Tag Archives: Small Business

London to NYC Real-Time, Jules Verne Style

There’s a certain charm to Jules Verne. Maybe it’s the innocence of the era, the belief in a better world–notwithstanding his bleak view of the future in The Time Machine–or it could be that he was so right about our future technologies. Either way, today New York City and London are involved in a trans-Atlantic experiment that has a Jules Verne twist almost 200 years after his birth!

This BBC article spells it all out and adds video that gives a much better feel to the story.

What I find interesting is that today we can easily reach in our pocket, pull out a mobile phone and simply call someone in London. So why are so many people in two of the more sophisticated cities in the world enamored with this idea? Is it the steampunk physicality (check this site for more steampunk) or is it a basic human reflex of communicating?

Most of us spend a large portion of our day communicating. We talk, type, text and sign. We are drawn to the unique. As business people we look for new ways to get our message across, to excite and entice our audience to engage in conversation and purchase from us instead of the guy down the street (or from around the world in today’s Internet age).

Obviously, there is a human-interest draw in this art installation. There is the happenstance of connecting and meeting with people one does not know personally. The novelty of the installation removes the fear of strangers and helps people interact. My father would say “it’s just damn fun, stop thinking about it,” but we can all see how the idea of a novel way to communicate has removed the barriers between people.

With a little work, we can apply this same process to our business communications. Start a newsletter, follow and respond to customers on Twitter (build a customer group on Twitter), update our web sites more frequently with new information, there’s dozens of actions we can take to be more interesting and exciting, and to draw more customers. By doing something new and unexpected, people will follow, and business will follow the people.

What new twists on existing communications technology have you put in place or just think might be interesting?

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Even Better Package Tracking

Twitter seems to be the newsiest item around these days, but there’s good reason and it isn’t just for the geekiest of consumers. There is a great new application using the Twitter API that could have a major play for small business–TrackThis.

TrackThis is easy to use, just follow @trackthis on your existing Twitter account. If you don’t have a Twitter account, now is the time to sign up. Once you follow @trackthis, you get automatic updates on all the packages you want to follow. You can use this to track packages you are expecting, or track those packages you sent to customers.

Using TrackThis is simple, there’s only one page of information and two frequently asked questions. You can decide which or how many Twitter accounts you want notified to separate the different packages being tracked. You also decide how you want to receive the information, by email or the online Twitter screen or by SMS on a cell phone.

For instance, track that package of architect renderings scheduled to be presented at a meeting of city planners. Or rest assured that the RMA is on it’s way back to your facility. Or keep track of those handmade specialty items you shipped cross-country. This is a real benefit for small businesses of any size or design, as long as they use shipping services.

A sole-proprietor might want to follow packages ordered by SMS in order to more closely time a presentation or project due date, while a shipping department might simply want an on-screen update for all packages they have going to customers. There’s lots of opportunity to put this to use in business.

Tracking packages has traveled light years since the days when we would travel across our respective city to the shipping company office, fill out multi-part forms–taking care not to smudge black on our white shirts from the carbon paper–and then phone the tracking number to the receiver so they could track the receipt of the package. Let us know in your comments about the uses you come up with.

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Filed under Business Technology, Social Media

Can Twitter Drive Business?

Last week I had drinks with some ex-Intel friends, mostly folks like me who left Intel during the recent layoff of the last year or so. Some I have not seen since the layoffs, so we got to talking about the work we do now.  I mentioned some of the work I am doing bring social media to small business, like using Twitter, which started a short debate.

With any tool there are personal uses and business uses and Twitter also has two sides. My friends were a bit wary and there were a couple of incredulous looks and references to MySpace trash. One of our group has started a series of small businesses in Vernonia: a bed and breakfast; a newspaper; and a couple of other ventures. So I set about explaining how Twitter could help her.

The newspaper was an easy target for using Twitter. This is a monthly newspaper, Vernonia is a small town without the typical big city news stream, but the advertisers are trying to get the paper to move to bi-weekly. I explained that Twitter could help build a news stream for the paper as well as build community conversation during the weeks in-between the publishing cycle. There are journalistic advantages beyond building a news stream, Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb has a great blog entry covering journalism uses of Twitter, check out his story.

Additionally, the paper’s advertisers could monitor Twitter for comments on their products and services, and give instant feedback on problems and questions. Instant feedback can be a real help in a rural setting, you never know when someone has time to drive to town and a business gets an immediate read on the feelings of it’s customers. This type of use has been reported constantly over the last few weeks. I’ve heard reports on Cnet’s Buzz Out Loud podcast, Leo Laporte’s TWIT netcast, even a tweet this morning from Jeremiah Owyang about his Dell computer needing a repair brought a return tweet from Circuit City–OK, maybe that’s getting to the edge of creepy, but it is forward-thinking and maybe it will grow into a useful and acceptable format.

Using just this single tool, the newspaper can extend it’s reach into the Vernonia community, mesh more tightly with the community, gain more community support, build business for it’s advertisers, and serve the community even better than before, all without adding major expense to its current operations. The community growth and business involvement should also support a jump from monthly to bi-weekly, by making more news available and adding to the community engagement.

Of course, I wanted to add blogging, real-time Flickr news photography, and a few other tricks to the equation, but the my beer glass went empty and it was time to head home. I plan to follow up with my newspaper mogul during our next get together, whether it is at Mint or some other local establishment, maybe she will have started something with Twitter or one of the other ideas I passed along….or maybe she’ll ask me to get it all started for her, we’ll see.

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Does the world need another blog? Does it need a blog on Small Business?

Those are good questions. Another blog won’t make the world a happier place, but it might help one or two business folks discover a way to make their business more profitable or effective. So I am blogging and I hope one or two of you reading will find the subjects interesting.

Let me know what you think.

In fact, let me know what you do and don’t find interesting. Leave a comment, take a note, scream and rant and praise. Do what you think is right. Just make sure you act responsibly, I don’t want to have to remove people.

Why “Dance Among Elephants”?

Because that’s what small business does all day. Small business is a dangerous world and there’s always another elephant around the corner. Some competitor is always bigger, stronger, smarter, with more resources and capability–well, maybe not smarter, you are reading this, after all.

All that adds up to our working more effectively; looking at things differently; finding the sweet spot; enhancing the benefits; romancing our customers; and becoming the best choice for our business type.
So let’s take this journey together. I’ll write, you write back. You can even write first by sending me an email. We’ll have a conversation and make more business.

Along the way, I’ll hook you up with more friends; people I find interesting, people who are much more interesting than I. You’ll find many of them in the blog roll, I encourage you to check them out and consider what they have to say.

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