Guidelines for writing great articles

Part of my efforts with the Mississippi Magic Magazine involve setting up guidelines for writing great articles.  If you are wondering why a technologies consultant is posting guidelines on writing great articles then let me explain.  We are in the business of creating success in our constituents that we partner with through consulting and development.  That being said… Mississippi Magic Magazine provides an outlet of expression for people and businesses in Mississippi but it does not employ writers to produce magazine content.  Therefore, all the writing done on the Mississippi Magic Magazine is done by volunteer writers that have a vested interest in the community.  From business owners to pastors of churches, people active in leadership in the community provide all of the content found in magazine.  To make this a profitable venture for each of them, we’ve found it necessary to publish a guidelines for writing great articles.

Benefits:

  • People like to do business with those they are familiar with.   Through connecting with our community through your articles, you’ll lower the barriers that people have to traditional broadcast style advertising communications.  .
  • Articles will be broadcasted to the RSS subscription readership.
  • Articles will be indexed by search engines so that anyone looking the information you provided will find it and you on the internet.
  • Articles will spread in a viral method through through social media sites such as twitter, facebook, and linked in.
  • Unlike traditional media, articles written will be available online well into the indefinite future.
  • Articles will link your thoughts, expertise, and methods to your perceived value as a solutions provider and allow people to reach you.
  • Articles always make the front page when they are published.
Good practices:
  • Offering needed information to make an informed decisions.
  • Offering solutions by showing how to solve a problem.
  • Providing lists of methods or resources.
  • Expounding upon a subject.
  • Offering information about events by featuring information, pictures, and video covering people in the community.
  • Praising and pointing out the good about others.
  • Simplifying complex information, instructions, or events.
Avoid:
  • Slandering others.
  • Defaming others.
  • Advertising your products or services.
  • Soliciting business.
Using these methods, community leaders can provide invaluable content that leads people in the community to them as a provider of services and goods.  Through the relationship formed between the reader and author in the magazine articles these leaders have an inroad to the reader when the reader seeks to find a provider for a need or want that the author can fulfill.
This style of marketing defined in these guidelines for writing great articles are known today as inbound marketing.  By using them you’ll get found on the internet and connect with your customer.
– Joel

Flattening the org chart with mobile web technology – part one the pyramid.

Part one – The traditional pyramid organizational structure

When I was in college (10 years ago!) studying information technology and business one of the hot topics was how information technologies would flatten the pyramid organizational chart of many businesses. Ten years later after graduating and participating in management in several organizations as a corporate citizen of the of the business world I can say that I’ve seen little progress. Many organizations seemingly have invested in new technologies only to primarily use email systems to communicate with most of the information moving from top down with the majority of the decision support technology being leveraged at the top of organizations and not the bottom.

Traditional businesses are built upon a pyramid structure of management that works on a one to many relationship between the highest level leader  / manager or the organization and and his subordinate managers that handle employees and customers.  Here’s a brief story showing how this works.

An illustration:

Our entrepreneur  Joe starts out  with a vision to sell widgets to the world (or at least his home town).  He begins selling and becomes so successful that he must hire employees to help.  At this point Joe has to step back from dealing with customers directly and begin dealing with his employees if he wants to be successful.  Joe must devote some of his time to managing his people.  If he is successful at instilling his vision, methods, and purpose into the people he has hired then his business will continue to grow.

Now lets say that Joe is very successful and must hire or contract 30 people to handle the day in day out operations of his business.  Obviously Joe cannot deal directly with customers like he used to and probably spends most of his time coaching, training, and counseling his people on to success.  He has created a small pyramid structure where each employee or contractor reports to him.  Joe’s business expands and he opens a branch in another town.  He can’t be in both places at the same time so he has to hire another person to help manage.  The new person starts out with several employees and Joe’s plan, vision, and methods for selling widgets.

Joe now has two pyramids to handle,  the one he is directly involved in and the remote location.  This is the small business model.  As Joe continues down the road to success he continually adds more pyramids to his organization eventually creating units that handle marketing, legal issues, human resources, procurement, and financials.  By now Joe’s reached the point where there is no way he can run his original unit and properly motivate, inspire, and lead all the others so he hires another manager to handle his unit and spend all of his time now overseeing all the units.

Sounds complicated?  Well it really isn’t if Joe’s done some smart hiring but Joe does have quite an infrastructure of of people in place and a weekly obligation to do a set amount of sales in order to pay them all.  Joe’s done a great job of scaling up his business but the way he’s done it doesn’t leave him any room for scaling down.  Also, Joe is out of touch with his consumers now because he doesn’t get to deal with them directly so he can’t read market demands like he used to so he has to rely on the people he’s hired or contracted to get this information for him.  Joe’s business model probably looks like the picture below.

The traditional pyramid organizational structure
Joe's business organizational chart

As you can see Joe’s continuing success is placing him further and further way from his customers while his ability to make decisions that affect the outcome of the business has grown in proportion to its scale.  Joe’s answer to this problem would typically be to saturate his decision making process with inputs from the managers he’s hired and empower them to make some of these decisions.  He might occasionally drop in on departments or operations to see what is going on and attempt to get a better perspective of the needs of the business by talking directly to employees that deal with suppliers and customers, but for the most part he’ll be plugged into the network he’s built and be removed from the front lines of the business.  These are the effects of the traditional pyramid structure of business.

Strong points

  • Inherently allows for growth in the scaling of business.
  • Allows for intuitive growth of business
  • Authority and areas of responsibility clearly defined.
  • Clearly defined path for promotions and reward within the organization.
  • Internal units can create group cohesiveness, camaraderie and loyalties.
Weaknesses
  • Leadership is removed from front-line supplier, customer, and prospect interaction and may lack responsiveness.
  • Leadership must rely on subordinate sub leaders to supply information and analysis.
  • Top level decision making can be skewed by group thinking, the overriding desire for consensus, and group politics which do not reflect the businesses actual needs.
  • Front-line employee’s may have limited decision making ability and lack the ability to properly engage the customer or prospect.
  • Innovation may be stifled by top down communication.

In our next article we’ll discuss an alternative structure that could be used to improve responsiveness and innovation through networking.

Joel

 

July 2011 in Retrospect

July 2011 in Retrospect:  Too busy to write but things are looking promising.

July 2011 in retrospect has been a tough on my blogging efforts.  My latest project has taken up so much time that between it, my day job, and my family, it’s been hard to get time to write.  This post makes number four during this month which is a considerable decline from what I’ve accomplished in the past so I guess I’m not to happy about the blogging results this month.  I never thought I’d be writing in a manner that anyone in the world could see my thoughts but I’ve found the process rewarding and I don’t intend on letting it go.  Some of the difficulty finding writing material stems from the confidential manner of the projects I undertake.  I tend to focus like a laser beam on what I’m trying to accomplish and when I’m putting a lot of effort into developing functionality for an entity that has exposed their core competencies to me the it tends to create a pool of experiences that I’m not comfortable talking about.  I value the trust that other have placed in me so I can’t write about things that they’ve placed in my confidence on the web for anyone to see.

That being said…  I’ve recently had the pleasure of hooking up with some of the brightest and hardest working people I’ve ever enjoyed working with in my life.  They’ve given me a chance to make a difference in in what they do by utilizing my technology and business skills to improve the efficiency of their process by leveraging technology to automating tasks and procedures and streamlining data flow.  I’m enjoying a synergy of the management, business, and technology skills I have in fuller manner then ever before and I appreciate the opportunity to analyse, innovate, and create that they have offered me.  Putting the icing on the cake,  I’ve been able to pull my brother Jeremy from valleyflight.com in on the project and I always enjoy working with him.  He has a depth of technical expertise, is always helpful, and listens to my ideas without telling me that I’m crazy for thinking too big.

Hopefully August will be a better blogging month.  I’ve got a packed schedule and I know that time will be an issue, but having experienced the power of blogging and how it helps shape thoughts and expression, no matter how busy I get I won’t be quitting the blog.  Sometimes I kind of think of this thing as a big public diary… I write about the things that fascinate me and some of the things that I’m doing and I’ll get the chance to go back someday and it will all be here.  I’ll be able to look back at this along with those that I know and love and see the path I’ve taken along with the milestones of yesterday.

July 2011 in retrospect: Here’s to casting a message in a bottle into the sea of information in hopes that someday it will was up on a future shore and I’ll see it and remember where I was when everything changed.

Be blessed,

Joel

 

What modern business applications should offer users.

Modern business applications should offer users the following features…

While developing solutions for various projects that I’ve undertaken I’ve come up with a few ideas on the types of features that I’d like my applications to offer users.  While this list is far from complete I think it would be good to post it for comment.  Bear in mind that when I’m discussing modern business applications I’m discussing thin client web based applications using cloud architecture.

Modern business application features:

  • Remote connectivity to data and functionality.
  • Encapsulation of business logic.
  • Continuous contextual decision support.
  • User specific views of the data and logical processes
  • Security
  • Flexibility
  • Data Importing / Exporting capabilities

Remote connectivity to data and functionality: Traditional business applications ran on workstations and desktop computers.  Data was stored on the computer itself or on a server and was not accessible unless the user was sitting in front of the desktop computer itself or another computer connected to the server.  This in effect chained the user to his or her desktop device.  Modern business applications must utilize web technology and provide device independent services that allow the user to connect to the data and logic of the business through any device that they can be authenticated through that has internet connectivity.

Encapsulation of business logic: Traditional business applications such as spreadsheets, word-processors, and email allowed for the transportation and transformation of data, but the use of business logic was largely left to the discretion of the user.  Modern business applications can be designed to encapsulate the steps that must be taken with information and resources to automate processes and insure execution of critical procedures required by users.  By profiling the procedures and steps required for critical processes in the business, developers can create software that encapsulates them and insures that the order of operations is followed, all steps required are taken, all resources required are employed, and follow through is complete.  Outcomes and ownership of inputs from each step can also be tracked to determine each users contribution to the success of the process.  Success ratios for processes can be increased as the mundane oversight of each detail is moved from managers to system applications with the general oversight of larger categories of processes taken on by tech empowered managers.

Continuous contextual decision support: Because of the connectivity offered by todays diverse array of computing devices, from smart phones, laptops, tablet PCs, to thin client enabled desktop PCs.  Users now have the ability to receive data and logic at any point of the business process.  Modern business applications must provide contextual decision support by offering relevant information to the user at the right time with suggestions for its proper use and allow for user feedback into the system.

User specific views of the data and logical processes: Modern business applications must offer users unique views of the data and logical processes that fits their context to the business.  For example a vendor that supplies a business would need access to statistics indicating demand for the particular commodity they offer.  Their view of the data and logic would be an on demand view or automated communication with forecasted consumption data generated by internal business processes that the vendor never sees.  User specific views of the data and logic offer modular controls to the business and protects its core competencies from probing by competition.

Security: Traditional business applications were prone to interruption by natural disasters and other disruptive events such as fires, floods, tornadoes etc.  Modern business applications can offer security to its users by storing data and logic in a cloud environment where information is distributed off site amongst computers in multiple data centers.  This offers a degree of security to the user and provides for a significant reduction in recovery time when the business is impacted by such an event.

Flexibility: Modern business applications created with web based technologies are more flexible than traditional business applications because of the ease in which updates can be rolled out to the user.  In traditional environments users had to undergo an application update procedure before receiving an updated version of a business application that contained the latest data and logic.  Web applications are updated remotely with no effort required by the end user making their innovation, iteration, and revision much more seamless and transparent to end users.

Data Importing / Exporting capabilities: Modern business applications should easily convert data with traditional applications such as spreadsheets and allow the user the comfort of converting data for use outside of the application.  Data transfer methods such as XML are a good standard for data export and can allow for data interchange between disparaging systems and applications.

Comments and discussion are welcome.

The importance of You(ser): You are important – I am important

The importance of You(ser): You are important.

Business got you locked up? :(  Break out with catontech tools!  :)

You are the center of your environment, your team, your family, and your business.  You’ve poured your life’s energy, your dreams, and all of your passion into your business and career and you deserve the best.

As the most important person in your life you deserve business solutions that work for you by:

  • offering you timely information about the important events surrounding and affecting your business.
  • providing easy access to measurements and metrics that indicate the performance or your organization.
  • automating time consuming processes and gives you the freedom to do the important things you do best.
  • freeing you from your desk and allow you to make decisions from anywhere in the world.
  • offering the power to transform and employ the information in your organization without effort or hassle.
  • securing the practices, procedures, and data of your core business against nature, accidents, competitive organizations, and criminals.

Your time is like money in your wallet and you deserve solutions that free you to spend your life pursuing your passions.  You started your business with a dream and you should be free to pursue it without sacrificing the things that are important.

You know the importance of your decisions in your organization and all that you’ve done to create the things around you.  Take a deep breath and think about the things in your environment that are keeping you from meeting your objectives.  Now breathe out and say I am important! I am too important to be tied up with things that keep me from my passions and dreams.  I’m too important to allow my business to tie me up in red tape and processes that keep me from focusing on the things I know are important to my success.  I’m too important to leave my success to chance.  Take a moment and write down the things that are keeping you from meeting your objectives and tying up your time.  Once you’ve reflected on them visit us at http://catontech.com/card.  We’d like to help you.  The conversation won’t cost you anything.  Just fill out the form first so we can focus on the issues and we’ll email you and set up a time to talk.

Click for an hour of consultation - no obligations - just listening and advice.
Joel Caton

 

Your business’s great story

The importance of your business’s great story:

Your story is what you do or what your business does.  Through each and every activity that you or your employee’s interact with the members of the communities you do business with you are telling people a story about yourself.  Most of the time our activities reinforce a view that our audience has already predetermined about us.  This can be good or bad depending on the views of the person we are dealing with.  The story we tell with our business is too important to leave to chance.  As mentioned Business Leader as Storyteller I’ve listened to Seth Godin’s All Marketers Are Liars twice in an attempt to determine the best attributes of a good business story and I’m happy to be able to list them here.  Please bear in mind that the attributes listed here are my interpretation of what Seth has to say and are not taken verbatim.

Attributes of a great story.

  • Understanding the world view of your target audience: Before you even begin your story you must first determine who your audience will be.  One method of doing this could be determining your ideal customer is.  To craft a great story that will truly be effective you’ve got to know what predispositions your audience has so you can help them reinforce those thoughts by adopting your story as their own.  By using this approach you are narrowing your focus to a smaller target group, but the idea here is to find people that will want to hear your story and repeat it as their own.  These are the people who will take notice of what you are saying and buy into it to an extent that they interrupt everyone they know to tell them about it.  It’s important to get this part right because if you interrupt everyone with your story you will just come off as annoying and irrelevant.
  • Tell a coherent story that is consistent when told through various channels. When telling the story of “how we do it here” to your target group it is vital that your facts are consistently supportive of the message you are trying to convey.  Disjointed facts and points that seem contradictory will only confuse your audience and cause you to lose their attention.  Delivery of the story must be clear and facts must be presented in a way that reinforces the underlying message you are trying to convey.  The best method to accomplish this is to determine the process flow of every point of communication with your audience and define the type of communication that takes place there.  Points of communication can include customer invoices,  the conversation your associates have with customers when answering the telephone, email, tweets, or blog comments, or the conversation a cashier has with the customer when processing their order.  All these points must be defined and the associates trained on what message is to be conveyed.
  • Giving just enough details. Give the target audience just enough information to engage their imagination.  The art of suggestion works like a connect the dots puzzle.  If you’ve ever looked at a Thomas Kinkade painting then you’ve viewed the type of impressionistic work that we are trying to create.   Mr Kinkade uses shadow and light to create impressions which the viewer turns into a scene.  If we slow down and look at his paintings intently then we understand that we were viewing an impressionistic pattern.  If we are telling our story to the right audience then they will fill in the gaps to complete the picture of their world view.  This is important because of the limited attention span of the average prospect in a media saturated culture and the fact that once the user completes the impressionistic story in their mind it becomes their own story.
  • Don’t harm the target listener: I really wish that I didn’t have to put this in here, but considering the low trust environment here in the United States I felt I had to.  Don’t tell stories that will harm your audience if they choose to believe them.  If you do you will lose in the long term.   Choose a long term strategy that will benefit your target audience and your business will grow virally as the story takes hold and is spread.  The key to a great story is building trust and if you are found to be harming people eventually you will become the next WorldCom or Enron.
  • Be authentic – be real: The best stories are true.  Stories that are not true will make the target audience feel stupid for believing them once the truth comes out.  If you make someone feel dumb they will not support you and once they find out they have been duped they will never repeat your story again.  Stay away from false stories and lies.  Let your competitors be the ones that over promise and under deliver.  Succeed by under promising and over delivering.  Being authentic and real is the only real way to succeed in a low trust environment.
  • Differentiated from competing stories. It is hard to shout above the crowd and in today’s media saturated culture it is foolish to compete with a successful and well established story.  If your competitor is selling on price and doing it well then you would do well to sell on service.  Value is perception and customers buy because of perceived value so the trick is to tell a story of how you are different then the rest and how your difference is valuable.  The “how we do it here” story should be customized to your target groups world view and be so different from the other stories out there that comparison is not possible.  This is how you avoid the devastating effects of price competition and if you do this well your customers will probably enjoy paying a higher price.

Your business’s story becomes a great story when it becomes the audiences story.

Further reading: The importance of telling the right story the right way.

Your thoughts and comments are most welcome.

Joel Caton

 

Business Leader as Storyteller

I’m still doing research on this business leader as storyteller concept.  I’ve downloaded the audible version of All Marketers Are Liars by Seth Godin and maybe it will shed some light on the subject.

I can remember when I was in Jr high school and later in high school going to the library and reading every Louis L’Amour book I could get my hands on.  I read plenty of other authors as well and spent many of my days escaping from the mundane experience of high school by vicariously enjoying life through the words of a story teller.  For the most part the books were fiction and I knew they were not true but I gleaned plenty of understanding about people, geography, history, and many other subjects from these stories.  I also read some autobiographies and biographies which I thought were interesting.  The manner in which many of these works were written stimulated my imagination and ignited a passion in me to learn more, which was something my high-school teachers could not get me to want to do.

Now don’t get me wrong when I mention story telling as a way of doing business.  I’m not advocating dishonesty here. When I mention story telling I’m talking about what we’ve got to say about ourselves and our experiences.  There’s no doubt about it that the things we think about all day and the stories we tell others are what defines us and if we’re in business it’s what defines our business.  There is an art to explaining things to people and marketing ourselves and I believe that it has a lot to do with our ability to tell stories… authentic stories people will listen to and want to learn more about.

Stories are a great tool for leaders because they:

  • Can encapsulate and drastically simplify very complex concepts and environments in a manner that makes them easy to understand.
  • Can be used as a lenses that the audience uses to interpret the facts and make them relevant.
  • Engage the imagination and the attention of an audience that might not otherwise be receptive.
  • Can be used to engage the emotional side of the audience in situations where facts alone would not or conversely to disengage an audience from an emotional response when the facts would warrant one.

I’m still working on my story and hopefully after listening to this book I’ll have a little more to share.

– Joel

Developments

A quick update on developments lately.

The business card lead conversion project

This project is hardly finished but it’s functional enough that I’m going to start using it.  I’ll be emailing the information for now but my long term plans are to integrate site registration with this process and offer the reports and worksheets on a perpetual basis to the end user.

The Ideal Customer Survey

I’m looking at ways to improve the questionnaire as it currently is written with a focus on business to business and I’d like to add some business to consumer questions or possibly break this into b2b and b2c surveys.

Site Graphics Update:

New graphics are forthcoming as I’m looking to take a more laid back approach with the site.  I’m integrating a nature scene for the background and move the navigation to a floating panel on the right side of the page.  The catontech eye logo is being revamped so it will be more understandable and less weird.

Thanks for the Referrals

A word of thanks to Janet Kelly of Kellybucks and JK Real Estate for the referral to Debbie Carrol her staff at Boaz Tax Sales Properties.  Its great to be able to help friends and Janet you’ve certainly helped me.  Debbie, Wanda, Laura, and Monica are great and I really enjoy helping them out.

Joel

Thoughts on Content, Context, Connection, and Community: The new marketing mix

The days of the old marketing mix are passing away.  While product, price, place and promotion are still essential for success in many industries, a new mix is replacing them on the internet.

How the old mix doesn’t work like it used to:

  • Place: E-commerce on the internet eliminates the importance of the physical location of the business.
  • Product: Knowledge about products is rapidly disseminated through the internet and manufacturing cycle time is at an all time low.  Creating a better mouse trap and marketing it on the basis of uniqueness alone is more difficult today then ever and copycats abound.
  • Price:  The internet is the great equalizer in pricing because information about it is so easy to come by.  It is incredibly difficult to offer a great distinction in pricing because every competitor can get this information and react instantly.
  • Promotion:  Traditional marketing focused on impressing a prospect as many times as possible in order to sway the buying decision.  In today’s media saturated environment, prospects have learned to tune out messages that are not relevant to what they are doing.  Also the sheer volume of messages causes prospects view the validity of each “offer” with a degree of skepticism.

The new marketing mix

  • Content:  The information do you provide about yourself and your value propositions to the consumer.
  • Context:  The find-ability of your information when it is needed.  Like when your prospect needs to make a buying decision or research a solution.
  • Connection:  Your relationship with your prospect?  What the people connected to your prospect have to say about you.
  • Community:  An environment that engages prospects and customers and elicits referrals, knowledge, and resources from them by bringing them together in a way that causes them interact with each other.

The game is changing and it’s a great time to market your business.  While these new channels require more time energy and commitment they are far less expensive the the old traditional mix.

Your thoughts?

– Joel Caton

The Ideal Customer

Who should you do business with?

Businesses often times fail because they do not define their ideal customer. This  failure can lead to the mistake of trying to be all things to all people. Without knowing who it is you will service you will find yourself engaging in transactions that do not take your business toward its long term goals. An example of this would be be doing business with single transaction customers that are costing you money because the product and marketing cost to acquire them is higher that the revenue you make from the first two transactions.

To avoid this issue answer the following questions about your ideal customer. Bear in mind important issues such as transaction costs, marketing costs per customer, and other like factors when answering these questions. The profile you are creating must be grounded in reality in order to work and there must be a match between the products and services you are offering and the customer’s wants and needs, so it’s important to have that aspect of your business planning done before you take this step.

Questions to be taken into consideration when defining the ideal customer:

  • What will be the life of the relationship with the customer and how long will we do business with ideal customers?
  • Will they use our product on a reoccurring basis? If so how can the frequency be projected as a cycle time?
  • Are they selective about who they do business with?
  • What level of feedback do they desire in terms of problems and progress?
  • What level of trust do they want? Do they demand honesty?
  • What are their expectations about product and service delivery and is it important that those expectations be realistic and practical?
  • Do they provide payment in full on a timely basis?
  • Do they respond to our requests?
  • Do they desire the latest innovations or traditional tried and true solutions?
  • What value do they place on innovation?
  • Do they provide testimonials?
  • Do they provide referrals?
  • Are they a long term customer?
  • Do they prefer fixed term contracts?
  • Do they question the accuracy of invoices?
  • Do they trust our advice?
  • Are they cooperative and easy to work with?
  • Do they appreciate a job well done?
  • Do they use us as a provider of choice?
  • Do they provide a high degree of transparency?
  • Are they realistic about the expected results?
  • Do they appreciate personalized service?
  • Are their any other attributes that are important? If so list them.

Grade the answers:

Once you have answered these questions grade each answer for importance on a scale of one to ten where one is least important and ten is most important to the success of the business. This will help you determine the ideal customers key attributes that are most important and which ones don’t matter.

Use the results:

Now you can list the attributes of the ideal customer and rank your current customers according to them. You may find that your existing customer base does not fit this criteria and that you need to migrate your clientèle over to where you will be most effective.  You’ll want to update your marketing material to attract this type of customer. The idea here is to position yourself in a nitch that works best for you and your customer and then over-deliver on the attributes that are important.

Your thoughts?

– Joel