I’m reading Zilch: The Power of Zero by Nancy Lublin. Nancy writes a monthly column for Fast Company chock full of anecdotes and advice after her many years of running non-profits. Mostly she shares advice for running a very lean company because non-profits are notoriously short of cash and are in the position of seeking funds continuously. The book is very readable and has a handy summary at the end of each chapter that is worth the cost alone. Even if your company has survived the economic downturn unscathed, you’ll find concrete advice for running a more efficient business.

“Stop whining about your budget cuts and start asking yourself what you would do if you had zilch. You’ll be surprised to discover just how powerful that is.”-Nancy Lublin

Here are some useful nuggets for small business owners from the book:

  • Make sure your employees know what they’re doing and WHY they are doing it. Salary doesn’t always equal productivity
  • Gen Y employees care about how the business they work for impacts the world. Are you doing something for your local community?
  • Be frugal with meetings. Use them when possible. Don’t drown employees in minutiae
  • Be as transparent as possible. Share your concerns, your dreams and the businesses financials with your team
  • Believe in what you do-or don’t do it!
  • Remember that your brand is created by every interaction your customer has with your business at every level and work to improve those interactions
  • Not surprisingly, not-for-profits have to know their USP (unique sales proposition). Know yours and make sure your entire team knows it as well
  • In the spirit of referral marketing, Lublin says consider everyone (i.e. customers) your “potential ambassadors”
  • Seek constant feedback from your customers
  • When building a partner network, be very specific about your shared interests
  • Say “thank you” to everyone (employees, customers, partners, colleagues) frequently
  • Use your company’s story to build your brand and make it genuine: messy, emotional, filled with history
  • Collect customer anecdotes and use these in your branding and marketing efforts. Even if something went wrong, show how you made it right
  • Use multiple online avenues to tell your story: blog, social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo, your website, online articles, a newsletter
  • Follow non-profits’ leads and be ridiculously frugal with your overhead and administrative expenses (non-for-profits’ goal is less than 35% of their budget)
  • Seek to diversify your income (create multiple streams of income)

by Steven Schlagel