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May 2007

My Blogging Metaphor: BNI

This Monday (Bank holiday) I read one of the best publications on how to describe a blog and/or blogging to non-bloggers by Char on Essential Keystrokes : How do you explain blogging to your mom. (using the metaphor of a farmers-market)
That post prompted Liz Strauss to instigate a group writing project: Blogging Metaphors
(I'm starting to become a greater fan of group writing projects than of tag-meme's)

My metaphor is BNI (Business Network International) and especially the experiences I have weekly at the BNI-Ashford chapter. I've chosen this metaphor for two reasons really: to explain that blogs are for everyone and to explain how a blog works best.

Some businesses associate a business network like BNI as something you can only become a member of when you have a medium to large business. Not for start-ups, one-man-bands or small companies. They think that when you're not part of 'the old boys club' you will be shunted, laughed at, ignored by the 'old-boys'. They fear that when they - as small business - do join no referrals (work - contacts) will come their way.

Nothing could be further from the truth: network organisations know that anyone, really anyone - small, medium, large - can bring the most meaningful contribution to the breakfast table. Size doesn't matter; nor the industry, trade or type of profession for that matter.

Blogging is for everyone: small, medium, large - webdesigner, marketing expert, retailer, writer, moms at home, dads at home; the list is endless.

Now I come to the second part of my metaphor: how 'it' works best.

Other businesses are staying away from network organisation (or leave pretty quickly) because they think it's not worth it, there's 'no-profit' in it (now, read profit in the widest possible meaning, not just money). Main reason behind this mind-set: it will take me forever to recoup my investment of the membership fee. Or: I am a member so I am here first to take any business you can give me, then I start thinking about giving you some business and are amazed that no work or new contacts are coming their way. 

That's not how real networkers at BNI work. Real BNI networkers start first by listening to you: what do you do, what products do you supply, what services do you provide?
Second thing real BNI networkers do is ask questions: what type of referrals are you looking for, what contacts in my book would be helpful for your business? How can I contribute to your business?

And at first you talk (passionate we hope) about your business, what you do, where you want to 'grow' to, where your interests are. And you listening to your fellow members the same way they listen to you.
Then you interact on the questions asked. And you interact with the other members by asking questions, by contributing to their businesses. Then the whole network grows almost automagically, growing ever stronger. And so will your business, as whole and fully contributing member of that sharing network. Givers gain.

And that is IMHO how blogging (web-publishing) works best and becomes most profitable (read most number of interactive readers or even best way to monetise your blog): by the (passionate) content of your posts, by your interaction with your readers who comment and by your contributions on other blogs.

Contributions to and fro, passionate, freely and willingly, that's my experience - both in and on blogs and in BNI Ashford - what makes this essential to do as a business (or individual).

(synchronicity is playing-up again: Adam - Monk at Work - talked about "The Power of contribution" only yesterday!)

How blogging changed me and my business

MZM Robert Hruzek posses the following  - intriguing - question to us. (Turtle friend Bob is the one who arranged the group writing project beginning this month: What I learned from____ (Du'oh! Don't forget to fill in the blank!)

This time Robert wants to know: "How blogging had changed YOU" (and I suggested to add this little cute button
to every contribution so all posts can be found 'tucked together' at TheGoodBlogs).

So how has blogging changed me (and my business)?

I won't state the most obvious. As conversational blogger web-publisher (wink to David Armano) I meet many nice and interesting people all over the world, straight here from my keyboard. I always like to meet new people (hence my networkiDouble Dutch or authentic characteristic?ng 'addiction'), so nothing really new there, just a new way to go about it.

Personal change: started to accept my 'double Dutch English writing voice'

As a 'stranger in a strange land' the local language can be daunting. Although the education system in The Netherlands started teaching us English when we were 12 years old and all English and American tv-series and movie-pictures were/are sub-titled (versus voiced-over like in Germany) it is completely different to have to speak, read, listen, write etc English on a daily, hourly basis when it's not your 'First language'.
Reading and listening wasn't the hardest part, not for a fervent reader like me; talking and writing English  - being in business - feels rather uncomfortable. I want to do it properly, correct, without too many mistakes (yes, I know, trying to be perfect again).

At one point (roughly a year ago) I'd even asked others if they knew 'tuitors' who could teach me better English. Both Richard C and Lesley (and even Alice Spink - pr and marketing editor - who I had in mind to ask to do the 'job') advised against it. They all feared it would 'destroy' my own unique English.
Having written my 'début' business novel in English did help to 'get over that feeling of not-good-enough'. Specially when one customer, who kindly enough bought a copy, told me later she could 'hear me talk when she was reading my story'.

Blogging in English, in my own double Dutch English, helped even more. I learned - from many others - that it's the content that counts, being authentic; not if it is written in perfect Oxford English.

Business change: more consistency of and clarity in vision, focus and aim of our business.

We (business persons) all think a lot of thoughts about how to grow our business, what our goal and/or aim is. Now, I don't know about you, but my thoughts tend to go faster than I can 'think' sometimes.

Richard C's Profit Master - shortly to be released (hopefully) Last year November Richard C let me use his (pilot) software program to write one of those 'dreaded' business plans. But, of course, his program is quite different. It forces you to sit down, stop and think - think hard and focussed - of past, present and future of your business, your business and personal strengths (and weaknesses), how to overcome them and much more. Then it transfers all your thoughts into the most effective and readable business plan (including tasks-lists and responsibilities for tasks)  I ever seen. That was the first real focussed realisation of what we can become. We are implementing it since and with great success (i.e. we're getting 'richer' with less but consistent focussed effort and with more 'ambassador'-customers).
(At the moment the program is being developed further and when it's ready for release I will definitely help to promote it - the least I can give back for this gift.)

With conversations at Adam - Monk at Work - Kayce, Kent Blumberg and lately also Stuart - Conscious Cooperation - Baker the focus on and clarity in proper growth is becoming a continuous progress (as it should be).
Blogging - sorry, web-publishing - is not just writing your own posts, it's the discovery of like-minded focussed and freely shared - prompting for even - ideas. Even the comments you make on other bloggers post need focus - that's IMHO the least you can do to acknowledge the fact you've learned something new today.
And our business just keeps on growing - focussed and with clarity in our vision.

One more 'change'
Personal and Business change: there's a place (blog) for everything
Blogging made me realise I can have different blogs, it doesn't have to be written down in 'catch-it-all-in-one'. That's counter-productive, unfocused and even not friendly to my 'readers'.
My first blog: Wood You Like - Natural Wooden flooring - FAQ weblog is for interaction with our customers.
It wouldn't help my customers if I pepper that blog with thoughts and ideas how internally we are changing our business practise - they only want the results of that.
That's for this (Kiss2) blog.
The third blog (Stop/Start) is my own coffee-corner. For little quirky things that IMO don't belong on a blog that focusses on business concepts (or on weblog for our customers ;-))

Well, that's me or better, the chances blogging has made to my world. I'd love to hear from the three mentioned above (Adam, Kent and Stuart) "How blogging has changed them"

(Update: Adam - Monk at Work - Kayce 'contribution' - see also his comment below)

Progress episode 3: any one up for a test?

Oak_castle_grey_3 2 Days ago I posted our progress on dilemma about our "DIY with a Difference" project. Yesterday and today I've been working on the next step:
Converting high resolution pictures into a downloadable file. The first batch (62 in total) are on our Duoplank and Solid Floor range.

That step is now finished and the file is available for download on our FAQ blog. (Typepads new feature of pages comes in handy for this)

Now I need some (paying) volunteers who want to test the whole customer experience process for me. (The cost of the £ 1.00 fee will be refunded, just send me an email with the details).
The things I'm looking for (because I'm already 'picture and process' blind) are:

  • Does the text on the download page encourage you to download the file for £ 1.00?
  • How easy is the ordering process?
  • How long does it take for the confirmation email to arrive in your inbox (test download showed up immediately in mine)
  • Are the instructions on the Payloadz server easy to follow to make the download?
  • Which of the three files did you open first?
  • And then, of course, are the pictures sharp, bright and able to give you the best impression of all the wood-types?

All other comments are appreciated, as said before I tend to get a bit 'blind' in the end.

"Elderly" (over 55) customers, please

Bw_logoBurns-Waring newsroom reports an interesting fact of modern UK life:

According to Abbey the over 55s have made greater financial strides during their lifetimes than any other age group.

Some 71% of those aged over 55 believe they are more astute than their parents were at the same age, while a similar number state they have a more comfortable life.

"The over 55s are the golden generation. This generation has lived through a massive uplift in quality of living, with house prices rising a large amount."

Just 40% of 25 to 34-year-olds believe they are more astute then their parents were.

Is your marketing strategy and business targeting this 'golden' group? If not, how would you target this astute, affluent, mostly happier and internet savvy  growing group of baby-boomers?

Progress on dilemma: DIY with a Difference

After I posted my "Dilemma in Progress" last week both Richard C and Stuart Baker advised me to take 'quiet time' on this and "you will probably discover the solution in something else you are doing!". Stuart also gave the following piece of brilliant advice:

"I ask myself if I can picture NOT doing something. What does my gut tell me about NOT doing something? If the inner response is that I will have turned away from something that wanted to be in my life, I have an answer."

I cannot see us NOT launching our online shop for DIY-ers. My gut feeling tells me the niche-market is out there and our progress is there too.

One answer had been staring me in the face all along - the logistical headache remedy lays in the price lists/catalogues of our 4 main manufacturers - suppliers.  Where I normally focus on the best costs-effective solution per product (additional products like underlayment, oils and adhesives - which we do stock in small quantities) I 'only' have to turn that into most cost-effective solution per order/combination of products. All 4 suppliers stock most of these products and 'all' I have to do is find the right price for the online shop per product - wherever it comes from.

The second answer came to me during a phone conversation with my mother about how some customers just seem to 'drop out of the sky into our showroom'. That gave me the remedy for the scripting of (part of) the websites and really turn it into "DIY with a Difference".

Had I mentioned in the recent post the two main types of sales (called it type of customers there but in fact it is the 'type of sale') we have: GSI (Get Someone In - supply and install) - versus DIY (supply only) we also have three main types of customers:

  1. Homework-doners
    As the description 'predicts' these customers (the ones I mentioned to my mother) 'drop out of the blue sky', have all their homework done (mostly online), know exactly what they want, how much and what other products they need. In fact, all they come for is to place the order and to pay.
    I want this, this and that
  2. Couldyoutellme's
    Most of their homework done, know almost for sure what they want but are looking for some more advice. Be it on what wood type would suite their design most, what method of installation would be best for their circumstances, could we calculate exactly how many square meters they need?
  3. Likewoodbut's Know they like to have a wooden floor, but that's it really. Like to see lots of different samples; hear the various types of installation methods; the advantages and disadvantages of different finishes; other options there are. Apologise for having to ask so many questions, knowing so little - and we just reassure them (sometimes time after time) that's not a problem for us: that's what we are here for.

From the commercial point of view type 1 customers create the easiest and quickest turnover, but personally I like type 2 and 3 best because of the interaction and 'conversation' point of view. With them you can build up a real relationship and 9 times out of 10 they become our best ambassadors.

Our "DIY with a Difference" online approach must make all 3 types 'feel at home'. Translated into scripting and/or extra options this means:

  1. Can I please pay my order now? Homework-doners: know what I want, can I find that here, what's the price, how do I order and where/how do I pay.
    (Simple: in-out, no hassle, straight forward on-line shop)
  2. Couldyoutellme's: for them we will have the option to download pictures of the various flooring (interior design pictures, not just shots of small sample boards), simple instructions for installation and after care (including links to our FAQ blog where, if needed, they can even ask their own questions). This will (hopefully) turn them into type 1 customers.
  3. Likewoodbut's even more options, links to our information websites, many email-links with various body-text parts automagically filled in, to lead them to ask the right questions or request the right extra information in order to speed up the 'conversation' (happened before that it takes 4 emails before they even realise they have to tell us where in the UK they are before we can price the delivery), loads of pictures, downloadable leaflets and brochures, and many 'links' to our contact details including our phone number.
    If they turn into a type 1 customer, great; if not we also give them the option to request a specified quotation and other (off-line) payment options.

Lots of work still to do, many boxes still to be ticked, but dilemma is definitely solved. "DIY with a Difference" will focus on our main company aim and mission:
supplying our customers with the most suited high quality natural wooden flooring in the most suited for them on-line way.

Self-service or with some guidance from the 'waiters'.

Typepad new feature: pages

Always on the look-out to make me blogs and websites easier for readers/visitors. Yesterday I found a new feature announced on the typepad-blog: "Everything TypePad"
"Go beyond blogging with TypePad pages"

(not sure about that 'go beyond' but, hey that's marketing for you)

I've tried this new feature out on the StopStart blog (my personal ponderings) and created (finally) an index page for it as a 'new page'.

It works pretty straight-forward, didn't took me that long, all other features of typepad are available too. Plus in the Design: "select content" 'pages' has its own tick-box. Mine I placed where I had the 'categories link' before.

I am already thinking of other uses of 'pages' for this (Kiss2) blog and for our business blog (Wood You Like FAQ).
Here I'm thinking of adding a page where I can simple list books, novels and newsletter I recommend; on the FAQ blog I want to add a "leaflet and download" page for our customers/prospect to easily find (and download - have to work on that a bit more) more information about all our products and services.

Another step in the right direction?

Picture this

One recurring SOBCon07 item (issue?) has been this question: to add or not to add a picture of yourself on your blog. And the opinions vary (but of course ;-))

Both the Kiss2 and Stop/Start blog have been 'picture-less' till now. For various reasons. The best most obvious reason (for me) is the fact I never really feel 'like my picture', plus (as I mentioned over at Adam - Monk at Work - Kayce post on this subject we were told as children/teenagers/young adults that showing off was no good for anything. Do/be normal, than you're showy enough.

Read more.....

Dilemma in progress

Don't read the title wrong, this is not a post about the progress of/in a dilemma, this is will be about a dilemma we are (well, I am) facing in the ongoing "progress of our business" i.e. growing - taking us ever further.

Last Friday I had my monthly meeting with Richard C. (business consultant - and friend). And although I had told him not to bring more new ideas - the dust from the Exhibition has hardly settled, plus many other busy activities had to be done and dusted - of course Richard brought 'food for thought' with him. Not to implement straight away or next week; the only promise I had to make was to ponder about it.

And I have, pondered that is. And find myself facing a dilemma: diversify further or not to diversify further.
Some background first. We have two types of 'customers: GSI-ers (customers mostly in the East Kent area who Get Someone In - us - for both the supply and installation) and DIY-ers (supply only - all over the UK). At the moment it's roughly a 50/50 situation, but the number of DIY customers is growing. And that on its own is giving me a bit of a logistic headache already.

Both types of customers are 'served' in the same way: quality products, quality (free) advice and quality service and after care. The DIY-ers take up the least of time we have to spend with: first contact made through our websites, emails and/or phone calls are exchanged or visit to our showroom made, requirements discussed and order placed. (And then sometimes the logistic headache starts: not all products ordered come from the same manufacturer/supplier. If the customer lives in East Kent, not a problem, but more and more come from further afield - try 300  - 400 miles up North or up West!)

Because of these two facts: more DIY-ers and least time (read costs) spend Richard suggests to increase the effort on this group in a way that doesn't costs too much extra time or attract extra costs. He gave a really good visual picture of this:

Candle lit versus self-serviceImagine one building containing two restaurants: one 'self-service' and one 'candle lit diner'. Both restaurants are served by the same kitchen.

Meaning: same quality products; differently presented, differently served and hence different total price.

At the moment our 'restaurant' has candle lit tables, but the sign outside states: self-service possible.
All patrons come through the same door (showroom, websites, emails, phone) into the same 'candle lit place'. The diners are escorted to their table and full service is bestowed upon them; the 'self-servers' place their order at the 'bar' counter, wait at simple undressed tables and when their number is called collect their order (read: is delivered directly from supplier) or if the waiter is in their neighbourhood brought to their table to 'take-away' (read: delivered by us from our small storage facility).

The idea now is to take those few simple undressed tables out of the candle lit restaurant and place them and more in the dedicated 'self-service' area (I really like this visual picture!).
The signage has to be precise too, so no 'posh' diners end up by mistake in the self-service canteen or vice versa. Meaning in real life: different scripting for both types of customers on the websites. That's not really a problem, we already have two different domain names - why you can read in my novel - which now are very much integrated to portray to be only one website.
And our Mamut CRM-program already enables me to send out different scripted emails (half-automagically) to the different types of customers/prospects.

No, my dilemma is the logistic headache. Are we still too small to handle more DIY orders from all over the country? Do we turn our online showroom back into a online shop? If so, do we make all high quality products available online or just a selected few? How are we going to price small orders or combinations from different suppliers?

Back to the self-service restaurant: imagine coming in and choosing a 'set-meal'. Starter, main dish, desert and a drink on one tray. You take the tray from the display and walk to the check-out to pay. No problems.
Imagine choosing just a cup of soup. You still have to pay for that large tray it sits on. That's a problem.
Or imagine choosing a 'set-meal' but you ask for the normal coffee to be swapped for decaffeinated coffee. A cup of decaffeinated coffee is sitting right there on display, next to your 'set-meal'. But swapping something of a 'set-meal' costs extra, the counter person tells you.
That's a big problem.

I know the DIY area is a very wide (whole country) area and a growing area too. Specially our DIY-ers. They are not interested in the cheap and cheerful products of the normal DIY-sheds (B&Q, Wickes, Focus) or the cheap 'dedicated' retail outlets for floor covering (Floors2Go, ToppsTiles). Our DIY-ers want quality products, durable products, quality advice and quality service. They know the better quality they buy, the easier it is to install themselves (and hence saving fitting-costs, which enables them to buy the more expensive and higher quality products anyway).
And our existing experience already tells us that our DIY-customers are loyal customers - ambassadors even. And we do want to cater them better, simpler and more.

Hence my dilemma. How do I tackle this logistic headache, can I tackle - as small retailer without stock - this headache? Should I try with a few simple 'set-meals' first or should I set the 'tray' price higher to allow 'swapping' of the various dishes? (Where, another logistic headache, the soup could arrive after the desert!)

Anyone care to drop me 'pain-killer'? I welcome any 'medical' advice.

Learned from: MZM Group writing project

Beginning of this month my friend 'Turtle Bob' started his group writing project: "What I learned from_______" (Du'oh and don't forget to fill in the blank!)

17 16 contributions ended up in the blogoshpere and we all promised to list all entries (and I'm late again!)

Here is the complete list of entries, each one finishing the phrase “What I Learned From…”

“… Teen Girl Squad”, by Markk at My Opinions Are Important

Why a seemingly funny - and cruel - animated series about teenage girls still rings true into adulthood ("What is the main thing that characterises teenage life? I would say it is it’s unplanned nature, living for the moment and not thinking much about the future; indeed, barely able to comprehend the future")

“… the Mt. Pinatubo Eruption”, by Ronald Huerca at

How a natural disaster can upturn family life - loosing belongings, but more the feeling of belonging - but can also bring independents (the hard way)

“… Drugs”, by Sam Brougher at Forest Azuaran

How strong pain-killers (legal drugs) can do very strange things to ones mind (can I just add, as some consolation Sam, that nobody is able to figure out the exact sequences of "Pulp Fiction" the first time round)

“… a Mesquite Tree”, by Mike DeWitt at Spooky Action

(This is my personal favourite) How being ruthless - although in gardening - is needed to get the clearer picture to see how and where to grow to; and how you sometimes must let things go their natural way to flourish fully.

“… Drinking Starbucks Coffee”, by George Manty at Can I Make Big Money Online

How Starbuck, by 'shortening the decision cycle', can charge more for their coffee (they are everywhere!)

“… My Wife!”, by Rajaram Sethuraman at Thoughts of a Rambler

How being married finally has turned this (IMHO) bachelor in a grumbling - hate to admit I now have to be aware of other's peculiarities  - partner (Great contribution also IMHO, one with a 'wink')

“… Having a Daughter”, by Marco Richter at FitForFreedom

Smiles, happy laughter, that's what really important, everything else is just, well everything else.

“… Norm”, by Joe Raasch at The Happy Burro

(Also one of my favourites) Again, about what is important, but from a different angle (fishing angle even)

“… my mentors”, by Karin H. at The Kiss Business Too

('nough' said)

“… Procrastinating”, by Yvonne Russell at Grow Your Writing Business

(this one is bound to make you smile - or make you feel guilty when you realise what you're really doing: procrastinating)

“… a Squirrel”, by G.L. Hoffman at What Would Dad Say

(When I read this one, after I read Mike's, I was pondering which of the two is really my favourite. This one is a very close second) A very true life-lesson learned from two little animals, and a little boy that makes you aware of that lesson (that's two lessons!)

“… Blogging”, by Gayla McCord at Mom Gadget

Why everything that is done with passion or genuine interest can start a conversation and/or money making blog. (Interesting find, this one)

“… a Weight Problem”, by Monique Attinger at Insurance Guide 101

Why 'gut'-feeling (no pun intended) in some instances - like knowing, feeling something else is the matter that is causing a problem - is as important, or even more important than 'will-power'

“… Taking Out the Garbage”, by Michael Chantrel at Mortgage Guide 101 Blog

How very mundane tasks doing committed  time after time is a great starter on those big important other commitments (and not just on mortgage repayments, Michael, I like to add. Friendships treated the same way starts with your analogy too)

“… RUMMAGING!” by William Tully at LOGICal eMOTIONs

You never know what gems, jewels are 'out there'. Never forget to look just a little better, closer, 'deeper' and they are there - waiting to be found.

“… A Light Switch”, by Robert Hruzek at Middle Zone Musings

Shared memories are more than just 'fond memories'. They teach us not to take everything - or ourselves for that matter - too seriously.

Being part of this great collection of 'lessons' has been fun, more than fan really. So, once again, thanks for 'asking' Robert.