Business Book Review: Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs by Walter IsaacsonWhen Steve Jobs’ biography by Walter Isaacson came out shortly after his death, plenty of folks snapped it up very quickly.  I was a bit intimidated by its size, but I finally cracked it open last summer.

What I found was surprisingly not a fawning portrait of Apple’s visionary leader but instead a history of the tech industry wrapped in an honest, not-always-flattering biography.

It’s a great read for anyone interested in business, as it looks at what Apple — and Jobs — did differently than their competitors.  Here are two major philosophical debates presented in the book.

Diversification vs. Single-Minded Focus

Apple operates at its best when it focuses on making a single product awesome.  That’s how we got the iPhone, the iPod and the iPad — not to mention the last several renditions of desktops and laptops.  When Jobs set his mind to something, whether it was developing the perfect glass for his stores or finding the brightest shade of white, he went at it with all his energy until it was exactly what he wanted.

The pros to this are clear, but the con is that if you’re focusing on only one thing, you’re not focusing on others.  It’s what’s called the opportunity cost in economics, and it’s something Apple pays for from time to time.  But it’s also how they reap awards — like having enough cash on hand to buy Amazon or build a space station.

What It Means For Your Business: Finding the right balance between these two can make or break your business.  You want to focus on doing what you do best, but you also don’t want to miss out on related opportunities that fit your target market and at which you could excel.  Setting up periodic, regular reviews to analyze and adjust as necessary is your best bet for striking that balance.

Licensing vs. Exclusivity

The biggest fork in the road between Apple and Microsoft came when Apple decided they would not license their technology to other PC builders.  This allowed them to keep control of the quality of their brand — but it lost them a huge market share to Microsoft, as evidenced by the fact that you’ll still find PCs in most office buildings today.  Apple began reclaiming some of the market in the mid-2000s, but they’ve obviously got a long way to go.

That being said, you won’t find a more loyal customer base than Mac users, and practically everyone owns at least one Apple product these days, whether it’s a low-end iPod Shuffle or a top-of-the-line iMac.  PC users in general use PCs because that’s what they’ve been presented.  It’ll be interesting to see in the next decade where things end up, especially as tablets cannibalize traditional computers.

What It Means For Your Business: For most businesses, this relates to a case of quality vs. availability, and once again it’s all about balance.  Finding that sweet spot where you can provide the best product or service to the largest market without sacrificing the quality is what you’re aiming for.  That might mean taking on fewer clients or producing fewer units until you can sustain your growth by expanding your resources.  Again, setting up regular reviews is a great way to keep on top of your business’s needs and capabilities as it grows.

What to Take from Steve Jobs (the Biography)

Apple Apple Steve Jobs by Elizabeth Ditty

I was truly fascinated by this book — both because of the journey Jobs took from college drop-out to worshipped tech leader and because of what we can learn about business from how he and others ran theirs.

It’s not the rambling fanboy letter I’d feared it would be (which I say despite being an obvious Apple fan).  It’s an honest account of one man’s huge effect on both the tech industry and our day-to-day lives — and that’s no exaggeration.  If you read it, you’ll see what I mean — and if you have read it, I’d love to hear what you thought in the comments!

Friday Link Round-Up: Patience Edition

Patient Gargoyle, by Elizabeth Ditty

As of writing this, I’m still waiting on this kiddo to show up. I’m not exactly a patient person to begin with, but having to deal with the anticipation of actually holding and interacting with my kiddo in person (instead of in belly) and the desperate desire to have my body back to myself is really putting me to the test.  And so, for this week’s round-up, I’m going to grudgingly focus on patience.

Lesson of the Week

If patience is important in waiting for a kiddo to arrive, it’s going to become invaluable once I’m a parent.  Zenhabits has 10 tips to become a patient parent that seem workable.

Thought Provoker of the Week

When it comes to business, is patience still a virtue in this day & age of Instagram & Pinterest? FastCompany thinks so.

Recipe of the Week

A couple years back, during a rough time in my life, I spent the morning making this “weapons-grade” ratatouille on the recommendation of my friend Jon (and subsequently wrote this about the ratatouille-making experience).  Does it require patience? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely.

Product of the Week

Back during the ratatouille phase, I was struggling with where I was in life versus where I wanted to be.  The book “You Are Here” by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh really helped me learn to recenter myself by getting back to acknowledging and appreciating the present moment.  It’s a great read with very practical advice no matter what your spiritual inclinations.

Laugh of the Week

I may be 30, with child & happily attached, but I’m not going to miss an opportunity to include both Zac Efron and Elmo. Come on.

Case Study: How Scrivener Turned a Potential Snafu Into a Customer Service Showcase

How Scrivener Turned a Potential Snafu Into a Customer Service Showcase @ Sarah Writes StoriesSoftware updates are a part of life in this day and age, but they don’t always have to be painful.  Case in point: during a recent update to my favorite writing software, Scrivener, a known issue popped up during installation.

How Scrivener Did It Right

Instead of having to google the error, hunt down the solution, and then follow a lengthy list of instructions to delete the appropriate file, Scrivener walked me right through the entire process.

First, it notified me of the issue — and that there was a simple solution.  Second, the program  walked me through deleting a framework file on my Mac through a short series of prompts that were so well-designed that they included buttons to “Open Folder” rather than telling me to hunt for it.  The entire process took about 10 seconds, and then the install completed successfully.

I already loved Scrivener, but making this process so easy made me love it even more.

Learning from Scrivener’s Customer Service Performance

Here’s what we can learn from Scrivener’s performance.

Do Your Research

It’s no accident that Scrivener programmed this solution right into the installation itself.  I stay on top of updates, so there was no lag time to my knowledge between users being affected and the solution being provided.

If you’re getting ready to introduce a new product or service, run through as many scenarios as you can to ensure all your bases are covered and that you know how to handle issues if and when they pop up.  Not even the big wig companies succeed at this all the time (ahem, Apple Maps, anyone?), but the better prepared you can be, the better.

Develop Solutions and Make Them Easy for Customers

If you do foresee problems — even minor ones — develop solutions and make them as easy as possible for your customers.  Ignoring the problem and leaving the hunt for the fix to your customers is a surefire way to engender their frustration at best and to lose them entirely at worst.

However, showing your customers that you care by responding with correct, quick and easy-to-use solutions can actually improve your position.

Admit When You’re Wrong

Now, because Scrivener did everything right in this case study, I’m going to point to the Apple Maps issue again.  When the product came out and users found it to be extremely subpar and sometimes even completely wrong, CEO Tim Cook responded quickly with an apology, a promise to do better, and recommendations for other apps to use in the meantime.

It was a bold move that Steve Jobs probably wouldn’t have made, to be honest, but it created goodwill within Apple’s already loyal user base.  No person is perfect, and neither is any business, but we can all make strides to turn less than ideal situations into opportunities.

Effective Communication is Key

If you’ve got a public relations problem on your hands, it’s important to make sure you respond to your customers correctly.  There are plenty of corporate social media horror stories out there, so it’s worth hiring a professional to help you tell your customers the right story when there’s a snafu.

If you need help responding to your customers via your website, blog, email or social media, I can helpLet’s chat about how we can work together to help you and your business keep your customers happy and loyal.

Friday Link Round-Up: Sleep Edition

Snow Day Schmo by Elizabeth Ditty

As a new parent-to-be, people like to tell you how little sleep you’re going to get for basically the next 18+ years of your life.  Which is a super nice thing to do to an expectant parent, by the way.  Which is to say it’s a really horrible thing, and people should stop doing it. Let’s all make a pact, OK?  No more scaring parents-to-be with tales of no sleep. Deal? And on that note, let’s talk about sleep!

Lesson of the Week

Given how important sleep is, it’s a wonder parents survive their children’s infancy at all, if you believe the horror stories.

Thought Provoker of the Week

Granted, some people claim they can get by on very little sleep — and these folks seem to be doing pretty well with less shuteye.

Recipe of the Week

If you do care about sleep, though, these sleep-enhancing recipes might help you have a better shot at getting some when you have the chance.

Product of the Week

I bought a memory foam mattress a couple of years ago and absolutely love it.  It sits on a platform instead of a box spring, so it’s a nice, clean look in addition to a great night’s sleep.  My kiddo-co-creator likes a softer sleep, though, so we got one of these plush toppers, and it does the trick for him without bothering me one bit.

Laugh of the Week

Regardless of whether a kid is a good sleeper or not, I’m sure there are nights when this applies for just about everyone.  (WARNING: Contains a certain word. Repeatedly.)

How to Use Pinterest for Your Small Business

How to Use Pinterest for Your Small Business @ SarahWritesStoriesWhen you think of Pinterest, do you only imagine recipes and crafts? If so, think again!

Pinterest has become another great tool to share what your company is doing.  People use it not just for recipes and crafts, but also for tips, tricks and information to make their lives easier and better.  So if you’re writing great blog content, then there’s a good chance there are people on Pinterest who want to see it and pin it — and that means more people visiting your website.

How to Use Pinterest for Small Business

You can set up your boards just like you set up categories for your blog.  For instance, on my Sarah Writes Stories Pinterest account, I have boards for Content Writing, Organization & Productivity, Recipes for the Busy, Keeping Fit & Healthy, Social Media, Growing Your Business, Staying Motivated, Holidays, and Finances for Freelancers & Small Businesses.  As I develop more categories on my blog, I add them as boards on my Pinterest.

Once you have these categories, you can pin your own posts as well as repinning other appropriately themed pins from other Pinterest users.  Once again, social media is about (you guessed it) being social.  You should also have one board to which you pin all of your posts, in case people want to keep up with your blog that way.

Making Your Blog More Pinterest-Friendly

The best way to make your blog more friendly to Pinners is to incorporate logo-tagged images with your posts’ headlines.  Take a look at the image on this post for an example.

Whether you’re using your own photos or using stock images, it’s a good idea to tag them with your logo & website so people immediately know where the information is coming from when they see it.  The added bonus?  Pinterest-friendly graphics look sharp and professional on your website, too.

Pinterest-Ready Images at Sarah Writes Stories

If you’d like to incorporate Pinterest-ready images into your blog posts, I can help.  Whether you’re looking for a template you can update yourself or a batch of ready-to-go graphics, I’d love to work with you to create images that grab attention both on your blog and on Pinterest.

Three Ways a Blog is Like a Baby

If all goes according to plan, I should be having a baby this week (or I’ve already had one & am reveling/drowning in baby bliss/delirium).  So, as you might imagine, I’ve got a major case of baby on the brain.  But I’m going to try to make that work to my advantage here today.  And so, I present to you:

3 Ways a Blog is Like a Baby @ Sarah Writes Stories

#1: Schedules are super important.

Or at least that’s one school of thought on babies, especially as they get older.  When it comes to your blog, choosing a schedule and sticking to it is also super important.

If you post sporadically, you’ll have a hard time catching regular readers.  Whether it’s once a week or once a month, choose a frequency and stick to it.

#2: You have to arrange for care.

You can’t just up and head out to work without making arrangements for your baby to be taken care of.  Similarly, if you head out on vacation or are swamped with work, you shouldn’t just leave your blog unattended.

There will be times when you won’t be able to keep up with a typical blogging schedule.  You’ve got three options: a) work ahead, b) schedule guest posts, or c) at least announce your time away ahead of time — and when you’ll be back — so your readers know what to expect.

#3: You have to be responsive.

When your baby cries, you can’t just ignore the poor thing.  And similarly, you’re really missing out if your baby is smiling, cooing & laughing but you’re too busy to respond.

The same goes for your blog and other social media.  When someone takes the time to comment or ask a question, you should make it a priority to respond.

Blogging Services at Sarah Writes Stories

Like a baby, a blog is a commitment.  The good news is you can outsource a lot more of the blog work than the baby work.  If you need someone to run your blog, I’d love to chat about how we can work together.

Friday Link Round-Up: Life Balance Edition

Golden Buddha, by Elizabeth Ditty

By the time this goes live, it’s entirely possible I could have a baby in my arms instead of in my belly — and if not now, then soon!  So, as you can imagine, I’m looking for any and all advice on how to maintain a good life balance between a day job, freelance work, family and creative pursuits.  So this week’s links are all about finding some semblance of balance.

Lesson of the Week

One of my favorite bloggers, Joanna Goddard of A Cup of Jo, has done two life balance series where she interviewed a variety of women to find out how they manage it all.

Thought Provoker of the Week

Despite all the advantages women have today, Anne-Marie Slaughter argues why women still can’t have it all — and what needs to change for real equal opportunity to exist.

Recipe of the Week

I’ve talked about freezer cooking before, and I recently made a freezer version of Shutterbean’s Curried Chicken & Coconut Rice for easy meals while I’m on maternity leave (and beyond).  I’ve also heard awesome things about her Freezer Burritos, so those may go on my to-make list soon, too.

Gaiam Balance Ball Chair

Product of the Week

What is a better representation of work-life balance than sitting on a balance ball while you work?  I’ve wanted one of these Balance Ball Chairs for a long time, and this may finally be the year I treat myself to one.

Laugh of the Week

Why I’ll probably keep the chair at home instead of at my office job.

How do you all maintain work-life balance?