Protests, protests, and more protests. They’re coming in different sizes and different shapes, and I’m sure most people have their own opinions about these protests. Experts will no doubt look to these protests to glean some meaningful information about various topics, and with a bit of tongue-in-cheek, I thought it might be good to see what kind of simple advice these protests can give to small businesses. But before I delve any further, please understand that I am not intending to belittle or ridicule any one of these protests and do not explicitly or implicitly offer any endorsement or opposition to any of these protests through this blog. 1. Occupy Wall Street (Keep your customers happy)
People may disagree about what these protesters stand for and what their ultimate objective may be, but one thing is clear: they’re not happy. Regardless of the source of the angst of these protesters, they are united in their dissatisfaction with the job “Wall Street” (and who knows what “Wall Street” means to these protesters) has done for them. Whatever explanation “Wall Street” has given these protesters, it hasn’t been enough for these protesters to stop complaining and to bring unwanted attention to Wall Street.
Entrepreneurs should know that customer satisfaction is one of the most important priorities for a business. Like the “Occupy Wall Street” protesters, unsatisfied customers have a multitude of ways to voice their discontent with a business that can ultimately doom a small business. Now it’s impossible to satisfy everybody, but businesses should be careful to do what is necessary to quiet any criticism before that voice becomes a chorus.
2. NBA lockout (Plan carefully and don’t bet too much on the future)
NBA owners have been losing money for years and yet they continued to spend money banking on the fact that the value of their organisation would continue to rise to ultimately make up any deficits. Then the economy tanked and now they have a lockout (although there was a high probability there would have been a lockout even without the economy tanking). With an unworkable economic structure, the owners had to push the reset button and it’s uncertain when the business will start again.
Sometimes business owners continue to run on the edge without realising that a little stumble can push them over the edge. Granted, running on the edge is sometimes necessary when starting a business, but you can’t do that forever. Make defined goals to know when to ease up or to push further. Have some exit strategies in mind to give yourself as many options as possible as your business progresses.
3. Netflix to Qwickster and back again (Keep the message quick and keep it simple)
To maintain its business structure, Netflix had to split and increase the rates for its DVD and instant streaming services. As painful as that switch was to the consumers, changing the name of its DVD services made the switch more confusing than necessary. Whether the name switch has some ulterior motive or not, the switch was a business mistake and Netflix had to quickly renege on that change.
Small businesses have to keep their message simple and easy to digest or else the customer will lose interest. Our society seeks instant gratification and, as Twitter has shown, if something can’t be said in a 140 characters, then it’s not worth saying. Confusing customers with multiple messages should be avoided.
4. Subpoenas against Bank of America and Countrywide Mortgage (False advertising is never a good idea)
California has recently subpoenaed Bank of America to further investigate whether Bank of America and its subsidiary, Countrywide Mortgage, offered their risky sub-prime mortgages to investors under false pretenses. It’s bad enough that Bank of America is stuck with so much bad debt, but to be faced with potential criminal and civil penalties for deceiving investors makes the situation even worse.
Businesses are given wide latitude when advertising their products/services to the public at-large, but when the customer is staring you in the face and you offer false promises, then the law will not be on your side. Instead of offering false guarantees for inadequate products, just make the product better and eat the ones that are not good.
5. European Bankruptcy (Watch your balance sheets and don’t get too carried away with your debt)
Greece bet all-in and lost. Ireland, Portugal and possibly Italy are finding themselves in the same situation. After years of debt spending and with the economy continuing to tank in that region, these European governments are facing default. Fortunately they have some rich brothers to bail most of them out (time will tell if the brothers are rich enough to bail all of them out).
For a small business, a rich brother or sister may not be nearby. And so a business should not continue borrowing itself to death with the hope that an economic uptick will change its fortune. Debt is necessary, but as mentioned above, know when to ease up on the spending and when to keep spending. Continually audit your finances to know when and what to cut or possibly where to re-prioritise your spending.
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