Community Economic Development Fund


All about getting more customers and sales.

He ran a big company like a small one

By Frederick Welk
CEDF Business Advisor

I used to snicker in journalism school when our professor explained that the obituary section was one of the best read parts of a daily newspaper. The joke went that people check the column just to make sure their name isn’t in it. While I never developed that habit, I do find myself drawn to the obits in major newspapers because they offer some great lessons from the storied careers of business legends who have, sadly, passed on.

One such remembrance that ran recently was for Herb Kelleher, one of the co-founders of Southwest Airlines. Kelleher has long been admired for his maverick management and marketing personality and genius. Today it is America’s largest airline, but Southwest has Kelleher and his tenacity as an attorney to thank for its early survival. In the days of regulated air carriers, Southwest underwent four years of vicious courtroom fighting with competitors trying to strangle it in the cradle before it could ever fly its first passenger. Talk about small business determination.

I was a teenager living in the Dallas area by the time the airline got off the ground and I remember some of the brilliant, attention-grabbing TV ads and billboards. Years later the airline used to have a mini-museum at one of the unused gates at Dallas Love Field. Under glass was a cocktail napkin bearing the original business plan for the company.

Recalling this founder’s story got me web surfing looking for more tales about the man called the nation’s funniest CEO. And that led to a consultant’s blog, written years ago that summarizes 10 unforgettable creativity lessons from Southwest Airlines that every small business owner can learn from.

Do your clients believe in you?

One of the burdens of being a solopreneur or a company with just one or two employees is the battle raging in the mind of the owner over the discomfort of being exactly who he or she is -- small. Much effort and money is expended deploying handsome adverting literature, slick websites and impressive interactive voice response phone systems to make the small company look large. Like an animal in the forest that puffs itself up in the face of a challenge from another creature in order to appear too big to eat and too formidable to attack, this behavior is for protection. That is, protection of the self esteem of the entrepreneur. And while these tricks may shield the company for a time against being "found out" as a small operation, eventually customers likely will realize they are not dealing with an industry mammoth.

For this reason it can be preferable to deal with the world more transparently and perhaps use a David vs. Goliath analogy to persuade clients. In the end, the sale won't get made -- no matter how big or small you are -- unless the customer believes in you.

This article explains seven wise strategies to take to make sure you focus on polishing your credibility instead of worrying about inflating a prospect's perception of your size.



Do you treat your customers differently?

But what was presented as a nefarious covert system for evaluating the value of every American and either promoting them to VIP status or sending them to the back of the line is really just modern life’s approach to a merchant’s common sense.

Of course, you should take extra special care of your best customers. It doesn’t require a mathematician to prove that the big spenders are important to the success of your operation. The old 80/20 rule (Pareto principle) is obvious to any Main Street business owner. And one doesn’t need an AI-driven, supercomputer to decide to offer a bonus, a gift, a free dessert, or more of your time, warmth and courtesy to your best patrons.

Perhaps the fallacy is that customers should all be treated the same, or that business owners and their workers are capable of doing so.  This is not to say that anyone should be treated poorly. A business can’t stay in operation long dispensing bad service or products.  But humans like interacting with people they like. And that works both ways across the counter.  Buying a lot helps too.



There’s more to branding than a logo

If you can forget the torture inflicted in eighth grade science class surrounding the forced memorization of the Periodic Table of the Elements, then you might be able to squeeze a smile out of the blog article posted lately on a website called

Their business concept is pretty clever too. Offer online tools to help you develop your own logo and if you like your artistic efforts, the graphics file is yours for $39.95.  And by the way, they’ll sell you business cards, coffee mugs, imprinted clothing, signs and other kinds of stuff to proudly display your artistic creation.

But back to the blog article and a tip of the hat to the company for knowing that content marketing has real value. They’ve created an infographic posting, which is an effective way to explain a complicated subject.  And this is not just another pretty picture. Even though selling logos and promotional junk is their business, the posting serves to educate their small business clientele about the realities of branding.

They chose a trendy meme – reimagining the Periodic Table – to portray three distinct groups (remember the alkali earth metals?) for simplifying the general concept of branding. And they created 23 “elements” that zero in on concept specifics.

Even if you hate the thought of chemistry, perusing their “23 elements for branding success” will leave you better informed and with a useful checklist for assessing whether you have dealt with all parts of the formula for marketing success in your industry.

-- Frederick Welk
CEDF Business Advisor


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