Postal Service Delivers Sustainable Messages for Business

Reports abound about a potential United States Postal Service (USPS) bankruptcy, and there are many who advocate for this outcome as a necessary pivot point that would result in a more efficient and sustainable postal service. However, “doom and gloom” nay-sayers fail to acknowledge the many strides the USPS has made in its sustainability, the vital services it provides to help other businesses improve their performance in this arena, and the example it sets as it revamps to adjust to new dynamics of modern enterprise.Think what you may about junk mail – surely controlled more by marketing companies attempting to defy dismal response rates than by the post office – the USPS is an exemplary and far-reaching model for American business. How many entities – public or private – can claim to be a self-sustaining enterprise reaching every address in the nation $.44 at a time? If it were a private sector company, the U.S. Postal Service would rank 29th in the 2010 Fortune 500. Importantly, its sustainability efforts demonstrate a commitment exemplifying what could be done by hundreds of other companies: the USPS has reduced energy costs by more than $400 million since 2007 and decreased overall energy consumption by nearly 30 percent since 2003. Its sustainability and corporate social responsibility initiatives are clearly delineated on dedicated tabs on the USPS website.According to Richard Maher in Corporate Communications, “The Postal Service’s mission is to be a sustainability leader….Because we are in every community, we have a unique opportunity to leave a green footprint on the national landscape.”Since 1995, USPS has been honored with over 70 awards for energy reduction, recycling and waste prevention programs, incorporation of recycled content in packaging, and use of alternative fuels within vehicles and facilities across the nation. Another achievement in its long history of commitment to environmental stewardship is USPS’s status as the only shipping company to earn Cradle to Cradle Certification for the environmentally friendly design and manufacturing of the more than 700 million packages, envelopes and other supplies they produce annually.In April of this year, the USPS issued the “Go Green forever” stamp sheet with 16 simple environmental messages – from saving energy or water to reducing waste. And these Go Green stamps are themselves truly “green;” they are Cradle-to-Cradle-certified using water-based inks and adhesives that meet established standards for human health and environmental recyclability. When businesses use these materials to ship merchandise or important documents to customers, they are sending a message supporting the environment and sustainability.There are numerous metrics demonstrating USPS’s strides in sustainability and greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions. It is the first federal agency to publicly report greenhouse gas emissions and get third party verification. In the last year, the agency reported an 8 percent reduction in GHG emissions from a fiscal year (FY) 2008 baseline. The reduction of 1,067,834 metric tons of CO2 is an amount equal to the annual emissions of approximately 204,000 passenger vehicles. According to the USPS website, their fleet currently maintains more than 44,000 alternative fuel-capable vehicles, and they have extended use of green mail delivery, including nearly 10,000 “fleet of feet” walking routes, nearly 70 bicycle routes and close to 80,000 “park and loop” routes, where carriers deliver mail on foot after driving to neighborhoods.Many would argue that the woes experienced by the postal service are indicative of a flawed system. However, the problem may rest not in operating inefficiencies, but in unfounded mandates; Congress requires the USPS to prefund 80 percent of future postal retiree health benefits, a costly burden not imposed on of any other federal agency or private company carries such a heavy burden.Admittedly, the USPS also needs to adapt its model to meld better with today’s emphasis on digital message delivery. Looking ahead, the projected drop in “snail mail” may result in more than $200 billion in revenue loss by 2020, as mail volume is projected to fall precipitously by the end of the decade. Consumer disgust with junk mail, along with regulatory impacts such as the “Do Not Mail” campaign, have combined to minimize such waste – not an altogether bad outcome, to be sure.Some propose restricting mail service to weekdays; this idea seems to have merit as it would reduce both costs and emissions while maintaining most vital services and jobs. According to Environmental Leader, cutting Saturday service could reduce USPS’s emissions up to 5 percent, saving from 315,000 to 503,000 metric tons of GHG’s.While far from perfect, the USPS is an institution serving a vital role and operating responsibly. If every business followed their lead performing due diligence and implementing environmentally-conscious practices, we would all be further down the road.

5 Decisions That Will Enhance the Marketing Strategy for a Small Business

I always encourage any business owner, even a small solopreneur virtual assistant practice to have a solid marketing strategy and plan… and to review it every quarter. If you don’t review it periodically, how will you know what is (or is not) working? If you continue to marketing by means that are not returning on your investment, and remember that time is money, then you are throwing money out the window. That’s not smart.A flawless marketing strategy defines effective and professional business actions. That is the why one entrepreneur will be confidently leading a budding business and another business owner stuck in survival mode. I know which business owner I’d prefer to be.Instead of spending time on important issues that will improve tactical performance, the most owners of busy small businesses get caught up in day-to-day actions like maintaining a website and blog, advertising, sending and answering email and scouring through social media. Nothing gets done to improve the marketing performance when you do that.In order to improve a marketing strategy, decisions needs to be taken to enhance tactics. The foundation for a great marketing strategy includes awareness creation, interest generation, new contract executing and continued engagement with customers.From there, the culture of the company, the combination of services, the products as well as pricing will be guided by the marketing strategy.Company Culture… for a Company of One?Yes! Build your business as if you had a staff of 10, or 20, or 50. What would your culture be? Is that culture and actions something you would want repeated 10, 20 or 50 times over? Think about it.The five most important decisionsHere are the five most important decisions to be made to help the owners of small businesses grow sales and create stability in their businesses are:1. Who, in narrow terms, are your target clients?2. What category of business does your company deal with?3. What is the most distinctive benefit offered by your company?4. Who is the actual competition?5. What differentiate you from competitors?Decide on a simple, clear answer to these questions and make the commitment not to change them for at least a year.Say it with me again: Decide on a simple, clear answerThis will ensure focus, the only thing that will bring about the transformation needed to move from a business that is at a standstill to one that grows commercially. Just hoping that next time the email will be more effective will not help you to develop a realistic strategy and a strong focus.Who, in narrow terms, are your target clients?Defining the target customer is the first decision that needs to be made in strategizing about marketing. You need to clearly define who the company is serving before a tactic can be effectively executed. If a potential buyer does not fit the narrow focus of the business, just say no. It will take time to cultivate this discipline, but effective marketing is not possible without it.Even though it might be uncomfortable for the first time to focus on a clearly defined target clientele stay focused and keep on going. Instead of being an accountant who does taxes for clients in Atlanta, change it to an accountant who does investments and taxes for law firms only – a specific customer with specific needs. Expect to grow the business, narrow the range of services offered and strengthening the company’s pitch.A clear indication that the target market has not been defined narrowly enough, is if the effort of spending money and time on marketing is not driving sales. The whole business will be more effective if the market is defined narrowly enough to ensure the focus stays on the customers that the company can serve best and the others that can offer the best service to the company.What category of business does your company deals with?In other words, give a description of the kind of business the company deals in. Write down a few words that come to mind when describing the business. For instance, Facebook is “social media platform” or the accountant is simply “tax accountant for law firms in Atlanta.”The effectiveness of marketing is weakened if a business owner over-complicates the description of their company. This will leave people uncertain about what the company actually does. A simple fact is: if a business acquaintance cannot remember the description of a company’s category a month after they were told, it proves that they were never sure about what the company does from the start.Sales and marketing efforts will be amplified by a clear definition of a company’s category. Ask yourself what must be done for your company to take the lead, to be the best in the category? Not currently the leader? You’ll have to narrow the category definition (or the focus on the target market) until the company leads. Just like a laser focused on a steel target a distance away, can melt it and the same laser, unfocused, has no effect, a company should focus laser-like.What is the most distinctive benefit offered by the company?The target customer only wants to hear about the one of two most distinctive benefits (products or services) offered that is actually delivered by your company. Refrain from giving an extended list of the product’s every feature.A competent company will know what their customers want, not just the product but also how to save time and grow sales. They won’t describe every feature of a product or the range of benefits, but keep their focus on their one or two distinctive benefits in their day to day workings. The more unpretentious the description, the more their marketing improves.Who is the actual competition?Potential clients are consumers of your services… and consumers know how to easily compare products/services. When they are ready to commit to contracting your practice, they are also checking our other virtual assistants to remedy their task management problem. The problem? Most small entrepreneurs do not specifically define their actual competition and their messages thus do not differentiate clearly enough between them and their competitors. This weakens the company’s efforts at overall marketing and frustrates the potential client in the process of making a decision.Get a clear mental picture of who the prevalent competition is. Is the main competition to the aforementioned tax accountant really other accountants, financial planners and CPAs? Or the Do-it-yourself tax software, customers manually doing it or other national accounting firms? For each type of competitor a different comparison can be made, so it has to be narrowed down to at the most two leading types of competitors.What differentiates you from competitors?Once the competition has been defined, compile a list of the things the company does better as well as differently. Next rank them by their importance to the target customer. Select the leading one or two for the homepage of the company’s website and make sure to include these in the elevator pitch or short summary to quickly define the company.Over-complicating this will be a mistake. Only one or two pointers are enough to move customers to a decision. What is the cost? How fast can it be delivered? Is the service the most personalized? Are law firms in Atlanta exclusively served by the mentioned accountant?Create a Marketing Strategy StatementBy putting the five most important decisions about your marketing into a sentence, it will look like a proclamation where the blanks could be filled in:The company’s name is the prominent category to provide distinctive benefits to target customers. The company differentiates between unique customers, its competitors do not.Some companies have reported that their growth rate have doubled since they turned their focus and commitment to this pure and unassuming marketing strategy.Now, create a statement that will formulate your company’s marketing strategy. Ask your best customers and some friends and employees for their perspectives. Make decisions after listing the options. Say it aloud for a couple of times. The feeling of power and clarity will come through. Some things that your company could stop doing to be more focused will also be revealed.If your marketing isn’t laser focused, sending that broadcast email, writing that Tweet or the building of a website will make no sense. The right customers will not be attracted by doing all these things without the map – the marketing strategy. Sales will not grow unless time is invested in the implementation of a marketing strategy that is focused and concise.The true secret to successful companies is the extreme discipline with which they stay true to their clear marketing strategy. It is not what big companies do after reaching success, it is the first thing small businesses should do to obtain growth and prosper.

Health Coaches Needed For Health Care Reform

Most of the Congressional debate for health care reform revolves around ways to extend reimbursement for sick care. However, paying for more of the same fragmented, costly care isn’t reform, it’s madness.The $2.2 trillion health care system, the costliest in the world, requires a new top-to-bottom vision, and although the 600 doctors and health professionals gathered at the Institute of Medicine’s Summit on Integrative Medicine last month didn’t agree on everything, they reached a resounding consensus about the need for Americans to change their health habits. Yet how can that best be accomplished?With a primary shift toward health promotion, disease prevention and wellness, a revamped health care system could put the brakes on the disastrous trajectory predicted for 2012, in which total health care costs would equal 20% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Providers, employers, and even insurance companies finally concede that the US would fall behind the world’s nations in every imaginable sector if one out of every dollar of our productivity went toward health care costs.For over 30 years, the National Wellness Institute has been reporting that 8 out of 10 Americans suffer from chronic ailments derived from unhealthy lifestyles: poor diet, inadequate physical activity and unmanaged stress. Yet the difficult task of behavior change has always fallen on individuals, without much support from the medical system or their doctors.In addition, cultural support has been lacking for the most at-risk populations, often minorities with higher rates of diabetes and obesity. At present, there are more obese Americans than overweight ones-an almost unthinkable statistic.Cultural support for healthy lifestyles starts with community activists demanding bike paths, public parks, safe streets, farmers’ markets, fresh food options and more from their local governments. Together with cooperation from industry, government, health care, and public health officials, pressure can be placed on developers to build environments that provide opportunities for physical activity. Teachers, parents and consumers can demand that Big Food stop advertising cheap, non-nutritious, calorie-dense, processed foods to kids and young adults. Schools can offer nutrition and PE classes again, and lunch programs can teach kids about healthy choices-and provide them!Should Your MD Get Paid to Teach Wellness?”Lose weight, stop smoking, start exercising, and cut down on your stress-and I’ll see you next year for your physical.” Everybody knows that the once-a-year admonition from your doctor rarely translates into new health habits.A new tier of health coaches can supply the support and encouragement needed for Americans to begin their journey towards maximizing personal health. Health coaches should be part of every public clinic, medical office and hospital wellness center. They should be reimbursed by insurance companies, or be part of the first-access tier of Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance companies and corporate wellness programs. Even Dr. Mehmet Oz suggested that health coaches should be considered a central part of health care reform to CNN’s medical reporter Dr. Sanjay Gupta.Instead of medical doctors expecting to be reimbursed for providing health promotion and wellness services (at rates exceeding $200/ hour), health coaches could easily provide this service at one-fifth the cost. They would also present a more friendly, accessible, peer-support approach to individuals. The specialized training of medical doctors is best directed to complex cases, whether acute or chronic.The entire continuum of care needs to be re-examined and opened up to include reimbursement for health professionals that investigate the foundational causes of chronic illness, and who understand and have specialized skills in countering the ill effects of unhealthy lifestyles-professionals such as Nurse Practitioners, Naturopathic Doctors, and Traditional Chinese Medicine doctors, Homeopathic doctors, and Chiropractors.For too long, there has been an active collusion barring the advancement of these professions by certain medical organizations with insurance companies, and the public has suffered as a result.When these allied health professionals spoke up, demanding inclusion at the reimbursement table at the Summit on Integrative Medicine, a few medical doctors such as Dean Ornish, MD, championed this democratizing of the medical landscape, but others kept insisting that their own practices could accomplish wellness services, if only they were properly reimbursed.However, reimbursement for lifestyle counseling should not have to include the major overhead encountered by medical doctors, including their clinical offices, costly tuition loans, high-tech equipment, numerous staff and billing clerks.It’s been said that the US health care system is neither healthy nor much of a system. I believe it’s always darkest before the dawn of a new era, and these dark days of an ailing system must mean the light is about to break over the horizon.Bringing health coaches into the US health care system can address the colossal “elephant in the middle of the room”-that the burden of disease and related health costs can be dramatically lowered through healthy behavioral change. Learning to move more, eat well and less, and de-stress often, is not only a prescription for a better life, it’s an Rx for US health care reform.