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Too Many Cooks in Our Community Life?

May 16, 2011 - Ernest Hohmeyer
We can’t do it all.

Sometimes the decision-making process on what to focus on as well as what to drop can be a very painful experience. This can be true if you are an entrepreneur, running a community organization or a local government official.

Has the daily grind and keeping up with technology and communication been one cause that has helped us forget the goals of our enterprise – and who are customers really are? Communicating today is like jumping on board a new song and soon there are enough of us that like it, it rises to the top 10 – with a global audience.

We get tired of listening to it so we slide to something new and the old song drops out of sight. I know for myself I am like a kid in a music store. In the 45 years our family has been in business, there has never been such an opportunity to reach people. Sometimes I can’t help myself, I jump right on board some new outlet or a better technology without thinking is this what I am about? I mean who cares? This medium allows me to reach everyone and someone out there must need what I offer.

But does it satisfy MY customer biggest needs? Does it target the highest need of our mission? Can we achieve our goals through collaborations with resources more appropriate to the task? My father used to say “surround yourself with talent better or different than yours and you will succeed.”

Even if it does, there is too much out there for our small organizations to keep up with or more importantly to know how to be good at it.

What is Your Purpose Anyway?

Strategy and Business talks about “Growth through Focus” by doing more with less, focusing your efforts, “complexity is the enemy,” and “form networked teams and communities that cut across organizational boundaries and hierarchy.”

In Entrepreneur magazine’s “Build a Winning Brand” the reference is made to “Why does a plumber need a brand?” The point being here its “your impression, your reputation – it’s the mindshare you occupy in a customer or client’s mind.” Don’t be things you are not and “Pinpoint who your audience is and try to figure out what will appeal to them…”

Even the book Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World acknowledge “But on a personal front, most of us muddle through this new networked and open world, stumbling from decision to decision or crisis to crisis without an overarching strategy.” The new technology is not an instrument on to itself, for anyone who deals with a customer, client or taxpayer, here it’s about using technology as a marketing tool.

Is Once a Need, Always a Need?

And like classic classical music or old time rock-n-roll, some things seem to be timeless. For example, every day I believe you need to remind yourself what the purpose of your organization is and you need to challenge yourself if that purpose is still valid. If it is, are the strategies you employ effectively reaching your target audience?

Many of us mistake a business or organizational plan as being a one-time premise set in stone like our Constitution. It becomes so embedded in our psyche that it becomes a foundation we do not question. Instead, we often spend too much energy trying to fit an organizational premise into something that may need to be revised, replaced or hang on to your hat, done away with.

I wonder if that is part of the issue when facing our problems related to rising taxes or desperately seeking funding for community organizations. We sometimes blame it all on mandates from above, cut in support, the economy etc. Our reaction is to become over-protective of our business or organization like it is has a life of its own.

Do we forget to question what is the real purpose of our enterprise, what are the real needs we are trying to satisfy and have those needs changed? Do customers still want what we have to offer? Can they get these services somewhere else? If I went out of a business today, what would happen? Are there new opportunities that I can’t see because I am lost in well, “this is always what we have been about? Have we become part of what Tapscott and Williams in Macrowikonomics describe as “institutions that have served us well for decades or centuries seem stuck in their past and unable to move forward?”

A business plan in my view is a snapshot in time. It is meant to validate (or not) whether the goals of your business and its subsequent products or services have a targeted audience that provides sufficient bottom line to meet your needs. What many of us forget is that a good business plan is also a monitoring tool. Done correctly, the goals you set in your marketing and financial plan should help you understand if the benchmarks you set are being met and if not, why not? It should raise a flag. But again, we sometimes blame other things like the political climate, our advertising, or it is because we are not in the latest social media.

Instead should we ask the question, is our mission still valid and have our customers changed? It’s an extremely hard thing to do when your livelihood depends on it as I gaze over to my own 3 children.

Even the foundation of our country, the Constitution, required amendments.

If We Could Start Over, What Would We Need?

Today, if we could start over again, based on today’s needs, technology and unprecedented opportunities to collaborate, would we still require multiple villages, towns and counties locally? Would the boundaries even be the same? Does Saranac Lake share more in common with Tupper Lake, Lake Placid and Wilmington than it does with Malone? Does Malone share more in common with the communities of the St. Lawrence River Valley and their key agrarian economy? Should the political boundaries be east-west and not north-south if they have to exist at all?

Based on today’s local economy and the needs of our businesses, do we require 3 chambers of commerce that overlap our area and at least 8 organizations that are involved with tourism?

Perhaps we do and based on today’s needs, we need even more.

But if we follow along the theme of understanding your “customer personas” based on Scott’s premise in the book "New Marketing & PR" "of someone “ you have identified as having a specific interest in your organization,” or – this is interesting - “having a market problem that your product or service solves,” would all of these organizations and political boundaries exist?

In the era of technology, communication, “micro-markets, “content-rich” marketing and opportunities to reach out to the world, are some of the old functions of these organizations obsolete? Are they still thinking “more is better” and not adding the elements of “growth with focus” where the qualities of leadership is not only about facilitation and collaboration but perhaps more importantly - consolidation?

Based on historical ways of doing things, are they missing out on new opportunities in this age of “rebooting business and the world?”

We look at this next.


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