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Time to start a newspaper

What should not-so-busy real estate brokers do?

Why not start a local newspaper?

Here’s how I would do it. Assume you’ve got six people in your office. Each person is responsible to do two things each day:

  • Interview a local business, a local student or a local political activist. You can do it by phone, it can be very short and it might take you ten minutes.
  • Get 20 households to ‘subscribe’ by giving you their email address and asking for a free subscription. You can use direct contact or flyers or speeches to get your list.

Twice a week, send out the ‘newspaper’ by email. After one week, it will have more than 500 subscribers and contain more than 20 interesting short articles or quotes about people in the neighborhood. Within a month, (if it’s any good) every single person in town who matters will be reading it and forwarding it along to others.

It will cost you nothing. It will become your gift to the community. And it will be a long lasting asset that belongs to you, not to the competition. (And yes, you can do this if you’re a plumber or a chiropractor. And yes, you can do this if ‘local’ isn’t geographic for you, but vertical).

Own your Zip code. The next frontier is local, and this is a great way to start.

What to do when the new thing doesn’t work

Every once in a while I hear from frustrated bloggers and other new media denizens. They’re frustrated that their work isn’t spreading fast enough, that the new tools aren’t working the way they want them to.

The kneejerk rejection is always the same: Spam! Promote! Advertise! Enough with this zen nonsense, I want to be in charge. Who can I hire? How can I spend? Who do you know? The new tools didn’t work, I need the old tools.

Winning an online popularity contest, being mentioned on boingboing, doing a direct mail campaign… these things are tempting, but they are the panicked half-measures of someone who is going to lose.

From the start, you have to choose a path and stick with it. Either you are on the path of the TV Industrial complex, and you’re prepared to promote and spam and spend and make average stuff for average people… or you are busy embracing the new media for everything it can offer.

Don’t get stuck in the middle. It’s painful.

When the new stuff doesn’t work, do the new stuff more and better.

The thing about goals

Having goals is a pain in the neck.

If you don’t have a goal (a corporate goal, a market share goal, a personal career goal, an athletic goal…) then you can just do your best. You can take what comes. You can reprioritize on a regular basis. If you don’t have a goal, you never have to worry about missing it. If you don’t have a goal you don’t need nearly as many excuses, either.

Not having a goal lets you make a ruckus, or have more fun, or spend time doing what matters right now, which is, after all, the moment in which you are living.

The thing about goals is that living without them is a lot more fun, in the short run.

It seems to me, though, that the people who get things done, who lead, who grow and who make an impact… those people have goals.


I think you can tell a lot about a person or an organization by looking at how they deal with boundaries.

Rigid boundaries: What do you do when you hit a wall? Do you have a tantrum? Spend countless resources trying to scale the unscalable? Or do you accept reality and put your energy into something else?

No boundaries: When there’s nothing but open space, do you run? Or shrink?

Consider the American car companies. When faced with real boundaries (like the diminishing supply of oil and the high price of gasoline) they ignored them. When faced with no boundaries (like the opportunity for rapid technological advancement) they hid.

Or consider that misbehaved kid in school. He has a fit when he doesn’t get what he wants, and then spends days scheming to get it. Or that student who excels in college, takes extra courses, starts organizations and runs as fast as he can.

Microsoft has had boundary problems. The challenges of the US antitrust suit were a boundary, one that led to a huge timesink and distraction for the company. And the internet is a no-boundary zone, one that seems to intimidate them.

Sure, sometimes a boundary isn’t really a boundary. Telling them apart is a key pat of the process. But once you realize that there is (or isn’t) a boundary there, what now?

Willing to be lucky

I just heard Kurt Andersen quote E.B. White with this glorious phrase.

How willing is your organization to be lucky? What about you in your career and your marketing efforts? Or in the people you meet or the places you go or the movies you see or the books you read?

My closest friends each were found as a result of
chance encounters and luck. So were my biggest ideas and some of my
most successful ventures.

It’s very easy to plot a course for today that minimizes the chance of disappointment or bad outcomes or lousy luck.

I wonder if you could plot a different course, one that created opportunities for good luck?

Teaching people a lesson

David writes in to point out that banks are losing a fortune on foreclosures because many frustrated homeowners are trashing the houses before they leave. This dramatically diminishes the value of the home and leaves scars all around.

Why not, he wonders, offer the homeowners $1000 in cash if they leave the house in great condition?

I can hear the objections already. "What! Why should we pay people not to break the law!" After all, if you do it this time, if you bribe people to behave, then you’ll have to do it every time…

Every time? How often, exactly, do you expect to evict a person?

It’s very easy to set up policies and procedures designed to give people what they deserve, to set a standard, to teach a lesson, to make sure they understand who’s boss. And I think that for parents, this is an excellent idea. Bribing your kid leads to spoiled kids who don’t get it. But businesses aren’t parents and customers aren’t kids.

"I can’t let you in, because you didn’t follow the procedure, and even though you’re never coming back here again, if I let you in now, without having followed the procedure, you’ll think that you can ignore the procedure the next time you do business with someone else…" It sounds stupid when you say it that way because it is stupid.

You can extend this all the way to how you hire people. Is penalizing a 40 year old by not giving her a job a way to teach her a lesson about studying harder for the SAT when she was 17?

Instead of worrying so much about establishing good habits among transient customers, perhaps it’s worth figuring out what works best for both sides and doing that instead.

Is everything okay?

Unless you work in a nuclear power plant, the answer is certainly no (and if you work there, I hope the answer is yes.)

No, everything is not okay. Not in a growing organization. Not if your company is making change happen, or dealing with customers. How could it be?

And yet, that’s what so many managers focus on. How to make everything okay.

We spend so much time smoothing things out, we lose the opportunity for change, or for texture or creativity.

Instead of working so hard to make everything okay, perhaps it is more helpful to work hard at living with a world that rarely is.

When marketing goes nuclear

[obsolete links, sorry]

The most poignant moment comes just after 3:00 when a young boy totally loses it.

This is the most disturbing video I’ve seen today.

Do ads work?

If the local bank were offering a sale on dollar bills, ninety cents each, how many would you buy?

Most rational people would say, "I’ll take them all please." Especially if you had thirty days to pay for them.

So, why, precisely, do you have an ad budget?

If your ads work, if you can measure them and they return more profit than they cost, why not keep buying them until they stop working?

And if they don’t work, why are you running them?

The time-tested response is that you’re not sure, that ads are risky, that you can’t tell. And for some sorts of products and some sorts of ads, you’ll get no argument from me.

Digital ads are different (or they should be). You should know cost per click and revenue per click and be able to make a smart guess about lifetime value of a click. And if that’s positive, buy, buy, buy.

And if you don’t know those things, why are you buying digital ads?

When Amazon was at its key growth peak, the mantra there was $33. They would buy unlimited ads, of any kind, as long as they generated new customers for $33 or less each. There was a risk that $33 was too high a number for the business to sustain, but the ads were no risk at all. As long as they came in under that number, there was unlimited money to buy them.

How often do you hear the marketing person say, "that’s a neat idea, but we don’t have the budget this year"?

Shouldn’t she say, "We have an unlimited budget for ads that work"…

Change your pricing

When a restaurant goes from a la carte to either a buffet or a prix fixe meal, it is able to find a new class of customers.

Could a law firm charge by the project? When I incorporated Yoyodyne, a fancy firm charged us a fix rate.

Netflix went from charging by the rental to charging by the month.

We use tolls to charge people who drive over bridges more than other folks. We don’t hesitate to charge people ordering steak more than people ordering pasta in a restaurant. Could the library charge frequent readers more? What about insurance companies charging more to young families (more likely to have a baby).

Ski areas have a huge fixed cost base (land, grooming, etc.) so they get greedy, sell too many lift tickets and the lines get long. Fixed pricing encourages people to ski a lot, at peak times. What if only cost $3 to get on the mountain, plus a small charge for each lift ride and a premium price for popular lifts at popular times? The technology is already there, the only reason not to try it is momentum.

If you’re a copywriter or masseuse or other sort of freelancer, how many retainer clients do you need to relax and spend more time on the work, less on the billing/looking part? What happens when an artist does this?

Why don’t airlines experiment with auctioning of seats, baseball card style? You could buy the rights to a seat for $200 (speculating, if you like) and then try to sell it off as the flight time get closer–it’s not hard to imagine an easy to use website for these transactions. The seat might change hands a dozen times, earning the airline a processing fee each time, and enriching those that want to start trading this expiring commodity. Sports teams are already trying to figure out how to make this work.

Changing your pricing changes your story.