What I Learned About Business from Walter Cronkite

walter-conkiteWalter Cronkite died yesterday.  His death won’t receive the media frenzy that Michael Jackson did — even though Walter Cronkite was much more of a man and a much more influencial and powerful individual.  No one person was more trusted to present the news in a truthful unbiased manner than Walter Cronkite.

I grew up with Walter Cronkite.  His face and voice was the Evening News.  When he said, “and that is the way, it is”, I knew that it was.  Even though he was a broadcaster and a journalist, I learned many principals from watching him that apply to my business, as well as my personal life, today.

  1. He was experienced but was forever learning new things.
  2. Even though his broadcasts were presented in a studious learned manner, his human side occasionally peaked through.  Like the time tears showed in his eyes as he took off his glasses and announced the death of JFK.
  3. He was always in character — being who he really was — honest, reliable and someone you could depend on to tell the news the way it was and not just the way he saw it.
  4. As his hair grew grayer and the wrinkles formed, he used his experiences and history to teach a new generation how to avoid some of the pitfalls of previous ones.
  5. He was trusted because he had proven he was trustworthy.
  6. He didn’t depend on hype and glamour to build his reputation.  It was built on strength, honesty, and dependability.

The world has lost a great man.  But his imprint on this country will be around for a long time to come.

Is your Marketing Letter Effective?

I’m a professional writer–have been for years.  It’s exciting to see your byline in a national or online publication as I’ve seen mine in many.  But it’s even more exciting to create a marketing letter that works — that brings in customers — that creates results!

Anyone can write…some better than others.  As I said in a previous post “That Myth Called Talent” , it takes more than talent to create results.  It takes techniques.  When I first started writing and taking classes, I wasn’t at all interested in writing fiction.  Nonfiction seemed much easier to write and to sell.  But I quickly learned that using Fiction Techniques to write non-fiction can make a world of difference.  And, isn’t a sales letter just a non-fiction article that you’re sending to a potential customer?

There are lots of fiction techniques that can make you a better copywriter.  Here are just a few to get you started:

  1. Be yourself.  Your personality creates your writing style and allows you to create intimacy with your reader.
  2. Make the letter conversational.  The reader of your letter should feel that you’re talking directly to them and are not just sending out a letter to lots of people. 
  3. Start the letter with something to get their attention.  It could be a story.  A question.  A quote.  Or simply a dynamic statement.  You want to create interest — even excitement.  You want to make them read further.
  4. Tell a story — from either your point of view or that of your customer’s.  By telling a short story that relates to the reader’s situation, you create empathy with him/her.  If your letter is a long one, you can draw out your story for added suspense, saving the outcome for the end. 
  5. Think like your reader.  What do they want most?  How can you provide it to them?  Their primary question to you is “What’s in it for me?”  What do their own customers want and need from them?  How can you help them answer that need with your products.  If you want to sell to them, you have to forget your own ego and how great your business is and concentrate on theirs.
  6. Ask for their business.  And provide yourself an opportunity to follow up. An example is:  “We want your business and we’re willing to work to earn it.  I’ll call you next week to discuss how we can help you…..”

There are many other techniques of course.  But incorporate these and you’ll have a much more effective marketing letter.

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What If?

What if you discovered you only had one year to live?  Morbid subject?  Perhaps.  But it’s a question that we should all stop and think about occasionally.

What would you do with that last year?  What would you do differently?  Would you stop spinning your wheels, attending to all the little details, being a perfectionist, taking care of the mundane tasks that don’t make much difference?  Would you spend more time on your business?  Travel?  Your friends?  Your family?  Your personal and spiritual life?

Each of us would answer that question differently.  Each of us sees life through different eyes.  All of us are at different phases in our life.  Each of us has different values, different goals, and different dreams.  And most of us think that we have all the time in the world to accomplish those goals and dreams.  But it ain’t so!

I don’t claim to be a philosopher and I certainly don’t have all the answers.  But each day that is added to our lives adds additional knowledge and growth.  And as of today, I’ve had 24,028 days to accumulate the joys and pains of daily living.

So, since I can’t speculate on what you would do, I’ll talk a little bit about me.  For me, my life is my job.  And that life includes family, friends, my own goals and dreams.  At this stage in my life, I find myself asking “Is what I am doing making a difference?”

I’m at the point in my life where I can do just about anything that I want to do.  I have enough money to live comfortably.  I’ve raised my daughters and take time to enjoy my grandchildren.  My husband and I will soon be celebrating 49 years of a happy marriage.  So why would I spend my time building internet businesses, writing blogs, and sharing what I’ve learned about business in general and the gift basket business specifically?

Part of it, of course, is the competitive spirit and challenge of creating a successful business that is as much a part of true entrepreneurs as breathing is.  But even more is the drive to do something that matters as I conduct business in a humane and ethical way.  The approaches I use to achieve my goals are as important as achieving them.

Take this blog, for instance.  You see the ads in the right hand column.  They’ve been carefully selected to include only those opportunities that I have personally use and can recommend instead of all those opportunities that could perhaps make me lots more money.  This blog was not created to be a money-making blog.  It has other goals.

The older I get, the more I require the freedom to express my own feelings and to tell things as I see them.  I’ve seen the backside of the results of the need for paying advertisers — even in our own industry.  For example, when you attend conventions and tradeshows, the products you are going to see pushed in the classes are not necessarily those that the speaker would have recommended if given the freedom to do so.  They are the products supplied by the vendors.  And if a speaker knows something negative about a vendor or personally feels that they aren’t a good match for our industry, the freedom to say so isn’t there.

I remember attending a “Jubilee” a number of years ago.  All the speakers had this beautiful peacock printed cello that they used on their baskets.  Of course, it was available from one of the vendors.  And, impressed by the recommendation of the speakers that this was going to be the “hot” look for the season, I bought a roll.  That roll–and it’s almost a full roll– is still sitting in my bucket of cello.  Anybody want a roll of peacock-print cello?

Writing is one of the talents I’ve been given and I’ve learned the techniques to make it work well for me.  I’ve used that ability in the past to teach some of the knowledge I’ve accumulated in a column for one of our trade publications.  But the freedom to express my feelings about a paying advertiser wasn’t there.  As a result of overstepping that limitation, that column is no longer in the magazine.

So, this blog is the result.  I can say what I want without having my hands slapped.  I can be honest and express my opinions.  I am beholden to no advertiser.  Of course, there are still the limitations of not writing something that is untrue and can’t be proven.  But I wouldn’t do that anyway.  This blog allows me the opportunity to share what I have learned through the years and perhaps, as a result, help others create success.

The same is true of my website at www.giftretailersnetwork.com .  It allows me to provide information and the ability to communicate with each other for the members of my other website at www.giftbasketnetwork.com .  And, I am beholden to no advertiser.  The vendor members at the site don’t pay a dime for membership.  They have to contribute to the cause, however, by providing a discount to the members.  In exchange, they receive the ability to communicate with the gift basket companies through the private forum.  It’s a win-win situation and part of my way to give back to the industry.

This post is a lot longer than most — and more personal.  But, I’ve been asked:  “What is the reason for this blog? What do you hope to accomplish?”  And, I’ve felt the need to explain.

This blog is simply the answer to two questions:

  • My life is my business.  What am I doing with it?
  • Is what I am doing making a difference?

Back to the original question of  “What If? ”  I’ve talked about the business part of my life.  The rest of it is too personal to share in a blog.  But if I died tomorrow, I could tell myself, “I’ve accomplished my goals.  I’ve allowed the most important parts of my life–family, friends, faith, entrepreneurship–to influence each other and, hopefully, I’ve made a small difference in someone’s life along the way.”

Go Back In Time – How Has Your Website Evolved?

Have you ever wanted to see what your website looked like a few years ago?  Or how about seeing how your competitor’s website has changed through the years?

You can.  Many people do not realize that many (but not all) websites are archived and can be accessed to see how they looked at various times throughout the year.  Photos that have been removed from the web are frequently not shown but the text is.

Check this out with your own website and see how far you have come since its inception.  Simply go to http://www.archive.org/index.php and type in the url for the site you wish to check.  You’ll be shown the dates that the site was archived.  Click on the date and you’ll see the archived site.

Getting Referrals – Finding it difficult?

A growing business needs referrals.  But are you having a difficult time getting those referrals?  If so, ask yourself this question:  Why would someone refer people, who trust them, to you?

If you can’t answer that question quickly, REID ON. . .

Networking, asking for referrals, and even setting up a discount or gift incentive program for referrals won’t work if you haven’t laid the groundwork.  Some ways to do this are:

  • Make Others Look Good –  To accomplish this goal, you need to look at each individual, you deal with in any way,  as someone that you can help feel good about themselves and look good to others.  If you start thinking “what can I do for you” instead of “what can I sell to you”, it becomes a mindset and a habit.
  • Build and Maintain Trust –  This doesn’t happen overnight and begins by keeping your promises.  If you say, you are going to do something, make sure you do it.  No one will make a referral to you if they don’t “trust” you to provide quality service and products.  Building trust takes time but it can take just a few minutes to lose it.
  • Provide an Experience – Don’t be like everyone else.  We love to refer to businesses that realize that it’s not just about the product but about everything that makes that business unique — the marketing, the employees, how orders are processed, and everything else that creates the whole gift experience in one unique package.
  • Provide Information –  I bet you don’t like being referred to a sales pitch.  Neither does anyone else.  But if you can provide information that will help the potential customer get what they want and need, you’ll get a whole lot more referrals.
  • Go beyond the expected–   Add value to the price that the customer pays.  Make the customer feel that he is getting his money’s worth and more.   Exceeding expectations means that you have to know what is expected first.  Consider who your customers are and what they want from you and then surprise them by going beyond those expectations.  There may be times when you can’t even meet their expections.  Those times are when you need to say “no”.
  • Create a Unique Business that People Talk About –  Word of mouth is important to any business.  If you can create an inspirational story, a great product, an unusual way to market to or thank your customers, you have an edge over the other more boring businesses.  Many folks think of videos, podcasts, internet social marketing as a way to do this — but it’s not.  These are all marketing gimmicks that can be a small part of a whole program, but they aren’t enough.  Think about it.  What makes you unique?  And it needs to be an authentic uniqueness — not just another gimmick.  Then use that uniqueness to make people talk about you.

If you can do all the above, you will have a company that people will be honored to refer business to.