Archive for the 'General' Category

How to cope with the ups and downs of business

June 8th, 2018 by Bob Bly

Subscriber MF writes:

“Right now I am having a very slow month — slowest in the history of
my firm.

“Bob, how do you or others manage the psychology of ups and downs
in business?”

This answer to this question has two parts.

First, instead of “managing” your worry and concern, why not just
get rid of those anxiety-causing slow times altogether?

And yes, there is in fact something you can do to either totally
avoid slow times … or failing that, certainly minimize their
frequency and duration, so it becomes a non-issue.

It’s my “double pipeline” lead generation strategy.

In a nutshell, you figure out how much lead-generating
self-promotion you need to generate enough inquiries to keep you
busy.

And then you do twice that amount of marketing!

By doing so, you will have two times as many potential new
clients and projects as you need.

So if Prospect W doesn’t come through, you don’t agonize over it
— because Prospects X, Y, and Z are waiting in the wings, ready
to pull the trigger on your services.

Second, have multiple streams of income.

That way, if your primary business gets soft for a time, then
instead of worrying about it … or sitting around with nothing to
do …

…you focus one of your other profit centers until the lull in
your main business is over.

That way, you are still productive — and you still have money
coming in.

Now, admittedly, these two strategies don’t actually address the
“psychology” MF asked me about.

But consider: You can use the first tactic to prevent or reduce
to near-zero slow times.

And with the second, you don’t really care if your main profit
center is in a slump, because you can stay active and profitable
with your other money makers.

In other words — problem solved.

Alfred E. Neuman famously asked: “What — me worry?”

And now, you don’t have to.

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Category: General | 7 Comments »

Is paying rock-bottom prices an awful mistake?

June 5th, 2018 by Bob Bly

A few weeks ago, while in a doctor’s waiting room, an interesting
and nice gent named BC sat next to me, and we struck up a
conversation.

BC is from Scotland and is 92 years old. He revealed to me that
he came to the U.S. in his youth and started a furniture business
in Manhattan, which became very successful and grew to 5 stores.

He asked me if I wanted to know his #1 success secret, and when I
said yes, told me it was simply that he paid wages 20% higher
than any of his competitors.

The reason, he explained, was to keep good employees happy so
that they stayed with him and did not look around for a better
opportunity or jump ship when given jobs offers by other
businesses.

I think this is actually a very big point. Let me explain….

Many of us are essentially price buyers, meaning we get three
quotes, and invariably pick the service provider with the lowest
price.

In essence, we are saying that low price is the most important
factor in our purchase decision, ranking ahead of customer
service, quality of work, reliability, promptness, and contractor
expertise and know-how.

Isn’t that kind of stupid?

Smarter buyers of business, trade, professional, technical, and
health care services look for the best value — not the best
price.

I mean, say you had a tumor in your cranium, needed brain
surgery, and went to three neurosurgeons for opinions.

The first says the operation is $30,000. The second charges
$32,000. And the third, whose neurosurgery practice is called
Brains ‘R Us, quotes a fee of $300.

It’s certainly the low price. But would you go with it? I think
not.

Price buying leads to crappy work from inferior vendors often
found on Upwork and Fiverr, among other online service sites.

People who patronize such sites often look for the low-priced
vendor, usually to their regret.

So why do so many people always look for the low price in so much
else they buy?

I love this quote from John Ruskin: “There is hardly anything in
the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a
little cheaper, and the people who consider price only are this
man’s lawful prey.”

There was a cartoon in a magazine showing two barbershops. The
sign in the window of the first said, “$5 haircuts.”

The sign in the window of the second barbershop said, “We fix $5
haircuts.”

I have certainly spent a significant portion of my time over the
years fixing $100 copy.

Back to BC….

He also told me the internet killed his furniture business, in
which his specialty was providing high-end furniture for wealthy
Manhattan businesspeople looking to furnish their entire large
apartment.

In his heyday, said BC, these customers trusted his judgment. And
so they loved the furniture he sold them and kept it forever.

But when the web came along, these customers saw that e-commerce
furniture dealers allowed returns, refunds, and exchanges if the
customer didn’t love the furniture when it was delivered.

Because of that, all of a sudden BC was inundated with calls from
customers who wanted to send back the furniture and try out
something else.

It was so expensive and so labor-intensive, and he hated it so
much, he soon closed the store chain and retired.

It seems that the internet is a mixed blessing for business.

For some industries it’s great. For others it is terrible. For still others,
it is somewhere in the middle, with both many pros and many cons.

JM, who blames the web in part for the closure of his New Mexico
bookstore, says, “People were happy when they came in, but wanted
us to have the resources and pricing of online or they would not
buy.”

For those who embrace the internet, and don’t love bookstores or
brick and mortar, BC’s and JM’s woes mean little.

But writer LD echoes the sentiments of many when she writes, “A
town without a bookstore is a town without a soul.”

And I like a local furniture store, too.

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Category: General | 3 Comments »

Why low-priced training isn’t always a bargain

May 11th, 2018 by Bob Bly

Regular readers of the Direct Response Letter know that I tend to
favor lower prices on information products — both my own and
others.

Yet despite that, I have to warn you that there is one major
drawback or risk of taking low-priced training.

And that is uneven and unreliable quality.

For instance, back in the day, I taught at the Learning Annex in
New York City, which offers courses on many interesting topics at
low cost.

As an instructor, I could take the occasional course for free,
which I did.

And while some of them were excellent, a few were taught by
subpar seminar leaders — who, as a former Annex instructor
myself, I know were paid very little.

Outside of NYC, I’ve had somewhat less luck with inexpensive
courses offered at local high schools and adult education
programs.

For instance, pre-internet, I had a traditional mail order
business selling paper-and-ink reports and books, which I ran out
of my basement.

The reports were “typeset” on an ordinary IBM Selectric
typewriter in Prestige Elite and “printed” on my office
photocopier.

The covers were actually typeset by a typographer and photocopied
on green paper, to add a more “expensive” look to the reports.

Anyway, to improve my business, I signed up for what looked like
a promising course — “How to Make Money in Mail Order at Home in
Your Spare Time” — at a local community college.

But when I got there, the instructor picked up a textbook and
began reading in a monotone, “Mail order marketing is defined
as….”

And I realized: she was just a business professor at the college,
and she had never operated a mail order business in her life.

She knew nothing about mail order outside of what she had read in a
textbook, which became immediately apparent to the bored and — as
she nervously kept reading — increasingly dissatisfied students.

Finally, I got up the courage to raise my hand — and when called
upon politely asked her, “Do you actually have your own mail
order business?”

She admitted she did not. I asked if anyone else in the classroom
did, and no one raised their hand.

“Well, I do,” I said, asking her, “Do you want me to teach the
course?”

She said yes, and I did.

Maybe I wasn’t great.

But my fellow classmates seemed thrilled to get first-hand
guidance in mail order by someone who had actually done it.

And the professor was obviously relieved at not having to fake
her way through material she clearly knew nothing about.

Now, if you take low-priced local training — which, unlike
courses you buy online, do not issue a refund if you are not
satisfied — you don’t risk much money.

But of course, you do risk wasting your time, which is arguably
even more precious.

So how can you profitably learn from “cheap” training in your own
backyard, without getting too badly burned?

Easy: Simply ask if the teacher is an active practitioner in the
topic.

For instance, if the course is about bookkeeping, is she or has
she been a bookkeeper? If it’s about training a puppy, is she a
vet, dog trainer, or even a dog walker?

If the answer is no, run.

Why?

Because if the instructor is a professor or other teacher, but
has never done the thing being taught, you are getting theory —
which in practical subjects like parenting, pet care,
bookkeeping, tax preparation, small business, or marketing, is
fairly worthless.

And the teacher being a great lecturer won’t make up for it: The
course might be enjoyable, but you won’t learn much that is
useful.

On the other hand, an instructor who is an active participant in
the field can pass on his “expensive experience” to you — giving
you a fast start and saving you from going down the wrong roads.

The expertise and rock-solid knowledge can more than make up
for the teacher perhaps not being the best seminar presenter.

And if she is not only a genuine expert but also a good lecturer —
as experts often are, in my experience — then you’ve struck
learning gold.

Online, you are a bit safer, because if the course is not to your
liking, you can — at least from an honest seller — get your money
back.

Locally, though, you — as the old saying goes — “pays your money
and you takes your chances.”

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Category: General | 12 Comments »

Why I avoid meetings like the plague

May 8th, 2018 by Bob Bly

The other day, I got an e-newsletter with the lead article
titled, “How to Improve ROI from Your Business Meetings.”

And my immediate thought was: that’s easy — don’t HAVE business
meetings!

In my nearly 4 decades in business, I have yet to find a bigger
waste of time than face-to-face meetings … with the possible
exception of social media.

Back in the day, pre-email, pre-internet, and pre-skype, I did go
to some meetings with local clients here in NJ.

For out-of-state clients, we typically had the meeting over the
phone.

And guess what?

I consistently found that we could accomplish the same thing in a
20 to 30-minute phone call with the distant clients …

…as I did in a 2-hour face-to-face meeting with local clients.

And 2 hours was the actual meeting time. When you added in the
round-trip car ride — an hour each way — the meeting took 4
hours, or half a day of my time.

So now, no matter whether the client is down the block or in
Australia, our meeting is via phone, email, or Skype.

I just don’t meet with people in person, unless they are willing
to pay a hefty fee to do so. And often not even then.

My Facebook friend PO writes: “Business meetings are the death
knell of profitability, productivity, and employee morale —
senseless.”

Another FB friend, BM, cites a study about meetings from the
Organizational Development group at MIT.

This computer-simulation study concluded that the optimum number
of people to have in a business meeting for maximum productivity
is 1.3 — which can mean just me if I’ve gained some weight!

DG comments, “Business meetings should be concise and pertinent.
And if they fill up someone’s calendar, my suspicion increases as
to their necessity and value.”

JF opines: “The bigger the organization, the less productive the
meetings in my overall experience.”

JL says this about meetings: “If you take an hour’s salary
for each person in the room plus the cost of someone making an
agenda and a report and then compare that with what came out of
it, you’d have to ask yourself why you did that. Meetings: yuk,
gag, awful.”

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Why I love libraries

May 1st, 2018 by Bob Bly

Recently, on a Facebook post, I casually mentioned in passing
that I get a lot of my books to read at the local town library.

My Facebook friend LW wrote:

“Bob, why the public library when there is Kindle?”

My immediate thought was:

“LW, why Kindle when there is the public library?”

I absolutely prefer paperbound books over digital books — and I
am a regular patron at my town library.

As Louis L’Armour writes in his book “Education of a Wandering
Man” (Bantam), “Education is available to anyone within reach of
a library.”

My fellow copywriter and FB friend DG says:

“I’m a public library guy and I also buy books. I only read
paperbound books myself, and I’m already way out of room to store
the ones I have.”

Now, I understand the many reasons why people tell me they love
their Kindle readers. I just don’t find them personally
appealing.

One of the big reasons people advocate Kindle is the ability to
easily carry dozens or hundreds of books with them wherever they
go.

But since I almost never go anywhere, there’s no benefit to me.

And in those rare instances when I do travel, one thick paperback
is enough to get me through the round-trip flight.

There are legions of people who just love paperbound books as
physical objects: the feel, the look, even the smell of the
paper.

I’m one of them. And Kindle wants to take all that all away from me.

As the author of 95 published books, one of my greatest rewards
is holding my latest hardcover or paperback in my hand — and
putting a few copies in our living room bookcase.

Holding electrons in my hands with a Kindle just doesn’t give me
that same pride of authorship.

(Similarly, I get much more of a charge holding a magazine with
my article in it than I do seeing my article on some website.)

Another big advantage of physical books is the venues where I get
them: bookstores, libraries, and used book catalogs, my favorite
of which is Edward R. Hamilton, though Bas Bleu and Daedelus are
not far behind. (Especially Bas, because they sometimes carry my
books.)

When you are in a library or a bookstore, or thumbing through a
book catalog, you encounter all sorts of books, information, and
subjects that you otherwise would never have thought about
before.

Yes, this can also happen online

But in a bookstore or library, with the actual book in front of
you, the compulsion to browse is, for me, even greater than
online. And yes, like so many people, I like web surfing.

——————————————————————

You may be thinking that I am a hypocrite, because I
publish, sell, as well as read PDF ebooks.

But when I buy a PDF ebook, I don’t read it on a screen. I print
it out, put it in a 3-ring binder, and read it as a hard copy
document.

And I suggest to my PDF ebook buyers that they do the same.
Although, of course, they are free to read it on a screen if they
prefer.

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Category: General | 11 Comments »

The 5 things I regret most in my life

April 6th, 2018 by Bob Bly

Subscriber JM writes:

“I would love to know a handful of your biggest regrets
professionally or personally — or things you might have done
differently?

“You might not have many since you’ve always done what you
love… but I bet it would make for a gripping topic for your
letter too.”

I’m not sure it’s all that gripping, JM, but since you asked, the
truth is I have many regrets — because, like most people, I make
a lot of mistakes, wrong choices, and bad decisions.

Caveat: You may find some or all of these trivial. To you, they
may be. To me, not.

Here in no particular order are just 5 things I did or didn’t do
that bug me; the list could be much longer:

#1–Daughter.

I got married at a younger age than my friends — 25.

But my wife got cancer a few months after the wedding.

Because of the radiation treatment, we were told to hold off on
kids for a few years.

Then, we went through infertility.

So we had Alex and then Steve later than we’d planned.

We wanted a third child. Maybe a sister for the boys.

But by then, we felt we were too old.

And so we didn’t.

Which I regret, because my kids are everything to me.

#2–Bass.

I played in my high school band, orchestra, and jazz band —
clarinet and baritone sax.

One day, the orchestra teacher offered to teach me another
instrument, one of my favorites — string bass.

He gave me a couple of lessons, but I already had a lot to do.
And so I let it go. And never learned to play the bass. Which I
wish I could play today.

#3–German.

At the University of Rochester, we chemistry majors were
encouraged to take German.

I took the required two semesters, but not more.

As a result, I can’t speak or read the language.

Which would have been useful to me, as in my career I have
written copy for a number of German companies.

#4–Scientist.

I got hooked on writing as early as high school, writing for the
paper, and then doing the same in college.

I love being a writer, and would choose that if I had to do it
all over again.

Still, it meant not pursuing what was my first love, chemistry.
And that too I regret more than a little; I even put up a
chemistry website to stay involved with it:

http://www.mychemset.com

#5–Novel.

Like many writers, writing a novel was on my to-do list.

But I never did it, because I never had a story idea I thought
could sustain novel-length treatment.

All my published fiction is short stories:

http://amzn.to/2hiHyk

But no novel. And time is growing short.

And finally, I do have a couple of ideas I think might work.

So I’ll end this essay and get to work on the novels.

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Category: General | 25 Comments »

Get big ideas from these 6 little books

April 3rd, 2018 by Bob Bly

In the self-help and success niche, there is a curious phenomenon
I call the “little books.”

These books are usually almost always reprints of talks,
speeches, and tracts from the 20th century, published today as
thin paperback books.

Some are so few pages they are more like pamphlets than books —
saddle-stitched with staples through the spine rather than
perfect-bound like a regular paperback book.

You can read them in a single evening without discomfort,
fatigue, or boredom. And they lend themselves to being reread on
a regular basis.

These little books survive the decades and centuries, and
continue to be avidly read today by an elite group of truth
seekers lucky enough to discover them, because these slim volumes
contain valuable wisdom.

Each essentially teaches a simple lesson that is practical,
timeless, and proven to be correct through long and continuous
application.

The 6 “little books” I heartily recommend you read this year are
the following:

1–Russell Cromwell, “Acres of Diamonds.”

A speech given many times that says all the treasures you want
and everything you need can be found right here in your own back
yard.

https://amzn.to/2pzFGsS

2–James Webb Young, “A Technique for Producing Ideas.”

A proven and simple 5-step method of solving problems and
producing profitable new ideas.

https://amzn.to/2GdyCfh

3–Earl Nightingale, “The Strangest Secret.”

The singular lesson of this reprint of a Nightingale talk is: “We
become what we think about.”

https://amzn.to/2GjpYM8

4–George Clason, “The Richest Man in Babylon.”

A sermon of sorts on the wisdom of achieving success by putting
your nose to the grindstone, investing wisely, being thrifty, and
learning from those who have already achieved what you desire.

https://amzn.to/2GivDBX

5–Robert R. Updegraff, “Obvious Adams.”

The story of a businessman who uses pure common sense to achieve
extraordinary success, doing what seems obvious to him but others
apparently miss.

https://amzn.to/2pzrM9k

6–James Allen, “As a Man Thinketh.”

The lesson: by controlling your thoughts you control your life —
similar to #3 above.

https://amzn.to/2pysgNS

All 6 of these books are like gems: small but valuable.

I reread all 6 within the past couple of months — didn’t take
long, so the return on time invested (ROTI) is great — and as
always, found reinforcement of good ideas as well as inspiration
for new achievement.

Do you have another favorite little book to add to my list?

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Category: General | 18 Comments »

The magic of “thin credentials”

March 27th, 2018 by Bob Bly

Recently I got an email notifying me that I had been nominated to
be included in the latest edition of one of the Who’s Who (WW)
directories.

Now, being smart and sophisticated, you may be laughing already.

“Bob, you maroon,” you may be thinking. “Don’t you know that
Who’s Who is hype and a scam — meaningless, worthless, and
bordering on fraud?”

Well, in some ways it may be. It is definitely a marketing ploy,
and not a genuine award or honor.

But there is a counterargument, and it is based on a simple
notion: perception equals reality.

YOU are smart and savvy enough to know WW is mainly a way for the
publisher to make money from marks who are, shall we say, perhaps
a wee bit susceptible to flattery.

But right or wrong, many in the general public — including some
of your prospects and customers — see Who’s Who as real.

Therefore, if you add “listed in Who’s Who” to your bio, doing so
causes your star to rise a bit with these people.

As a result, your WW listing is yet another block (albeit, a tiny
one) in the foundation of your reputation as a guru or expert.

And as we know, being an established guru in your field helps
sell more of your products and services.

Now, “Who’s Who” is a specific example of a broader category of
self-promotion I call the “thin credential.”

I define a thin credential as an honor, award, membership, or
designation that you (a) proactively pursue mainly for its
promotional or marketing value, and (b) sounds more impressive
than it actually is.

Also, if obtaining the thin credential requires study, courses,
and tests to earn it, the individual seeking it often does these
things primarily to get the certification or designation — with
the education and knowledge gained being secondary if that.

For instance, decades ago, I trained as a Certified Novell
Administrator (CNA) — not so I could become a working network
administrator, but to earn a certification that would show my
credibility as a copywriter in the IT niche. And, it worked!

One word of warning: If you get a thin credential, do not
overplay it. Be low key. If you strike up the band, and your
audience knows it’s lightweight, you’ll come off looking silly,
egotistical, or both.

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Category: General, PR | 14 Comments »