HE SAYS:

Everyone who owns a business promotes their products and services, in one way or another, as a legitimate part of their business activities.   Very often, that promotion includes the business owner’s very unscientific or unverified statements or opinions as to the quality or value of the products or services being offered.   We all tend to embellish, at least, a little bit when describing what we have or what we do whether in our business or in our personal life.  It is just part of being human.

How many times have you seen statements that tell you “we serve the best food in town” or “he is the most skilled doctor around” or “she is the most experienced accountant”?  None of us completely rely on those promotional statements when choosing where to eat or who to hire.  We generally take those kinds of statements with a grain of salt as being merely opinions not proven facts.

Many of us have experienced the classic sales pitch from a car dealer who tells you that the car he is trying to sell you “is the best car on the market”.   Is it truly the best car on the market or is he just exaggerating?   This very thing has been tested in the Courts and has been found to be legally acceptable as mere “puffing” which means that such statements are recognized as statements of opinion and can’t be relied on as a fact.  In other words, the Courts have stated that there is no fraud or misrepresentation in a little bit of boasting or embellishment to make a sale.

Since the value of something is always in the eye of the beholder, it is difficult to make the case that when a business owner proudly boasts as to how good his products or services are that he is misleading his customers.   Certainly, the line is crossed if we are induced to buy damaged, defective, or inferior goods through outright lies and deception.   It may be a fuzzy line between boasting and lying, but I think we all can understand and appreciate the difference.

So, let the buyer beware but also let the business owner be fair and honest even if he is a little boastful.

On Monday, Joe gives his opinion on gun ownership in “Is It Right To Bear Arms?”.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

HE SAYS:

Many people dream of owning and operating their own business and for some this dream can become a nightmare.

There are many advantages to being your own boss; however, the personal freedom and self satisfaction that can come from running your own business can turn sour if you fall victim to some common mistakes made by many small business owners.

Many small business owners assume that if they advertise their business it will always get results and be money well spent.    There is nothing wrong with advertising if you first do your homework.   You need to develop both a business plan and a marketing plan.  You must be able to answer several key questions with a certain degree of confidence.  

  • What is my niche in the marketplace?  
  • Who are my customers?  
  • How do I best reach my target audience?  
  • How do I best position my company to distinguish it from my competition?  

Some of these answers will be provided by a well thought out business plan.  

Once you feel that you know where you belong in the marketplace, you can then start working with advertising and marketing people to determine how to best get your message across to your target audience while still working within your budget.   The biggest mistake a small business owner can make is to haphazardly throw money into advertising in the belief that it always works.  

Small business owners often believe that everyone will be as enthusiastic about their business as they are and fail to understand that just opening your doors will not automatically bring customers.    Whether through advertising, networking or self promotion, every business needs exposure within the community to generate interest and eventually paying customers.    Once you establish a customer base, then, assuming you have quality products and good customer service, word of mouth may become your best and least expensive source of new customers.

In the constant struggle to generate revenue, many small business owners accept the notion that any customer is better than no customer.   Obviously, every business needs customers to survive; however, a troublesome customer who never pays on time and needs an inordinate amount of your time and attention may do you more harm than good.   It is a mistake for small business owners not to wean themselves off of bad customers who generate more problems than revenue.    It is also a mistake to keep problematic employees in the hope that they will someday improve.

Finally, many small business owners feel that the only way to succeed is if they go it alone and do everything.    This hardly ever proves to be true.   Even the smallest of businesses requires a number of tasks and skills to be successful.   A key employee or the help of outside experts such as attorneys, accountants and marketing people can make all the difference.

I have made all of these mistakes at one time or another.   The good news is that you can recover from them and still make your dream of having a successful business come true.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

SHE SAYS:

When I first came to USFSB, a marketing company was sharing some of our office space.   It was very convenient to have them nearby and, essentially, we treated them as our in-house marketing department.  We paid them to do our monthly newsletter and various marketing pieces we used for mailers to promote our health insurance and for Member welcome packages.  Due to our close proximity and the work they did for us, we got to know them quite well.  There was the owner and his graphic designer.  To this day, we independently work with the graphic designer for our newsletter and some marketing pieces.

Eventually, Joe hired them, full time, with the idea that they would be even more readily available.   This came about because the owner slowly began to persuade Joe that he could be a real asset to our company if he were there all the time.   He talked about all of the ways he could help us such as creating and implementing new benefit programs to help grow our membership.

On a personal level, I did not like working with this person and I advised Joe not to hire him.   Despite my personal misgivings, Joe did hire him and I never liked the idea.  There was just something about this person that I did not like.  I never felt like he fit into our style and philosophy.  In my opinion, he did one disappointing thing after another.

Over time, he presented us with several new vendor programs and connections and we even started our own in-house tele-marketing for one of our larger vendors.   This eventually became a burdensome and unproductive process which we terminated within a few months.

He also tried to implement various office procedures to try and improve our customer service.    Instead, he created never-ending layers of paperwork for our staff and took up hours of staff time for weekly meetings to ‘train’ everyone on his new procedures.  He seemed to have a knack to ‘talk the talk’, but in my opinion he was all fluff and no substance.   He would start something but never really finish it so that many times we would have to abandon the program for lack of supervision.

Finally, we determined that with our own ideas and visions and, in particular, Joe’s  ideas, we could do our own marketing.  It became clear that too much of our profit was being spent on marketing and it was not resulting in increased membership or income.   Ultimately, we fired him and kept the graphic designer to implement our own ideas.

On a personal level, I was happy that Joe could finally see this marketing person for what he was and in this case, I could say “I told you so!”

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

HE SAYS:

When I first came to USFSB there happened to be a small marketing company, consisting of the owner and his design assistant, renting some of our office space.    While practicing law, I had engaged in some advertising but I hardly had any direct experience with the art or business of marketing.   As I developed a relationship with the owner of this marketing company, I quickly bought into the notion that all marketing is good and will produce results.   In essence, I was being marketed by the marketer.

Over the next several years, I become so enamored with the idea of marketing that I actually wound up hiring him so that I could take advantage of his services full time.  This proved to be a big mistake.    It is true that he created very well designed flyers and slick marketing pieces all of which looked great but never seemed to produce the results that we had hoped.   Whenever one of his marketing ideas fell short he always had an answer or excuse that seemed to make sense at the time.    Looking back, it seems that many times the message got lost in the glitz of the marketing pieces.

As I spent more and more money on marketing and receiving very little results in return, I slowly started to realize that marketing can become a bottomless pit if you let it get away from you.   When pitched by an experienced marketing person, all of the ideas sound great and make you believe that they can’t possibly miss their mark.   Part of the illusion is that you want to believe in the power of marketing.   In reality, very few of the marketing ideas are worth the money spent on creating and implementing them as part of your business plan.

Over time, I came to realize that marketing is much like gambling.   You can quickly spend a lot of money seeking that jackpot only to be broke and disappointed in the end.   As I become more experienced in the operation of USFSB, I found that many of my ideas were just as productive as those of the marketing expert and cost far less.    Eventually, I came full circle, fired him, and started using more of my own marketing ideas that were simple, direct, and less expensive.

I finally learned that marketing, like everything else in life, is best used in moderation.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?