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Book Review: Wisdom of the Flying Pig July 1, 2008

Posted by Amanda in A Better Mouse Trap, Business Tails.
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Wisdom of the Flying Pig

The Wisdom of the Flying Pig

The Wisdom of the Flying Pig was written by Jack Hayhow, a man I have had the pleasure of meeting in person, and a successful entrepreneur in his own right. 

I was probably 19 years old when I first read this book, and I enjoyed it as much then as I do now.  It is full of handpicked quotes and entertaining stories chosen to teach lessons about leadership and management.   The illustrations are wonderful and Jack has a sense of storytelling that few people can match.  It’s a great book to just read a chapter a day in.  When you reach the end of the book, simply start over! 

I’m not the only one who thinks this book is great.  Check over at Six-Figure Learnings for Dave Opton’s review of the same book.  Or just google Jack Hayhow to see many others.

 

Available at Amazon for $17.95, or as a pdf eBook at Opus for $9.95

Rating: PawprintPawprintPawprintPawprint

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What’s the Difference? June 16, 2008

Posted by Amanda in A Better Mouse Trap, Business Tails.
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What makes a small business grow into a big business?  Is it how much money you spend on advertising?  Or maybe it’s how hard you work at growing it…  What really makes a small business take off and become “big business” is simple.  Differentiation.  Your business has to be unique (and that means unique in a good way).  You have to be doing something that others aren’t, filling a need that others do not.

Jack Trout wrote about this recently at Forbes.com (read the article here).  He talked about why so many CMO’s “move on” after only a short period on the job.  They are not successful because they fail to focus on differentiation  The same can be applied to small business that is trying to grow.  If you do not seperate yourself in the mind of the consumer, you are disposable.

Now, how CAN you differentiate yourself?

You could be the lowest priced.  Price differentiation is a common strategy and it’s how Walmart and Amazon have grown to be so large. BUT: Can you compete with the Walmart of your industry?  Companies like Walmart use Economies of Scale to push prices low; they can get lower prices on what they buy because they are already so large.  That allows them to pass that savings on to the consumer and still make a healthy profit.  Also, it is very easy to duplicate a price differentiation strategy. 

You could have the best service.  Zappos is known for its service.  They have seperated themselves from other online shoe retailers in the mind of their consumers.  If you are unhappy with your Zappos shoes, they don’t fit, just return them!  You can call and chat with their friendly customer service representatives for an hour if you wish.  BUT: Providing great service often means hiring great people.  Maintaining a top workforce is an expensive proposition, but your customers will reward you with loyalty.  Again, this is a strategy that is reproduceable by others.

You could make a product no one else does.  I’d like to call this the ‘Next Big Thing’ strategy.  This is one of the easiest and fastest ways to stand out in the mind of the consumer, but it can also be the most difficult.  This differentiation strategy relies on your product being significantly different from anything else on the market.  Whether that means your product is more durable, easier to use, has better features or serves a need that no one else does yet.  This is a highly sucessful technique BUT: You have to come up with the idea and the customer has to believe that your product is different.

You could serve a need that no one else does.  This is known as Niche marketing, as I mentioned in my previous post about M&D Innovations.  This is also called Focus Differentiation.  It has so many names because it is such a great strategy.  BUT: You have to listen to your customers. 

What’s the best strategy for you?  Well, that depends on your business but it is normally a combination of these four strategies.

 

Find Your Niche June 12, 2008

Posted by Amanda in A Better Mouse Trap, Mouse Clicks.
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It’s has been proved time and time again that not every product is for every person.  You have to find the niche that you can fill.  As I mentioned in an earlier post about Gary Halbert, Building the product your customer needs is more efficient than building a product and then convincing your customer that they need it.  One company that I am working with is M&D Innovations.  This is a small startup company that has essentially found a niche that they can fill. 

M&D Innovations

These two brothers, Mike and David (hence the M&D), have developed software that turns any computer into a scoreboard.  These scoreboards are used for churches, and schools as well as small rinks and stadiums that are not able to shell out the huge dollars for the large hardware displays.  As scoreboards can run thousands of dollars and all of the scoreboards designed by M&D are currently under $500, they have essentially found their niche in providing affordable scoreboard technology.

If your company is struggling, talk to your customers.  They can tell you which of their needs you are filling and which you are not.  It may be that you are marketing to the wrong niche, or you may find a niche that you never considered before. 

Are You Really Ready to Advertise? June 11, 2008

Posted by Amanda in A Better Mouse Trap, Business Tails.
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John Moore over at Brand Autopsy highlighted an article from Advertising Age, where they recommended Jet Blue focus on its current customers and improving their experience rather than releasing a new campaign to promote the company.  This concept of improving the customer experience before spending the advertising money highlights a change in the advertising industry.  It’s the change from the hard sell to viral marketing techniques that are so prevalent now (as I mentioned over at Ad Mouse)

It also changes the job market.  No longer are advertising and marketing companies just there to create a great campaign, they are expected to be Brand Managers. Their job is to manage the entire experience that a customer has with a product.

I feel this has changed because no matter how great your advertising campaign is, if your product is not up to the customers expectations it is money wasted.  A happy customer tells 1 person.  An unhappy customer will tell 10.  So to end up ahead, you need to have a LOT of happy customers.  Raising customer’s expectations when the product hasn’t changed is not a good idea.

So ask yourself, before you spring for that new ad campaign.  Are you really ready to advertise?

Book Review: Who Moved My Cheese? June 10, 2008

Posted by Amanda in A Better Mouse Trap, Business Tails.
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I have always been an avid reader and so I keep a large stack of books on the shelf behind me.  I often flip through them for inspiration, whether it be a topic to write about for this blog or the direction for a new ad campaign.  So I’ve decided to share some of my favorite (and least favorite) books with my readers.  This weeks book is a fitting start, due to its mouse theme. 

 


Who Moved My Cheese?‘Who Moved My Cheese’

‘Who Moved My Cheese’ is a short story written by Spencer Johnson M.D. and it has long been proclaimed as a great book for managers; however, I would recommend this book for everyone.  It is essentially a parable about how people deal with change.  It encourages everyone to ‘Move with the cheese’ .  When said in any other context, this would have people looking at you strangely, but with this story its repetitive nature aims your focus inward.  At only 100 pages in length it is a very quick read (it’s even shorter if you skip the preface and recap).

This isn’t a book I read on a daily or even monthly basis.  But it is there sitting on my shelf and just glancing at its title can sometimes be the push I need to move in a new direction.  

Rating:   PawprintPawprintPawprintPawprint

Available at www.whomovedmycheese.com for $13.99

Marketing 101 March 4, 2008

Posted by Amanda in A Better Mouse Trap.
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I saw this posted over at Marketing Headhunter today, and I just had to post it here.  This chunk of Gary Halbert’s retoric seems to exemplify the general concensus about marketing that I was taught in my college courses.  The main point being: Building the product your customer needs is more efficient than building a product and then convincing your customer that they need it.

iTunes U? August 28, 2006

Posted by Amanda in A Better Mouse Trap.
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It all starts with learning.Apple shares common goals with education — to advance teaching, learning, and research through innovation, and engage and empower students. Students expect a campus environment that accommodates their digital lifestyle, adapts to their individual learning needs, and encourages collaboration and teamwork. Introducing a way to simplify and meet all these needs — iTunes U.”

It’s an interesting concept. Putting podcasts of professor’s lectures online for students to access at their leisure, 24/7 from the same place many get their music from these days. Stanford University was one of the first schools to pilot a program called Stanford on iTunes which premiered last fall. iTunes has picked up the idea and started to run and it is now expanding to include my school as well. The University of Missouri has always had close ties to Apple. Our tech store sells mostly apple products, and our world class journalism school recommends Apple computers for all students. Many students have ipods, sold with a discount to students, so iTunes U has a nice jumping off point on our campus.

It seems like a great idea, and I would use it. Imagine studying for a test. Just download the lectures and have them play while you fold clothes or do other chores. Play them while you’re getting ready for bed, or even sleeping (yes, I’ve been told that doesn’t actually work)

The one thing that worries me about the entire project is what it will do for class attendance. I know students who do not attend class when a teacher posts slides online, imagine if they could get the audio too! This could hurt in class discussions, but are those who don’t attend really going to participate? Time will tell whether podcasts are the new media of the classroom.

Check it out: iTunes U

To Vista or not to Vista June 16, 2006

Posted by Amanda in A Better Mouse Trap.
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Thanks to Davie Boy 😉 who wrote this review. I apologize to my readers for the wordiness of it, although I did try to chop it down a little bit. I also apologize for the technical advancement it may require to read this.

“Being a Windows program developer, I need to keep on top of changes in Windows. Windows Vista (Longhorn), being the next generation of Windows after its 5-year old Windows XP ancestor, is one of those changes. So when Microsoft released a public beta of Windows Vista Ultimate (the version with EVERYTHING in it), I jumped at the opportunity to take it for a spin.

After downloading the 3.2GB image, it was easy to burn to a DVD. From there, I started the installation, which I must say appears to me to be the most improved part of the new Windows. The XP installation would copy files, then ask a few questions, then install things, then ask more questions, and continue asking questions at random times, which makes doing other things during the hour long install a little difficult. With Vista, you answer a few questions at the beginning, it copies files, extracts and installs them, all with a nice progress bar that shows you where your input is needed at the beginning and when it will continue by itself. And of course, the nice graphical install makes it easier than ever to install.

Once installed, it guides you through doing a few more things like creating an Administrator account. I find it interesting how Microsoft is so worried about security, that yet they don’t force users to create a non-administrator account during installation. Creating a non-administrator account increases the likeliness that the user will use the non-admin account and be more secure. Many Linux distributions have been doing this for years.

Moving onto the Start menu, they appeared to try a new technique to make it easier to use (remember trying to keep a folder open in the start menu while moving your mouse to something inside it?). When you click on All Programs, you get a scrolling list of programs and program folders, which is easier to navigate through. But considering that it uses only a portion of the screen, it seems like it’s a bit smashed into the corner, when it could spread out and show more programs at once. Maybe I’m too used to not having to scroll to get to programs on the Start menu.

To the right of the list of programs on the Start menu is other shortcuts and buttons, such as Documents, Pictures, Search, Control Panel, and the various log off/shutdown options. At the bottom is a button that appears to be shutdown, but is really standby. This is a bit annoying, and can’t be changed. The more commonly used Shutdown and Restart are more difficult to get to.

One thing I was really looking forward to trying was the more visible and useful features, such as live taskbar previews and program previews when pressing ALT+Tab to switch programs. However, my graphics card with 64MB of video memory is either too old or unsupported, so these features are automatically disabled, with no way to enable them. The media center looks nice and relatively easy to use (it’d be easier if I could get my remote to work), but since my TV tuner apparently isn’t supported on Vista (at least yet), I wasn’t able to watch TV with it.

I’ve had a few hard drive crashes in the past, so for the past several years, I’ve been making backups of all my important data every week onto CD. Currently I do this with the Windows Backup in XP, and it allows me to select individual folders that I want to back up. This is nice since I have all of my data isolated on a separate hard drive, so everything on there is my data and not part of the system. I had heard Vista had improved backup capabilities, so I had to try that out. What I found was a one size fits all program for backing up data. The first screen presents the option of where to make the backup, either to a local drive (other than the Windows drive), a CD/DVD, or a network drive. This part seems nice. However, there’s no option of where to back up files from, just 6 check boxes on what file types to back up. This scares me, as being a programmer, I have odd file types that need backing up. I was amazed when it managed to find and backup my test .cgi and .pl files, even those I put in a separate folder in C:\MyData, not in the usual Documents.

But why is my backup over 200MB, when all I created was a few little text files totaling less than 1MB? It seems to have backed up random things, of course from everywhere, based on file type. Apparently, the majority of this extremely large size came from demo video, audio, and pictures that are included with Vista. Why would I want to back those up? Apparently media files, text files, and log files from installed programs had been backed up, which is completely unnecessary as they can be reinstalled (and would need to be since the programs themselves are not backed up). I had downloaded driver installers to my desktop, and unzipped them into folders. Some of the files from there were backed up, but some weren’t. What if I wanted it to back up an exe installer for a program I paid for and downloaded? I don’t see a way to do that. Apparently .exe files aren’t backed up, which generally is ok, but not if it’s something I need. So the new Windows Backup is simpler yes, but definitely not near as good as it used to be.

Since this is the Ultimate edition, it includes tablet pc programs, such as handwriting recognition. Even with my horrible handwriting, combined with using a mouse to write, it managed to figure out what I was writing. That was rather impressive.

Speech recognition was a bit more tricky. I took the 15 minutes or so to complete the tutorial, which shows you how to use commands to do common tasks, while it learns how you speak. However, trying to dictate a note using it would be a bit annoying, as it manages to hear words incorrectly, combine words, or throw out random similar sounding words when it can’t quite understand. Navigating the Start Menu, opening programs, and switching programs is relatively easy with voice, but doing much inside them really requires a mouse and keyboard. Maybe with more training it would get things correct more often, but who wants to spend time teaching their computer when they can just use another method like the mouse and keyboard?

The games apparently got a nice facelift. I noticed better graphics and animation in the card games such as Solitaire and Hearts. There are a few new games, which can be learned quickly, as most preinstalled games can.

One security “enhancement” that I noticed throughout my testing of Vista was that even while logged in as admin, I was asked if I wanted to continue when changing any type of system setting or installing a new program. In theory, this is supposed to stop a virus from being able to change the system without the admin’s approval. However, it seems to me that if a virus were to someday run and it were to ask me if I wanted to let it continue, that I’d end up clicking yes simply out of habit, as I’ve done so hundreds of times during the short few days I’ve been using it and installing/tweaking/setting up a few things. It’s a good idea in theory, but in practice I see it being just another annoyance with no benefit.

So would I upgrade from my current XP Pro to Vista? Right now I’d say no, since there’s nothing that I need or want in Vista, and XP seems stable enough to complete my daily tasks. If I were able to get some of the more advanced features, like program previews in the task bar, with my current hardware, it might be a little incentive. And all of the features of my graphics card, including watching TV and video capture, are inaccessible due to a lack of drivers. Possibly by the time Vista is released in early 2007 there will be more support for older hardware such as my graphics card. Until then, I’m relatively happy with my Windows XP Pro and see no major benefits to upgrading to Vista.”

Note: Immediately after writing this, David tried to switch back to Windows XP and had issues with his network card (which he says isn’t related to Vista). Still, this is why I told him to preview the program and write a review for me, rather than having me crash my precious baby *g*

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A keyless keyboard? June 2, 2006

Posted by Amanda in A Better Mouse Trap.
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I’ve spent a lot of time surfing the internet lately, and I’m always interested in new products for disabilities because the son of one of my closest friends has cerebral palsy. Although this is too complex for him to manage, it could be useful for many people with disabilities out there.

“The orbiTouch is the first ergonomically designed, fully functional keyless keyboard with an integrated mouse. The patented design eliminates finger motion and significantly reduces wrist motion — two major causes of typing discomfort and pain.” What they don’t say is that it still requires a lot of arm movement and it seems like it would be a rather slow typing device (I haven’t tried it, so this has yet to be seen)It’s great that there are people out there who are constantly trying to develop the next best thing. I’m sure this product will help a lot of people, There are a couple downsides though. First, it’s not available for MACs, though they say there’s one in development for them. Not everyone uses Pc’s anymore, but you wouldn’t be able to tell it by looking at most programs.

Secondly, it costs $400, which is quite a chunk of change to buy it for a handicapped child. I’m not sure if grants and funding would be available for it. However, if it allowed you to earn a livelyhood despite your chronic injury or handicap, it may be worth it.

To check it out, just go to: http://www.keybowl.com/ They have a pretty cool demo that shows you how it works.

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Keep it Simple May 29, 2006

Posted by Amanda in A Better Mouse Trap.
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Kathy Sierra over at Creating Passionate Users had a great post a few days back about what Sudoku would be like if Tech Companies had made it (if you don't know what that is, you may want to start digging out from under that rock your hiding). 

 Sudoku

This isn't just a dig at Microsoft and Co. but good advice for all businesses.  It fits under the same thing I was talking about in my last post.  You can't please everyone, and if you try, you're just wasting those resources. 

In a great quote Jason Fried says, "You don't need to outdo the competition. It's expensive and defensive. Underdo your competition. We need more simplicity and clarity."  

So while you're debating the your analysis of the business situation, consider simplicity and streamlining.  Maybe you customers would like to have good old fashioned service, without the bells and gimmicks.  I've run into this problem with webhosts.  Especially my current one.  Instead of allowing customers to buy what they need for their website, you are only allowed to buy "packages" which consist of a bunch of useless things you'll never use, bundled with the one thing you will.  I had chosen a smaller most expensive host for the service, but as time has gone on, the service has only gotten worse.  They advertise, "TWSites is the provider you can count on for maximum availability and old fashioned, knowledgable, person to person support."  Yes, person to person support that takes two days to get a response from.  And though the owner (and the only person I have ever dealt with on this site) assures me that he can accomodate my needs, but that has yet to be seen.  Just realise that customers would much rather have a simple product and great service than a huge product with all the bells and whistles with horrible service[/end rant]

Entrepreneurship , Customer Service , Jason Fried , Kathy Sierra, Creating Passionate Users