Are you scummy froth or riding the business waves?
March 11th, 2010 by David Bradley >> 2 Comments
It’s perhaps an obvious statement perhaps needing only one word to qualify it – successful business sells. As an allegedly going concern, if you’re not selling your products or services, then you’re not likely to remain viable for very long. It seems to be too easy for companies to be distracted from this mantra by legalese, regulations, spurious marketing meetings, conferences and symposia, white papers, their web presence, and most recently social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook. However, if all those things detract from the primary goal of any business – to sell – then you should seriously consider whether or not they should be part of your business.
I’ve been a professional science writer and editor since 1989, and have been designing and running websites as part of that since 1996. I’ve seen a lot of novelties come and go on the web. Indeed, the current fashion for online communities is nothing new. Way back when, there were bulletin boards, AOL, CompuServe, the US university freenet sites… Then there were the likes of BioMedNet and ChemWeb for the science community on which I worked back in the late 1990s to early 2000s. The fashion for Facebook and the trend for Twitter really are nothing new. And one sees the same business arguments, tips, and tricks being trotted out by the latest mavens and gurus about how to make the most of them. As if those of us who were there before the dot.com bubble and burst weren’t already trying that, and the generations before selling door to door and building business empires.
Nothing new under the sun, as the man said.
It’s probably a sign of getting older, that one begins to recognize that fashions are cyclical. Today’s novel model is simply yesterday’s innovation re-hashed, and will be tomorrow’s great advance. To coin another cliché, history repeats itself, but if one is to succeed, one has to recognize that it not only repeats itself but that you should learn its lessons rather than making the same mistakes again.
So, in terms of near history, there were invaluable lessons to be learned after the dot.com bubble burst. Those companies that were nothing more than scummy froth floating on the water’s edge were washed away, those that were the tide itself survived and many (you can fill in the names) ride the waves again and again.
Anyway, back to the successful business sells notion. Running a business website, blog, Facebook fan page etc builds on a noble tradition of marketing. But, it is worth understanding that these devices may be fun and informative, but they are also tools. And tools are for doing work. So, take a close look at your online activity, is it using up a disproportionate amount of employees’ and your time for no gain? Is it just shoreline froth or is a business tsunami?
I recently took a long, hard look at my main science communication site – Sciencebase.com – and realized that while it was certainly fun to do and was hopefully informative for readers, it was not quite pulling its weight in terms of “selling” my services as a science writer. A simple addition to the top right of the site changed all that. The addition read: All commissions: contact David Bradley on david.bradley@ sciencebase.com and since adding it, at the beginning of the year several new clients have approached me requesting my words for a fee. It is hard to tell whether they would have recognized the primary purpose of the Sciencebase site otherwise, maybe they would. But, I think the call to arms made a difference as there were more new offers of work since the addition than there had been in the previous year. (Of course, it may all be down to the world recession receding, speaking of tides).
However, I was reading a business research paper by David Smallman, an international business advisor at Pathfinder Team Consulting in Royston, UK, that seems to echo what I’ve been trying to say in this post. The title of his paper is “Without instructions or orders, there is no business” and in it, Smallman suggests that, “it is easy to forget that the first principle of any business is to get a client to buy the firm’s services or products.” He discusses this state of forgetfulness more in the context of legal obligations and regulatory pressures, but I think it applies equally to the countless other distractions mentioned above, the conferences, the websites, the social media.
Wallman suggests that, “the next time you are in a meeting at your place of business ask yourself ‘Does this discussion move the firm any nearer ensuring that the goods, products or services on offer are what the client’s want, when they want them and at the right price?’” Substitute, the word “meeting” in that statement for website, blog, social media program, SEO effort, and you begin to see the paradox. Fundamentally, if you’re running a business, you have to decide whether the peripheral ephemera are helping you close transactions, whether they are letting you ride the wave or whether they’re just more scummy froth.
David Smallman (2010). Without instructions or orders, there is no business Int. J. Liability and Scientific Enquiry, 3 (3), 179-182