Business Tips

May 26, 2013

Marketing lesson from our cabbie

Last year, when we were in Sydney for CeBIT Australia 2012, we paid a bomb (almost $80) for our airport transfer. So this time, we acted wisely and booked a cab in advance. Since we are staying in a hotel managed by a Korean guy, he sent us a Korean cabbie to pick us up from the Sydney airport.

It was a pleasure dealing with him. But what struck me about him was his small "marketing" trick that he applied at the end of our journey.

When we reached our destination, he complimented us on our choice of hotel (his way of helping his friend – the hotel manager, who got him our airport transfer deal) and promptly got our bags out of the boot. He immediately pulled out two luggage tags and put them on our suitcases.

Here is the tag:


I think this is smart.

He is ensuring that we will think of him, when we pick up our suitcases, which will be when we pack up to go back. Hence he is ensuring top-of-the-mind recall when his services will be required. This is much better than handing us a business card, which can get misplaced or will hardly ensure a recall. He is making it convenient for us.

As if this was not enough, he also made an offer to drop us to airport at the end of our stay at a $5 discount, i.e. $40.

A sure shot marketing lesson for everyone. It is important to ensure recall when your services / product are required. It may not need millions of dollars to do it. It just need a little bit of thoughtfulness and wisdom.


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July 18, 2011

How to improve marketing?

This is an impromptu blog post in response to a question asked by Abhinaba Dey on a Facebook forum. Though the question was addressed for start-ups, but I feel this can be extended universally. Will love to know your thoughts on this:

Question: How to improve marketing for start-ups?

Do while (endless) {
Observe results;
Re-execute successful experiments;
Analyze root cause of failed experiments;
Unlearn old concepts based on experience;

I will be happy to improve this no-brainer algorithm with your inputs! So do post your comments 🙂


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September 4, 2010

Bootstrapping 101

In a follow up to my previous blog post about "Bootstrapping Myths", here are some tips for those bootstrapped startups. I have applied many of these techniques myself, and hence suggesting the same:

1) Speed is critical

When you run a business, your expenses are ON. Your revenue is OPTIONAL (i.e. only available when you close deals!). And, you need to self-sustain within the given means. Therefore speed is critical. You need to experiment fast, learn fast and earn fast. If you don't, you will run out of the little cash box that you have, and the venture will be hit.

2) Start small

Do not hesitate to start small.

There is a fantastic concept called – "compounding". If a number keep doubling itself for 25 times, you will have a big scale. Therefore keep a goal to keep multiplying in a sustainable way. Remember the chessboard problem!

3) Execute, then plan

One common problem I have seen in most startups (or even bigger companies), that make them un-viable (read: un-sustainable) is excessive planning and very little execution. Things are changing faster than before, and therefore many ideas / thoughts get obsolete by the time they are executed. Therefore, prepare a gut based on some "core concepts" or "thoughts" that define your way of doing things (warning: be flexible about changing these core beliefs, if proven wrong!), apply this gut to the sketchy plan that you have on the paper-napkin, and take a call. Then learn from the outcome, feed the gut new info, and repeat the process.

If you do not go out and do things, you will never understand how it works. If you are putting together an assumption that you can get X number of customers by sending a blast mailer to 1 million users, then do a trial on 1000 and see if you get 1/1000th of the estimated numbers? If not, then re-validate your theory. If you keep thinking and guessing and planning, you will end up being in a dream land – with no fundamentals.

4) CEO = Chief Everything Officer

If you do not believe in the above equation, do not even think of starting a business (forget about bootstrapping it!).

You got to do everything that the business needs. It can start from cleaning your office to negotiating a deal with the biggest retail outlet in your town, from calling prospective employees to installing the server.

5) Barter / Trade

You will be amazed to discover how many things you can barter – and save cost and build strong relationships. Look at opportunities with your vendors where you can swap services / products. It will not only save you money, but will give you new customers / clients / consumers. Make sure that you:

  • put a clear $$ value to your offering
  • are not too pushy
  • are offering something that is relevant to the other person

Barter / trade may not happen in the exact form as it used to happen in stone age. What you can expect is to get a "heavy" discount on your purchase bill from your vendor for the services you are offering.  Also, you may not get barter deals from very well established players. You may have to look for vendors who are good, but do not have a very big order book – difficult but possible.

6) Negotiate, then re-negotiate

It is okay to negotiate. Many-a-times, we just feel embarrassed to negotiate. There is always a better deal / bargain / price waiting for you. You just need to take the initiative to offer a price that you feel is fair for the product / service (or what you can offer). Sometime, you may have to start below your comfort zone, so that both of you can meet at your comfort zone.

And yes, do not feel embarrassed to re-negotiate, if need arise. There is no set rule and the deal is not finalized, till you sign the dotted line. You deserve the best.

Just be fair!

Note: I strongly advice that you research the prices (caution: compare apples with apples – specially while buying services). Sometimes this can result in big savings.

7) Invest in technology

If technology can be deployed properly, it can save a lot of money. It can also improve organizational efficiency, which can become an important differentiator and help you garner more business. Spend time to understand different technologies available, which can reduce cost, enable collaboration, improve communication and make you look / work smart.

Technology need not necessarily cost a lot of money. Adopt open source and free software. There is one for almost every possible business application 🙂 Cheer up!

8) Extra-ordinary income

There are some indirect avenues from which your business can generate cash.

  • Sub-lease part of your office space / give out desk space / invite others to come and work with you and share costs
  • Do garage sale – do not hang on to things that you may not near in near future (specially computers!)

9) Get your accounting right

Everyone will probably suggest that – get a good accountant.

I will say that – spend time in learning as much about accounts as you can. Accounts let you see and listen into your business. If you do not understand it, you will be at a loss of control over your business. You should know your numbers like the back of your hand. And you should be constantly analyzing ratios (over a time line) like turnover, profit, current ratio, acid test ratio, solvency ratio, debtors / creditors turnover, etc. This will let you know the direction of your business, so that you can steer it clear of accident prone zones!

Set up management information system and decide upon core organizational metrics to measure key parameters such as sales performance, customer satisfaction, customer distribution, product quality, etc. And, take action to streamline things which look out of place. Else, all the effort is a waste.

Imp Note: It need not be the most expensive software system on the planet. You can simply use spreadsheets to manage that!

10)  Sell without spending

There are several ways in which you can generate sales without spending a lot of money in advertising. You will discover your own set of tricks while you do business (relevant to your business). Some very common ways are:

  • Social media
  • Networking events
  • Word of mouth referral
  • PR / Media

These methods will result in lowest "cost of sale" and will give you your "most loyal customers". Keep your eyes (and mind) open to make deals. They will happen.

11) Hire for attitude / Appraise for performance

When you end up hiring – hire for attitude / talent. The degrees do not matter.

Spend time in developing them (I think this is why they call it Human Resource Development) – aligning them to company requirements / goals – and then measure their performance – and give feedback.

If you sustain the wrong people, they wont probably let your company sustain – hence killing the idea of "bootstrapping".


I hope these small random ideas about bootstrapping will help you in a small way. If you have an interesting tip to share, please post it as a comment, and I will be happy to include it. Feel free to share them!

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Bootstrapping Myths

Recently I was asked to speak about "Bootstrapping a Service Business" by Startup Saturday.  Though I knew (fuzzily) about bootstrapping as a concept, but I never knew the real meaning. Strange!

"Bootstrapping or booting refers to a group of metaphors that share a common meaning: a self-sustaining process that proceeds without external help. The term is often attributed to Rudolf Erich Raspe's story The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen, where the main character pulls himself out of a swamp, though it's disputed whether it was done by his hair or by his bootstraps." – Wikipedia

This definition busted two myths that I had about "bootstrapping"

Myth 1) Bootstrapping is for startups

The keyword is "self sustaining" and "without external help". Since many startups think that they need external help, this term might be used to tell (some of) them – you are on your own!

Besides this, bootstrapping is something that every business should practice. Even a Fortune 500 company can bootstrap! And it will be good for the economy. We will have a more stable economy, where people self-sustain without external help to the greatest possible extent. In my opinion bootstrapping results in self-check (real viability of the project) and makes the organization self reliant, result oriented (i.e. if there are no results – no profits – no turnaround, then you do not survive) and disciplined.

So, conclusion is – bootstrapping is for ALL.

Myth 2) Bootstrapping = cost cutting – low spend

Bootstrapping is NOT about cost cutting or spending less. It is about spending in areas, which get you best ROI. In other words – "Invest. Don't spend".

It is important to make clear demarcation between investment and expenses for your business. Choose your investments wisely and and be frugal with your expenses. Anything, which has a DIRECT correlation with increasing your revenues, or satisfying a set of clients, or getting better technology (to get you an edge), can be a good investment (in that order). Since you have to self sustain, if your cash reserves are low, do not look at long term revenue impact!

Anything that wont make a difference in your revenue (medium of travel, hotel etc.) is an expense. I do not claim this to be a perfect definition, but it should work in most practical cases.

Instead of "low spend", think of "being cash positive" – "being profitable" and "good ROI".

Last but not the least, bootstrapping looks less glamorous and exciting, but in my opinion, the returns are worth the effort. It helps you retain most of the control / ownership of the company, which you can later dilute to get better returns for the "bootstrapped" effort that you have put in. And, yes – it makes you wiser and a grounded professional for sure.

So, happy bootstrapping!

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February 14, 2010

Winning Strategies – A career perspective from Arun Agrawal

Last week, my friend Arun Agrawal agreed to do a guest post on my blog. I found the subject interesting and aligned to the taste of my readers. So here it goes:

Winning Strategies

What is your formula for incredible success in any field that you decide to work in? Technical skills, right connections? If you ask me, I will suggest you try 'passion'. This is your secret USP for success. If you have a job and are looking for a raise, demonstrate your passion in executing your assignments and your team leader cannot help noticing your attitude and recommending you for that coveted promotion. If you have an entrepreneurial venture, develop some great products or deliver passionate customer service and you are sure to have lots of business all the time.

Remember – “One passionate person is better than 40 people casually interested!”

I will now do something that people don’t do on academic and business platforms. I will be sharing with you, 2 spiritual tips for winning almost any battle of life – be it studies, job hunting or business success.

1. Forgiveness:

Forgive everyone who has done anything bad to you. Yes, your girl friend who has ditched you, your friend who avoided you when you needed his help, your brothers and sisters who played loud music when you were studying – get rid of all the anger, frustration and resentment and you will feel a tremendous relief. Your mind and body will feel very light and you will be able to achieve your future targets so much more easily. This is an abstract thought – difficult to accept and act upon – but you will feel the difference in a day when you apply it.

2. Gratitude:

Be thankful to everyone around you. Be thankful to your institute which gave you the education that prepared you for a successful career ahead, to your parents who brought you in this wonderful world and your clients who ordered your services.

Think a little and you will be able to find ‘at least one’ reason to thank anyone you come across. And to follow my own dictum, I thank you – heartily – to have visited this blog and read my ‘tips’.

I will like to close with this parting message. We humans have great potential and are capable of achieving a lot. Believe in yourself and get on your job. Some French general once said “Difficult problems are no worries for us; it is the impossible that takes some time!”

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February 21, 2009

How to have an economical stay in the UK (mainly London)?

United Kingdom (UK) is an expensive economy with high cost of living. For business visitors, it is important to have an economical and comfortable stay. Based on my experience, I am putting together some tips for fellow business travelers.

Hotel / Stay:

Accommodation in UK can vary between GBP 10 per night (for bunker beds) to GBP 300 (for five star hotels).

I have stayed in four star hotels (Thistle / Holiday Inn) as well as B&B in various locations like Kings Cross, Earls Court, Edgware Road and Kensington Gardens. I found the services in hotels to be very cold and indifferent.  I found Bed & Breakfast to be much more friendly, accommodating and economical. They charge between GBP 35 to GBP 60 per night and tops it up with a good homely English breakfast in the morning.

A good place to search for Bed & Breakfast in the UK is


Try to check if your Bed & Breakfast offers you free wireless Internet connectivity or not. Most of them do now a days. As a back up plan and to stay connected when you are traveling or in meetings, you can opt for 3G wireless broadband. I opted for 3-mobile and it works quite well. The dongle cost me GBP 60 initially and then I just need to top it up whenever I am visiting UK. Effectively I and up paying GBP 10 per month for connectivity.


You can get cheap Pay-As-You-Go sim cards at the airport. I have used Talkmobile which comes with long distance facility at very reasonable cost (the only funny part was that calling India was cheaper than calling a local number). They also have GPRS, so that you can access Internet through your mobile phone and check your emails on the move. I use it all the time and it works quite well. They have also started doing online-recharge after I ranted about it after my last trip on my blog 😉


Since, I prefer Indian vegeterian food, I find Masala Zone to be the best one. They provide a complete meal (the closest I have found to home cooked food in London) for under GBP 10. There are numerous eateries and restaurants. I do not think you can spend more than GBP 15-20 on your food unless you are in a mood to reward yourself for something!

Getting around:

The best way to get around London is its public transport system. Grab an Oyster card (even if you will stay inb London for a short duration), top it up with some money and use it everywhere. I find it most convenient and economical. If you plan to travel extensively on a given day, consider buying a day pass for less than GBP 6 and you will have unlimited travel on tube and bus (within couple of zones) for the day.

So, If you are smart, you can have a comfortable and enjoyable working stay in London quite economically. Try these tips next time you are around.

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February 18, 2009

Street smart strategies for the recession

Hello Friends,

Here are some street smart strategies to survive the recession:

1) Invest in marketing. Your competitors are not doing so to save money. You shall go ahead and make the kill to get maximum leads and exposure. As we know offense is the best defense. So it is best to attack recession with your full might and try to go all out to grab the business that might be available to you. It will help you increase your market share in a shrinking market.

2) Identify deadwood inside your organization. They sneak in when you are at a high and do not care about few 'under-performers'. However, it is easy to identify them when the going gets difficult, because they are unable to earn back their own cost to the company. Put together a system to calculate cost and revenue from each and every individual in the company.  It is difficult to do, but this is the only way you know if you have the right team or not. If a guy is not earning for you, he must be told so, given a warning and an opportunity to improve quickly. If he does not, you shall let him go.

3) Start a new business line which creates more value in the current market dynamics. It is best if your new service has the same target audience as your existing business. It will just make life simpler. To get you more bandwidth, consider closing a business, which does not excite you or seems to have a bleak future. Recession is the best time to do such transitions.

4) Partner with your clients. Deliver real results with real benefits. Calculate the benefit you have given to the client and see how you can maximize it. If your services and/or products are not delivering the value that a client expects, you need to do a serious re-think on your business model. Recession is a result of blind-mad-rush where companies forgot the basics of business and got swayed away in the glamorous world of equity, valuation, expansion, etc.

5) Sort out the internal processes and do some house-keeping. This is the only time when you are a little bit free and you can actually take care of your home in a proper way. Processes, policies, products, offerings can be reviewed, polished and realigned to take advantage of the next boom.

Feel free to add your points –

Recently my friend Arun has put together his set of tips! So why not grab them as well 😉

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February 9, 2009

Random tips on starting and running a business

Recently, I met Rahul Kapoor.

He is an interesting guy. And we met in an interesting way. He commented on one of my blog post and we got connected. When he was traveling to Kolkata, I invited him over for a chat.

During our course of discussion, we discussed random things. Then surprisingly, he sends me a blog link which highlights the point we discussed. I must say, I was impressed. The points were nicely taken and documented.

So, I thought why not share some 'minutes' of that meeting with wannabe entrepreneurs!

Here is the link:

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My interview at

Hello Friends,

I have recently given an interview to Viraj Sawant of on my views as "Blogging as a career". I found the interview interesting and have expressed my opinions strongly. Feel free to have a look:

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September 3, 2008

How not to write a business plan?

I am always interested in investing in new venues. Few days back, I stumbled upon a bunch of entrepreneurs who wanted to develop a 3D action game. It looked like a freaky idea and I was all game for it. I asked them to put together a basic business plan. Nothing monstrous. Just a simple paper-napkin business plan.

I got back a business plan, which looks like this:

This is the most funny business plan I have ever seen. I could not help myself but share it with you all. I have removed the name of the company which was scribbled on top of this page!

Few things to notice:

  • The plan talks about all expenses. It does not talk about revenue channel.
  • The salaries of administrative staff = salaries of production staff.
  • They want to start off with 3000-4000 sq feet space. I do not remember seeing many start-ups doing that. May be I am an old fashioned guy, but I think start-ups should work at shoestring budget to pull break-even point closer and to allow more space for experimentation.
  • No cost for the game development engine. I have heard that this is one of the major costs in starting off a game development company.
  • No breakup for administrative expenses which amounts to almost INR 1 million every month.
  • Investment in 2.25 million pieces media for a product which has not been test-marketed. 
  • Approximating INR 75.425 million to INR 80 million. It clearly shows that they do not value money.

The business plan clearly shows:

  • There is no plan.
  • The team does not know about the business that they want to get into.
  • They are non-committed.

It goes without saying that I will never associate myself with such a business.

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April 11, 2008

Do you send handwritten seasonal greetings to your clients?

Do you send handwritten seasonal greetings to your clients?

It may sound to be very simple, regular stuff.  But it is surprising that still a large percentage of small businesses fail to use such an opportunity to strengthen their relationship with their clients on a personal level. And when I casually asked some of the culprits about the big problem that restricts them from acknowledging their clients, this is their surprising relevation:

  • It is about time. Or shall I say (as I understand), mismanagement of time, since clients are the purpose of the business!
  • Procastination. Almost every culprit claimed that he thought (I am really not sure if he is being truthful), but kept procastination and in no time the festive season was over.

But, if you are doing this, you are missing out on a great opportunity to make a personal contact with the "core of your business (i.e. your clients)" and saying them "Thank you" for the business they have given you. Not only it makes them feel special, it keeps you on top of their mind at all times, which can lead to more word-of-mouth and references.

But, its never late.
I will recommend that you:

  • Plan out a small budget and some time for your special customers. BTW, if you can do it for all your customers, then go ahead and do it.
  • Create a mailing list of all customers whom you wish to delight. Sign greeting cards personally. Do it much before the festive season (so that you do not forget this due to the big conference). Despatch them at the right time (or else have someone responsible for sending over these greetings on time).
  • If your budget permits to spend 0.25% – 0.50% (I generally do spend this much) of your annual turnover, do send over seasonal gifts, sweets and wine to your special customers! You do not need to buy something very expensive. Just get across something special, which makes the day for your client and his family.

It makes your clients feel special and they remember you more often. And if they remember you more often, you get more business. Because timely recall and top-of-the-mind position will be the difference between you getting a deal over your competitor when the credentials, pricing and quality of service / product stands neck-to-neck.


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March 28, 2008

The REAL Programmer automates his job

Just a random thought:

Programmers are supposed to use their programming skills to automate business process for their clients. Therefore, a good programmer should be one, who takes an initiative of automating his own work and never repeats the line of code he has written once 🙂 Charity begins at home!

Unfortunately I have hardly seen many such souls.

What do you think?


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March 24, 2008

Managing vs. Leading – What an organization needs?

I regularly hear about terms like Manager, Managing, Management, Management Team, etc. The dictionary term for manage is "cope: come to terms or deal successfully with" and "pull off: be successful; achieve a goal"

In my opinion, the word 'manage' makes me think about:

  • Control,
  • Status Quo,
  • Monitoring
  • Come to terms

Somewhere it reflects a sense of compulsion, where someone else is setting the goal for you. It sounds like "ensure that it stays on track". I somehow find managing limits a person and his role to retain the lead.

Therefore, to get the lead, you need leaders!
Leaders are a different breed. They manage less. Instead, they lead.

The word 'lead' makes me visualize

  • Energy,
  • Execution,
  • New,
  • Inspiration.

When I think of a leader, I visualize someone who:

  • Set the vision and inspire people.
  • Set long term goals.
  • Does not control the outcome.
  • Trust people around him.
  • Win trust of team members by setting examples
  • Manages less.

So, to build / grow a company, you need leader(s). And to manage one, you need managers! Mostly, leaders are not good managers and they should not overstretch themselves for that role.  

Leaders are like creators.
Managers are like Accumulators.

You cannot run a company without either. So make sure that your company has both!


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March 20, 2008

Buying and selling websites

In recent times, I have seen a growth in marketplaces which help website owners to buy/sell websites.

It looks like a good idea, as it allows website owners to reshuffle their portfolio of websites and offer services / products which are more aligned towards to their largest consumer segment (read traffic on their most popular website). Besides this, it also helps new companies to get into the business by making quick buy-outs!

I saw how I-Net Interactive bought WebhostingTalk, HotScripts, DBForums, ProgrammingTalk and several other sites to create a niche network. They further added websites on similar themes and made smaller buyouts to add value to the whole network with several relatively new sites. This does make a lot of business sense and I am sure new entrants into Internet media / technology business can learn from this.

However, I do not see any value in turnkey (me too) websites which is basically a smart design coupled with a free / low cost script being sold as a "ready to operate" business. Unless a website stands out (need not be ranked 1-2-3 in their category) with proper traffic, business model, earnings (not necessary) and a sustainable vision, one should not invest in it.

There are several parameters on which a site can be valued.

I feel the (1) profitability or potential of monetization and (2) sustainability of the revenue stream are primary ones.

I will not consider (3) existing traffic, (4) pagerank (as an extreme case), (5) branding, (6) exclusivity and/or quality of content  / service / product or (7) subscriber base to be a factor for judging the price of a website. These secondary factors can help in making a site success, but as usual the most important factor is the end result – i.e. the profitability. The secondary factors must be considered in the due diligence process to ensure that the result i.e. profitability (or potential) of the website is not fake and is based on firm grounds.

Now, the money part!

Every transaction has to be closed at a price which makes both buyer and seller win. There are several experts who recommend a 10x monthly profit factor. In my opinion it depends on a specific transaction and its strategic importance to the buyer.

Where to buy / sell?

These are some of the sites where you can buy/sell a website. I will look out for more and if I get one, I will add it to the list.

So happy trading websites 😉


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March 17, 2008

Cookie that fails to crumble

It is a true incident about, how a cookie shop messed up its sales!

CookieMan is a fast growing cookie brand in India. They have a small outlet at Chennai airport. Till recently, before boarding the flight, I used to buy some delicious cookies from that outlet to keep myself indulged for the evening.

Now, the real shocker! On my recent visit to Chennai, the store guy told me – "that the minimum you can purchase is 250 grams!"

I could not help, but smile at this "strategic" move of the company!

This is how they are messing up their own marketing:

  • They are losing an opportunity to connect with their consumers and wow them! An airport lounge can be the best place to get into their minds.
  • They are missing an opportunity to identify which product has high shelf-appeal. In fact, they can utilize this opportunity to implement interesting means to do market survey among the middle and upper-middle class of consumers who will be the most frequent buyers of such confectionaries.
  • Above all, they are losing sales.

I fail to understand the reason. The only obvious reason that come to my mind:

  • They were trying to reduce the work load of their sales guy (Who was sitting idle!)
  • They were not interested in consumers who buy less than 250 grams. (Unfortunately, trust is won one step at a time. In fact some of the biggest customers of Indus Net Technologies initially signed up for a simple logo design service and then they kept increasing their exposure with us. Targeting for large sale does work, but nothing works like small experiences that builds relationship one step at a time.)

Besides fixing the obvious issue, this is what they could have done (some random ideas):

  • Put a mail-order form and hand it over with every money receipt they give out. Most travelers who experience the cookies might like to mail-order the cookie (in fact on a subscription basis – every month). This can give them an opportunity to sell in decent quantities every month.
  • Put a "self help" literature on "history of cookies" & "interesting combos". Indians like to eat in combination (mostly). When people have leisure time at an airport lounge, it is best to make them interested in the product (if not the brand).

And I hope you never repeat this mistake in your business. Give your prospects to try yourself out, one step at a time. Give them great experiences and build relationship one step at a time. They last longer.

BTW, if you have more ideas for them, do contribute. I will update my post with your input.


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