Canton Ohio Network Alliance

The LinkedIn group, the Canton Ohio Network Alliance (CONA), holds informal gatherings the second Tuesday of each month. The meetings are held at the Canton Courtyard Marriott from 6-8 pm.

There is no charge to attend the meetings or fees to join the group, however, guests are responsible for their own food and beverages.

As with the best intentions of social media, the meetings are designed to be an opportunity to meet other business people in a relaxed and friendly environment. There are no expectations for members to make presentations or to wield a dynamic personality. In fact, hard sells are not encouraged. The get-together is intended to give members an opportunity to introduce themselves to other area professionals, interact with each other and learn about everyone’s businesses and related skills, and hopefully form associations that will lead to networking and new ideas. By all means bring plenty of business cards and any other related handout information. Everyone is encouraged to invite their friends and associates to come along as well.

Please be sure to follow updates for any weather related cancellations or other modifications to our group’s activity. You can follow and join CONA on LinkedIn here: Canton Ohio Network Alliance.

Is the Customer Always Right?

Closeup portrait of angry grumpy middle-aged man looking from unIn a word. No.

I do believe that customers are entitled to every effort and beyond to ensure that their investment in a given purchase is honored diligently by those selling the goods and services. There have been times when I have fallen on the sword at a loss to make sure that a customer who came to me in good faith was not disappointed. This is the right thing to do and at times is a cost of doing business overall. Customers must get what they paid for and it should come with a certain graciousness from the merchant. After all, customers are the reason our businesses exist.

Additionally, there are times when it is simply more practical to appease an unhappy camper than it is to spend too much time dealing with the situation.

However, there is an old adage in the consumer market place for the “buyer to beware,” and at the same time I would suggest that this applies to the seller as well.

The rules of the free market apply equally to both sides of the business counter. Yes, customers have the right to take their business elsewhere if you cannot satisfy their needs. At the same time, a private purveyor of goods and services is under no obligation to match unreasonable prices or agree to high demands as part of a sale.

There are customers masquerading under such seemingly innocuous terms such as “value seekers” and “deal getters” who more accurately are malcontents who will suck the blood right out of your business. They destroy the morale of your staff and steal your company’s resources from your otherwise loyal and repeat customers.

This may sound like sacrilege to the business-seminar loving, latte sipping, customer management gurus out there; but the truth is that some customers are just not worth having.

This is especially true for retailers who are often asked to match prices from various sources on the internet.

“I can get it for less on the internet but I’d really rather deal with someone local like you,” are not words coming from someone who is trying to do you a favor.

The translation of, “I’d rather deal with you…” is:

“I want to ask fifty million questions about the product to a trained sales staff, I want to demo the product in a brick and mortar store, and I want to be able to return the product to a reputable and known establishment if it doesn’t work. However, I still want the same cheap internet price.”

One way of heading off this type of situation is to decide what kind of business you intend to be.

I get criticized for saying this but I have often maintained that you can gear your company to be a price leader or to offer customized service and support; but you cannot do both. There may be a few exceptions for large companies that can split their brand identities and there are times when we have to be flexible, however, as a general rule I do not subscribe to the notion that all business is good business.

To be a price leader you need to move volume quickly and that is hard to do when you are also offering service and support. By the same token, if you are set up for customized service and support, price shoppers devour your time trying to negotiate deals over flaky projects that you should not want to be representative of your company’s services from the start.

When it comes right down to it business relationships are very similar to friendships or love interests. The best relationships are two-way streets. Do exceptionally right by your customers and expect fair compensation and respect in return. Stand up for who you are and don’t get bullied into serving some abstract ideal about pleasing customers if it ultimately comes at a loss for you.

How to Tell a Customer That Things Are Going Less Than Perfect

Angry woman talking on phoneNo matter how hard all of us strive to provide good service to our clients, sooner or later something will go wrong. Parts will be back-ordered. The software will have changed. The stars just will not line-up the way that you expected for a particular project. How you handle this dilemma will define you and your business as much as anything else you do.

Here’s the key ingredient to managing this type of incident. Make the call.

The psychology of this is very simple. When you call the customer you are in control of the conversation. When you wait for the inevitable call to come in, the customer is in control.

For example, let’s say you ordered a product for John and told him that it should be in the following week. The item then came up as back-ordered. So, you called the customer and said this:

John, hi – I just want to give you an update on the product you ordered. The product is currently back-ordered. We checked several other suppliers but it seems as though the manufacturer unexpectedly got behind on demand. If you would like to keep the order in place we will monitor the situation for you and call you as soon as it becomes available.

Now, will the customer be necessarily thrilled with this kind of news? Probably not, but most people are reasonable and will appreciate the fact that you were aware of the issue and contacted them. This is especially true if the customer paid in advance.

By contrast, let’s suppose that you did nothing in this same situation and the customer called in and said this:

Look, I was in there three weeks ago and paid for my item. I was told it should arrive within a week. I haven’t heard anything. I’m not sure if you forgot about my order or what you are doing. Is the item in? I would really like to know what is going on.

The best thing that you can do in response is damage control. You could explain to the customer that the item is back-ordered but the frustration with the circumstances has already broken the brand that is you.

In both of these scenarios the news that you are giving to the customer is exactly the same. The item was back-ordered. The difference is in what set of circumstances the message was delivered.

Nobody likes to be the bearer of bad news. However, you can give unpleasant news to a customer in a way that denotes respect toward them and concern for their satisfaction if you make the contact first.

If you wait for them to contact you it’s over. From their perspective you just didn’t give a damn. And to be totally honest, you probably didn’t.

Photography for Real-Estate Listings

real estate female agentI recently ran into a realtor who asked me if I had ever done real-estate photography for home or commercial listings. After a brief discussion with her I talked with a few of my friends who happen to sell real-estate. It seems as though that there is a general consistency regarding the issue of having good digital images produced affordably and within a reasonable period of time for property listings.

Apparently, there is a world of two extremes regarding real-estate photography.

On the one hand there is the world of high end studios that come from the market place of wedding and portrait photography. They are often busy and hard to schedule. When they are able to do the job they treat the shoot as if they are documenting the Sistine Chapel and charge accordingly.

On the other hand there is the world of trunk slammers (or do it yourselfers). These photographers often have limited media experience, show up with a camera that is equipped only with a small pop-up flash, or has an image quality that is just barely above what the built-in camera of the average smart phone has available. Trunk slammers frequently only want paid in cash and provide weak expense documentation.

I have been producing media that is a part of wider projects involving other professionals for a long time. I am aware of the importance of the value triangle in relation to these projects. There is cost, time, and quality; the more of any of these two that you want it will come at the expense of the third. The key to being a good media sub-contractor is to provide a quality yet practical body of work within a timely manner that does not compromise the budget of the overall project for your client.

The essence of real-estate photography is being able to communicate with agents in the field as listings become active, arrive at the scheduled time and take good pictures resourcefully, and then make those images available for upload to the realtor’s site in a well-timed manner. In addition, provide the realtor with a genuine business invoice that is easily payable with a corporate credit card online via PayPal or whatever method they may choose.

So far, this is what I am getting from the world of real-estate. If you are a realtor and have any further input I would love to hear from you.

Billy Dees

How to Write and Share HUMOR

HowToWriteHumor(final2 (1)Donna Cavanagh is a busy person! She is the founder of HOPress-Shorehouse Books and She has just published “How to Write and Share HUMOR.” Below is the book trailer we produced for her book, available here on Amazon.

You can follow Donna Cavanagh on Twitter @dtcav.

Donna had fans and colleagues take pictures of the book at various landmarks around the country to use as promotional tools for the #SummerOfHumor tour. We assembled some of them in this video. (1min 30sec) For you audiophiles and recording enthusiasts the voice-over was recorded with a large diaphragm condenser microphone mounted upside down with a pop filter.

5 Tips for Producing Digital Media Content


Woman SingingThe first step to making any good digital media production is to prepare your content. Your message should be clear, concise, and to the point. Once you have prepared your content, you can either hire a professional to help you produce a digital media production or you can do it yourself.

I wouldn’t discount out of hand the option of hiring a professional to help you produce your digital content on the basis of the process being too costly. In many cases, pros are streamlining their services to fit the burgeoning market of producing digital media. Also, a pro can help you organize your overall production and will likely get the technical aspects of the project right the first time.

With that being said many small business owners and amateur enthusiasts are producing their own digital media for their websites, social media, and other online platforms. Hopefully, these 5 tips will help you achieve better results.

1) Stay within the limitations of your equipment.

For example, a smartphone shoots fairly good video if you stay close to the subject being recorded and use plenty of light. Light is the fuel for any camera. Don’t forget, the microphone is inside the phone too. Therefore, the closer you are to the subject the better the video will sound as well. If you design your production around these limitations and invest in a basic editing app you can achieve good results. For goodness sake, edit out your hands reaching toward the lens to turn the camera on and off. Better yet, add a fade out or other transition when the video is over rather than just having the video cut off.

2) Know how to maximize the use of your equipment.

It is one thing to ask too much of your equipment but yet another not to know how to be creative with what you have. This, at times, can be done as easily as reading the instructions. The finer points will come with trial and error. Take some time and experiment with the settings and placement of your equipment. Online instructional videos and usage forums can also be helpful although be aware that there can be false information in many of those places. Instructional online information provided by the manufacturers of your equipment and their reps is often the most reliable.

3) Find simple and efficient production software tools.

The advantages of software in the digital age are related to editing and mixing functions. For example, in the days of analogue studio recording, mixing a recording down was essentially precision copying. Numerous raw audio tracks that were first recorded onto a multi-track recorder were then run through a mixer, and the subsequent mix of those tracks was rerecorded onto a stereo machine. This would be the copy that would generate what end-users would get with all of the sound levels balanced out.

Now, raw audio and video data can be digitally arranged and manipulated by software into a final version without any external steps resulting in signal loss. (Not all digital formats are the same. Be aware of what you are doing when converting file formats.)

Choose software that operates easily and performs the basic production functions and edits that are the most important to you. Software that is loaded with functions and performs all of them well is expensive, complicated, and may require better computers and interfacing for maximum use.

4) Don’t rely on software to create something that isn’t there from the start.

Although software is great for many things but I wouldn’t advise planning on fixing too many problems in post-production.

Let’s use audio as an example. There is an old saying in the recording business. Garbage in, garbage out. Do your research! Know what type of a microphone works best within your budget and in different given situations. Learn how to best set up the microphone with the proper accessories for the results that you are trying to achieve. Record a clean and rich audio signal. Don’t rely too much on signal processing within your software to create something that just isn’t there.

Just as though the truth never changes, your productions will have a greater consistency over time if you stay true to the audio source. The more you tinker with your recordings to make them sound better, the more your results will vary and at times sound artificial.

5) Know when to be satisfied with what you’ve got.

I understand what it is like to be a perfectionist. As you work on one project you will learn better techniques and inevitably feel the urge to go back and redo something. Unless it will clearly make a night and day difference, save that experience for your next production. Otherwise, more often than not you will spend an inordinate amount of time redoing material with only marginally better results.