The business of the holidays

30 11 2011

The holidays are officially here. And for many businesses, it’s one of the biggest marketing and sales opportunities of the year. But have you thought about utilizing this time for improving your business relationships? This Small Business Support Network article, “The Business of Christmas,” got me thinking about how the heightened degree of social gatherings and merriment during the season is a prime opportunity for bolstering your business and personal relationships, as well as making new ones.

Sure, as a business owner, ‘receiving’ a boost in business during the holidays is a great mood enhancer. It’s something many count on. But through the old adage of ‘giving,’ you can also view the season as a time to build upon lasting relationships with colleagues, partners, vendors and the like. This has less to do with giving presents as it does with giving your attention and time. And in the end, your generosity towards others will hopefully strengthen your base of business activity throughout the next year. As an example, reuniting with someone and strengthening your relationship can lead to a strategic alliance that previously didn’t exist. Here are some easy ways to foster relationships during the holidays:

  • Attend another company’s holiday party. Particularly if your business is compatible with the host company, this will grant an opportunity for you to interface with more people than your main point of contact. Plus, every host appreciates a crowd at their own party.
  • Host a holiday party. A holiday party is a great way to say ‘thanks’ to those who have worked hard to support your business’ success over the year.
  • Follow-up. Collect business cards and remember the people you meet at various holiday occasions. This is a great time to connect and reconnect.
  • Give referrals. Listen for how you can help others and give referrals that solve problems.
  • Appreciate your customers. A simple “thank you” goes a long way, and this is the time of year to let your customers know how much you cherish their business. Notes of gratitude, VIP sales opportunities, catered service, etc. go a long way.
  • Send holiday cards. This is yet another touch-point to keep you and your business top-of-mind.

Enjoy the holidays and enjoy rekindling friendships. Though the holidays will surely be busy in many respects, taking time to focus on others will undoubtedly be rewarding. And if you don’t make it to the party, try to connect with someone for five-minutes each day. Sometimes it’s reaching the mini-goals that help champion our greater efforts.

Photo courtesy of Tiny Prints.


Will Bake for Food: Charitable Bakers

13 11 2011

This weekend, I was fortunate to participate in an annual baking charity event called “Will Bake for Food.” It’s a bake sale orchestrated by Jenny Miller and Jenny Richards, and comprised of a community of Seattle food bloggers selling their sugared sweets to support the Emergency Feeding Program of Seattle and King County. Supporters not only came in droves to buy holiday sweets, they also contributed canned goods; in total the bake sale brought in $2,571 and several huge barrels of food to donate. Pretty impressive for a four hour bake sale!

As far as bake sales go, this was certainly one to attend. There were homemade marshmallows, pumpkin cheesecakes, brown-butter Nordy bars, savory and sweet popcorn bundles, bread pudding made with apple-fritter donuts, and chorizo caramel sauce. But what I appreciated most was all of the unique gluten-free items for sale. Because I do not eat gluten myself, I notice these things.

Gluten-free baking has become big business these days. This Reuters article offers a great aggregate summary of recent gluten-free business opportunities – did you know that gluten can be found in McDonald’s French fries and some lunch meat and lipstick? Making gluten-free products presents huge profitable ventures these days and the nation’s largest food conglomerates are looking to cash in on what was once a tiny niche. Though it is impressive to see how what was once a small business is now capturing corporate interest.

So what did I make to contribute to the bake sale? I made a salted birdseed brittle, perfect for human consumption. I adapted a recipe by Jess Thomson in the November 2011 issue of Edible Seattle magazine. What caught my attention was that brittle is a great sweet treat that simply is gluten-free; it’s made from sugar, butter, and a crunchy filling. So often gluten-free baking is an attempt to make common gluten-filled food without the use of wheat, barley, rye, etc. – and it just doesn’t compare.

Now for the recipe. My only adaptions from the original Edible Seattle recipe were to exclude emmer (as it is a wheat grain), increase the volume of the quinoa, millet and sesame to compensate, and generously salt the surface of the brittle for a sweet and salty flavor combination.

Salted Birdseed Brittle – Directly adapted from Jess Thomson’s recipe in Edible Seattle

1 1/4 cup quinoa

1 1/4 cup millet

1/4 cup sesame seeds

1/4 cup bonus mix of quinoa, millet and sesame seeds, or substitute sunflower seeds – in lieu of emmer

2 cups sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

1/2 cup water

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ pieces

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Spread the quinoa, millet, and sesame seeds evenly on a baking sheet. Toast seeds in the oven until lightly browned and fragrant, 10-12 minutes, stirring once or twice during cooking. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

Combine the sugar, corn syrup and water in a large sauce pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil, then stir in the butter. Cook the mixture over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, until it measures 290 degrees Fahrenheit on an instant-read thermometer. Stir in the toasted seeds and the baking soda, then return the heat and cook until the mixure boils again. Immediately pour the mixture onto two rimmed baking sheets, dividing it evenly between each sheet. Working quickly, use a small spatula to spread the mixture into an even layer about 1/4″ thick. Generously sprinkle the sea salt over the surface of the mixture. Let it cool until completely hard.

Break the brittle into bit-sized pieces, then store in airtight containers at room temperature, up to 2 weeks.

This is an easy treat to make over the holidays and nice to bring to parties and potlucks too. Enjoy the brittle and continue to think of how to support others in need.

Engaging Millenials

11 11 2011

Millenials. There is no clear definition to the bracket age range of Generation Y, or the Millenial generation, but it is said that they were born sometime between the mid-1970s to the early 2000s; they are the children of baby boomers and are thus also called ‘Echo Boomers.’ And in the U.S., there are a lot of them. In fact, in a recent Harvard Business Review article, the new Coca Cola CEO, Muhtar Kent, stated that the U.S. in particular is a great growth market for Coca Cola because: “It’s the only Western nation with a young demographic that is growing. By 2040 only a quarter of the U.S. population will be over the age of 60, compared with 30% in Europe and 40% in Japan. It’s a diverse, enterprising, entrepreneurial population.” I love that last sentence.

Here’s the tough part, Millenials have faced the highest unemployment rates among the nation’s four living generations and they are more likely than other generations to report a recent job loss; add in two wars and the threat of global terrorism. Moreover, according to the Pew Research Center, because they’re still developing their core values, these effects can be pretty influential.

Yet, the huge wave of Millenials flooding the workplace remains incredibly optimistic and driven. They are digital natives, they are accustomed to ongoing dialogues about their integration in the workplace, and they expect coaching in different forms and with several people. Most importantly, they see education and learning as a currency to cash in for opportunities – and if an organization does not have a pipeline of next steps for career succession, Millenials are willing to move on, even if they have yet to conceive of a Plan B.

On the subject of leaving, a recent study by Mercer noted that nearly one-third of U.S. workers are at least considering leaving their present employers and that younger employees (under age 35) are most at risk in the current environment — 40 percent of employees age 25-34 and 44 percent of employees age 24 and younger are considering leaving. On the flip side, a Towers Watson report indicated that most organizations surveyed expect employees to work more hours than before the recession, and that over half expect this to continue – it also mentioned that organizations underestimate the effect work-related stress and work/life balance have on employee retention, and do not recognize the significance of job security in attracting top talent. There’s a win-win to be found in the integration of reward and talent management programs, now’s the time to get creative and really understand your business, your future, your employees, and a succession plan for all.

Here’s a list of articles to read as a quick bootcamp for engaging the Millenial generation and harnessing their talent:

Millenials truly believe in the total work experience and how it impacts their career succession and personal aspirations, in addition to opportunities for influencing the future growth of their employer and the communities to which they live in. It’s a full-sweep bottom line approach given the social and financial perspectives, but a differentiated approach as to how an organization can retain and attract talent as well. The Millenials are certainly changing the game in many realms, it’s time to utilize their strengths.

Photo courtesy of The Millenials, a documentary by two Clemson seniors.

Business Lunch: Heinz Ketchup

7 11 2011

If you prefer a brand of ketchup other than Heinz ketchup, we’re going to have words. First introduced in 1876, Heinz continues to dominate the market; Heinz has a 59 percent share, dwarfing store brands, which account for 21.8 percent, and Hunt’s, with 15.1 percent. In his 2004 article in The New Yorker, “The Ketchup Conundrum,” Malcom Gladwell stated that ketchup appeals to all fundamental human tastes: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami – a condiment that pushed all five of the primal buttons. However, just as any business must evolve and mature over time to strengthen its brand and generate loyal customers, Heinz is a great example of a longstanding successful company to learn from.

Ketchup with balsamic vinegar, launching November 14, 2011. Not only is it interesting that Heinz is producing a new version of its ketchup, but it’s also trying out a new selling tactic as well. As the label states, “Heinz tomato ketchup, blended with balsamic vinegar,” is the first new Heinz ketchup flavor variation in almost a decade. Do you remember the Heinz “Blastin’ Green,” “Funky Purple” and “Stellar Blue” ketchup colors featured in EZ Squirt bottles? Then Heinz admitted to a likely cannibalization of existing products, but it’s now claiming that the new balsamic ketchup is unique enough that consumers will buy it in addition to the bottle already in their refrigerator door. As for the selling tactic, it will only be available for sale through the Heinz Ketchup Facebook page before further distribution in December.

Dip and Squeeze packaging, launching January 2012. Heinz for decades has searched for better single-serve packets and has landed on a new version aimed to solve existing complaints about its packets being messy, hard to open and not providing enough ketchup. Heinz believes that this new packaging will increase orders for fries at drive-thrus and hopefully dramatically expand its market share by having McDonald’s feature its brand of ketchup. Apparently, a supply spat between Heinz and McDonald’s during a 1973 tomato shortage resulted in a Heinz lockout from most McDonald’s U.S. locations; more here on Heinz’s courtship with McDonald’s. (Interesting too, here’s a tasty bit of trivia on McDonald’s brand of ketchup.) Trouble is, the new packaging is more costly to produce, and when ketchup is generally thought of as free to customers, an increase in cost matters a lot.

Worldwide condiment domination. This year more than 20% of Heinz’s revenues will come from emerging markets such as China, India, Indonesia, Russia, and Brazil, versus less than 5% a few years ago. From soy sauce in China to a ketchup in the Philippines made from bananas, longtime Heinz CEO Bill Johnson describes his strategy for growing sales in developing economies through different modes of due diligence and a focus on diversification that helps mitigate not only the political risks but also currency risks. With such a mature brand, and one that is so successful, it’s interesting to learn how Heinz continues to evolve by entering into new markets around the world. Click here to see an acquisition timeline, it’s amazing to see how they’ve distinguished the core condiment for each culture.

From a small business perspective, there’s a lot to emulate from Heinz’s operations. Heinz may be an incredibly large and financially successful business, but it continues to develop new products, adapt its packaging to meet market demands, and expand its reach globally to access new customers. None of these concepts are foreign from what a small business owner thinks about daily, it’s just that Heinz has a lot more money to play with when doing so (and they play on a much larger playing field). Not every move that Heinz has made has been a home run, but it’s interesting to acknowledge what they thought about going into each tactic and what they learned from the experience. It’s often hard to rest with the fact that, even though we have an immense amount of information at our fingertips, time and experience grants answers so many questions. And with Heinz, it has had a lot of time to mature.

Video courtesy of The Early Show.