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This Bakery Owner Refused to Give Away Freebies. She’s Wrong.

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

If the producers of a popular TV show asked you to provide free product in exchange for “promotion” would you? Laura Worthington refused.

Worthington owns Laura’s Little Bakery in Liverpool, England. Recently, she was asked to bake a cake for one of the stars of a popular British TV show called Love Island. Her payment? “Exposure” on the show’s social media accounts, she was promised. Worthington was not impressed.

“Exposure doesn’t pay my bills,” she told the show’s producers, according to this Buzzfeed News report. “And I’ll be honest I think it’s a disgrace that companies like you go to small independent businesses asking for free stuff.”

It’s not the first time this has happened to her. Worthington claims she gets a request for free cakes “at least once a week.” The requests come from individual people, organizations seeking donations, discounts requested by customers making big orders and even other TV shows, like the X Factor. Read More…

This Is Why Boomer Business Owners Should Stop Whining About Millennial Employees

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

I was at a conference of equipment manufacturers in Texas recently and the talk turned to the millennial generation.  The audience was mostly middle-aged men and women. Business owners. It didn’t go well.

“They don’t work as hard we do,” one  said to the group’s nods of agreement. “They’re just not loyal,” said another. More nods. “They complain too much,” someone else complained.

Y’know, kids today and all that.

When we think of millennials, many business owners I know have an image of the lazy, bearded, craft-bourbon-drinking hipster sporting a man-bun and Civil War-era clothing. Or the whiny barista who breaks down the moment a customer is rude. Or the entitled snowflake who respects and tolerates everyone — except for those who have opinions different from her own.

That image is wrong. Read More…

How Steve Jobs Misled a Room Full of Tech Media and Changed the World

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

Have you ever purposely misled a customer? The public? The media? Steve Jobs did. And he did it to change the world.

The story goes back to 2007, when Apple was first introducing the iPhone. Jobs knew that he had a product that would have an enormous impact on the way humans use technology — and also have an enormous impact on his company’s future profits.

Unfortunately, Jobs had a big problem: the iPhone didn’t really exist. Yet in January of that year, he planned to demo the iPhone to an audience at the company’s Macworld conference that included customers, partners, tech media…and the world. All he had to show them was a flawed, unfinished model and some big ideas. So what did Jobs do? He decided to mislead his audience. Read More…

Did Your One Big Customer Disappear? Poor You!

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

This is a story about a friend of mine who almost, very nearly, went out of business.

Her name is Tammy. OK, that’s not her real name because if I told you her real name she’d kill me. But she’s a real person and she owns a company with her brother that specializes in manufacturing specialized parts that go into custom machines used in the food processing industry. Boring stuff – but it’s a good business. Basically, it’s a job shop started by their parents after World War II and employs about 30 people. Tammy and her brother work very hard and the company had been very profitable…up until about three years ago. That’s when KSI pulled out.

Who’s KSI? That’s another made up name for another real company that was Tammy’s biggest customer at the time. When I say biggest, I mean that KSI accounted for about two-thirds of her sales. They’ve been that way since her dad landed the contract when Tammy was just a toddler. Read More…

Why This Coffee Shop’s ‘Clever’ Sign Isn’t So Clever At All

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

A coffee shop in Roanoke, Va., put a “clever” sign outside that said:

“Small coffee” – $5
“Small coffee, please” – $3
“Hello, one small coffee please” – $1.75

The sign went viral. News stations reported on it. Redditors rejoiced. Bloggers and tweeters gushed.

“It might be a small gesture, but is it really that hard to remember your manners and the fact that there are actual people behind the counter?” one writer admonished her readers. “You’ll always be rewarded for good behavior, and now in some places, you might even save a little bit of cash.”

An employee wrote the sign because he felt he needed “to solve all the injustices of the world (and) to start charging more for people who didn’t take the time to say hello and connect and realize we’re all people behind the counter.”

Oh, brother.

This is not clever. It’s stupid. It’s insulting. And, regardless of all the viral attention, it’s bad for business. Are you one of those foolish businesses that think it’s funny to criticize, make fun of, lecture or patronize your customers? Do you hang signs like…

“Don’t worry. Our staff is accustomed to dumb questions.”

“Notice: Prices subject to change according to customer’s attitude.”

“The customer is sometimes right.”

“Sarcasm is just one more service we offer!”

“Yesterday was the deadline for all complaints”

“Complaints will be heard on the second Tuesday of next week.”

These signs drive me nuts. Whenever I walk into a small business and see one of these silly things hanging on the wall behind the cash register my first inclination is to walk out. I say “small” business because you would never see this nonsense at a professional organization. Can you imagine management’s reaction at Starbucks or Marriott or Target if one of these signs were hanging there? Big, experienced, customer-focused, service-oriented companies would never put up with this bunk. It’s just bad for business. It’s very, very “small” business.

But, hey, go ahead and hang that sign if it makes you feel better. But just be forewarned that if you do then you deserve what you get. Customers don’t want to hear this tripe. We have our own problems in our little lives. Every day we’re castigated by our bosses, chided by our significant others and treated with disrespect by complete strangers, rude customer service agents and the government. I get yelled at by homeless people just because I’m walking by them. I’m disparaged by my friends just because I’m a fan of the Kardashians and I’m made to feel guilty just because I like a Big Mac once in a while.

So now I have to be treated like an 8-year-old and told to be “polite” just because I want to buy a cup of coffee? You’re kidding me.

Sure, I realize serving coffee can sometimes be tough. I bet that sometimes a customer or two can be rude. Hello, welcome to life in human society! I’ll bet that 98 percent of the people that a barista serves every day are polite. So 2 percent are jerks? Deal with it. That’s the same percentage of customers who stiff me on bills, vendors who don’t deliver on time and employees who don’t show up when promised. That’s life. Those are your customers — the ones who pay your bills.

The stupidest thing any business owner can do is to treat their customers with disrespect. Hanging stupid signs making fun of them is basically saying you hate your customers. “No I don’t,” you say? That’s the perception I’m getting.

By the way — the owner of the Virginia coffee shop quickly told one news station that the higher pricing was “a joke” and that “no one has paid $5 for a cup of coffee.” Ha ha. Is there a Starbucks nearby?

Why Does Senator Al Franken Make Cold Calls?

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

Al Franken (D-Minnesota) is now in his second term as a U.S. Senator.  As a U.S. Senator, he meets foreign dignitaries and leaders, recommends Supreme Court candidates and votes on matters of national importance.  Oh, and he also makes cold calls.

A former comedian, actor and cast member on Saturday Night Live, Franken has built a reputation in Washington as a hard-working, policy-oriented member of the judiciary committee and a strong supporter of progressive ideas like a single payer healthcare system. Agree with his politics or not, you can’t argue that Franken is also very, very funny. That sense of humor has helped him wrestle with the frustrations of Washington — and for making cold calls to donors.

In a recent interview on NPR’s Fresh Air to promote his new political memoir “Giant of the Senate,” Franken not only shared his thoughts on the challenges of being a Senator in these crazy times but also the challenges of making these calls – a challenge any business owner can understand. “It’s called Call Time,” he explained. A typical conversation:

Franken: “Hi, this is Al Franken. I’m calling for Mr. Myers.”

Receptionist: “Oh, he’s not in the office right now.”

Franken: “Uh-huh. I’m calling to invite him to a fund raiser in Dallas on June 7th.”

Receptionist: “Oh, he and Mrs. Myers are going to be out of town.”

Franken: “Uh-huh. But will his checkbook also be out of town?”

Franken says that the approach oftentimes gets a laugh – and money. Sometimes it doesn’t. But he’s doing it. He’s a United States Senator. He’s a national celebrity. He’s Stuart Smalley. He has a “cold call director” — someone akin to a marketing manager who accompanies and coaches him through the multi-hour sessions.

He follows a script.  He’s on the phone.

Of course, Franken hates making these calls. Who doesn’t? It’s not easy so he tries anything to relieve the boredom, pass the time and keep his sanity — even going so far (in his head) as to replace the lyrics in famous Broadway tunes with the scripts of his calls (“Please answer the phoooone, Howard Goldfine,” he croons to the tune of an Evita song. “You’ve maxed out to me last cyyyycle. Oh, won’t you be hooooome, Howard Goldfine?”).

It helps a little, but not a lot. Cold calls are a necessary part of being a politician. You need donations to get re-elected and stay in office. You need to reach out to your biggest financial supporters, make sure they’re happy with your work, then ask for more money.

I was thinking about this recently when someone asked me the last time I called up my clients out of the blue. I couldn’t think of one. I’m usually sending emails or relying on others in my company to do the follow-ups. I know that people don’t want to be bothered. I rationalize that I’m very busy. But am I too busy to check in with a client for just a few minutes to see that things are going OK? Am I too important to find out if there’s anything else a client needs, or recommend another service or product we sell that might help in his or her business?

Franken, like his Senate colleagues, is also very busy. He could delegate these calls to underlings if he chooses. But he does not. Being a successful politician is a business and successful politicians have learned that emails and letters have a purpose, but only go so far. Donors (like our customers) respond to a personal outreach. I close more deals when I meet a prospect face to face. I strengthen more relationships when a client hears my voice and I can hear hers. The internet and our wonderful digital universe is great. But nothing replaces human contact — at least once in a while.

So the next time you’re grumbling or avoiding a phone call with a big client just remember: everyone does it. One U.S. Senators even does it to the soundtrack of Evita. Howard Goldfine, are you theeeeere?

Why You Must Go See That ‘Flop’ ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is unfortunately, a huge box office flop. But you must go and see it!

The story is great, of course. Who doesn’t love the legendary tales of the English king who pulls a sword from a stone and realizes his true destiny? Everyone loves the film’s director, Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch are two of my favorite films). Is there anyone who doesn’t love Jude Law or the Sons of Anarchy’s Charlie Hunnam or the gorgeous Astrid Bergès-Frisbey? The acting was great, the writing was sharp and the overall production was terrific. Yes, it’s 2017 and I used the word “terrific.” That’s how terrific the film is. I’m not alone in my admiration either. The movie got a 7.3 on IMDB and everyone knows that anything over a 7 is a legit rating. Read More…