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Your Advisory Board

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“To turn really interesting ideas and fledgling technologies into a company that can continue to innovate for years, it requires a lot of disciplines.” ~~Steve Jobs RIP 10/5/11

You may have heard that business owners wear many hats. This is very true. It requires a lot of different skills and activities to keep an enterprise humming and thriving. We all bring various competencies to the equation—both business-related and personal. For example, one person may be a good marketer, excellent father, decent driver, and terrible golfer. They can’t sing but write well. This composite individual has strengths and weaknesses. In your business (as well as in personal relationships) weaknesses can be crippling and even fatal. Understanding that, you can appreciate the value of an advisory board.

This is a group of peers—fellow-business owners—that gather regularly and discuss pertinent issues. They bring expertise and experience into areas you are lacking and you can offer the same to them. Theoretically, seventy-percent of all business is the same while most of us only think of the thirty-percent that differentiates them. You would hardly think of an auto repair business, financial planner’s office, and chiropractor have much in common but they all deal with finding new customers, servicing accounts, billing, tax preparation, hiring, insurance, website selection, and countless other similar details. When someone has already mastered the process of accepting credit cards, for example, the other members can benefit from that knowledge.

In some cases you can start your own group. In others you can join an existing one. A good middle ground is a mastermind group. These are similar to business networking groups except that the focus is on sharing ideas rather than mining for referrals.

The best advisory boards will challenge your pre-conceived ideas and highlight soft areas. They can be uncomfortable yet invaluable. Some are very hands-on while others are more visionary and big-picture-centric. Some meet monthly and some meet quarterly. Some meet in person and others in more virtual settings.

Ivan Misner in The 29% Solution quotes business strategist Geri Stengel regarding ten effective tips for creating an advisory board, summarized below:

  1. What is the objective of your board? Will this be an industry-specific group or more generalized? Will it be a hybrid (business-to-business or homeowner-centric, for example?) Will it be regional, national, or larger? Will it include customers?
  2. How do you choose the right people? Understanding the purpose is one thing. Further defining the level of expertise, business size and maturity, etc., is another matter, as well. Whatever metric you define, be certain to consider “people skills” as well. Look for willingness to share, problem-solving ability, communication proficiency, and so on. Some boards love to recruit celebrities and a big name adds some allure while also opening the door for powerful introductions but don’t just gravitate to that if it is not a fit in the other areas, as well.
  3. What are your expectations? Be clear about time commitments, responsibilities, desired results, and all the rest. The clearer you are about the strengths and weaknesses of your current board make-up, the surer you will find the right person for the right reason that will stay. If your board will consider private matters have a confidentiality agreement prepared.
  4. What is the compensation? Certainly involvement has its own rewards. Decide on food, expenses, stock options, and cash payments, if any.
  5. How will you maximize the experience? Carefully consider the logistics and prepare agendas ahead of time. If prior knowledge of a topic is needed, deliver that ahead of time. End every session with a recap of the action plans and facilitate the process. Ideally, recap each meeting for all attendees (perhaps all members.)
  6. Honesty is the best policy. As mentioned above a strong advisory board will be challenging. Every member should share their own mistakes, especially in the early formative sessions. This builds rapport and provides a framework for trust. Honesty may put you in an uncomfortable situation as the probing questions uncover what you don’t know, never considered, blind spots, and so forth. Keep the conversations frank without personal attacks.
  7. How will you deal with the time/distance gaps? Meeting frequently drives momentum yet can burn members out. Meeting less often can lead to drift. Defining these expectations and finding suitable methods of between meeting communication is important. Emails, wikis, listserves, shared websites, and so on provide useful ways to move ideas across erratic schedules. Some members will access this late at night, for example. It is also useful to assign sub-committees who meet on specific topics at their own schedules and report results at the regular sessions.
  8. Will you respect the board recommendations? Everyone’s time is important. Do not monopolize the floor, for example. Conversely, when something needs to be said—do so. Listen to the advice given and consider your own actions. You will ultimately live with any decision, so there is no need to rush. That said, respect the advice, share your decision, and share the results.
  9. How will you keep board members informed? You may in time find the advice was incorrect and now will be talking about how to repair and restore. You may find that new areas of opportunity or concern have cropped up. You may simply find that things are moving according to plan. Briefly updating your advisory board is important.
  10. How will you deal with problem members? Set a structure up that enables you to deal with the inevitable issues that arise. Be certain to consider legal challenges, as well.

Who might you want to seek out for an advisory board? Here are some areas to consider:

  • People in your profession. This includes current professionals as well as prior specialists. There are benefits from both areas. Active experts have current technology, contacts, regulatory knowledge, and more. Former wizards bring different depth, too.
  • Outside observers. These can include regulators, authors, and business consultants.
  • Members of similar or related professional organizations like trade group people.

This is a large, significant area and sets the tone for your 2018 focus. Your action this week is to start planning your advisory board. I am including a link to Geri Stengel’s website here as an idea factory. Start fleshing out the answers to the ten questions above and solicit feedback from those you respect.

© 2017 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.
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Written by bniguy

December 17, 2017 at 6:30 am

Hub Firm

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“An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.” ~~Jack Welch

Just as no man is an island, no (or almost no) business transaction takes place in a vacuum. There is usually a preceding and following event (or three.) In the book The World’s Best Known Marketing Secret the author, Ivan Misner, refers to the concept of a hub firm at the center of these events.

Hub firms take time to develop and rely heavily on trust and competence. In the hub firm model, one company has the relationship with the client and coordinates business across other companies in order to assist the client with those other transactions.

Hub firms cover a wide-range of situations—towing to a repair shop, power-washing before painting, and cleaning up after construction are a few everyday examples. These are simple partnership arrangements while the true hub firm is more complex. Let me give you two examples of these.

Consider the Financial Planner who works with a variety of clients. Some of these are people who are starting a new business. A typical Financial Planner might recommend that the client find some resources and may have a few loose recommendations. The savvy Financial Planner, however, has already aligned herself with a CPA, a business attorney, and a business banker, for example. These professionals can all meet the client at once and map out a cohesive startup strategy. Certainly, any member of the team can drive the hub relationship for their clients, as well. This team approach provides competitive advantage and can save the client time and (usually) money, as well. At the right point in the process they can introduce web designers, graphic designers, advertising specialists, and so on.

A second example has to do with a hub firm Realtor. In this scenario, we have a home-owner who is listing their house. The Realtor can mobilize a carpet cleaner, moving and storage company, and interior designer as follows. The moving and storage company gets “clutter” and bulky items out of the home and into storage. The carpet cleaner freshens up the floors and the painter does the same for the walls.  The landscaper improves curb appeal and the interior designer stages the home for quicker sale. The Realtor coordinates these efforts and can utilize these pros, as needed.

Both of these identify the power of the hub firm model. Not every client requires all the members of the team. The hub firm “quarterbacks” those efforts. Building a hub team takes time and commitment. These trusted partners must maintain the integrity of the whole team with each project.

Your action step this week is to begin to build your hub team. Consider some of your best clients and what needs they have and who you know that can help. In some cases you will need to coordinate existing relationships. In some cases you will need to replace existing relationships. In still others you will need to establish and develop new relationships. The effort is well-worth the trouble.

 

© 2017 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.

 

Written by bniguy

December 3, 2017 at 1:51 pm

Ask. The World Turns

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“Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” ~~Robert Frost

The most effective method to grow your business is by word of mouth marketing—specifically, by referral. When surveying business owners about this all claim to use this. Once probed further, though, we generally find that they have abandoned the process as unsuccessful. See if the typical experience lines up with yours. They usually ask a few key people and keep the request vague (“open” is their term.) “I am looking for anyone that needs my services.” That might be a new transmission, their deck rebuilt, to sell their house, a new bank account, etc. After receiving a few polite promises to “keep that in mind” with no tangible results, they stop asking.

Who do you know that is looking for a new bank account?

That is not an easy sort, is it? For those of you that truly want to help, here is the process. You need to stop whatever you are otherwise thinking about, mentally scroll through everyone you know, consider whether or not they are looking for a bank account…wait a second…I have no idea who’s looking for a bank account. Let’s think about the last conversation with a specific person (trust me, few referral partners ever get this far) and replay that conversation in memory. “We spoke about the football team, their golf game, their new car, their trip to Florida next month, their job, their in-laws…No; I don’t think they need a bank account.” Seriously, how many of the 250 people you know on a first-name basis do you want to perform this exercise on? Can you expect your business partner—who isn’t even in your business—to do more than that?

If your referral partner even considers one this fully they are hard-pressed to consider many more. The person asked gives up quickly and unless the person asking is totally oblivious, they stop asking for more, as well.

This is all very counterintuitive, since we do not take the time to examine what we are asking people to do. Please stay with me here. It is important.

Who do you know who needs a bank account? How would you possibly know that? Heck, you might even need a new bank account and not even realize it.

I grew up in upstate New York and snow was a common driving environment. In fact, one of my earliest driving pleasures was taking the VW bug out to the department store parking lots on Sundays to “do doughnuts,” which is sending the little rear-engine vehicle into an intentional spin, like my own personal tilt-a-whirl. It was great fun.

As winter drivers we learned to regain control in a skid by turning the wheel into it. I boldfaced that since snow season is upon us and a reminder is always a good thing. Although that is the more effective driving technique it is totally counterintuitive.

The same is true in asking for referrals. I fully realize that anyone walking into your bank branch office that wants to open an account you can help. It doesn’t matter if they are married, single, young, old, Christian, Muslim, straight, gay. I guess the only qualification is that they need to be breathing.

Asking for living people keeps it open (my term is “vague”) and sends your referral partners into the “We’ll call you” corner.

How can you be more specific? Who needs to open an account? Too vague. Why do they need a new bank account? Knowing that, it is far easier to recognize them.

Consider what your bank has to offer new account holders. Who would find that appealing?

Answering a few of these questions up front will be more useful. Mark Sheer, author of the book Referrals, recommends a simple two step statement and question that is very effective. In fact, he recommends that you never change a word.

Here it is: “I’m expanding my business. Who do you know who…?”

Let’s try that for our banker.

“I’m expanding my business. Who do you know who has a child in college locally?” In order to be more helpful, I would name a few local schools, as well.

“I’m expanding my business. Who do you know who is a Real Estate Attorney?”

“I’m expanding my business. Who do you know who manages a church or community fund?”

Let’s take one of these and expand the mental process for your referral partner as an example. “Do you know anyone with kids at UNC or Duke? Do you know anyone with students at NC State or Meredith?”

Now, with this little bit of focus the person can run through their mind and pull out anyone with college-aged kids, sorting from the 250 they know down to 75 that qualify. Some may be in school, some may be out, and some may not be going to college at all. Along the way they will find they know people in the alumni associations, university professors, and season ticket holders who can also be good entry points into the college student market.

When you asked for anybody you got nobody. When you asked for a specific population you find a number of candidates.

I took a look at Wikipedia and found that there are more than 5,000 universities in the United Sates, an average of 115 per state, with 14 million students (4.75% of the US population.) Our banker wants to add 40 new accounts per month. Would it trouble her in any way if every new account was an NC State student? The answer is clearly no. Is it possible to find 40 new accounts per month from that population? The answer is clearly yes. Commit to that population, market heavily, and make it easy for new student account holders to bring their friends in as referrals. Could you run a contest among fraternities and sororities and offer playoff tickets to the winner and a pizza party to second place finishers? My guess is that your client that runs a pizza shop would probably donate the prize, as well.

By focusing on NC State students you may be conceding attorneys and church secretaries, but that is just temporary. Once the student program is running itself then you can turn your attention to another group, such as that.

Your action item this week is to internalize these concepts and select a single specific market. If you need help in this area return to week 3 Picture the Perfect Customer (https://bniguy.wordpress.com/2011/01/16/picture-the-perfect-customer/) and week 31 Elementary My Dear Watson (https://bniguy.wordpress.com/2011/07/31/elementary/.)  Write three specific “who do you know?” questions and send those, via email, to every client you have. If you belong to a networking group bring these three specific questions to the group and use them as the basis for your weekly presentation. Commit to stay with these three questions until you master them.

© 2017 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.

Written by bniguy

November 12, 2017 at 9:17 am

Follow Your Dollars

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“If you go to work on your goals, your goals will go to work on you. If you go to work on your plan, your plan will go to work on you. Whatever good things we build end up building us.” ~~Jim Rohn

My parents used to joke when I was a kid that we built our dentist’s new office. Braces were expensive, after all. Seriously, though, I am sure you have some businesses you support on a regular basis—veterinarian, auto repair, eyeglasses, lawn care, and so forth. When was the last time they returned the favor and sent you any business?

This is actually easier than you might imagine but is not without some effort on your part.

The first thing to do is actually assess the scope of the opportunity available to you. Rather than trust to memory I highly recommend you get your checkbook(s) and credit card statements and start working through them. Take the last six months as a representative sampling. You can add older, bigger ticket items later.

For each vendor (especially the personal local ones although grocery stores and power companies are worth considering, as well) fill out the following details:

  1. Name (business/contact)
  2. Frequency (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc)
  3. Monthly amount
  4. Annual amount
  5. Five year amount

A monthly hair stylist at $40 per visit is $480 per year. How long have you been going? Five years? That is $2400.

You can see that this will add up quickly so do this for every business you work with. Armed with this you can move to the next step.

Many of these businesses would be willing to work with you; they just do not have a system or viable method. This is where you must be creative and find that solution for them.

Again, this is easier than it might appear. Look through your list and tackle those you do the most with and have the best rapport with.

Here are a few examples to get you started. Certainly, post any other ideas you have, too, to help others.

Let’s start with a Financial Planner that regularly uses the hairstylist (and looks successfully well-groomed as a result, by the way.) How can these two work together? As a customer, what does the Financial Planner do when in the chair? Read, watch TV, chat. Here is an opportunity—if you can see it. I recommend that the Planner meet with the Stylist away from the salon where they can talk. It might be good to actually buy them coffee (or lunch) and recap the relationship before pitching the idea. Here is a possible scenario.

Dawn: Thank you for joining me. I wanted us to get away from the salon to talk business. I have enjoyed being a client for the past five years and was very glad to refer some of my clients to you, too. I wanted to ask if you would be willing to help support my business, as well.

Carol: I very much appreciate your business and the referrals. What do you have in mind?

Dawn: As a client I receive your quarterly newsletter and see that you have local businesses advertising in there. Would you give me space for a year?

Carol: Gladly, Dawn. The annual rate is $500.

Dawn: Actually, Carol, I was hoping you would do that at no charge in return for the referrals and loyalty over the years.

Carol: I have never thought about that before, but it makes sense. I am glad to give you the space. Is there anything else you would like me to do?

Dawn: As a matter of fact there is. Could I leave one of my newsletters in your waiting area?

Carol: Please do.

Smart business people can appreciate that reciprocity works both ways. If your Stylist (in this example) is reluctant you might want to reconsider a different service provider.

What could a veterinarian do for a carpet cleaner? The carpet cleaner brings her pets to the vet and many of the vet’s other clients have animals that make a mess in their homes. The carpet cleaner could regularly clean the vet’s lobby. The veterinarian could include an occasional (or even regular) article on carpet care in his newsletter—written by the cleaner. The carpet cleaner could leave brochures and business cards in the lobby. The vet could sponsor a fundraiser or other event. They could share a business expo booth together. The possibilities are endless.

Your action step this week includes two components. First, do the analysis of where you are spending your money. This is great for budgeting, anyway. Then, brainstorm all the ways you can work with your biggest vendors and commit to approaching three over the next week. This is a strategy with a lot of upside potential.

© 2017 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.

 

Written by bniguy

October 29, 2017 at 2:47 pm

How am I doing?

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“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” ~~ Ken Blanchard

The winds of change are always blowing. Most business owners are too busy delivering products and services to take much notice. Ignore it long enough, though, and you won’t know what hit you until it is too late.

It is essential to develop a system that solicits and deals with feedback on a regular basis. There are five main reasons that most small business owners do not engage in this arena.

The biggest reason is a fear of negative feedback. Humans are wired for approval and have a huge fear of rejection. It may be hard to believe but all feedback is valuable and constructive. Often there are side benefits of our service we didn’t expect and do not appreciate without the positive feedback that identifies it. Once known, we can strengthen and systematize it for greater effect. The same is true of negative feedback.

Your customers can identify new strategies and products that enhance your current offer, if you ask and listen. They may have developed workarounds that are unnecessary with training or are worth addressing with redesign.

It is important to listen completely. You should not ask for comment unless you are willing to accept negative responses.

Another set of reluctance reasons revolve around who to ask, when to ask, how to ask, and so on. Human resource professionals often employ a 360-degree review that includes supervisors, peers, cross-staff, customers, support personnel, and so on. As a business owner, consider asking everyone. That would include customers (of course) as well as vendors, staff, business advisors, and the like.

When to ask is initially tied to touch points in the process. After initial delivery, for instance, or upon project completion.

It is always advisable to build the feedback loop into your delivery process. Cleaning companies will often checklist what they accomplished and encourage feedback. Ideally, the same format is used with every visit. You can solicit feedback on portions of your process as they occur. How easy was it to place an order? How helpful was our sales rep?

One last reservation that holds business owners back is a concern that they do not want to waste anyone’s time. I submit that this is a cop-out. If you solicit feedback every time you won’t see 100% response. Adults will choose to respond or ignore it if they truly are too busy. Silence is not golden, though, and you should always work for a high response rate. Simplify the questions, incentivize the response, and value the feedback to raise the rate.

Your action this week is to take three specific actions. First, examine your sales process and identify feedback points you can use. Once marked, develop a simple tool (survey, perhaps) and begin to gather and track results. Finally, seek out 360-degree systems in place with your business partners and model their effort as possible.

The underlying key is to incorporate this into daily activity.

© 2017 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.

 

Written by bniguy

October 15, 2017 at 4:59 am

Posted in HowTo, planning, results

Let me please introduce myself

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“Although it is generally known, I think it’s about time to announce that I was born at a very early age.” ~~ Douglas Horton

Networking is all about connections and connections begin with introductions. Since introductions are the gateway to networks, paying attention to them is an essential, and often overlooked, component.

Introductions take place in formal settings and informal. Both are valuable and opportunities to take care of. This week’s topic is brief and yet so profound that it actually spans two weeks.

Let’s set the stage for effective introductions by considering how many misconceptions they can clarify. A complete introduction includes all the elements of a good news story, answering who you are, what you are about, and why it should matter to the person you are meeting.

Who you are should be self-explanatory but too many of us simply refer to our business or profession as though it was our identity. If you want to remain anonymous, this is an excellent strategy. If, however, you want to be more memorable (trust me, that is the goal) then this is not enough. Emphasize what makes you different. A short tag line is an effective tool. “I am the entrepreneur’s CPA” says much more than just another number-cruncher. “We specialize in helping golfers shave strokes off their game” moves you into a class of your own. As you can see, these short introductions convey all three elements and actually begin to facilitate the next introduction, as well.

A more formal introduction takes place when you are speaking at an event. Writing that will simplify the process of the informal introduction, as well.

Your action this week is to develop a formal introduction. Here is a simple framework to consider:

  • Name and business
  • What you offer
  • Credential and major accomplishments
  • Mission statement and purpose
  • Recent story about how you helped someone (include a happy ending and facts)

Bear in mind that this introduction should be tweaked and adjusted for each situation. When providing a written introduction please type it (not handwritten) in a large, clear font and keep words short and simple. Eliminate jargon. Do this today and next week we will expand on your results.

 

© 2017 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.

 

Written by bniguy

October 1, 2017 at 10:26 am

The Rubber Meets the Road

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“What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”~~Herbert Simon

Testimonials influence us in many subtle ways and range from professional to personal. Advertisers appreciate this and pay for celebrity endorsements, despite a healthy skepticism from consumers. At a subconscious level, though, people that admire Michael Jordan might reason that, “If it’s good enough for him its good enough for me.” Pressed to consider this point, most would deny the influence and yet advertisers that study cause and effect can measure the influence regardless of how independent we think we are.

The next level of professional endorsements that influence buying decisions come from reviewers. These include movie reviewers, restaurant critics, product advisors, and so on. At a simple level we might check a movie review when deciding whether or not to see it although we can appreciate that the reviewer doesn’t know or perhaps even share our taste exactly. We can get a more convincing endorsement from a friend who has seen the film and knows our likes and dislikes. These personal endorsements (or warnings) are much more powerful, although less frequently sought.

A third category emerges, sandwiched between the professional and personal and that is the testimonial provided by non-professionals.

This is the focus of this week’s topic.

Testimonials from other customers can be powerful in moving us to take action. Many customers offer them in an informal, unsolicited manner. One way to encourage this behavior, by the way, is to give away an item with your logo on it. People like to help one another, generally, and will recommend a proven solution and include a personal story of the benefit received. Most satisfied customers will provide more formal testimonials, if asked.

Often, however, when willing they get hung up on exactly what to say and by providing guidance you can resolve that, too.

There is more of an art than a science as to determining when to ask. Once you start to recognize this, opportunities will present themselves regularly. Let’s consider this scenario. One month before completion of a long-term project you ask your client how they are enjoying the process, so far. If they announce that you have made a huge difference in their operations and saved them a lot of time and expense, ask if they would be willing to share that with other customers by writing that on their company letterhead. Coach them on pertinent issues such as why they chose to work with you, what benefits have they experienced that they did not expect, and so on. This conversation will make it easier for them to complete this favor. Negotiate a delivery date.

Once you have these testimonials in hand then consider placement. Some companies print them and leave them in the lobby for waiting room clients to see. Others have a page on their website or sprinkle them in various places throughout the website. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages.

Whatever model you use, be certain to revisit these testimonials regularly to cull those that are out-of-date and request more current entries.

Your action items this week are to ask for three written testimonials. Make it easy for the author by specifying what should be emphasized. Negotiate a delivery date and decide how you will deploy the information once received. Finally, develop a strategy to regularly ask for and review these comments. It goes without saying that you must earn these and seeking them regularly is an effective method to place your customer service level on a constantly improving plane.

 

© 2017 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.

 

Written by bniguy

September 17, 2017 at 6:02 am