Doing the Most Good Means Smart Economics

There’s an old saying that goes something along the lines of, “When life gets good, throw a party” and that seems to be a mentality that translates to business today. Mainly the web business, if we’re talking about literal parties. No good web conference, un-conference or social-media laden city goes without parties of some sort. Here in DC, we have TechCocktail, the Twin Tech parties, etc. Anything to get people together and drink a little bit over business cards.

In the more figurative sense, we have people like Geoff Livingston, who suggest that social causes is a great place to drop your money. And to a degree, he is right. Whenever there is a crossover between means and opportunity, then action is mandated.

The lack of means, at this time when companies are trying to pipeline enough business and extend runway to survive 18 months, and employees are losing their job because the company can’t pipeline those funds, creates a situation where business owners need to take stock of options.

While social causes are always good, the return on investment is a giant question mark. Social causes can create huge bang, attract all kinds of positive publicity, vibe and reputations as Geoff suggests. Or it could simply have no effect at all, and thousands of dollars could be squandered on social cause.

Unless of course, social cause is the ultimate goal, smart operatives are looking at their economic scenario and becoming as efficient as possible. That means, investing in developers, or marketers. That means, hiring a high priced VP to replace 3 low-level managers to save salary cap. That means, pounding the pavement for more business even if it means having to travel a little more. These are optimizations companies go through to secure their future, when times are uncertain.

Certainly, if you have plenty of cash in hand and you’re looking for long-term investment opportunities, social causes gets you there. However, survival of the fittest dictates that sometimes you have to make the short term 3-yard scramble, over the longer 20-yard slot pass because the chance of success is greater. It’s a numbers game.

Non-Competes in a Down Economy

I keep inching and inching into the beat of my colleague, Ray Capece of Venture Files, but I think it’s pretty important and weighty times for web professionals and small business owners alike. Unlike anytime in our history, the uncertainty of the future of our world and country are great.

Everyone is speculating about what the economic downturn bodes. Some Evangelicals I’ve talked to think that the investment of the Federal government into banks represents something akin to the fulfillment of end-time prophecy regarding the mark of the beast.

Others more focused on geo-political analysis believe we are seeing the end of the American Empire.

All of this is speculation and may or may not have merit. We simply don’t know. However, what we do know is that people are losing jobs, including in the web industry. We do know it’s hard for people to sell their homes without walking away still owing a mortgage. We do know that the impending baby boomer retirement wave just got pushed back.

A lot of companies, particularly smaller ones, like to use non-compete clauses to ensure that good help doesn’t go to a competitor when that help leaves. But what does that employee do when they are laid off and still have a non-compete?

While I will give my disclaimer that I am not a lawyer, I will say that anecdotal evidence suggests that non-competes are mostly unenforceable. Most laws are drafted in such a way that non-compete only have grounds when trade secrets are in play but countermanding court rulings suggest that no company can restrict someone from making a living.

Talk to your lawyer if you are unclear. At the end of the day, I suggest staying in a stable job if you can at least for a year or so until we put some distance between now and then. If you absolutely must leave, you probably don’t have to worry about non-competes with the economy the way it is. Take the job you can. Just don’t go sharing the information specific to the company you left with the company you are joining. That would be competitive and would probably be enforceable.

Also, if you can, honor your non-competes because it will speak better to your character. Sometimes it’s not possible. I get that. But all things being equal, if you can honor your non-compete, do so. When I left b5media, I was under a non-compete. In fact, I still am for another month or so. After my announcement, I had a number of blog networks approach me asking me to come work with them and I turned every one of them down because I made an agreement that I very well could stand by. So I did.

You Must Be Somewhere

It’s 2008 and with 2008 comes technology. It’s awkward, I realize, for some small businesses to justify the use of social networks, blogs etc. After all, how can a small business trying to remain profitable encourage employees to waste time on Facebook?

Please Help

We think of companies like Dell and JetBlue as examples of companies that “get it”. Even this weekend at WordCamp where I hammered the ideas of Marketing, Message and Brand, these companies came up as examples of companies engaging in the social space, including blogs.

But these broad examples are still the exception to the rules. Most companies still don’t realize that they need to be in the space, engaging with not only customers but possible customers.

I met one gentleman this weekend who owns a construction business but is an English major. He decided he would start writing DIY and home improvement stories in the form of a blog and is making big waves.

I’d say most home improvement companies don’t blog. They probably aren’t on Facebook. Probably not tweeting on Twitter.

There’s a company here in the Baltimore area that has a radio spot. In the radio spot, the owner says he personally goes to every job site every day until a job is done. When that’s the way most companies operate, it’s easy to think there is no time for social media.

Here’s the secret sauce, though, that many are missing. Your customers are behind the walls of social networks and on blogs talking about you somewhere. Trust me. You can’t afford not to be part of the conversation, and there’s no legitimate excuse not to participate.

With the economy the way it is, it is truly a cheap way to market, do public affairs and drum up business. Why wouldn’t you do it?