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Jun 27, 2009

Competition Brings Out The Best

In a free market society like the U.S., there is a continuous competition for talent and skill. Every business knows that the critical constraint on its ability to grow is competent to people who can get results. Like cream rising to the top, people who can do a good job are hired sooner, paid more, and promoted faster. People who are not competent or motivated are not. No laws can change this. They can only mask it temporarily.

Compassion or Condescension
Compassion can quickly become condescension. Minority groups can become victims of what President George Bush called “the soft bigotry of reduced expectations.” People begin to judge them by lower standards and expect less of them in comparison with others. This is completely unacceptable in America. The way to bring the best out of people is by challenging them-by setting high standards, by demanding their “best game.”

A System Gone Astray
The U.S. education system, once the best in the world (and still the best at the University level), has become a tragedy and a trap for more young people caught in it and unable to escape. In 1947, 97 percent of Americans were literate, reading several books a year, and often each month. By 2004, fully 47 percent of Americans could not read above the seventh grade level. People who have not mastered the three R's by the time they leave school are destined to lifetimes of low income, under achievement, and wasted potential.

Failing Schools
Today, African American students test at four grade levels below white and Asian students in the same schools. Even worse, they are not allowed to escape their failing schools, especially in the inner cities. They are trapped into lifetimes of below-average incomes, insecurity, and eventually envy, resentment, and feelings of victim-hood.

Enter the Unions
The first teachers union was formed in the 1950's. In a few years, driven by expediency, the focus of teaching shifted from student achievement to teacher pay and benefits. As Albert Schanker, head of the American Teachers Federation, once said, “When the children start paying union dues, then we'll start caring about the children. ”

Competition is Key
The Economist magazine wrote on June 11, 2005, “The schools the poorest Americans attend have been getting worse rather than better.” This is partly a problem of resources, to be sure. But it is even more a problem of bad ideas. One poll of 900 professors of education found that 64 percent of them thought that schools should avoid competition. The only way to reverse the educational system is to change the structure of incentives in such a way that academic excellence is pursued and rewarded. Without competition, there is no motivation to improve.

Jun 20, 2009

Sales and Marketing Profitability

Do you know the return on your sales and marketing expenditures? It is not unusual for companies to spend 25 to 35 percent of their revenues on sales and marketing, yet often they don't know the actual return on these initiatives. Before adopting a new marketing initiative, determine how you will measure, not only its impact on sales, but on profits as well. What is an acceptable rate of return? How will you measure the return? Establish a monitoring system whereby you can gauge the efficacy of the program throughout its implementation.

Product Profitability
Every product yields a specific profit of a specific amount. When you offer more than one product, each will have its own profit margin. One of the most important things you can do is to determine the return on the investment you have put into each of your products.

Marathon and Associates
Marathon and Associates, a niche consulting firm, receives enormous fees from Fortune 1000 companies to determine the exact cost of each of their products. This enables their clients to make product-offering decisions based on the profitability of each product, rather than simply relying on gross revenue figures. In today's highly competitive business climate, such an approach is critical in ensuring their overall profitability and even their survival. This is no less true of your own business or organization. Eliminating just one losing product can make the difference between robust growth and mediocre performance or even the demise of your business.

Product Mix
Examine your own product mix. In addition to the normal “cost of goods,” you must include all expense incurred in delivering the finished product to the consumer, including research and development, promotion, associated sales and marketing costs, installation, customer service, product service, returns, proportionate share of general and administrative costs (overhead), and so on. Again, be sure to include the cost of your own time; apply your hourly rate to the amount of time you invest in the development, design, creation/manufacture, sale, and servicing of each product.

Break Down Costs Accurately
Many individuals and businesses lump all their expenses together and then guess at how much is attributable to each product. Your job is to break down so accurately that you know within a few dollars exactly how much you net from the sale of each product. When you have completed your costing analysis, simply deduct the actual cost of developing, selling, and delivering each product from the price to determine its profitability. Which products yield the highest return? The lowest? Do any actually lose money?

Market Profitability
If you sell into more than one market, the same principle applies. Some markets will be more profitable than others. When dealing in foreign markets, for example, you may incur much higher advertising and marketing costs. Conversely, your manufacturing costs might be significantly lower. If you export your products into foreign countries, import duties or tariffs may apply. At times, unexpected costs in dealing in new markets may make the difference between a profitable venture and a financial disaster.

Jun 13, 2009

Create Your Personal Brand

Just as surely as building a powerful brand is the key to differentiating a product in the marketplace and thus building a successful business, so creating a strong personal brand is the key to differentiating yourself from your competitors, thereby ensuring your own success as well as that of your business. Your personal brand determines how people respond to you, whether they listen to you, buy from you, how much they buy, what they are willing to pay, and so on.

Promises You Make
Your personal brand makes a promise: “If you buy from me, you will receive a specific value in return.” This promised value will be born from the values, virtues, qualities, and attributes by which you become known. For example, you may want to create a personal image—a brand—of a person who always operates at a high level of integrity, consistently walks the talk, is an exemplary leader, and goes the extra mile to ensure customer satisfaction. Who is your ideal customer? What values, virtues, qualities, and attributes will he be looking for in a supplier of your product? Do you match this profile? If not, do you have a burning desire to be this kind of person? These are the key questions you must ask yourself when beginning to build your personal brand.

Promises You Keep
Unmet expectations are the arch enemy of any relationship. This is no less true in the relationship between you and your customers. Your brand as a person is determined in large part by whether you consistently deliver on your promises. Do you keep your word? Do you follow up? Do your words and actions match with the image you want to create—that is, with the values, virtues, qualities, and attributes you claim as your own? Constantly examine your behavior. When you slip, resolve to get back on track. To build and sustain a powerful personal brand, your message must be an accurate reflection on you, the messenger.

The Whole Package
Pay close attention to your entire image. Of course, your character is of paramount importance. But you make an impact on people in other ways as well. Your appearance—the clothes you wear, your personal grooming, your posture—has an enormous emotional impact on how other people see you, think about you, and relate to you. Your attitude is vital. If you are genuinely pleasant and cheerful in your interaction with others, they will enjoy being with you. They will be more inclined to trust you and do business with you.

Overall Behavior
Your overall behavior strongly influences the impressions others have on you. Be punctual for meetings and appointments. Be absolutely reliable, always keeping your word and your commitments. Should you fail in this area, communicate with the other person as quickly as possible, offering your apology, explanation, and assurance that it will not happen again. Pay close attention to the quality of your work. In the long run, there is nothing that will so determine your success in building and sustaining a powerful personal brand as turning out high-quality work, over and over again, and over a long period of time.

Jun 6, 2009

The Law of Timing

Timing is everything in negotiation. A negotiation can be made or unmade by the time at which it takes place. There is a "too soon" and a "too late" in every situation. Whenever possible, you must plan strategically and use the timing of the negotiation to your advantage. There is a better time to buy and a better time to sell in almost every case. And when your timing is right, you will always get a better deal than when it is not.

The More Urgent the Need, the Less Effective the Negotiator
If you are in a hurry to close a deal, your ability to negotiate well on your own behalf diminishes dramatically. If the other person is eager to make the deal, he or she is functioning under a disadvantage that you can exploit to your advantage. For example, every company has sales targets for each month, each quarter, and each year. Sales managers are tasked with hitting incomes, and their bonuses. Therefore when you are buying any large ticket item, you will almost always get the best deal if you wait until the end of the month when the pressure is on to hit the targets.

Don't Rush
The person who allows himself or herself to be rushed will get the worst of the bargain. Rushing or using time pressure is a common tactic in negotiation, and you must be alert to other people trying to use it on you. People will often tell you that you have to make up your mind quickly or it will be too late. Whenever you hear this, you should take a deep breath and patiently ask questions to find out just how urgent the situation really is. If someone insists that he or she needs an immediate decision, you can reply by saying, "If you must have an answer now, then the answer is no. But if I can take some time to think about it, the answer may be different."

Allocate your Time
You resolve 80 percent of the vital issues of any negotiation in the last 20 percent of the time allocated for the negotiation. Probably because of the prevalence of Parkinson's Law, which says, "Work expands to fill the time allotted for it," most of the key issues in a negotiation get jammed into the final phase of the discussions. Up to this part of the negotiation, there seems to be a natural human tendency to procrastinate on the resolution of the most important issues. What this means for you is that you must be patient in a negotiation. You must be prepared for the key issues to be resolved at the last minute.

Final Point
A final point with regard to timing. Whenever possible, you should delay making an important decision. At the very least, don't allow the other person or persons to rush you into a decision by suggesting that if you don't act now, it will be too late. Whenever the item under negotiation involves a great deal of money, a long life of a product, or long duration of the decision, or it is the first time that you negotiated in this area, buy time for yourself. Take at least twenty-four hours, if not an entire weekend, to think over your decision before acting. Use time as a weapon to strengthen your position and to improve your ability to make better decisions.

Jun 5, 2009

Deploying Rails Applications: A Step-by-Step Guide

Deploying Rails Applications: A Step-by-Step Guide
Author: Ezra Zygmuntowicz, Bruce Tate, Clinton Begin
ISBN-10: 0978739205
ISBN-13: 978-0978739201

Book Description
First you'll learn how to build out your shared, virtual, or dedicated host. Then, you'll see how to build your applications for production and deploy them with one step, every time. Deploying Rails Applications will take you from a simple shared host through a highly scalable clustered and balanced setup with Nginx.

See how to tell whether you've bought enough firepower, and learn how to optimize your Rails projects applications in a systemic, rational way. Take advantage of advanced caching techniques, and become and expert with the latest servers in Nginx and Mongrel. Don't worry. You'll get a dose of Apache too.

Not only will you learn how to configure your production environment, you'll also see how to monitor it with free, automated tools that can restart your servers when the memory use gets too high for comfort. You'll see how to take a performance baseline, profile for bottlenecks, and solve the most common performance problems you're likely to see.

You'll learn:
  • Everything from source control and migrations to Capistrano, rake tasks and beyond.
  • Directly from authors who run EngineYard, one of the best Rails hosts in the business.
  • How to deploy your applications to multiple production servers with a single command using Capistrano.
  • How to setup a Rails/Nginx/Mongrel cluster for applications with high scalabilty needs.
  • ...and more!

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