On Episode 30 of The Edge of Innovation, we’re talking about ways to make small businesses better!


Paul: This is the Edge of Innovation, Hacking the Future of Business. I’m your host, Paul Parisi.

Jacob: Welcome to The Edge of Innovation, hacking the future of business. I’m Jacob Young, and I’m here with Paul Parisi. And we’re going to be talking about ways to make small businesses better.

Paul, can you hit us off?

Paul: We had come up with this topic and we deal with a lot of small businesses. I have worked in smaller businesses throughout my career. But, you know, when you do technology and web and stuff like that for these, for these businesses, and when you look at a smaller business, you know, anywhere from one to 50, a hundred people, they have a fundamental thing that they need to come to terms with right now.

One is that the world has changed. We are in an economy of social selling. And the way that a business interfaces to the world has fundamentally changed. So no longer can we say, “I can get along with just a Yellow Pages ad or with a phone number,” or, you know, putting a phone number on the side of my truck. You need to be there when the people who are going to consume your product, or potentially consume your product — whether it be carpentry or painting or interior design or medical services — you need to be where they’re looking for things, and where they’re consuming content. That used to be the newspaper, the phone booth, the Yellow Pages. And it seems like a lot of small businesses are in the mindset that they’ll just wait it out until that changes back. It ain’t gonna change back. The ship has sailed. This is the new world.

And the new world is social selling. That’s what I like to call it. It’s, you know, you’re going to have to communicate with people over the social networks and socially interact with them through a technology to make sure they understand your value proposition.

What’s nice about that is that you can get to know people that you never would have gotten to know before. But it’s not trivial. Just because you put up a website with some salient content on it, doesn’t mean people are going to find it.

Jacob: Right. It goes from everything from not only putting up a website, but having a website that, for example, we’ve talked about this several times, being mobile accessible.

Paul: Absolutely. Yeah.

Jacob: I mean, I had a friend recently tell me that he had somebody design their website for them, and I asked, “Is it mobile friendly?” “No, it’s not.” And I’m like…

Paul: Why do you bother?

Jacob: Why even both putting it together? But so you have from that end of things, all the way over to having a Facebook page, and not just having a Facebook page, but one that actually has updated information, content that can be socialized, because one you have that dynamic available for people, then they start doing the advertising for you. “Hey, I went to Paul’s pizzeria, you know, on 99th South Elm Street. It was awesome. Let me tell you about this.” You know, take a picture. Now you’ve got, not only fresh content on your Facebook, but now you have people who are advertising with pictures of your place.

Paul: Right. And their testimonial or testifying to the fact that this be good.

Jacob: To their 1,000 friends, you know. I always cry a little inside when…

Paul: When?

Jacob: When I see companies that are good companies or good businesses that just do not have this going for them.

Paul: Right. And you know, it is very much, I think, some of it with the smaller businesses is they don’t have… They’re worried about making mistakes. And, they’re rightfully worried about this. Because if you made a website… Let’s say you went overboard, and you spent a lot of money. $15,000 on a website. Integrated it with your catalog and everything, and, because you thought was the thing to do five years ago. Now you’ve got to re-do that. So, oh my gosh. I made a mistake by doing that. I don’t want to be that guy who made that mistake and wasted that money. So I’ll just wait to do it.

Well, the good news is, is that we’re at a point now where we can make more intelligent decisions about that, you know. And we need to get a web presence that both tells who we are and our value proposition, is accessible on mobile, accessible on this, and integrates all of the social platforms.

But it doesn’t stop there, you know. So don’t get yourself into a funk where you say, “Well, I don’t know what to do, so I’m not going to do it.” There are lots of organizations like ours who can help you, sit down and say, you know, “This is what’s good to do. This is what you shouldn’t do.”

And that’s an ongoing investment, you know. It’s not one and done. And I like the use the analogy that if you went into a store, a shoe store, and you saw the same shoes that were there 10 years ago, you would say, “I’ll go somewhere else.” Or you go into a sports apparel store or something, and you see the old logos. And they don’t have the newest logo for your team. It’s like, “Well, why would I go here.”

The counters are dirty, and I can’t see the device behind the counter. Or if I go into Best Buy and the cameras aren’t all laid out nicely. And none of them work; they’re not charged. You’re going to be like, “What the heck with this?” You know?

So that’s the same thing you do on a website. If I come to your website and it doesn’t work, it doesn’t have updated information, I have to get the feeling, as a consumer of your website, that this is the most current and accurate information there is. Because without that, you increase their cognitive load. The whole point of a website and social media and Yelp reviews is to say, “It reduces the amount of work. It reduces the risk on my part.” So if I hear that this person put up a good review of the pizza shop, okay, now I have a way to manage my expectations. And if they say it was bad, well, I still might need to go there because of the time, and I don’t have a place to go other where else. And, but this is going to help me do that.

And I think it also promotes excellence, because, you know, if you get that bad review on Yelp, you’re going to want to fix that.

Jacob: So I’m hearing you say two things here. We were just saying, it’s a new setting. And then you’re saying also, not being afraid to make mistakes.

Paul: Yeah. Well, you will make mistakes, but you have to be playing in this new world. The world has moved, and if you don’t, that is a bigger mistake then having done something wrong. The nice part about that, though, is that we’re at a point in web design where, well, again, if you do it right, you aren’t going to make mistakes. You need a website that is clear, salient, simple, and works on a phone. And, you know, I can’t tell you and number of sites I go to. We have a sister podcast that’s called Save Your Sites where we go through websites and how they could be improved. And we have an unlimited supply of websites which we can review. And that’s, that’s sort of like, you know, why don’t they have their address on here? You know, it’s obvious to somebody who says, “Why?” And they don’t… There’s no good reason, except somebody didn’t see that.

And then when you load it on a phone, you can’t read it at all because it’s too small. So those kind of things.
So you’re going to make mistakes. But I think now with the right partners and looking at other examples of things they’ve done, you can choose somebody who will make fewer mistakes. But don’t let that dissuade you, because just about the time you’re done with your website, wait six months more, and then you’ve got to redo it again. Because you’ve got to clean the counters. You’ve got to re-merchandise the store. You’ve got to move things around, make it look interesting.

Every time somebody comes into your store, if it was exactly the way it was when you first opened, he’s probably going to walk out with buying less. But if you have… If you move the stuff around… You look at merchandising in stores. They’re constantly doing it. You go into a Macy’s. They’re constantly doing things to get people to engage with the product. That’s what we’re talking about.

Jacob: That’s excellent. So it seems to me like you’re then kind of hinting at the next category of planning. So talk us through that.

Paul: So the whole idea here is, you know — what is it? — the phrase “Failing to plan, is planning to fail.” And that’s really what it is. You have a responsibility, as a business owner, to effectively communicate your value proposition. That might be a product. It might be a service. Nobody is going to do that for you. I mean, in a Yelp world, people may help you with that. But you need to give them something that’s absolutely clear. And if you come in and don’t plan what you’re going to do, you’re not going to do it.

And, you know, it’s very, very difficult. If you look back at the last year on what you’ve done, they’ve either been reactive things or planned, proactive things. You can’t let things go by just the tyranny of the urgent. You need to really get away from that mentality.

Jacob: And I think that maybe one way to kind of break this down is to say you need to plan. You need to plan for your growth personally, as the business leader, and then you need to plan for your business to grow. Obviously there’s a five-year plan, however you’re going to move things forward, you have to think about what’s the plan for that plan to be executed.

Paul: It’s planning to plan. And then also setting goals and not that you’re going to hit all your goals. But it gives you some metric by which to judge whether you’re successful or not.

Jacob: Yeah. And I think in terms of a book that I’ve been really helped by in the last year that I would recommend for you along the lines of planning to grow personally, is The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. It’s a book aimed at entrepreneurs and, actually, kind of touches on some of these things we’ve talked about, because entrepreneurs or small business owners almost always get into the industry because they love, for example, to bake cakes. And they want to bake cakes for a living.

Well, when you start being the business owner of a company that bakes cakes, it’s a different experience. Well, that’s great that you want to do that, but plan to grow into that role of leading a company that, for example, bakes cakes. So, but it’s that planning for your own personal growth because that’s going to be effective in leading your company to grow as a business as well.

Paul: Yeah. We have a podcast that’s coming up that talks about some of the core issues of entrepreneurship, and we should revisit that as well. But entrepreneurship, it’s in vogue right now. And I think it will continue to do that, be in vogue. But it has particular challenges. Now, we’re talking about small businesses, really, here. Businesses that are somewhat established and I think that there’s a difference here. And most entrepreneurs, because they’re starting in a vacuum, will have a website that explains what they’re doing. The issue is as you become complacent over time, what do you say?

And you have to be relevant contemporarily. In other words, right now you have to be relevant. You know, so we’re in New England, and leaves are starting to blow, so, you know, the people that clean gutters should have an updated website and an iPhone way to book them, you know. Doing that in February or March isn’t going to make that much difference. Now they might build it during that time and, you know, deploy it later, but the point is, is that, you know, our relevance, it has to be contextual.

Jacob: Well, I think that’s a perfect example, because, obviously, like, you know, leaf cleaners or whatever are going to only be doing their business, at least in New England, at a cer— you know, a two or three month period, but you can’t start designing the website or the landing page for that in September. You have to plan ahead. And you have to plan to do that in, like, March.

Paul: Right. Exactly. For the next September. You know, but there’s also things not with just seasons, but what’s going on, you know. There’s one store that I get their texts on, and it says, “Oh, you know, because of the hurricane, we’re going to extend our weekend sale two days.” And they’re doing a good job at that. But like if you’re a builder, get your house tightened up for winter, or whatever that value proposition is, it has to be relevant to reality. And that’s an important takeaway, I think, that it’s, you need to think about that.

And what we’ve done and I recommend is what’s called a contact calendar, is to really look at a calendar and right down, well, what am I going to talk about this month? What am I going to talk about this month? What am I going to talk about this? This month?

Now you have to be a little bit flexible with that, because things might come up, you know. So if you sell home heating oil, and you know that the prices are going to go up, you want to be opportunistic and say, “Order now before the prices go up.” Or “We’re, we’re having an issue with the Middle East, so there might be a rise in oil prices. Protect yourself now.” So you need to be aware of that, which you are, because you’re already in the market. But you need to communicate that insight to the next person.

Jacob: You need to have a plan in place of how to capitalize on those observations that, to you, seem obvious. And making them accessible to the people that you are trying to either appeal to as a customer base or you’re already serving as customers.

Paul: Absolutely. Well, yeah. Don’t ever underestimate the amount of work you need to do to keep a customer because everybody out there is trying to take that customer away from you. So if you’re not doing anything to say, “Hey, we’re just as good as the new guys, and we’re…we know you.” Even just, you know, “We like you.” Or, “You like us. And remember that good service we gave you.” Remind people of those things is critical. And so making sure that you’re banging the drum for your business is a huge, huge value.

Jacob: Yeah. I mean it’s this principle people don’t think about you as much as you do.

Paul: Yes, that’s true. If they do, you might have a problem.

Jacob: Those are the… The people who do think about you as much as you do are the people you don’t want commenting—

Paul: That’s right. Exactly.

Jacob: —on your YouTube and Facebook pages. So the last category then, is investing versus the status quo. Talk us through that one.

Paul: Well I think there’s an enormous amount of personal inertia to overcome this idea of the status quo. We are all busy. We are all, you know, overloaded with things and just things keep us really, you know, going, going, going. And so we will default leave at the status quo. And we need to really approach things from the point of view of, “Wait a minute. What am I going to invest in today?” You know, there was a Microsoft campaign, probably 10 years ago, “Where do you want to go today?”

And it was really a brilliant thing because they were saying that their technology helps you go where you want to go. So if you’re not thinking about that, nobody else is. And if you work at a small business, you add value by saying, “Where are we going? How are we going to get there? And let’s overcome the status quo. How can we improve? How can we be better?”

You know, we have to constantly look at how do we make things a better experience for our customers because there’s such competition. And if you don’t do it, somebody else will, and they’ll take your customer away.

Jacob: So it seems like it would be even worthwhile to think about how you can either delegate to somebody on your team or hire somebody on, either part time or full time to help manage these or have a contract relationship, for example.

Paul: Well, I think there’s two aspects to that. I think everybody on the team should absolutely be thinking this way, is “How do we do better? How do we improve?” And that, I think, has to come from the top down, but it has to be, it has to be nurtured. People are not going to extemporaneously just know how to do that. They have to challenge the status quo and say, “Well, why is it we do it this way? Is there a better way to do it?” And sometimes the answer is going to be, “No. This is good enough for now.” But I think you’ll find that there will be some germane issues that you can say, “Wait a minute. Yeah, that does need to be addressed. And let’s put a plan in to do that.”

So that’s, I think, critical, a critical way to look at it. If you are the business owner or president or CEO or chief bottle washer or whatever it might be, you absolutely have to look at that. And, you know, the changing, the changing landscape of your business.

The world has changed. And one of the things we can be certain of is change will continue.

Jacob: Yeah. That’s for sure. So, just in conclusion and to kind of wrap things up, the five things that we’ve been looking at are for five things to make a small business better is recognize you’re in a new economy; recognize it’s going to be okay to make mistakes, but make mistakes anyways. Or would you rephrase it differently?

Paul: Well, you’re going to make mistakes.

Jacob: You’re going to make mistakes.

Paul: And deal with it. Get over it.

Jacob: Get over making mistakes.

Paul: Yeah. I mean, don’t let that paralyze you from not trying. You have to try or you will die.

Jacob: Yeah. So new economy. Try or die. You have to plan to plan; you have to plan ahead. Recognize that you want to keep your content contemporary and relevant to what’s going on for your business today. And then, as a part of that as well, is constantly fighting the status quo to be innovating.

Paul: Absolutely. Nobody is going to do it if you don’t do it.

Jacob: Excellent. Thanks, Paul. This has been The Edge of Innovation, hacking the future of business. If you’d like to hear more about Paul or hear more about how Paul has been leading Savior Labs to do these very things, you can visit us at PaulParisi.com or SaviorLabs.com. Hope you’re doing well. See you next week.