Today's Date is: Sunday, February 18th 2018.
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The Bookworm

Good Morning, Beautiful Business

By Judy Wicks

c.2013, Chelsea Green                        $17.95 / $20.95 Canada                       301 pages


Your customers have been good to you.

First and foremost, throughout the past few years, they've stuck with you and that means a lot. You've survived the bad times together, and that's allowed you to become friends; you share triumphs, you ask about family, you offer support when it's needed. You might even get together socially.

The people you do business with have given you much and now it's time to give back. In "Good Morning, Beautiful Business" by Judy Wicks, you'll read about one woman who found a way to do just that.

Judy Wicks started her first business at age six when her family moved to a quiet lane in Ingomar , Pennsylvania . Wicks was looking for community, so she dragged her child-sized table and chairs and a record player down the end of the driveway and thus opened her first restaurant.

As a bit of a tomboy, Wicks loved to build things in the woods behind her house, using reclaimed and recycled materials lying around her neighborhood. She played baseball and loved sports (both things that little girls in the early 60s were discouraged to do), and she hated when anybody said she couldn't do something. Those things gave her a foundation for later endeavors.

Right out of college, Wicks was married in her beloved woods, joined VISTA with her husband, and taught school in an Eskimo village in Alaska . When their service was up, they decided to open a store that would cater to anyone "under 30," so they set up shop near the University of Pennsylvania campus. A few years later, the store successful, Wicks left her husband and was hired, literally within moments, to be a waitress at a local restaurant.

There, she began "twelve years of on-the-job training for opening my own restaurant just down the street." Her tenure also taught her that business is "about relationships. Money is simply a tool." And that led her to activism for her community and suppliers, and to "ultimately work collaboratively to build a compassionate and caring economy."

There's a lot of good inside "Good Morning, Beautiful Business."  And there's a lot that made me say, "Meh."

It's always interesting to see how someone takes a grain of an idea and turns it into a living, and author Judy Wicks does that well. Her memoir of entrepreneurship and eventual activism is gentle and thoughtful, and she obviously relishes sharing the joys that come with strong ties to the community in which a business lies.

But there were two things that lost me: an alphabet soup of acronyms, and relentless names of dozens of people that most readers won't know. The former knot is common and is generally forgivable because it can be untied easy enough; the latter issue may make this book hard to stick with.

Overall, I think it may demand a special kind of reader: one who can remain heavily focused on business sustainability, locality, and community. If that's you, then you'll find "Good Morning, Beautiful Business" to be good to you. 

"Disney U" 

By Doug Lipp

c.2013, McGraw Hill                                     $27.00 / $29.95 Canada                        222 pages


Some of your clients have been acting goofy these days.

When you try to see them, they duck out and you can't find them. It's as if they've gone to Pluto or something. Okay, so perhaps your reputation isn't snow white, but you've worked hard to take care of these clients. Now you've got a sweet Cinderella deal for them but they're hiding like mice and you're about to have a minnie-meltdown.

The question is WWWD?  In the new book "Disney U" by Doug Lipp, you'll find out by learning how Disney's empire focuses on the customer.

Walt Disney needed help. Van France had his work cut out for him.

The grand opening of Disneyland was scheduled for July 17, 1955 and Disney - who was known to publicly halt unsatisfactory projects at the last-minute, desperately needed, passionate people to work there. He'd met and hired the 42-year-old France only six months earlier, but Disney put all his trust in France, asking him to build a team of employees who knew how to create happiness.

So Van France developed Disney University.

In order to mold an employee (or cast members) to give "guests" the best experience, Disney University teaches all new hires that they are a valued part of the organization. At University, they learn that no job is beneath anyone "on-stage" or "back stage," and they'll often see high-level managers doing low-level jobs. They'e taught that anyone can have a "seat at the leadership table," and that the "show" message must always be kept fresh, new, and relevant through constant innovation. Organizational support is mandatory at every level, employee education is presented in an entertaining way, and class attendance is "nonnegotiable."

In return for their work and loyalty (Walt Disney World has a "stunning" employee retention rate), Disney cast members enjoy great perks, including constant schooling, a  certain amount of ownership in their jobs, employees-and-family events, and a park-within-a-park for cast members only.

So how is the Disney way of business relevant to your company?

You'll have to do a lot of reading between the lines to find that out.

At issue is that "Disney U" can't seem to decide what kind of book it wants to be. Author Doug Lipp begins with somewhat of a biography of Van France; in fact, he says that France was a mentor of his. A little later, the book becomes a fable, and I hate fables. There are tiny pockets of business advice here, a lot of ink about how Disney properties became what they are today, and more biography - sometimes all on the same page. Readers will find school-textbook-like question lists at the end of every chapter, but not overtly much in the how-to department for your business.

I think this book strictly lives up to its subtitle ("How Disney University Develops the World's Most Engaged, Loyal, and Customer-Centric Employees") but I'm not sure that's enough to spur busy businesspeople to read it. Overall, Disneyland may be The Happiest Place on Earth, but "Disney U" is not.

"Going Social"

By Jeremy Goldman

c.2013, Amacom                                    $19.95 / $23.50 Canada                        294 pages

Business is a little off.

It's been that way for awhile, despite a "recovery," despite that you've hired a first-class sales team and rolled out new product in the past year, despite an expensive new ad budget. It's very discouraging.

You know you need a new direction. Maybe a better way to connect with customers would work, something inexpensive yet effective. And in the new book "Going Social"by Jeremy Goldman, you'll find it.

From birth to death, we have a "propensity toward social action" that drives us. Babies instinctively look for faces. Adults seek out human contact, once basic survival needs are met. We need to connect with other people.

The good news for your business is that it's cheaper than ever to utilize innate human cravings for social contact: the cost of conversing with customers "has gone down dramatically." Still, old-school advertising isn't always memorable enough to spur sales. That's why many corporations use social media: online recommendations are "up to 50 times more likely to trigger a purchase compared to another kind of recommendation."

But how do you make it work for you?

The first thing to do, says Goldman, is to change your thinking. The question isn't whether your business should have a social media presence. It's what kind of presence you need. Knowing the answer will save you from wasting time on sites not frequented by your target market.

Second, set your strategy. Like everything else in business, you must have a plan because social marketing "can't transform businesses simply by existing."  You should also know your audience, what they like, and where they are.

Don't just throw something online; have a point and be clear. Also, be unique and creative, but don't "pander" to anyone. Learn to target customers on different sites, but don't go hog-wild; chances are, you don't need to be everywhere (but sign up for an account anyhow, so you "own" that real estate). Finally, learn how (and when) to deal with negative comments, and understand that giving better-than-stellar customer service online is absolutely essential. 

When it comes to business, you've seen fads come and you've seen them go, but you know that social media is here to stay. Isn't it time to grab "Going Social" and learn about how to harness it?

I won't promise you it's easy, even with the help of this book, but author Jeremy Goldman does offer plenty of advice to help take away some of the frustration in using Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and the like. It helps that he's included plenty of first-hand accounts from other businesses, large and small, and that he starts with the basics. I was also happy to see him tackle pitfalls and cautions, since being quick on your feet seems to be necessary in nearly everything online.

I think that if you're looking to hire or train a social media director (one of Goldman's advisements), then this book offers a good walking knowledge toward that end. With "Going Social" on your desk, your business is game on.