Price of Admission

In a past post I wrote about setting the stage for your business offering. I would like to step a bit further back into the customer journey, back to the front door shall we say.

A few years ago I was challenged by two authors to consider my business differently. They asked each of us to consider how we do business with our customers currently. Study the process throughout the complete selling cycle. Then a bomb was dropped  into the heart of the discussion.

“What would you do differently if your customers had to pay admission to do business with you?”

What would I do differently if people had to pay before doing business? This was an incredible thought and one that will need a little clarification. If we consider an up front fee to do business, how would we change our business approach? How could you make it so people wanted inside? Theatres, sporting events, rides, etc… do this every day. You must buy your ticket before you enter the event. Even Sam’s Club, Costco or Deep Discount Groups charge a fee for admission, A.K.A. the club cards. At one time Sam’s Club wouldn’t even let you look unless you were with a guest. This created enchantment to prospective customers, so much so that you would buy a one day pass that was almost half the price of the yearly membership.

What would your business look like if you could charge for admission? Could you create special passes or tickets to get in on certain days? Would you change how you perform to ensure return business and drive word of mouth marketing? Would your deliverable be well branded and your collateral materials more like invitations and playbills? How would you act and what would be your stage?

Creating interest and excitement for your customers is about creating theatre and performing a part. If you want to know more about the evolution in business delivery, my suggestion is to read a wonderful book by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore called “The Experience Economy; Work is Theatre and Every Business a Stage.”  You will never look at your business the same again.

Finding Customers

They say customers develop a relationship with providers on two initial criteria, ‘I am like you’ and ‘I like you.’ If this is the case then finding more customers can be performed strategically by profiling your existing best customers and reaching out to similar prospects. Below is a map created by five break-out groups during a small business and self-employed meet-up session.

The exercise and conversations facilitated by Sharon Reus and were focused upon five fictitious businesses each with unique characteristics to challenge the groups’ thinking. This method also allow attendees to identify conditions similar to their own.

Visualizing Business Communications

How does one know if their communications is too cluttered or confusing and hindering business opportunities?

I was asked to view a website and share my thoughts about the effectiveness and overall design of the site. This drove my thinking to a very powerful thINKing Canvas visual analogy and then the creation of a physical activity I call “The Marble Jars” to explain what I was seeing and to help the inquirer see from a potential customers point of view.

I don’t wish to explain this visual in great detail as it is very clear already. Imagine every piece of information, subject or offering in your communications (especially websites) as a marble; colors and types for various topics. Place each marble into a glass jar. Step back and look. This is how a potential customer may interpret your communications. How easily can you find all of one color or type of marble?  Business communications should be designed as a call for action and not an encyclopedia of information.

Visual thinking and a thINKing Canvas are great tools in looking at business communications to get a clearer picture of its purpose and value. I helped one group, maybe I can help you visualize your communications.

Lessons from the Mantel

I have fond memories of my grandmother and the simple house she lived in. She wasn’t well off financially, but rich in vision and imagination. As a child, she took me on many adventures to far off lands all while sitting on the back porch. She taught me much about vision, imagination and often about people all from that little house on the edge of anywhere. Some of those same lessons continuously echo in my mind as I work with others.

One in particular lesson was re-ignited with a phone call came from a good friend and fellow thinker. It appears that blogging has gotten into her blood and she was having some fun at doing it. After she had done it for a while she realized that maybe, the direction and intent of the blog needed a bit of focus, purpose to ensure that her readers gain value from her words. So comes the email message. A simple request for assistance.

I am not going to go through the whole phone conversation for the simple sake of brevity, but I will highlight the core of message that was shared. I presented an analogy of life, as in business, that was passed to me so many years ago. I asked her to imagine a mantel with photographs perched together. Each image is of someone different. These pictures on the mantel would be the images of her on-line family of readers.

Yes, I said on-line family of readers. The reason for this type of visualization is so we  have a clear picture to whom we speak, serve or communicate. The photographs are not of anyone particular, rather a collaboration of a type of person she would write to. I also told her she should have five of these family photos that she would imagine being her readers. Of these five, three of them are her best customers, advocates or followers.

Each reader has unique characteristics, attributes and needs. Define them with clear personalities. As an example, Uncle George could be a well read man, who seeks advice, but doesn’t respond. Let’s call him the “Watcher”. This watcher type persona enjoys your reading the things you say and applies them as much as he can. The other four persona’s have their reasons for reading. Some are seeking answers to needs, answers that you provide. It is important to understand what you offer and who your customers will be that will find value in your offering.

I ended our chat by adding one last note. When you write or you are doing business with your new family, write each blog entry as if talking to only one of them at a time. I believe that each post should speak to one person at a time and to a different person for different reasons. Share the wealth, but avoid mixing the conversation. If we treat our customers as if they are family, we tend to be more authentic in our approach because we understand who they are and why they seek us out.

So remember, create unique person types of your five best types of customers, have a strong vision of what they may look like and then place your customers up on the mantel so you will see them everyday to remind you of who you serve. Once you do this, avoid wandering to greener fields because you may just lose touch or alienate with the ones you have.

Thanks grandma, for all the worlds of wonder and words of wisdom from that old wooden porch out back.

Keep thinking visually so you can see your success.


Setting Up Shop

I have always been fascinated by the phrase “Setting up shop”.  There have been so many people who I have talked with that use this phrase when launching their business, even those starting non-retail businesses. The excitement of offering their unique services or product mix is just like opening a store for the very first time. So much to do like arranging all the areas for products to be displayed, stacking the packaging and even the adding your business colors to the decor. Yes it’s their shop, their business.

Unfortunately this feeling of having a new shop lasts for just a few weeks or so and soon the day-to-day operations of management settle in and they find themselves deep into micro managing the business.  Somehow the illusion or vision of the little shop fades to the daily tasks of paperwork and phone calls.


There still is power in that vision of setting up shop and launching a new business. A lot of excitement, inspiration and creativity were flowing before you opened. You were in the “Flow” of thinking.  It is important to be able to revisit that visual process to maintain relevance in the market. Why? Because visualizing a business from a fresh perspective is a critical and creative process for seeing through the eyes of a consumer for any business.

Here’s a creative thinking exercise that you can try. It involves thinking, not outside the box, rather inside the box or at least inside a different box. When we attempt to brainstorm and think outside the box freely, we lack true focus and some thoughts soon tend to wander or get misdirected because of outside stimuli or distractions. So there is an exercise to help us maintain flow. This exercise has work very successfully in business ideation session where business owners can visualize their business from a fresh perspective.

Step 1: With blank paper, pen, ink and 15 minutes on the clock, only 15 minutes, think about your business visually. See all the things you offer, your branding images, colors and even how you do business. Stay focused on your business.

Step 2: Start the clock now! Think about which retail business you would see your business as if it were a retail business. Not who you want it to be like, but who you see yourself as today. Be honest you’re yourself or this is all for not. Would it be a big box store, national retail chain or a Ma and Pa shop? Think about every detail and compare your business to a retailer. When you have it, write it down at the top of the sheet.

Step 3: With the clock still racing, write down single word attributes of the retailer of choice. At least try to get 5 – 9 clear attributes. If you get more, you can scratch off the ones that are too generic. “Ding” please put all pens down your done. Turn you sheet over or under something to avoid looking at it again until this exercise is done.

Okay, you now have a visualized snap shot of a retail shop or store that you closely associate your with your business. Great, but your task is not completed. You have two more steps to go. Yes, it’s a triad thing.

Step 4: New sheet of blank paper and another 15 minutes on the clock. Ponder the imperfections of your business as well as the successful parts. Do this very briefly and not too deeply. We can always find endless lists of pluses and minuses of our business so keep it very high level. Think about what could be changed if anything was possible

Step 5: Again, start the clock and this time imagine your business as the retailer you would like it to be like. See the store or shop in visual detail. See how the staff interacts with customers, products displayed and the look of the space. Select one retailer that you want to be like and write it down. Time is ticking.

Step 6: Now write down the attributes of this retailer. As many as possible and refine to 5 – 9 again. “Ding” please put all pens down your done.

Wow, that was a bit tougher. If you did it in 15 minutes, which you were suppose to, then you get a gold star, but your task is about to get tough.

Step 7: A new sheet of paper. Place 30 minutes on the clock. This time, place the first retailer sheet to the left of the new blank sheet and the last exercise sheet to the right. You have in front of you is a vision of yourself today to the left, how you see yourself in the future to the right. Look at the attributes of both retailers. See the similarities and the differences. On the middle sheet you will focus on those attributes that are different and quickly give answers to this question for each attribute change. Example: if the first attribute was intimate you might have mass appeal as a difference on the other sheet.

Step 8: In 30 minutes starting now, answer this question as it relates to as many difference in attributes as possible in any combination that seems logical. “Knowing the current attribute, what practices or changes can I make to meet the future attribute?”

Step 9: “Bing” Done, at least with this exercise.

What did you discover about your business? How much easier can you redirect that you have a visual reference? Visualizing parallel conditions such as seeing ourselves as another business type, allows us to drop some of our defenses and preconceptions to explore new options and possibilities. Creating role models can aid in maintaining the focus, direction and purpose of brainstorming. Unlike traditional process of free-form brainstorming, using exercises with visual models helps create tangible call to action for change.

I hope this exercise can help you when you have that desire to take your offering to the next level.

Rethink POV

Have you ever had an idea that a product or service could be improved, but no one seemed to get it? Maybe the reason is you had trouble seeing it from a different POV (point of view) or you were possibly speaking to the wrong audience. When the concept did not click, you became hesitant to invest any more time or resources into the idea. Eventually it went to the back burner only to fade from memory, but not quite…

Somewhere deep in your mind it still rolls around bumping into other thoughts. Like a haunting jingle from a television show, it just won’t fade. The reason is that it still maybe a great idea, but needs a new approach or it needs to be resolved completely.


Two, what seemed to be, unrelated events were drawn together in a moment of distraction. The first was the discovery of an unusual lawn decoration of a goofy bird in early spring. The second was a quote that was sent to me by a friend a few weeks ago. Spanned by months, these two items would refresh the use of classic practice.

This unusual character bend backwards and under was seeing the same thing it saw before, but only from a different point of view. Combined with Mary Engelbreit’s quote, I am reminded that even what may seem to be a bad idea from one view-point, may in fact, be a great idea when we change our POV or discover that change is not even needed at all.

So here’s my thinking tip: take an old idea and view it from three different perspectives. If it’s a new or enhanced product, look at it from three different types of customers. If you are changing a product or service, look from three different managers eyes. And finally, before you act, look at it from three different processes to decide if it really needs to be change at all.

Don’t be afraid to change your POV, but always keep an open mind, you may just be surprised of the answers you see. Not all change is needed, sometimes the original deal is still the best.

Until next time, keep thINKing Visual.