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6 Your New Competitive Advantage (It’s Not What You Think)

Thursday is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is Gabriel Mays – Enjoy!

perspectiveWhat’s your competitive advantage?  When we hear competitive advantage we often think of what we can see: brand identity, marketing strategy, etc.  But with increasingly commoditized products and services, shrinking margins, and copycat competitors we need to look deeper.

According to Wikipedia:

“Competitive advantage occurs when an organization acquires or develops an attribute or combination of attributes that allows it to outperform its competitors.”

So, how you run your business can also be a competitive advantage.  It’s an advantage your competitors can’t see and is therefore difficult to copy.  But to find these opportunities, we have to think differently.

A Matter Of Perspective

Have you ever seen someone get used to doing something inefficiently?  Maybe it’s your mechanic still using paper invoices or your uncle getting up to change the channel on the TV instead of using the remote.  For me it’s seeing my father-in-law use a 25ft. phone cord in the kitchen so he could move around and still talk on the phone.  I didn’t even know they made phone cords that long.  The next day, cordless phones had mysteriously replaced every phone in the house.  I’m not sure how they got there, but I can tell you that I bought them at Best Buy…

These are harmless examples of status quo, but this same kind of blindness happens to businesses and even entire industries.  We think we’re doing it right by following best practices and doing what everyone else is doing, but unfortunately ‘status quo’ and ‘best practice’ are often synonyms.  When we blindly follow best practices, we risk forfeiting any competitive advantage.

Thinking Differently

Let’s talk about the easiest way for small businesses to gain a competitive advantage in their industry today.  Best practices tell small businesses to be more active on their website, blog more, use social media, etc.   This advice is great (and works when done right), but the execution is often flawed because we’re just adding more things to an already overflowing to-do list.  We end up unfocused and unproductive.

How many tips on improving your business do you read every week?  How many do you actually end up using successfully?  We’re so busy looking for ways to do more that we miss opportunities to do less, and thus be more efficient.  Businesses that figure this out will develop a significant competitive advantage in their market.  Here’s how to get started.

Your Most Underutilized Employee

In our rush to embrace the latest trends, we’ve missed the quiet revolution that turned our trusty old website into a powerful source of leverage.  Your website is now your most underutilized employee.

The emergence of cloud applications like FreshBooks, Constant Contact, and Salesforce are changing the way we work by bringing enterprise power to small businesses at a fraction of the cost.  They’re simplifying accounting, invoicing, project management, CRM, and more with no software to install, maintenance, or personnel costs.

But to take full advantage of these apps we have to leverage our newest, most underutilized employee: our website.  It’s already available 24/7 and interacts with customers, so we can use our website as a business hub to integrate cloud apps directly into our workflow.

An Example

What would this look like?  Imagine a consultant uses cloud apps to manage invoicing, scheduling, CRM, etc.  Suppose she’s tired of doing repetitive data entry tasks for each new client and decides to automate by integrating these apps with the website’s intake forms.  Now when a client submits a form through her website this happens automatically:

  • A draft estimate/invoice is created (FreshBooks, QuickBooks, Xero, etc.)
  • Client details are added to the CRM (Highrise, Salesforce, Infusionsoft, Zoho, etc.)
  • A project is created in her project management app (Basecamp, Trello, Podio, Asana)
  • Attached files (images, documents, etc.) are uploaded and stored (Dropbox, Box, SkyDrive, etc.)
  • The client is added to the email newsletter (MailChimp, AWeber, Constant Contact, etc.)
  • An intake meeting is added to the calendar
  • A text message summary is sent to the consultant (SMS/instant text notification)

This is just an example, but what would your perfect workflow look like?  What apps would you use?   If you’re not using cloud apps in your business yet, try a few out to see which work best for you.  Most have free trials and some even have free plans.  When you’re ready, you can integrate them with your website.  How you integrate the apps depends on how your website is built and which apps you’re using, but you can do it for under $100.

Your new competitive advantage is a better engine under the hood.  It’s better processes, smarter workflows, lower costs, and higher margins.  The power of cloud apps will help you do this, and your website will help you automate it all.

“If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.”

– Jack Welch, grew General Electric 4,000% as CEO 1981 – 2001

gabe-150x150Gabriel Mays is the Founder and CEO of Just Add Content, which makes affordable, easy to use small business websites.  Just Add Content specializes in making cloud app integration accessible to small businesses.  Previously Gabe served as a Captain in the Marine Corps for 8 years, spending 2 years between Iraq and Afghanistan operating on small, embedded advisor teams.  Visit Just Add Content to get a free email crash course on building a smarter business website!

1 Show Me Your Calendar and Your Checkbook, and I'll Show You What’s Really Important in Your Life

It is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is John Rydell – Enjoy!

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photo credit: Panpote

My brother and I run a family of software companies, each with their own unique products. Over the past year, we’ve been lucky enough to experience a pretty big spike in growth. Suddenly, our simple time-tracking methods just weren’t enough to capture how all our resources were allocated between our different products.  After some discussion about how it might affect the culture of the company, we decided to have our team start tracking their time.

As you might expect, we learned a lot from a business perspective, and it also got me thinking about a quotation I heard about 15 years ago: “Show me your calendar and your checkbook, and I’ll show you what’s really important in your life.”  Times have changed (“show me your Outlook and Mint.com account”?), but the message is as relevant as ever. No matter what you claim to be important to you, your calendar and checkbook will tell you the truth.

2014 is upon us, and now is as good a time as any to take stock of how you’re spending your time and money.

What is most important to you?

Before you continue reading, please take a few minutes to jot down what is important in your life.

You might have a hobby that’s important, or perhaps religion. Whatever your list is, keep it handy so you can refer back to it later.

How do you actually spend your time?

Now that you have created your list, I challenge you to truly look at your calendar for the past day, week, month, and year. Where has your time actually gone?

Are you taking the time to give back to your community and your church? Do you take the time to exercise and spend time with your friends and family?

Consider the following question: “How would I spend my day if time and money didn’t matter?” That usually gives you some clues about what is most important to you.

How do you actually spend your money?

Next, let’s look at your money. Go back through your expenses for the year and be honest about where your money went. It doesn’t have to be precise, but you can quickly get a good sense about your spending.

I know it is easy to think that this exercise would be a lot simpler and more fun if you were rich. But the truth is that if you are reading this blog, it is likely that you are in the top 1% of all earners on the planet. In fact, you may even be in the top 10% of all earners in the United States. No matter what you think, you do have choices about how you spend your money.

What financial goals are important to you? You need to ensure that you have a real plan for funding all of these things in a manner that you can be proud of.

In my case, my wife and I have worked hard to get to the point where we set aside 15% for savings and 10% for charity. That isn’t easy to do and it didn’t happen overnight.  We started with smaller percentages and built up. Another thing that helps us is that we automatically put money into separate accounts for things like charity, taxes, and savings to ensure that the money is set aside.

Decide what is important to you strategically and stick with it. Don’t keep spending money on something just because it is what you’re used to doing.

So what can you do about this in 2014?

Find one area in your life where you can make a small change in your time and money. Perhaps you need to commit to spending 2 extra hours per week on your health and nutrition. Or you need to save an extra 1% of your money for retirement. Make one small change and commit to it in 2014.

2014 is around the corner. Now is the time to take a careful look at your time and money and make sure you are spending it in the right places next year. Your health, your family, your business, your charitable community, and the world will all be better if you do.

JohnJohn Rydell is a seasoned entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience starting and growing technology and telecom companies. John currently spends his time as president of Networx Online, a CRM-in-the-cloud business that provides online marketing solutions for network marketers. John is also president and co-founder of the sales automation tool PhoneBurner.com as well as the popular free online meeting provider MeetingBurner.com.

16 Are We Products of Our Entrepreneurial Environments?

Fred RogersI’m not sure why this riff keeps running around in my head, but I thought I would pose it to my readers as a kind of fun, but potentially telling bit of research.

Owning a business, marketing a business, horn tooting, innovating, fearlessly charging into unchartered waters is the stuff of small business. It’s also often looked upon as something that requires special traits and characteristics that, well, some people just don’t profess to possess.

Many of the traits that make up the entrepreneur are ingrained as habits, I suspect, knowingly or unknowingly, by our well intentioned parents and caregivers.

Fear of failure is learned, fear of success is learned, fear over money and lack are learned, shame in tooting one’s own horn is taught, fear of being called different is acquired. Likewise, innovation can be an observed trait, authenticity in promotion can be taught by example, understanding that income is easy to create, that time is precious, that serving is noble, that, well, a bunch of other good stuff about owning a business, can be taught by example might just be the product of our upbringing.

My parents were entrepreneurs of a sort before the word had today’s cache and meaning. My father was an independent manufacturer’s representative and my mom raised ten children old school. She cooked, canned, gardened, sewed, laundered, sang and never worried about where the next ten bucks was coming from because she had tremendous faith in herself and the enterprise. They were stunning examples of the entrepreneur sprite. They were not without their flaws and fears, I mean, really, we’re all just making it up as we go, but I wonder what impact that had on my absolute firm resolve to do my own thing, to market joyfully and to promote with passion.

So, I’ve told you a little of my story and here’s what I’m wondering.

1) Why do you do what you do?
2) What did your parents do?
3) How did that impact your entrepreneurial spirit?

I swear there’s a point to this ramble, and I’ll let you know what it is after I collect your thoughts. Please share your story – good bad and ugly as it may be and in the words of the immortal Fred Rodgers“It’s hard not to like someone, once you know their story.”

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24 The Best City for Entrepreneurs

Austin SkylineI am doing an interview today with a journalist writing a story about entrepreneurial cities.

You’ve probably seen these kinds of articles before, but to me this is such a tough question. What’s the best place to be an entrepreneur? Most of these types of polls take a look at tangible things like access to capital, learning resources, mentoring facilities, focused government programs and the presence of universities and incubators.

While I think these tangible assets are indeed important, there’s another very large factor that I’ve found as I travel around the globe speaking to groups of entrepreneurs. It’s something I can only classify as a vibe. What I have found in some cities is the entrepreneurs there simply love running a business, are passionate about learning how to do it better, and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. For these folks this is not a job and they are willing to come together and support each other in that mission.

I’m not sure how to bottle that and tell you why it exists, it’s like telling you that in some cities entrepreneurs just seem happier, but that’s my experience.

Recently I’ve found this to be the case in Boston, Austin, San Diego, Phoenix, and Portland.

So my two question to you today are:
1) What cities are great for entrepreneurs?
2) What makes a city great for entrepreneurs?

David Allen Live on Duct Tape Marketing

Join me Thursday, April 17th at Noon CDT for a live one on one interview with David Allen, author of the perennially popular – Getting Things Done – The Art of Stress-free Productivity. We will how to be more productive, how to get more of the right things done and how small business owners can relieve stress.

You may enroll for the live session with David Allen here

This series is presented by the Duct Tape Marketing Coach Network and sponsored by GotVMail – the entrepreneur’s phone system.

28 What would the perfect business day look like?

GTD - David AllenMost days small business owners are juggling all the stuff that comes at them all day, either planned or self-inflicted, with a somewhat unsystematic, gut level kind of approach. I know I do that – sometimes it works, sometimes it really, really doesn’t work.

I also know that there is a perfect kind of day for me in my business, one that has effective, efficient and purposeful written all over it. I don’t always work that way, but when I do, it’s a lot more fun.

So I thought I would outline what my perfect business day (non-business days are another subject) looks and feels like and hope that you can share the same, or at least start thinking about intentionally creating perfect business days.

One disclaimer before I lay this out – I don’t, by any means, do this kind of day everyday – or even enough, but it’s a goal.

5:00 am, practice appreciation and silence, catch up on RSS reading, email, read New York Times
7:00 am, wake the kids up for school, eat breakfast with them
8:00 am, workout with my wife at gym or take a lap around Loose Park
9:00 am, at the office plan the day by category – I have about 8 buckets in business and life that I try to make sure I step in every day – mostly aspects of business like marketing, creating, finance and vision. It’s all important and you’ve got to do a little on each daily.
9:30 am – 1:00 pm – This is powerwork time for me – I’m a morning person so I get the most done here
Lunch in here somewhere – I need to get better about this one, get out of the office
3:00 – 6:00 – I do my best on the phone here, I like to put phone meetings, interviews and conference calls in this slot

So there you have it. That’s my perfect business day. So, what does yours look like, what should yours look like? Care to share?

17 Coolness is optional, authenticity is not

A lot of marketing folks spend a great deal of time worrying if they’ve got the right look. For many this means mastering the look that is considered acceptable in their industry (AKA – like everyone else.) For others, this might unfold as a quest to look cool, trendy or expensive.

In the end, the right look is simply a matter of discovering the most authentic look, and for that matter, feel, words and experience, for you. Regardless of how it might be perceived by some. If authentic is conservative, embrace it, if authentic is wild and edgy, go for it, if authentic is cheesy, go full on cheddar.

There are few things more painful to witness than someone trying to be something they are not. On the other hand, there is something very approachable about someone just being who and what they are – even if we don’t happen to view ourselves that way.

Most small businesses are people businesses and people being authentically passionate about their brand, their approach, their products and their selves is attractive.

Stop worrying about what everyone else in your industry is doing and dig down and discover what feels authentic to you about your business and get very, very passionate about that. Do that and the right people will find you.

So, what feels authentic to you?

14 What Are You Afraid Of?

Fear is the most basic of human elements and plays a major role in business success and failure.

I spend a great deal of time trying to help business owners understand that one of the most important marketing strategies they must embrace is finding a way to stand out from the crowd. Because this is such a focus for me I can tell you that one of the single greatest fears that many business owners have is being different than everyone else in their industry.

I suppose it goes back to the schoolyard where being different made all but the most independent kids nervous as heck. I find that this goes well beyond simply copying what others in the industry do, it’s a real fear of doing anything that might appear odd. I can tell you right now this fear, and knowing that others in your industry share it, is the single greatest small business marketing opportunity at your disposal.

Here’s an exercise I would like you to tackle. Go to the web site of your four biggest competitors, copy the introductory paragraph from their home page and paste each on a document. Now add the same from your own web site. Lastly, black out any mention of the names of the firms and pass this page around the office or to anyone familiar with your business.

The object of this little game is to see if anyone can identify any of the companies listed, including your own. My experience when I’ve done this is that many business owners struggle even identifying the entry from their own company, but what is usually painfully obvious is that each of the companies is saying essentially the same thing.

I can tell you right now that if the world of prospects can’t tell you apart from your competitors, they will be forced to use price as their only guide.

You must get over the fear of being different and find a way to demonstrate that you serve a very narrow target niche, package your services in unique ways, provide an over the top experience, own a certain way of doing things, do something that someone wants like no one ever thoughts of – and then, proudly declare this difference in every fiber of your communication.

So tell me, how do you stand out, how do you tap the fear of being different?