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Learning to Violate Your Templates

Architectural Drafting TemplateEvery good small business owner has a set of practices or behaviors they rely on while operating their business. These “best practices” serve as a template for employees, customers, and during peak hours or seasons.

As business climates, economies, and the marketplace continues to change at an accelerating pace, “Learning to Violate Your Templates” can be a profitable exercise.

We’ve all heard the term “out of the box” as a motivator for creative and innovative thinking. It worked for a while, but what does it mean, really?  Whose box are we talking about? Once we get out of the box, can we come back to it as a point of reference?

Learning to Violate Your Templates

  1. Learning as a form of experimentation and application, not simply reading or watching a tutorial. Nobody ever learned to swim without getting wet.
  2. To Violate your templates while in learning mode is simply tweaking a practice or portion as a test. Not wholesale changes, but bits and pieces to see what works. Test and Measure.
  3. Your Templates might be what got you here, but can those same templates that have worked for years lead to continued growth? With the changes happening with how customers shop, communicate, and purchase – some templates may be outdated.

If the experiment or application (1) proves unsuccessful (2), revert to your previous practice (3). If it’s a success – you have a new template. The templates (both old and new) are your templates, not someone else’s version of a box.

I will never ask a business owner to “think outside of the box” – but I might encourage an owner to “violate your template.”

LIFT: Learn, Improve, Flow, Think

When ConverStations first began in 2006, the goal was to teach business leaders how to use blogs and podcasts to extend their reach and augment their voice.  Quickly, more social media platforms, networks, and tools launched – and continue to do so.

Believing that these online outlets are part of many “conversation stations” available to business owners, this site continued to be a place small businesses could come to learn and apply new things, improve their practices, find a flow, and consider new ideas.

Last fall, ConverStations became the voice of  SmallBizTracks. There’s still plenty of blogging and social media, but also other small business development topics and thoughts as well. With over 2,000 posts at this writing, the current taxonomy of categories seems … a bit off course.

I’ve often said that the categories of a blog site are like a table of contents in a book, giving the reader an opportunity to see what’s within.

LIFT - Learn, Improve, Flow, Think

A bit of restructuring is about to take place, with the categories moving under one of four sections:

  • Learn
  • Improve
  • Flow
  • Think

Still very much like earlier days of the site, but with more defined purpose. The acronym of L.I.F.T. is the goal of ConverStations – to take some of the weight off of small businesses, sharing insights, tutorials, and new ideas and trends in order to help in building a better business presence offline and online.

During the restructuring (and we’ll be taking it a small step at a time, of course), there may be some juggling of posts and categories, but finding the right item will be easier once the tracks are clear.

If you’re interested, here’s a bit more on how SmallBizTracks works.

What is an API?

garage door half-openOccasionally, a question comes up about some programming or technology piece.

While some questions may seem complicated, I’ve learned that in most cases, a simplified answer – one that makes meaning if possible – is what’s desired.

One such question is: What is an API?

First – a techy answer: An acronym (Application Programming Interface) representing a computer system or application allowing for requests to be made of it by other programs and allows for data to be exchanged. Think “programmable web”.

Next – a simple answer (maybe): An API might be like the relationship between your garage door and your garage door opener. It’s not your garage, or the garage door. It’s the communication or “handshake” that allows the requests to be sent from one (the opener) to the other (the door): Open the door or close the door.

Another example could be your television remote(s). If you lose the remote, you can still operate the TV – if you know where the buttons are located. You still have the “program” (the television) though the API (the remote) might still be on the kitchen counter.

An API allows for programs we use to communicate so our applications and devices work together seamlessly. It’s what makes most of our cool tools – cool.

Photo from Wikimedia


Pop-Up Shop at a Networking Event?

Intro Offer on Back of Business CardAt almost every local networking event or association workshop, there is a vacant table among the vendors and partners. Those vacant tables could be an opportunity.

Often, these tables are the result of no-show vendors or slow sales by the host. Empty tables make the vendor area look less valuable. Offering to fill a table provides the host and registrants with a more robust event.

With a laptop or tablet, some business cards or other collateral , and a friendly smile, you can create and relate with a new set of customers and colleagues.

It’s possible the host may ask for a table fee, though an offer to give attendees a discount usually seals a deal.

Very much like pop-up stores as a growing trend of retail , setting up your own “pop-up table”at an event can help build a better business presence.

Keep What Works

a frustrated man holding head in handsThe savings in the SmallBizTracks belief of improvements-by-component workflow is threefold. Time, Savings, Worry.

By dividing projects into smaller segments, we can implement faster, measure what’s working, shelf what isn’t working, begin the next project.

I’ve seen small businesses agree to big-dollar projects – especially web-based projects. The longer the project takes, they more they worry. If something doesn’t work, more money is needed. Time. Cost. Frustration.

A practice of successful companies is to keep what works, shelf what doesn’t. To do this, we follow this five-step flow:

  • implement small
  • apply and test into the marketplace
  • measure how it works
  • set aside pieces or ideas that don’t work well
  • improve if necessary

A key is the setting aside of pieces or ideas that don’t gel. Sometimes a great idea is implemented in the wrong project, or a bit ahead of its time. Rather than throw it away, set that aside. It may be a keeper later.

Small steps. Keep what works. Shelf what doesn’t. Eliminate headaches.

Overseeing Bigger Projects Campaign

Photo on pixabay by geralt w/ cc


Look Beyond What You See

When I ask a business owner a question about the future of their business, as they think, I watch where they look. Often, where their head and eyes travel says a lot.

If their head or eyes go downward, there is a sense of confinement, of being stuck. It doesn’t mean it’s a permanent place, but getting out and going forward might prove difficult.

If their head and eyes go up, it’s hard to contain my smile (and sometimes I don’t). Those who look up and beyond what’s immediately in front of them, are often already in motion.

Look beyond what you see…

child looking up

Photo on Flickr by kessiye w/ cc

Capturing and Delivering Ideas on Paper (Saturday Clips)

I always carry something to draw on, whether it’s a blank piece of paper or an app on my tablet. The more I draw, the more comfortable I get – though I think I peaked around the age of 6 and digressed since then.

Maybe you’ve recognized a movement of using simple drawings to present ideas that without a drawing, might otherwise be complex. Here are three video clips for capturing concepts – each with a book as a possible starting point for you to build your muscles.

Who knows, the next time I’m in your office or store, maybe we’ll both have sketchpads to do our talking.

Meet the Puma with Dan Roam (Book – Show and Tell)

Sketchnoting Concepts with Mike Rohde (Book – The Sketchnote Handbook)

The Art of Explanation with Lee LeFever (Book – The Art of Explanation)

As a youth, Saturdays were filled with visual candy of cartoons in the morning and movie matinees in the afternoon. In 2014, we’ll be sharing Saturday videos from TED, subscriptions from YouTube, and other videos shared via feeds.

Lifting and Learning in Friday Flutterings

Child's Feet on Stool to ReachOur past doesn’t mean as much to our future as our present does … right now

… If you’re not sure if a site you use was infected by the Heartbleed threat, LastPass has a tool to help find out if a site has vulnerability. Panic isn’t a solution, but be diligent.

… In my own use and watching others, people are already getting tired of animated gifs and fast moving images on their screens. While it may be creative, is it causing visitors to scroll past your content? Worse than pop-ups?

— I try to read everything Neil Patel writes. He knows SEO, Digital Marketing and usability – and he’s able to transfer knowledge in an understandable way.

… The word “Lift” and iterations of it seem to keep coming up in conversations, reading, and thoughts. An acronym that’s beginning to form is Learn, Improve, Flow, Think.  More to come.

… “There is always something to learn, always something that is important to understand” – Beatrice “Tris” Prior – Insurgent

Previous Friday Flutterings:

Are Comments Really Necessary on Your Small Business Blog?

White Suggestion Box on WallThere was a time, before the launch of Twitter and open registration of Facebook, where the general feeling among people was that comments were an important and necessary piece of blogging. It was part of what made a blog a dynamic and engaging website.

Arguments were made how comments, especially for business blogs, allowed better engagement and put a personality behind a static company website.

Again, this was before Twitter and Facebook. This was before tools and plugins like Disqus, Facebook Comments, and Google+ Comments were available.  With so many ways and places to engage and interact, blog comments might not make as much sense as it once did.

Recently, Copyblogger closed comments on their site. Additionally, Jeff Korhan, a specialist in Small Business growth and Social Media marketing, asks the question we’re asking here: Should Your Business Accept Blog Comments? Both articles suggest extending the conversation to carry on elsewhere in the social space and conversphere.

Quietly, I closed comments on this site a short time ago, though I’m considering a plugin to help move the conversation outward.

Are Comments Right for Your Company Blog?

As with other questions, such as best times to post, “It depends.” It depends on your audience and where they engage most. It depends on your time and whether you’ll be able to respond to comments.

For some companies, comments on blogs ignite four stages of fright:

  • Worry that zero or few comments translates to number of readers
  • Fear of negative comments
  • Random anonymous comments or occasional attacking comments towards other commenters
  • Spam comments with irrelevant links and adverts

Of the four items above, the fourth is most likely – but only after you start getting traffic and readership. The first is unfounded, the second can happen anywhere if it happens, the third is a rarity. I don’t think any of these are reasons alone to not accept comments.

A suggestion I’ve been offering to small business owners lately is a plugin that can extend the conversation out. Either specifically point to Google Plus or Facebook (my preference being the former), or use a plugin that gives readers a choice.

In the early days of blogging, closing your ears (or comments) didn’t stifle the conversation, it just meant it would take place elsewhere.  Maybe now, the conversation taking place elsewhere is a better (and farther reaching) thing for your business.

Photo on Flickr by Hash Milhan w/ cc

Capturing Your Thoughts with a Digital Recorder

Handheld Digital RecorderFor years, I’ve used a handheld digital recorder to capture sound bytes and conversations for the purpose of creating content.

I’ve always used an Olympus recorder, making sure it has a USB port and either Voice Activation or Voice Playback (or both). You can record hundreds of hours and quickly transfer the files to your computer.

  • Think Out Loud – During longer drives, I’ll think out loud into the recorder or a microphone.
  • Interviews – On occasion, I’ll interview clients about their business or customers for testimonials
  • Writing – If I get to an appointment too early, I’ll sometimes park the car and “write” a few paragraphs into the recorder.

The reason I like to have a USB port and Voice Activation or Voice Playback is to make the transcription easier. If you’re using the sound bytes for a podcast, there are other tools to use for editing.

For busy small business owners who aren’t always sure what to write, a handheld recorder is a great addition for capturing the practice of Listen to Your Day.

You can find these types of recorders priced around $100 at many big-box office supply stores or electronics, at Amazon, or directly from Olympus.

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