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  • Aspire » Small Business Strategy

    12 Nov
    Soup Nazi

    Seinfeld’s ‘Soup Nazi’ – No Soup For You

    Sometimes when you channel surf late at night you get lucky…and you run across a great Seinfeld rerun. Last night I happened to catch ‘The Soup Nazi’ episode – which if you happen to be one of the small number of people who hasn’t seen it, is about an amazing new soup restaurant that’s opened up and has started a soup craze in New York. However the brilliant chef that runs the place is seriously hardcore – if you don’t follow his rules to the letter…then it’s “No Soup For You!” and you’re immediately kicked out of the restaurant.

    It’s a great episode…definitely worth finding if you haven’t seen it. If you’re interested you can find highlights on Youtube. But this episode is more than just a piece of pop culture history – it also has some great business lessons to share.

    #1 Word of Mouth Requires more than just a great product

    Jerry, George and Elaine first hear about the ‘Soup Nazi’ from Kramer…but what makes the restaurant remarkable is more than just the great product (although that’s critical as well) it’s that the owner will yell at and ban anyone who doesn’t follow his ridiculously strict rules.

    It’s the combination of things that really set the ‘Soup Nazi’ up for successful Word of Mouth. According to the bestselling book Contagious – Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger, the Soup Nazi phenomena covers multiple principles that makes things go viral.

    • The ‘Soup Nazi’ story has Social Currency (makes you feel like an ‘insider’ with cool information)
    • It has emotional resonance (drives particular strong feelings…fear? anger?)
    • It’s observable (in other words people can see the crowds out the door)
    • It’s a story – much more than just great soup…it’s the ‘Soup Nazi’ and banning customers for life

    How can this apply to your business?

    It’s probably not a great strategy to start being really rude and kicking your customers out, but it may be worthwhile to be selective…or to have a clear code of who you work with – and if you can make that into a great story…even better!

    #2 Play to your strengths if you want to stand out

    Kramer describes the ‘Soup Nazi’ as a tortured genius…a true artisan when it comes to Soup. Imagine if the ‘Soup Nazi’ had instead opened a full service diner…and spent 2/3 of his time making burgers, sandwiches, breakfast, etc. The food would have probably been good, but not great. The soup might have still been great, but it would have been buried in a big menu and not stood out – plus the chef wouldn’t have the time to really innovate and create the best possible soup with all of the other dishes that would need to be made. In short it would have been an average diner, doomed to mediocrity.

    How can this apply to your business?

    You’ve got to narrow your focus down to what you’re really good at. It’s only at that point that you will be able to stand out as a genius. That’s when people will stand in line to work with you, that’s when they’ll pay a premium for what you do. Not when you’re trying to do everything…or working on your weaknesses.

    #3 You’ve got to figure out a way to scale

    They don’t cover this in the show, but clearly a major reason why the ‘Soup Nazi’ is unhappy is because he’s working really hard. He’s on the front line of the restaurant, serving the soup and enforcing the rules. It’s pretty obvious that if the ‘Soup Nazi’  calls in sick one day, the restaurant is just going to close. Imagine never having a day off, only being able to sell as much soup as you can make and dish out in a day…all in all, an exhausting business.

    How can this apply to your business?

    Are you constantly working really hard in your business? Is it all about you? If you’re on the top half of the matrix of Effort vs. Success, then you need to figure out how to automate, delegate and systematize what you do to get yourself off the front line. If you can’t figure that out, then you’re doomed to be unhappily slinging soup all day long without a break.

    What lessons can you learn from the ‘Soup Nazi’? We’d love to hear your thoughts – share them below.

    Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach

    05 Nov
    Clock picture by eflon via flickr

    Clock picture by eflon via flickr

    Every business needs strategies in place to “fall back” on for the unexpected.  No company is 100% insulated from unexpected challenges that interrupt the normal operations of owning or managing a business…even yours.

    This past weekend was the annual “catch up on all the sleep you lost over the last year in one hour event” more commonly referred to the End of Daylight Savings Time.   We fall back and get to enjoy one extra hour of sleep without being late or having to hit the snooze button!  And you have probably been reminded by the media to change the batteries in your smoke alarms at least a dozen times in the past week!

    But what about your business?  This is also a great time of the year to review strategies your business has in place to “fall back” on when unexpected events interrupt daily operations. Determining what should be on this list to review and prioritizing it will vary depending on your company.   That said, below are some of the more common interrupters we see businesses expose themselves to without a good plan to fall back on and keep their business running as usual during times of turmoil.

    Data Backup:  This is one of the most obvious, though surveys still show that less than 50% of businesses are backing up all their data on a regular basis.  There are a lot of options out there.  Several of the on-line cloud storage companies offer 5 GB or more for free.  Just last week I learned of another local business that had a server crash and they did not have a backup of their data.  It is a painful process to go through.  Don’t be next.  Consult your IT professional; don’t be a victim.

    Passwords & Keys:  If your business uses password protection for sensitive information, electronic locking devices, business related websites, etc. you must have all those passwords in a secured location.  Do you have the passwords of your employees or administrative controls in place to gain access if needed?  What about duplicate keys or master keys for your vehicles and locks?

    Cross-Training:   If two of your key employees unexpectedly submit their resignations tomorrow and announce they are starting their own business the next day, do you have anyone trained to do their jobs?  Insufficient cross-training of employees can severely interrupt the daily operation of a business.  Everyone should have a “fall back” person who is capable of performing their role at a functioning level.  Not an expert, but at least business continues without a significant loss of productivity.

    Sales leads:  If you have a sales team, do you have a system in place assuring you have records of all pending deals?  If you use a CRM is your sales team’s data being backed up and synced regularly to a master database?   The day after your top sales person announces they are going to be leaving is not the best time to start trying to review all the business they have in their pipeline.

    Insurance:  When is the last time you reviewed your business insurance?  Your personal insurance? The changes in health care are top of mind right now, but don’t forget about protecting your business.  Finding out you are under-insured the day after filing a claim on a policy is never a good thing.  Schedule a meeting with your insurance professional.

    This is meant to be a starter list and hopefully it will help you jump start a detailed list, tailored just for your company.   Don’t forget to check the smoke alarms at your business too.  And while you’re at it, test your security system.   Our hope is that you never have to use any of these “Fall Backs” but being prepared in case they are ever needed will provide valuable peace of mind. Please feel free to share your thoughts and add any additional items you think should be included in the space below.

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach

    27 May
    Picture by Mark Chapman via Flickr

    Picture by Mark Chapman via Flickr

    There was a little secret sauce released in an interview this past week that reaffirmed that any business can be reinvented.   And based on this example, business age and size has little to do with it.   It was much more about having vision and creating a plan of where they wanted to go and then putting the wheels in motion to make it happen.

    “The future belongs to those who see possibilities before they become obvious.”

    — John Sculley
    Former CEO of Pepsi and Apple Computer

    KC Source Link recently held a “Battle of the Brands” competition, pitting Kansas City businesses against one another for a friendly competition to see who had the most passionate fan base.   The bracket of 64 included many of the respected companies Kansas City is known for including a brewer of beer, a roaster of beans, and a company with products that can guide you from the beer to the beans.

    As the tournament played out, it became clear size was not the only thing that mattered and some of the big players were knocked out in the first round.   When the companies squared off, voting was on-line and big advertising budgets were no match for the eventual champion who used the same strategies that dramatically changed the course of the 16 year old business, approximately 3 years ago.

    “2 ½ – 3 yrs. ago maximum, that’s when it really started, even though we’re (a)16 year old (business), we like to think that we’re just 3.”  Jeff Morgan: Morgan Miller Plumbing, when asked when he really started Getting the Vision?

    Jeff Morgan, the 2013 Battle of the Brands winner said the vision started shortly after being exposed to Facebook and he anticipated what social media could do for his highly competitive service centered business.  Looking back, the change has been so dramatic, Jeff now views the first 13 years as simply building the foundation for the last 3.   They have basically reinvented themselves as a company.

    The point here isn’t about jumping into Social Media – if this is making you eager to ramp up a social media campaign, turn the faucet off (pun intended). For some, that may be a great idea, but that’s not the important part of the message.

    Key to Success – Be Open and act on New Ideas…!

    The underlying message is regardless of how long you have been in business or what your industry is, you have to be open to new ideas and opportunities.   Once identified you need to develop plans with vision to achieve them.   Today in business if you aren’t getting better, you’re getting worse; complacency is a merciless option.

    For Morgan Miller Plumbing it was harnessing the power of social media.  They saw it as a tool that could potentially move their business from one level to the next and they put together a plan of action to make that a reality.  Maybe for your business it is a new location? Or a product line? Or changing a distribution model?   Those are questions you need to ask yourself or discuss with a business advisor, but you must ask them because someone else in your industry is.   If you’ve been in business for a while, it can be especially challenging to shake things up. If you’re just looking for a fresh perspective maybe a business evaluation would help provide new direction.  Or take a couple of days off, get away from the office and challenge yourself to come up with something new. Whatever you do, taking action will help you move forward!

    Congratulations to all 64 businesses who participated in this year’s Battle of the Brands.   Click here if you would like to hear Jeff share his secret sauce  and please click here to donate to the Red Cross for the disaster in Oklahoma.   As always please feel free to share any thoughts or comments you have in the space below.

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach

    30 Apr

    Huge Dog and Puppy

    If you talk to most business owners about growth in the next year they will tell you they’re expecting 10%, maybe 20% growth over last year.  And for a business that’s been around for a while, that’s a pretty reasonable target to shoot for.

    The problem with a 10% target in terms of business strategy is that it doesn’t really stretch you.  More than likely you could handle 10% growth without any significant issues.  Maybe you’ve got extra capacity, maybe you and your team will work just a bit harder.

    It’s unlikely that incremental growth like that is really going to require a serious look at how you do things. But plan that kind of growth over a few years and at some point you will be stretched…and at that point because you are at capacity it becomes a lot harder to make changes.

    You might hear yourself saying things like:  “We’re so busy, I don’t have time to figure out how to do this a better way.”  or “I can’t afford to put in a new system, process, whatever now – it would be too much impact to our current customers.”.

    In fact, by just having reasonable growth over time, you can paint yourself into a corner that’s hard to get out of.  The end result is often working a lot harder, dropping the ball more often and not getting much additional profit despite having a lot more customers.

    What if you were going to grow 10X?

    Here’s a test that can help you identify the biggest constraints in your business…and hopefully do something about them before it becomes a crisis.

    Try this – Imagine your current business is suddenly 10 times larger than it is today.  You’re servicing 10 times the number of customers.  You’re bringing in 10 times the amount of revenue.

    Where’s the most likely place you’d stumble?  If you’ve got a physical location – could it support 10 times the amount of traffic?  If not, what could it support compared to where you are today?  What’s the breaking point?

    You’d likely need to add employees – what’s the first place you’d feel the pain?  Would it be in creating or delivering your product or service?  Would it be in handling customer calls?  Would it be in terms of just being able to invoice and collect on a much larger volume?  Do you need special skills for some aspect of your business?  A typical example is that the business owner often is the only one who has the skills to do certain things.  If you had 10X the volume how would that kind of work get done?

    Would you enjoy being 10X larger?  Maybe that takes you from 5 employees to 50 employees and that was never in your plans.  If that’s the case, how much do you want to grow?  What’s your ‘peak’ size that you can imagine?  What are the impacts if you were at that size?

    Remember the purpose of your business is only to give you what you want out of life.

    By looking through a different kind of lens – magnifying by 10X, it’s often easier to see where the issues are.  It can also be a good indicator of things that probably need to be fixed today but you’ve let them slide because it’s easy enough to handle them with a brute force approach.

    Here’s an example – say it currently takes you, the business owner, 6 hours a week to handle all of your invoicing and bookkeeping.  It’s a pain, but a lot of times you can get it done on a weekend or you just power through it. Multiple by 10 and it’s not even imaginable for you to be doing 60 hours a week of back office stuff.

    What would it take to get someone in today who could take over that responsibility for you now?

    Your current growth target is fine

    There’s no need to change your growth target for this year (although if you don’t have one, you should take the time to make one…and / or we should get together for a meeting…!).  However I am suggesting that you carve out a few hours in the next week or two and take yourself through this exercise.

    Look at all aspects of your business and use the process to identify the highest priority of things you could work on now…when everything’s not urgent.  The goal is continued, managed growth and by identifying your biggest constraints it will be much easier to make that growth happen.

    What do you think?  Is this a test that you’ve tried before?  What’s your gut feel in terms of where your biggest issue would be?  We’d love to hear your thoughts – share them in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade    Kansas City Business Coach

    25 Mar
    Photo by tattooed JJ via Flickr

    Photo by Tattooed JJ via Flickr

    This past week I had the opportunity to tour a new dealership location.  It was a bit of a reunion as I had not seen the President or his General Manager in over 7 years.   And though our visit was pretty brief, I was reminded of the hard work it takes to build a business.  More directly, I witnessed first hand many of the attributes that make some businesses successful and others struggle or even worse, fail.

    It started with a call 20 minutes before I was to arrive, just to let me know they were paving the parking lot (they’re in the middle of a major construction project) so I would know how and where to park when we arrived.

    It reminded me that the little things are important.

    After exchanging genuine firm handshakes that let both parties know they are glad to see each other and your time is important; we then toured the new building that is about 30 days from completion.  You could sense the pride from our tour guide (the President) as we walked from one area to the next, and you could not help but be excited and happy for him.   Everything was state of the art, from the layout of the offices, to the efficient heating technology in the shop, and all things in between.  Each area had been carefully thought out for best uses of space with room for future growth.    We could just see the culmination of best practices being designed into every phase as we walked from room to room.

    It reminded me to constantly be looking for new ideas.

    Shifting gears we headed over to the existing building, which has been the dealership’s home for over 30 years.  The first person we met was a gentleman at the Parts Counter.  I learned he had left for a short period of time, but returned.   It sounded like the management team may have recognized the value of his contributions while he was away and both their customers and other members of the dealership were glad to see him return.    The next station we walked past was the office manager’s,  I learned that she was now the highest tenured employee in the company, which has to be over 20 years.

    Those two individuals reminded me of the value of having quality employees.

    Then we met the Corp. IT Manager.   His room was stacked full of servers and monitors and wires running everywhere.   It was a long ways from being the environmentally controlled room one would expect to see and I now had a better understanding why observing the computer room in the new building was overtly stressed during the first phase of our tour!  

    It reminded me you can still do an awful lot in less than ideal operating conditions.      

    Finally we ended up in the sales office.  On the wall were plaques that told the stories of the monthly volume leaders for the last 15 years or so by the names engraved under each month.   Many of the names were people who were no longer there, some had been promoted to other positions, others simply didn’t fit for one reason or another.   Some left on their own; others left because of the those words Donald Trump has made famous…”You’re Fired”

    It  reminded me that no single person is bigger than the business as a whole and you must strive to keep the right people in the right seats on the bus at all times.

    There were a couple other points that are worth sharing.  This location is 1 of 8 under this ownership’s umbrella.   And although this was the first, almost every other location had been built new from the ground up at some point over the last 25 years.  So it was very hard for one to think this owner has not put his employees first when those who worked in the other dealerships all had much newer facilities than what he had.  One final thing….that new state of the art building, it will have an office for the founding dealer principal and I am sure it will be a nicely appointed office, but he now only comes in about once every 30 days.

    It reminded me of the importance of building a business and not a job. 

    So what do you think?   Do any of these attributes sound like the business you are building?  Would you like to build a company like this?   Please share your thoughts on other notable attributes for a successful business.

    Chris Steinlage   Kansas City Business Coach