each location says something about your company that is presented to a visitor without any interpretation of context provided by a live company representative. Make sure that these pages present a clear and positive picture of your organization.

Back to LinkedIn. LinkedIn is all business, all the time. With great and increasing frequency, you will be judged by your LinkedIn page. In answer to the question posed earlier..
The goal of your LinkedIn company page is to show your company is professional, knowledgeable, capable, current, and involved.
Let's break that down.

  • Professional - We all generally have a concept of what "professional" is, but it is important to display those aspects of your company and its people that support a professional image. That can range through publicizing charitable activities, project completions, trade shows, awards, and much more.
  • Knowledgeable - Customers want to work with the smart people to solve their problems. Find ways to showcase, through posts on your page and articles that you author and publish on your page (underlined because it is important), the high level of industry specific knowledge that your company brings to each and every customer encounter.
  • Capable - How do you show how capable your organization is? Having all your employees linked to the company page is one way. Make certain that every employee's profile is well done, providing a positive image of the person and their skills. Another way to highlight your company's abilities is to write your own case studies, articles that describe a real challenge and your company's part in solving it. Your creativity will help you discover more ways to portray your company's value.
  • Current - This one is very important. Content on your LinkedIn company page, or any social media account, should show activity in the very recent past. A page with the most recent post being from a year ago looks like it has been abandoned. Keep posting and publishing, even with small items.
  • Involved - Present content that shows participation in community activities, trade shows, standards committees, whatever endeavors and activities that pertain to your target market or industry. 
A LinkedIn company page should not be viewed by you, Small Business Owner, as a graphic poster about your company. Do not allow it to be static. LinkedIn is where other professionals, potential customers, and potential employees will go to make an evaluation of your company. Your time and effort invested in making and keeping up that online presence will reap dividends.

Follow, comment, contact me with your questions. I can be contacted directly at CMS4i by putting @TomO in the message section. At CMS4i, we help small companies build their brand and web presence, so contact us anytime.

Should You Promote a Legacy Brand Name, or Move on with the New One?

branding iron representing a marketing brand or brand name
How to promote a legacy brand name
Consolidation, acquisition, and merger activity among corporations can create a challenge for local marketers, such as a distributor or representative. The dilemma concerns the value in continued promotion of the legacy brand name.

Here is the scenario. You represent the small, specialized, successful manufacturer of a product. A large company with an international brand acquires the small company you represent. Once you clear the hurdle of whether the new owner will maintain the current sales channels, there is then the question of how to present and promote the new brand to your customer base. It is likely that the legacy brand name is well known in the market, but conglomerates will have interest in the promotion of their own brand which may encompass the products of numerous other companies they have acquired. Here are some things to consider.

  • If the principal abandons the legacy brand name, you can still maintain a legacy brand name presence on your website and social media channels. This can help customers unaware of the brand change make a connection with your company. A legacy brand name page on your website, a blog about the brand name change, other social media posts will all help customers link the legacy brand to your company and the new brand name. Effectiveness will be attained through repeated posts about the brand name for however long it takes to establish the new brand in place of the old.
  • If the principal adds their name to the legacy brand name, similar to a hyphenated surname for a spouse, your interests may be best served by promoting both names separately, as well as combined. The newly created combo name will, by itself, have little recognition in the initial stages, and brand development efforts by the acquiring company may not produce the results needed to foster your local sales and promotion efforts. Solid branding does not develop overnight. It takes time, sometimes lots of time. Figuratively hanging some legacy brand name signs on your website and social media channels will enhance search engine performance and bring visitors to your sites where a transitional move toward the new brand name can be implemented.
  • If the principal maintains the legacy brand name, an example of which would be "Legacy Brand Name, a division of Big Company" or something similar, you can mostly maintain your marketing status quo. In this case, the acquiring company is placing significant value on the brand name that they purchased (smart), and you should maintain promotion of the legacy brand.
There are an unlimited number of variants to the three simple scenarios shown here. Your relationships with your principals are the lifeblood of your business. If they provide direction or guidance on how to promote a new branding, it is probably best to conform. 

Brand names that enjoy widespread recognition, good reputation, and identify with a narrow range of products or applications can have immense value. Unless there is a specific prohibition to continuing to provide a connection between your customers and principals through your company by using that legacy brand name, I generally recommend you maintain its useful presence throughout your digital marketing. Though, with a view to the future, keep in mind that younger and new entries into your potential customer pool are unlikely to share the connection strength of industry veterans to the legacy brand name. Over time, which could be years, you should transition your sales promotion to synchronize with whatever path the acquiring company uses. 

Follow, comment, contact me with your questions directly at CMS4i by putting @TomO in the message section. At CMS4i, we help small companies build their brand and web presence, so contact us anytime.

Should You Blog About Products You Don't Sell?

think differently about social media marketing
Sometimes, going against your long held beliefs can be helpful.
The relationships between you, my technical sales representative and industrial distributor friends, and your principals can be convoluted. Manufacturers prefer that you not handle products considered competitive with theirs, but it is inevitable that some overlap will come into play. As a work-around solution, it is common for a rep to handle only a portion of a manufacturer's product line. There are a number of other possible scenarios that may leave you authorized to sell less than the entire product mix. This creates something of a challenge when designing your website, but even more so when selecting topics for frequent blog articles.

Some blog posts come pretty close to being product advertisements, and close is generally acceptable. I keep these points in mind when I write about a product.

  • Keep promotional speech minimized (preferably missing entirely)
  • Tie the product to an industry practice
  • Focus on technical aspects of a product or process
  • Relay how it may be different
  • Show how it can deliver benefits or improvements to the reader's work or process

Working toward these goals helps maintain your post as a useful and interesting piece. The goal is to provide value for the reader, netting benefit to the writer as a result of the reader's fulfillment.

You want your company to be noticed, discovered, found by individuals with common interests, since these are the people you will do business with in one form or another. If getting noticed or discovered is your goal...
Does it make sense to blog about things you do not sell, but are related to your business?
Of course it does! Remember, your goal with your social media portals is not to sell products, it is to "sell" your organization, by increasing subscribers and reinforcing their positive impressions. The more subjects you cover, with keywords for search engines to find, the better. It is useful to keep in mind that your potential customers have professional interests beyond your company's product offering. This takes a conscious effort. It is easy to myopically blog away about the products shown on the company website, and that's not entirely without merit. But there is more to write about. Being the source of interesting and useful information, being the "go-to place" for news or updates on a subject, adds tremendous social media value to your company. Here are some guidelines and ideas to consider.

  • Avoid blogging about competitors directly, but be mindful of their concepts and approaches to solving customer challenges. You may be able to write about the generic concept without mentioning the competitor by name. Compare and contrast your company's approach to a similar issue.
  • It can be productive to blog about facets or products of a brand that are unavailable for you to sell. For example, blog about a company's flow meters, even though you only handle their level controls. As long as you do not handle a competitive flow meter, getting the brand name out there can still be positive for you through links back to your site.
  • Write about legislative and regulatory current events. There is a continuing flood of this information being released by federal, state, and local jurisdictions. Keeping up with it is difficult for your customers. Your position as an information source can yield positive benefits through followers and subscribers.
  • For industrial settings, cyber security and safety are looming issues with universal impact. Find good sources of information and share them through your social media.
  • Share an original viewpoint from someone in your company. It does not have to be the CEO. People that work in cubicles, people that turn wrenches, may have some very interesting and valuable things to say. I recommend you work an article such as this as an interview. Getting people to talk to you is generally much easier than getting them to write for you.
  • Go completely off topic once in a while. If you have something to share that would be of interest to your industry or audience, but may not be directly related to your company's business line, publish it. This should be an infrequent event, to avoid having your blog appear unfocused.
  • Write about things you do not sell, but are used by your potential customers. Your article can be non-partisan and provide insight not usually delivered by those that sell the particular product.
I think you see it now. The purpose of your writing is to serve the reader. If you serve the reader well, the reader will read another article or click on one of your links, increasing their recognition of your organization. That is your goal.

Follow, comment, reach out to me with your questions. I can be contacted directly at CMS4i by putting @TomO in the message section. At CMS4i, we help small companies build their brand and web presence, so contact us anytime.

Should You Keep Your Employees Off LinkedIn?

LinkedIn logo and LinkedIn logo with red line through it
Encourage your employees to use LinkedIn, or not?
I have been a proponent of having employees on LinkedIn. From my viewpoint, there is value associated with a network of industry invested individuals providing social network connections between their employing company and other industry related individuals. Creating and nourishing pathways for your company to be discovered is a very positive thing, right?
Surprise, Marketer, not every business owner thinks so.
CMS4i does not have a brick and mortar presence. Everybody works remotely, so we arrange to meet periodically to accomplish things better done face to face. Recently, we invited a customer to meet with us, provide some feedback on our social marketing services, and allow us to generally interrogate him (not  really) in an effort to learn something valuable. One of the striking points made by our esteemed customer concerned his desire to avoid having employees active on LinkedIn. Of course, this is near heresy to a social media marketer and, after regaining my composure, I queried as to his reasoning.
Workforce protection.
My customer viewed LinkedIn as a human resource market, where his competitors or other industry related companies could find his trained and experienced employees, then target them for recruitment. True, LinkedIn certainly is a go-to venue for both hiring managers and job seekers. The business owner seemed to have a valid point.

Surely, there was some analysis that could be done, some balance to be struck? Not in this case. The business owner valued the human assets represented by his well trained technicians far in excess of any marketing sizzle that could be delivered by extending his LinkedIn reach. As a marketer, I needed to recognize that there may have been other strategic or tactical goals than mine. There was more to a business than just getting business.

The takeaway here is to remember that, as a marketer, we view and participate in only a small slice of the businesses we serve. We need to be flexible and accommodative with other facets of the business in our pursuit of growth.

Follow, comment, contact me with your questions. I can be contacted directly at CMS4i by putting @TomO in the message section. At CMS4i, we help small companies build their brand and web presence, so contact us anytime.