Jennifer B. Davis
I have to admit I am a PowerPoint junkie. At work we use it ALL THE TIME and sometimes we forget that we can have meetings without it. I just learned about a new tool that might change all of that, it is called SlideRocket.

What I love about it already is that it is web-based, it appears to create beautiful and innovative presentations, and has built-in tools for presentation sharing over the web. No need to utilize PowerPoint AND a web conferencing tool in the future. Plus, they have some community elements that look interesting.

If you really need/want to use PowerPoint, you can always export your SlideRocket show. If you must.
Jennifer B. Davis
Seth Godin wrote a post about price pressure. In it he proposes, that if people are asking for a lower price, you are not providing value and providing that value is your choice. Choosing the path of lower prices and commoditization is your alternative choice. I found this thought provoking.

This could be perceived in contrast to a previous post I did some time back about embracing the challenge of commoditization. That said, I think there is a big difference between internally looking for improvements and new ways to provide value in an increasingly competitive market and marketing yourself externally as the Arco of your segment. You can look for efficiencies, while delivering value for the money you are charging. Stay ahead of that curve (on both fronts) and you have a great business.
Jennifer B. Davis
I have written before about personalized M&Ms. Now you can get them with not only words, but pictures on them as well.

The examples they show are faces (some of which are a little scary), but I think maybe Hugh at GapingVoid, who is famous for drawing cartoons on the back of business cards, should start drawing cartoons on the side of an M&M instead.
Jennifer B. Davis
I regularly follow the blog posts from 37Signals. They recently posted notes from the Chicago-area SEED 3 conference and I must admit they are the best conference notes I have ever seen. The artist/notetaker is Mike Rohde. Some fantastic nuggets in there even for folks like us who didn't attend.

You might think of inviting Mike, or someone like him, to your next conference, sales meeting, your next board presentation, or perhaps your next church worship service. Could be a whole new experience!
Jennifer B. Davis
Great post the other day from James Wood about Andrew Jackson. Think about the toughest person you know. The person who played injured. The person who overcame adversity. Then, go read this post. You may put President Jackson on the top of your list.
Jennifer B. Davis
Just saw a write-up on Posterous, a super simple blogging platform. I thought Tumblr was the simple one, but this platform is even easier. It takes the information in the header of an email and turns it into an authentication for a blog post. Pretty ingenius (perhaps not without its risks as well).

Check it out and think about how you can take unnecessary human steps out of your product or service. It might be easier than you think!
Jennifer B. Davis
Springwise wrote about a clothing rental business called Transitional Sizes. For a monthly fee they rent clothes to women who are changing sizes (due to pregnancy or weight loss) anywhere from size 4 to size 26. You can have clothes that fit each month, and when they don't you turn them back in for new ones. The website looks a little too eBay (come on guys, you can take some better photos of the clothes), but is a good concept.

I'd love it if this were combined with a style clothing store, so that they could pick out a wardrobe for you that would match your styles and measurements, and the season and weather in your part of the country. At the end of the season, you return the package in exchange for some new pieces.

I love the subscription model as it builds loyalty and referrals with every compliment, plus it takes the guesswork out of shopping. Trust me there are a lot of women with disposable income that don't like or want to take the time to shop!
Jennifer B. Davis
My mom, like many others I suppose, was a home economics major in college. She taught consumer education in schools. I just learned about a Beverly Hills store that should prompt a "why didn't I think of that" response from her. It is called Fashionology LA and just like Build-a-Bear, this store focusing on having tweens make their own clothes, designing them on kiosks in the store. I get the impression that this is more embellishment than hard-core tailoring, but is home economics at the mall.

I could see this extending beyond t-shirt embellishment to simple sewing projects where kids could practice designing something truly unique. I loved that kind of thing when I was a kid and I had the advantage of a home economics teacher in my house. Most kids today don't (including mine), yet would love the creative outlet that this could be.

The folks there at Fashionology LA have built in some great viral marketing tools to extend their reach (they take pictures of the girls in their new creations and email them to them so that they can share them with their friends - brilliant!). Something to think about for your own business, how to let the customers do the talking!
Jennifer B. Davis
Why live in a town you hate? Why have a job that you feel is a waste of your talents? Why do you make the choices you do.

If your first answer to these question is "for purely economic reasons" or something like that, I invite you to rethink.

If you live in a town because it is cheap to live there, it could be that there is a reason for that...that you make less money if you work there. Usually the supply-demand thing does work out (statistically). If you hate the town, move. Unless you are a trust fund baby that doesn't have to worry about your income (in which case move to a staffed luxury compound in Honduras or something instead), you will probably be okay. You will find that will diligent work, some talent, some energy in networking, and a little luck you can live the same lifestyle in a town you like.

You can live your own dream, if you care enough to take action. Exert leadership over your own life. I am down from my soap box now. Feel free to respond.
Jennifer B. Davis
We love movies and books that are based on reality. No matter how fantastic or unbelievable the events in the tale may be, it instantly has credibility if it begins with "this story is based on a true story." We are immediately drawn in. Real truth, even if sensationalized or dramatized a bit, is so irresistable.

In contrast, I give you the financial forecast. For those of you not involved in these types of things, financial forecasts are models that people build, usually in Microsoft Excel, that show projected revenue, profit, costs, and the like in an effort to track the progress of a business, to make decisions regarding strategy or tactics, and to communicate to others about the business (whether they be management, shareholders, partners, etc).

The thing about a financial forecast is that the future is unknown. A fact that we sometimes like to ignore. We can not predict the future. And as they say in Princess Bride, "Anyone that tells you different, Princess, is selling something."

So, because the future is unknown, you need to make assumptions. More like "make up" assumptions would be more accurate, as all forecasts are works of fiction. Those assumptions about customer acceptance, revenue growth, cost reductions, or the like have a huge impact on your perception of the business opportunity. They can have a huge impact on the short-term decisions that might be made. Assume a healthy economy and low product return rates and you can convince yourself to spend more in marketing, only to find out later that these assumptions were horribly wrong and the money was wasted. Assume that 20% of your products will be sold with a unique feature and if it turns out being 50%, you could find yourself with product shortages and unhappy customers. You could be off by a little or a lot. Assumptions are a killer indeed.

The best assumptions are ones that have a high probability of occurance. That high probability based on some past perforamance. If you always have a slow first quarter of the year, it safe to assume that next year will be no different. If you have a trend line extending back into time that says that revenue is growing, you have a reason to believe it will continue. Distrust step functions. There has to be reasons to believe.

It is just like the movies and books. We are drawn into the story if we believe it is based on truth. Same with financial forecasts. This is true in business, but also in non-profit organizations, churches, and even personal finance.

So, how do you create good assumptions:

1. As I have said before, trends trump step functions. In other words slow and steady trend lines are more probable than things that immediately get better overnight, like someone flipped a switch. If you are assuming a step function improvement, you better know exactly what switch is getting flipped and be confident in the outcome.

2. Understand and measure the key levers of the business for real-time feedback. If your business is dependent upon selling service contracts along with product sales, you should know what your attach rate should be and what it has been. You should be able to see the actual attach rate trends as frequently as is reasonable and should share them with the teams involved. You should know where your costs are and the boundary boxes in which things should stay for the business to be profitable. As the good folks at GE taught us, "what you measure, you improve."

3. Everyone is in the business. This means giving your employers and partners visibility to the key metrics of your business will make you more successful, as choices are made at every level of the organization that greatly impact the success of the business and the factors you are measuring. Now, I am not talking about disclosing financial information inappropriately or giving away company secrets. I mean teaching all the players in the game how the score is kept, how to read the scoreboard, and their role in putting points on the score board. Remain open for anyone on the team to suggest a better play to call to reach the goal, once they understand the rules of the game. These kinds of conversations are the basis of true teamwork.
Jennifer B. Davis
"For a list of all the ways technology has failed to improve the quality of life, please press three." - Alice Kahn

I love technology. I especially love database-driven, web-enabled technologies with great interfaces that make important things easier to do. Seriously, I really do.

But, I have become aware recently (or should I say "reminded") of ways in which technology can fail to deliver on its promise.

1. Stop-Drop-and-Roll When Technology Makes Something Simple More Complex

Forget scale. Forget extendability. Sometimes business needs are simple. You need to answer the phone and route calls, for instance. How hard can it be really? Incredibly difficult once you create phone trees, voice prompts, scripts, and queues. Add to that a hold music music track from Hades (a stress-inducing piece of classical music that is reminiscent of a battle scene from an epic film) and you have a comic combination of making something simple hard. Part of the problem is trying to fit all possible needs into one solution, when in fact a customer-driven approach would call for multiple, smaller solutions.

For example, some websites are packed with information for everyone which makes them hard to navigate, contain too much copy, and lose their purpose (for example see anything that the good folks at Microsoft post), so all technologies are prone to this kind of complexity. In contrast, stands very simple web page design where the text is a clear call to action, the copy is natural speech, and all of the content fits "above the fold" without making the user scroll to read.

Using the web page example and applying it to my telephony problem, I wonder if the solution is this. Replace the complicated phone tree with its 50 options (and the hold music that enrages already irritated callers) with a pleasant woman's voice who says "Thanks for calling us. We love to hear from you and want to make sure you talk to the right person who can help you the best. To skip to sales, press 1. To go straight to technical support, press 2. Or just hold and a real live, honest-to-goodness human being can assist you. On our website you will also find a directory of contacts that might help you connect even more quickly. Again, thanks for your business. Please wait a moment while we connect you."

If technology makes something more complex, you should stop it, drop it, and roll with something new. For instance, if your customer base is known and finite and if you have more than 2 options on any phone line, break it up and pass out new numbers. It could be that your business is too complicated for the technology to solve. This leads to my second principle.

2. Don't Pave a Cow Path (or Pave Only Cow Paths that Lead Somewhere)

A colleague of mine once told me a story about how a farmer sold his property to a developer and they decided to build houses along gravel roads laid down where the well-worn paths through the pasture land that the cows had cut over years of grazing. Years later, they paved those gravel roads and although the residents complained, only the old-timers remembered the someone hadn't sat down to design the best layout for the neighborhood, but had instead paved the cow paths.

How often do we do this? Come up with a great technology solution to a problem we don't understand fully, just because the technology solution is in hand or can be envisioned. I am guilty of this more than I like to admit (being generally optimistic about technology and life and having this natural impatience to get on with something already). We start building solutions for things that only work the way they do by accident. Or, we throw out a perfectly good "cow path" solution in favor of a more complicated one.

One of the most successful development projects I was involved with was an internal corporate application. Before writing a single line of code, I lived the workflow of the application (however painful it was) for several months managing an Excel spreadsheet. During this "alpha" phase, I worked out all the communication flows and templates, the policies of who needed to be copied on what, and started to quantify the benefits of automation. The core workflow changed quite a bit in those early days and got refined in this manual process, and I was able to articulate requirements for a little application that is still very useful and powerful (and has gone through numerous iterations as new needs and ideas were explored).

This reminds me that one must make careful choices about what gets paved and why. Living in a tent on a cow path for a while, while taking land surveys might be a perfectly reasonable way to "write" requirements.

3. Nothing Replaces an Outside-In View

Companies love to create Inside-Out solutions. You need to know how many product returns you get and why products fail, so you adopt a nifty little service application to manage the transactions. It works great. Unless, a customer wants to see all their transactions and the status of each. Maybe that gets a little tougher. Or unless a sales person wants to see all their transactions and the status of each, across multiple customer accounts, geographies, product lines, or departments. Then the transaction system doesn't quite serve the purpose. Before you rush out an implement a fully-integrated CRM package (which can be wonderful by the way), remember the problem you are solving and the points above. It could be that the outside-in perspective would tell you to keep the transaction system and implement a report instead. It could be that a fancy, automated report isn't needed, but rather a regularly scheduled phone conference with a key customer to walk them through any open issues and assure them of your attentiveness to their issues. It could be that you have back office communication or coordination challenges, that once solved through better roles and responsibilities, the issues are minimized and more manageable.

It is good to keep in mind that most customers don't really care about the efficiencies of your business overall, how the same phone tree helps them and their competitors, or what you are doing to solve problems for everyone. They really want their problems solved. And, it is always easier to solve one issue than ten.

Technology can be a part of that. It can help coordinate information, make dispersed and diverse team act together, and can provide feedback loops in real-time. It can be game changing or tactical, but it is only a part of the whole solution.
Jennifer B. Davis
Techvibes publishes a monthly list of Portland start-ups. This list is great and makes me excited to be a part of this community. Check it out at Silicon Florist.

I couldn't resist going through most of them. Some I had heard of and some were new. They range industries. Some are social networks. Some sell products or services. Some are bootstrapped and others are venture backed. Some are built for consumers and others for business or enterprise clients. By the end of the list, I had added a few blogs to my reader, a few follows to my twitter account, got a new virtual assistant, and learned a lot more about the Portland business community.

Check it out!
Jennifer B. Davis
I got a note from a friend of mine who received a mini-tribute from me. She wrote, "It is such a cute card. Made me smile the whole day!" If you are interested in making someone's Monday, tell them they are Absolutely Remarkable at

P.S. It makes a nice little belated Father's Day card as well. See
Jennifer B. Davis
It is clear that building word-of-mouth marketing is critical for the success of a product or company and often it can use a bit of help to get started. I am always interested about how companies do it. I found a few insights that I thought I would share here.

For well over a year, I have participated in SheSpeaks, a sampling network of women. They have sent me products to review. I loved the Sonicare toothbrush. The Nicole by OPI nail polish took a little getting used to, but is interesting (this one is new and I have some coupons, by the way). The salon hair care product that made me smell like almonds, but look like I hadn't showered in weeks was an emphatic "no!"

Today, I learned about another network like this called BzzAgent. I don't have much to report other than they reallly get the word-of-mouth thing and I have heard about the founder's latest ebook on no fewer than 3 blog posts this weekend from folks I follow and respect. I read the book tonight and it had some nuggets in it.

If you know of others, post the links in comments here.