The Business Around The Business

When I was a kid I collected comic books.  There were some I read and some I collected just because I liked the artwork, but my main goal (along with a whole mess of other ventures in those days) was collecting them with the hope that one day they would be worth a ton of money.

After weekly shopping trips to the comic book store with my friends, I would carefully protect my comics with the special holders and backing boards. I’d also do things in support of my habit like get the updated pricing magazine that came out every few weeks to do a current evaluation of my collection.

That was well over twenty years ago.  Then, a few weeks ago I had the random thought that I would look up some of the prices of the comics I had to see what their current value would be if I went to sell them today. Needless to say, even though I had some pretty decent selections, I wouldn’t be a mega-millionaire if I went to sell them today.

Which got me thinking: where was the real money and value generated from collecting comic books, baseball cards, etc.?  

The real money was generated in supporting the collecting behavior.  If I spent more time finding ways to help my friends with their collections, I probably would have made much more than in actually collecting myself. All of those protective bags and backings, the storage boxes, and even the french fries and sodas my friends and I stopped for on the way home from the comic book store was the real way for someone to make money from our collecting. The four bucks per month, by every kid who collected comics, for the pricing guide was another secondary product (and industry) that sprung up around the collecting.

This is true in many places. Is more money generated from the actual stocks in the stock market or from the countless industries and offerings supporting people who want to buy and sell stocks?

What business could you develop supporting the perceived value of another business?

P.S. After lugging my comic book collection around in boxes between my first two apartments after college (yes, I kept them ‘in storage’ at my parent’s house through high school and college) I did decide to sell them on ebay.  Three quick thoughts:

  1. wow, ebay or the internet wasn’t even ‘a thing’ when I started collecting back in grade school
  2. I sold them in bulk as 1 whole set because I didn’t want to go through the detail of individual listings management and therefore had to knowingly sell them at a steep volume/non-individualized discount, and
  3. the real value in my whole experience with collecting comics came from the fun I had on those weekly shopping trips and the discovery of seeing what’s new at the store. Those memories are priceless and why I will highly recommend my kids start any kind of collecting of something they want.

Business Boot Camps

There are plenty of programs for students  to learn more about career choices and industries in their field (think internships and co-ops).  Why do businesses stop doing that for experienced people?

What if you could build a bootcamp / externship-type program for your business where you bring in talent from other industries to work in your space for a while?  What if you could even do this between the different groups within your company?

Do you think skills you have from working in one industry could be useful in another? There’s an easy way to find out once you find a company with this type of program embedded in the organization.

How else could you benefit from the knowledge someone else has in another field?

The “Why Am I Here” Score

I looked up the websites of 75 different organizations in a particular industry for a small project. My goal was to look at the sites so I could figure out which of 6 or so different buckets that each of the organizations fell into. This would help me develop a plan to research the right ones more effectively.

Unfortunately, 65 of the 75 websites I went to did absolutely nothing in the first 2 clicks (I left each one after two clicks) to tell me

  1. what the organization offered
  2. identify any nugget of information that could help me categorize them effectively or
  3. help me understand how that organization made money (they were all for-profit ventures)

Bloated, confusing, jargon-filled mission statements and copywriting on the main pages of a company’s site do nothing to help the new visitor understand anything about the company or what to do next.

So, how about developing a way to quickly asses website (or other media) designs in terms of the consumer/customer/visitor and figuring out why they happens to be on the site in the first place? 

One simple way this could be evaluated is by whether or not someone knows what to do once they land on your homepage. There’s a ton more, but the overall message is to come up with some kind of generic benchmark (like CTR is a generic benchmark) that helps designers understand if they’re confusing the visitor.

How else could we measure this?

 

The Hard Question Finder

One of the best ways to improve anything is to find the right and hard questions to work on addressing. The toughest part of that strategy is identifying what those hard questions are. Too many times the person that needs to address that question is so bogged down in the actual thing that wants/needs to be improved that they are blind to what the hardest questions are.

Instead of a suggestion box, we need hard question boxes.

What if the group/person/organization had a way to specifically ask for insight into what those hard questions could be from reputable sources?

Suggestions mean that the person submitting thinks they know the answer, a hard question box gives the actual owner(s) of the thing being addressed the chance to see the areas that could be addressed then decide what/how to address them. Of course, they could always open up for suggestions, too.

How else could you identify the hardest things to work on, because chances are those are the most important as well.

**This is related to the The Question Recorder

Accelerate Your Career Growth by Understanding How Promotions Happen

When you start to analyze how and why people get promoted in any large organization you can see that interesting patterns have developed.  The important part in understanding those patterns is making sure that you are using them as you develop your career plans. I imagine every organization is different to some degree, but there must be some universal truths as well.

Can you accelerate your next promotion or opportunity within the same company?

Note: I’m not commenting on the topic of how to do it by moving out and around other companies.

Here are some thought starters on the topic:

  • Which matters more–your skills and track record or the actual role? Look around, are some positions geared towards faster advancement opportunities just because of the role itself and not even the skills or work you might be able to do within that role?  Yes!  Sure, it does even out over time, but if you can get it to work in your advantage earlier it could be a good bet.
  • Do certain groups seem to be have a better track record for advancement?  If no one from the group your in has been promoted within in the last few years, how much harder would it be to work out for you? Go where it’s more normal.
  • Can who you work with help or hurt your advancement?  Not just the team, but what business partners are you working with and do those groups generally aid in your career development in some way?  For instance, supporting or collaborating with other groups that are fast-growing and expanding probably give your position a better chance of advancing vs. collaborating/supporting a group that is historically stagnant or declining.
  • Are the skills you’re learning in that particular role going to help or exponentially accelerate your growth to the next level?  Finding a role that helps is not nearly as transformational as a role that will accelerate exponentially. Of course, the latter type roles could also bring about a bigger risk as well. One good example: my company (this is public info) recently had a mid-level job posting for a person to work directly on a deep and daily basis with one of our new Executive Members that has an amazing track record of success. I’ve never seen a role like that and the things the person would be exposed to and get to interact with, not to mention the networking aspects, would be almost even a level above exponential acceleration.  Seek those types of roles. (For those of you wondering if I follow my own advice – I didn’t even try because of the 60% travel requirement and I was a new father at the time. Sometimes life decisions easily outweigh career decisions.)
  • What can you create to completely change the career growth trajectory curve?  Who says you absolutely have to follow the traditional trajectory through each level of your company’s hierarchy? What can you create or do that is so amazing that it helps you radically jump through the organization?

I’m not saying you should use promotions merely as a way to guide your career planning.  In fact, I’ve taken some interesting steps back or sideways in my career to learn different skills that have proved to be absolutely more valuable in the long run.  What I am saying is that you should understand the different ways advancement happens if you hope to continue growing through your career.

Stop Hoarding Your Work

A few days ago, I got an informational handout from a company that made me laugh. Basically, the bottom of the page featured the disclaimer: “Reproduction by any means is prohibited without permission. If you’d like to purchase copies of this handout please…”

This was from a consulting company that makes all of its money from in-person engagements with medium to large companies.

If you were running a consulting business and wanted to get more leads and help other people share how great you were as a company, wouldn’t you let people copy and distribute simple handouts? But let’s be clear. I’m not saying they should allow folks to steal their copyrighted information or intellectual capital.

The more your name and information is out there, the more chances you have to book an engagement.

What are you giving away?  What are you not giving away?  Worse yet, what are you scaring your existing customers from not sharing by means of your outdated policies?

Making Short Term Decisions to Long Term Problems

If the phrases “we just have to get through this next quarter” or “we just have to stabilize until the customers return and it goes back to the way it was” enter into the conversation when you’re about to make business decisions,  you should realize that you’re already starting your decision making process from the wrong place.

Many music companies and newspapers thought their customers were coming back and in order to survive all they had to do was “hold on” until things turned back to the way they were.

The customers aren’t coming back, it’s never going to be like it was, and the things affecting your business aren’t going away.

Relying on things to go back to the way they were is short term thinking. It’s easy to fall into that trap because the answers to short term problems are easy (layoffs to make a number for wall street, cutting R&D or relationship building expenses).

The challenge and opportunity is to focus on the real issues and plan how to survive long term. Long term thinking presents hard problems and forces harder conversations because it demands that you challenge what has made you successful in the past in order to thrive in the coming future.

You’ll only be in business for the long term, when you start to think and design for the long term.