Friday, August 21, 2009

The Art Of Black-Owned Business, Part 2: Controlling Perceptions

From Sun Tzu's The Art of War Plus The Art of Small Business:

"Success in business requires one thing.
You must control people's perceptions.

If you are new, you must appear experienced.
If business is slow, you must appear busy.
If you are anxious, you must appear calm.
If you are worried, you must appear enthusiastic.

If competitors have a good idea, take it as your own.
When customers are uncertain, help them decide.
When competitors are good, you must be better.
When competitors are strong, find a different business.
If customer decisions are emotional, play to emotion.
If competitors are weak, make them overconfident.
If competitors win easy sales, make them work for them.
If competitors have partners, steal the partners away.
Go after competitors who don't expect competition.
Avoid competing in ways that competitors expect.

You will find an opportunity that assures profit.
Never pass it by."

Sun Tzu's The Art of War Plus The Art of Small Business, pg. 33.

The First Set of Perceptions You MUST Control Are Your Own

The first set of perceptions that you must control are your own as a Black business owner. Most of this revolves around checking yourself and your true priorities. What is more important to you---massaging your ego OR making the sale while providing excellent products and service?

It takes emotional discipline to have a colorless business and to maintain secrecy about it being Black-owned. This means that you don't get to puff your chest out and brag about how you're a business owner. This often means that you don't get the emotional payoff of visibly looking like The Boss.

But if you're in tune with reality, then you know that life is not fair and that you can't afford to behave the same way as non-Black business owners. That is, if your priority is to make the sale while providing excellence. The reality is that you won't even get the opportunity to provide excellent products and service to potential customers if they know that your business is Black owned.

So . . . what is the real purpose of having your business if you can't access customers because you insist upon "styling and profiling" as The Owner/The Boss? And how long do you expect to have your business if you function in this manner?

Staying in alignment with your priorities affects other decisions. Let's discuss an example from the world of non-fiction, self-publishing authors of how-to books: search engine optimization of book titles.

Search Engine Optimization of Book Titles: Do You Want To Be Elegant OR Do You Want The Maximum Number of Potential Buyers To Find Your Book?

From Aiming At Amazon by Aaron Shepard:

"When you aim at Amazon, it helps to consider your title as two distinct components. Focusing your book and attracting buyers is the job of the main title. The subtitle, on the other hand, has wholly different functions. First and foremost, it must make your book findable.

. . . If you've ever developed a Web site, you've probably heard of SEO---search engine optimization. This stands for planting keywords in your pages so that, when people search for something on Google or another search engine, your site will show up prominently in results. On Amazon, you do nearly the same thing by planting keywords in your subtitle.

Take my book The Business of Writing for Children. The full subtitle of this book is---let me take a deep breath---An Award-Winning Author's Tips on Writing Children's Books and Publishing them, or How to Write, Publish, and Promote a Book for Kids.

Unwieldy? Certainly---and not much of an ad for my writing skills, either! But take a close look at it. Now try to think of what search phrase you would personally use to tind such a book. You'll likely find that, whatever you come up with, all the words of that phrase are contained within that subtitle. Maybe not in the same order, but still there and ready to be found.

What does that mean on Amazon? When anyone searches for such a book, my competitors' books might show up a third of the time, or a half, or even more. But my book will come up almost every time. So, I will have that many more opportunities to sell my book."

Aiming At Amazon, pgs. 30-31 (emphasis added).

I had a serious problem with this when I first read it. It's contrary to my (ego-driven) preference for elegance in all of my business-related communications. But then I checked my priorities. The nonfiction book that I'm writing has a LOT of information in it that will help many consumers. People who have previewed chapters of my book have said, "I wish I had something like this before I did ___________." So I had to ask myself, "What's more important to me? Getting my book into the hands of as many buyers as possible? Or feeling good about having an elegant and witty book title?"

I also considered the fact that, as a consumer, when I chose to buy this particular book, I was focused on getting the information it provided and NOT the extreme tackiness of its subtitle. [The full title is "Aiming at Amazon: The NEW Business of Self Publishing OR A Successful Self Publisher's System for Profiting from Nonfiction Books with Print on Demand and Book Marketing on" {shaking my head} Lord have mercy. All of that is not on the front cover of the book, but it is on the first page after you open the cover.]

In order to succeed as a Black business owner, you must control perceptions. Starting with your own.

Are you willing to think through your own priorities?

Are you willing act in alignment with your TRUE priorities?

Are you willing to take control of your own perceptions of what you're doing?

Are you willing to do what's needed to take control of customers' perceptions of your business?


Lorraine said...

These are wonderful strategies, Sun Tzu has so wonderfully written. (Along with your further elaborations). We must not be mousy and go full steam in order to be successful. By being mousy, white folks have taken our ideas and become millionaires using the same or similar scenarios. This is such a terrific post. Thanks and I most definitely will be putting the ones I had not done into practice. Theory is over.

Khadija said...


Thank you for your kind words about the post; I truly appreciate it.

The quoted portion isn't the original text from Sun Tzu, it's the author's adaptation of the original text into a modern small business context.

You said, "Theory is over."

YES! {raised fist salute}

Peace, blessings and solidarity.

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

Khadija: Thank you for sharing this book. I am certain as we look at other income streams and some of us will chose publishing we need all the inside tips/info/heads up available. Have a great weekend!

Karen said...

Khadija and ladies,

Something I have also learned is to treat interactions like playing chess. It is not enough to win the first move, you have to be able to see beyond that move to anticipate multiple possibilities or outcomes.

It is also important as in chess to recogonize that to lose can often enable one to win everything later. This was particularly hard for me to learn but it has served me well. Ego is something that needs to be left at the door when dealing with business relationships.

Khadija said...


You're welcome; and wishing you a great weekend as well!


You said, "Something I have also learned is to treat interactions like playing chess. It is not enough to win the first move, you have to be able to see beyond that move to anticipate multiple possibilities or outcomes.

It is also important as in chess to recogonize that to lose can often enable one to win everything later."

Exactly. Thanks for sharing that with us.

Peace, blessings and solidarity.