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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Alcatel Lucent Allegedly Lays Off Employees via Email

When you fire employees via email it is information that will spread quickly. Unfortunately, I learned that Alcatel Lucent allegedly laid off some of its employees via an email. I actually met someone who was one of four Alcatel Lucent employees in New Jersey allegedly emailed that they were being let go on January 25. It was simple, they arrived at work, logged into their computer, checked their email and learned their fate.

Obviously, this is not the way to handle a lay off. Perhaps it is a cultural difference in the french company Alcatel and the american employees of Alcatel Lucent in New Jersey. Maybe it is standard to inform employees in France that they will be unemployed via email, but that is not the case in the United States.

I heard that all of the employees retained a copy of the alleged ill-fated email which is why this is a bad idea. Anything electronic can go mobile quickly. The employees receiving the bad emailed news can hit forward and send it to everyone in their department or the company. The worse case scenario is that the disgruntled former employees start forwarding the note outside the company. That is when the company at fault loses control of the situation causing a public relations fiasco.

A business should never provide negative news via electronic communications. In certain circumstances an email might be a solution to get important news out quickly. But there are few circumstance that should cause individuals to find out they are losing their jobs via an emotionless, remorseless email.

Emailing company news is only appropriate when it is not unique to an individual. Sometimes company news about merger and acquisitions can come via an email or letter and then later followed by a company-wide live meeting. Most large and small organizations handle individual employee news with care. It is unfortunate to hear that such a useful and effective tool such as email is being used to handle sensitive company business. Do yourself and your company a favor, dissemminate company and employee news with care.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Small Businesses Shouldn't Try to Be Something They are Not

Recently, I entered a small street level eatery which appeared to be your standard pizza shop. It had neon signs in the window with the name of the establishment "Joe's Italian Kitchen" and the word "pizza". Seeing a neon sign means to me this is a casual eatery where I can get fast food. (How many upscale restaurant's have you seen with neon signage? Not many I would guess.)

I entered the shop and went to a counter where two people stood. One was an older woman on the phone taking an order. I asked for two slices. The young lady said to me that they didn't have slices. I thought perhaps she meant there were no pizzas at the time for slices. The older woman (who I believe was an owner) got off the phone and explained that they do not sell slices, but rather individual thin crust pizzas for $5.95 each. Let me just say that this place looked like a regular fast food pizza joint. Two inexpensive tables, soda and juice fridges, and nondescript decor. No pizza slices? Remember the neon sign did say "pizza", usually an indication of very casual dining.

The thought in offering the individual pizzas I believe is that every customer will get their own fresh pie. But this was a shop on a busy street. What about those who want to just get a QUICK slice to go?

My issue is that is not easy to convert a $2 slice purchase that takes two mintutes into a $6 pie purchase that would probably take 10 - 15 minutes. So why bother? I have a feeling that this "Italian Kitchen" is trying to be something it is not - a nice italian restaurant. But it has all the looks and feel of a pizza shop. The best part of this is that there is a REAL PIZZA SHOP about 30 yards away on the same side of the street that sells slices. So that is where I ended up.

The average person walks into a pizza shop looking for a slice. So sell it to them. Most pizzeria's mark up the slices about 40% per slice. For instance you can buy a large cheese pie for $9.50 but purchase a slice for $2. This is a great revenue stream.

If you want to brand your restaurant as a fine italian restaurant don't use standard pizza shop branding like a neon sign and nondescript decor. Quite frankly, if they didnt have the neon sign that said pizza, I would not have wasted my time going in there. Make sure your storefront branding matches what you really are. This will prevent disappointed customers leaving your establishment to spend money elsewhere.

I do understand that it is up to indiviual proprietors to sell the merchandise they wish, but you have to be smart about it. When I walked into the restaurant I mentioned above, they were taking a phone order, but they were NOT bursting at the seam with customers. They lost my sale, I just wonder how many customers they lose each day to their competitor just 30 yards away because they have made the decision not to sell slices. I wish that the restaurant looked at selling pizza slices as a way to market their food and not a way to diminish it. Perhaps they could have converted me into a new customer. I sometimes drive 20 minutes away to buy A whole pizza pies from a place that I fell in love with when I purchased just a slice at lunch one day. Joe's Italian Kitchen won't get that from me.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Virtual Small Businesses Can Thrive with the Right Technology

Office space and equipment can be very pricey. The decision to start a small business usually hinges on the start-up costs. Fortunately, high-speed internet connections and online business productivity tools can help you start-up and run a business that is both professional and efficient.

For instance, I run a small public relations consultancy. I originally started out using my cell phone number as my business number. On the website I created for free with Microsoft Office Live Basic, I wanted my website to be found easily, so I did a little search engine optimization (SEO) to make sure that those who needed my services could find me via search engines.

Well, I had done such a good job with my SEO, that my website was coming up when people were searching a certain Columbian singer who shares my first name. (I dare not mention her name with the fear that it will have consequences.) People from all over the world were calling me looking for the singer. I was getting calls from the Ukraine at 3 am! I was receiving emails from people professing that they were my biggest fans. It was terrible.

I needed to remove my cell phone number and email address pronto. Because I do not like overhead, so I started searching for free voicemail services online. I lucked in when I found NetZero’s Private Phone. Basically, you can have a phone number and area code from your business area ring directly to a voicemail – all for free. The best part is you can set it to ring a number of times, rather than go straight to voicemail. It is really a great free way to have a telephone number for a small business. I also set it up to send me an email and text message to my cell when I have a new voicemail. This solved the problem with the crazy phone calls. I solved the problem with the emails by setting up an email contact form on my website rather than provide my direct email. (Unfortunately, I just learned that Private Phone will be discontinued as of February 19, 2008, so I will need to find a new service.)

For small businesses that have employees that work remotely, services such as WebEx MeetMeNow can help your remote employees better collaborate with each other. MeetMeNowallows small business owners to engage clients and customers in a formal setting. MeetMeNow gives you unlimited, cost-effective, and easy-to-use web meetings on demand.

Ring Central is a communications productivity tool that can help you run a smoother virtual business. It can give you all the appearances of running a brick and mortar business. Basically you can have a virtual phone system from $9.99/mo. Ring Central takes the hassle out of communications and allows small business owners to focus on their business.

If you are running a small business, I highly recommend you utilize online productivity tools. For one they will help you and your staff work more efficiently. But they also help to give your company a feel of it being a professional establishment, which is important to your overall branding. Go the extra mile with your business to make it great for your employees as well as your clients and/or customers.

Here is another helpful productivity tool:

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  • Thursday, January 10, 2008

    Selling A Lifestyle Rather Than A Product Can Be Your Next Innovation

    Recently, I walked through Penn Station train station in New York and noticed a theme with regard to the display advertising. Kellogg's had purchased every display ad area on two levels (at least) to promote its Special K brand. Special K is a cereal, but Kelloggs has reinvented this cereal brand into a lifestyle product.

    Each ad displayed another Special K product which is not only a cereal now, but a line of protein meal bars, protein water, waffles, protein water mix, protein snack bars and cereal bars. Kelloggs has turned a breakfast cereal into a way of life. It's campaign "Re Solution" clearly promotes the weight management use of the products. I think this is a smart direction to move from the breakfast table into the lives of the diet conscious everywhere.

    Small businesses can take this strategy and make it work. Think of new ways to promote your brand. Is there a way to increase the use of your service to meet the needs of more people? Can your product line expand to reach other consumers. These are all questions business leaders should ask themselves regularly.

    You never know where your next competitor will come from, so you must always be on the edge of innovation. Get a team of your best thought leaders together and figure out how to take your product or service to the next level.

    Tuesday, January 8, 2008

    Abandoning A Dying Trade Might Leave a Monopoly

    Recently, I was looking into ordering reprints made for an article that a client was featured in. When my assistant called the company we worked with last year, she found that they had been bought buy a larger provider. The estimate the larger company gave her for a one page color reprint was twice the amount we paid for a 4 page color reprint purchased just under six months ago. When we tried to negotiate, they dismissed us without trying to win our business. The fact is they have a monopoly.

    As we later found out, almost all of the reprint companies we called six month ago had been gobbled up by bigger players. I remember getting estimates from several companies and they were all willing to low-ball each other. Now, with only the big boys left, there is no more negotiating, just outrageous prices.

    Hot Offer (1.6-1.12) (2)Should the smaller reprint companies have sold-out? For some it might have been the only alternative for others, I think they just gave up. The print business is re-invention mode and maybe the owners of reprint companies felt they didn't stand a chance in the digital world. But the smaller reprinters who were willing to negotiate pricing for companies with small marketing budgets has helped the larger print publishing companies become monolopolies.

    Being the last one standing is a benefit in this case. The larger reprinters now are getting all of the business without competitive pricing. I am now trying to help my client negotiate with the magazine directly for reprint permission, so they can have them printed up themselves. It is a small magazine so it shouldn't be a problem. In the end, the larger reprinters might find that reprints will become less popular due to the enormous cost to produce them.

    I also noticed that one hour photo desks at large retailers are disappearing. In Pennsylvania Station in NYC, there is a K-mart that used to have a one hour photo desk on the main aisle where commuters walked by. You didn't even have to go in the store, it was right there on the aisle for commuters to dip in and out on their way home.

    Kodak EasyShare Gallery Today, I walked by and notcied that the one hour photo has been replaced with a quickie pharmacy department. Now commuters can dip in and out for their favorite meds. With more than 50% of Americans printing their own digital photos, one hour photo shops are becoming a thing of the past. But I am sure for the precious few that hang on, they will be compelled to charge outrageous prices at some point, just because they can.

    But I know one thing for sure, there is no chance that precription drugs will disappear anytime soon. For every ache and pain there is a medicine. The quickie pharmacy department at the train station is a brilliant idea. As long as there are still diseases, ailments and illness, pharmaceutical retail sales will remain a safe bet.