Stop Chasing "Sustainable" Competitive Advantage

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There’s no such thing as sustainable competitive advantage. In this post I'm going to help keep you sane while you're looking for your edge. 

This is super important so I want to make sure that you really see this - if you find something that makes your business special you need to squeeze all that you can from it because it will not last. You're then going to need to find something new and the cycle repeats. And, that's ok. 

Disruption and innovation are happening at faster and faster paces and it's not just reserved for companies at scale. It's happening in your neighborhood. 

(If anyone tries to sell you sustainable competitive advantage as part of their “consulting package”, you can tell them to knock it off.) 

Differentiation tends to lose its edge over time. When people see that your business found something that works you shouldn't be surprised to see your competitors also trying similar things. Competitive advantage by its very definition is a fleeting notion - it’s something you are always going to have to work towards.

The reason?

It’s because people’s tastes, expectations, values change over time. In your business you have to constantly be working towards satisfying the needs of your clients and customers to be successful.

No secret there.

At the same time though you have to be thinking about ways to continue to create that awesome value while keeping your own overhead and expenses as lean as possible. Again, no soul shattering revelations. 

These sound like conflicting ideas don't they? In order to grow you have to constantly be on the look out for the next big thing while also being consistent in the products and services you're already offering? Well, it's less of a "this or that" and more of a "yes, and..". What connects these two ideas is the fact that while the problems you solve may change the customer's experience with you and your business stays great. Just looking for problems to solve, talking about or perpetually planning for solving problems will in no way, shape, or form guarantee your business’s success. 

This post isn’t really about finding new competitive advantages. It’s about teaching you to recognize that your business's success depends on creating consistent value for people not just about chasing gimmicks.

You’re looking for your “Big Mac”. Seriously. Anywhere in the US you can walk into a McDonald’s, order a “Big Mac” and have your expectations on that product/experience be met. Why? Because McDonald’s makes it the exact same way every time. 

Wondering why I didn't say Szechuan Sauce? With all the news around fans of the show "Rick and Morty", McDonald's is doing a great job of being a hype machine without actually delivering any value. It's a gimmick that will pass and because McDonald's doesn't have the agility to really capitalize on this fandom in an efficient way. That means I will probably never get to taste that sweet sweet sauce and McDonald's loses the specific and opportunistic competitive advantage here. 

In order to grow your business and to give yourself the room you need to actually test out ideas, products or services you need to record lots and lots of tries. How can you know which changes helped to grow your business when you changed lots of stuff at the same time? Better still, are you changing something on a weekly basis?

No bueno. 

I love the Lean Startup model but there is a piece of it I don’t really agree with. The potential customer interviews. Asking people what they want and discovering what they really want are two very different things. You won’t know what people do or don’t want until you ask them to put their debit/credit card information on the line. Here’s how you can work on fostering growth in your business.

The best advice I can give, in terms of a sustainable business model (not competitive advantage), is the same advice I give to my clients looking to iterate, pivot or adapt their business. It’s actually a set of questions I want you to give some honest thought to: 

1. Do you have a system that tracks the entire customer cycle?

2. Are you using that system every single time you in front of a customer? 

3. How big is your market and how many times have you used that system? 

4. Are you solving a relevant and specific problem? (Benefits (NOT features) > Costs)

5. Is your value being clearly communicated? 

6. Are you changing one thing at a time? 

7. How are you measuring success at each stage of your system? 

8. Are you following up and asking “why” with your customers after they buy and even when they don’t?

If you don’t have clearly defined and measured answers to any of these questions don’t innovate, disrupt, adapt, or pivot. You need more data! Figure out what a fair amount of tries are and work from there. Changing your website every day because your products didn’t sell that day is probably not a fair amount of time to test your copy. Before you go changing everything start trying to isolate possible weak spots in your system and change one major variable at a time. This is how you test your market to see if what you’ve changed resonates better and creates more engagement. 

Don’t rush to innovate or pivot. It’s time, money, and emotional energy that you can’t get back and that you probably won’t take the time to measure. Instead focus on the boring - the system. With enough tries you’ll start to see patterns in your business. Patterns with variables you can start to manipulate with intention. That’s the secret to getting the best return on your business. 

It also helps to keep you from going crazy. Which, I guess is a good thing too. 

How do you handle the impulse to constantly innovate, adapt, pivot, or disrupt? Is there a method to your madness? I’d love to see your system in the comments below. 


If you're looking for a little more hands-on help then you should totally check out Disruptive Strategy Co.'s new HIRE page. Booking a Disruptive Strategy Power Hour gives us the opportunity to work one on one and to create a tailored plan so that you can stop using the spray and pray approach to growing your business. 


Get Your Business Back On Track: Part 2

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Welcome to the second half of the Getting Your Business Back On Track series. In this post we are going to close the loop on getting your business or idea back into focus and set up so that you can really lean into growing.

If you’ve just found this post I’d encourage you to follow this link: Get Your Business Back On Track: Part 1 and find your answer to the “What am I doing?!” question. Then come right back here.

Now that you’ve found clarity let’s talk about competition and competitive advantage.

The first two questions I want to help you answer are: “How do I map my competition?” and “How much attention should I be paying them?”.

I want to start with the second question because it’s where all the context lives.

Paying attention to you competition is important but it shouldn’t be eating up any real significant part of your business building day. It makes sense to take a peek at your competitors in some kind of systematic way because it will help you validate your ideas, products and services. It will also provide insights as to how your market is reacting to certain types of calls to actions, sales and marketing efforts. Spending time to get an objective view of your competitive landscape can be really helpful when it comes to how you choose to interact with your audience or target market.

The tricky part is getting sucked into a social media creeping black hole. I know that I’m not the only one who’s time-travelled a bit because, what started off as research ended with me creeping through every Tweet, status update and Instagram post. Setting up your notes and calendar to help you manage your research time can be really helpful. And, it keeps that irrational part of your business building brain from squirrelling off into daydreams of the entrepreneurial grass being greener on the other side of your competitions monitors.

If you’re really struggling with how this works just try allocating time once a month to check in on your competitors and try to track the engagement they are getting over time. You should also note that not all engagement is created equal. You should be weighing a testimonial you’re reading from someone’s customer on Facebook very differently than the amount of likes someone’s collecting in their posts. Try to focus on the metrics that could add the most value to how you’re shaping your sales and marketing strategy efforts. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for questions that are being asked, the answers that are given and how those engaged react to both. That right there can create enormous opportunities for you!

Now onto the question of mapping your competition.

First off, yes. Yes, you do have competition. It doesn’t matter how niche your market or how specific your offer you will always battle the choice your customer’s have to make about how they spend their discretionary dollars.

Now that we are all on the same page if you plan on growing your business I’m challenging you to think about all the places your customers could spend their money to reasonably address the problem(s) that your business solves. You’re going to do this by filling in the following blanks:

1. Competitor’s Name.

2. What are the products or services they offer?

3. How are they charging for their products or services?

4. What do you think their competitive advantage is?

5. What are they key features or benefits?

6. What don’t they offer or how are they not addressing the problem you solve?

My recommendation would be to set this up in your favorite spreadsheet app so that you can start to collect lots of data and look for patterns. You can feel free to add to this list as well but I just wanted to make sure that you had a starting point. The boundary you want to stay inside of are people solving the problem you are (or that you’ve identified) having gone through the exercise in part one of this series.

After you’ve collected this information and found a few patterns it’s time to use what you’ve found to your advantage.

Your competitive advantage.

See what I did there?

Your competitive advantage is an objective measure of your ability to deliver value better (or more efficiently) than any of your competitors. Borrowing from my economics lecture notes competitive advantage is an environment where you have an edge in creating value for your customers over your competition. It’s not permanent, contrary to what some gurus might say, and can be achieved by being able to deliver greater value at a lower cost, ownership of some proprietary input or process and even the creation of a laser focused brand.

What competitive advantage is not is a generic promise to having the best customer service. It’s also not your skilled staff, outstanding team, knowledgeable sales people, list of customers on your website or being flexible and responsive. None of that makes you special because it’s expected! If you have to tell your audience that you’re great at the thing they expect as the lowest expectation they have for doing business with you then you are in trouble. Of course you should be knowledgeable and of course you should have great customer service.

If you don’t then I can promise you, you won’t be in business for very long. So, don’t boast about being good at the table stakes and focus instead on the things that make you truly unique. Remember, you may have lots of competitors like the holistic business I outlined for you in part one but you’re the only one that can do business and offer value like you.

If you’ve been really playing the home version of this game up to this point you should be really clear on what your business offers, have an idea of who your competing with, a process for checking in with your market and some guidance on figuring out what makes your business more special than your competitors. This is the place from which you should be making all your future business decisions. Using this data to make decisions around marketing, sales or even just the next piece of content you create will make those decisions exponentially more impactful. These posts were designed to stop you from continuing the spray and pray approach to growing your business. By focusing on your core value and your business’s core identity you can channel your time, money and resources into making decisions that aren’t inspired by chasing the newest marketing fads or trying to serve everyone.

Usually at the end of these blog posts I typically have a spot for you to download a content upgrade or am asking you to answer a question. I’m choosing to skip that ask this time because my real call to action is for you to take this Getting Your Business Back On Track series seriously and do this work. Build the spreadsheets, really grade your competitor’s effectiveness and do the work that’s necessary in building a clear brand that customers want to engage with.

Yes I ended that last sentence with a preposition and no I don’t care because I’m a little fired up in the writing of this conclusion.

Go do the work so you can make great things happen for your business!

Get Your Business Back On Track: Part 1

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This is part one of a two part business audit series. In this post I am going to help you get your business running lean and mean and in the next one I'll help you work on a process to grow it.

This post is for anyone that’s been building a business for while or has been stuck in the quagmire of thinking about starting a business. If you fall into either of these camps I’m willing to bet that, more than you’d like to admit, from time to time you pick your head up, look around and think quietly to yourself… 

“What am I doing?” 

This question can be born from a lot of things happening to you on your business journey. It could be that you’ve been trying for a while and haven’t been getting the traction that you want. It could be that you’ve been so focused on making the sale that you’ve diluted your offers over time. It could even be that you’ve been talking about this idea for so long that your inner circle is tired of hearing about it. 

It doesn’t have to be this out of control reactionary business spiral anymore. In this post I’m going to walk you through a quick and dirty business audit that you can do to help you get your idea and your business back on track. The best part is that you can do it any time and as often as you need to get back to clarity. 

Back to business model basics. 

With all the technology, platforms and social networks driving attention to transactions you can quickly over complicate how you deliver your value to your customers and collect payments from your customers. To help get your business model running lean and mean you need to answer these questions. 

1. What are you selling? 

Sounds basic but I want to challenge you to answer this question in terms of specific outcomes for your customers. Is it a product or service and what is the end benefit to your customer for interacting with you. 

2. What does the transaction life cycle look like? 

Transaction life cycle? What does that even mean, right?! What I’m challenging you to think about here is the ‘how’ part of your transaction. More specifically is it as easy as it should be? If people buy from you online is the process streamlined and trustworthy? Do people pay you in one lump sum and you deliver a specific product? Are they paying for a service? How often are they paying and if it’s more than once is the recurring payment method easy and clear? 

3. How did you come up with your current prices? 

Your prices send as strong a message to your target customers as your marketing does. Picking arbitrary numbers because they “felt” right is a terrible way to price. Are your prices tied to your costs? Are they tied to the benefit you're delivering? Why should anyone pay what your asking? Are you the cheapest? Are the customers that are willing and able to buy your product the kinds of customers you are trying to attract. Think back to your intro economics courses; specifically price elasticity of demand for all my economics nerds in the audience.

Yeah, I see you! 

4. What are you tracking? 

I’m a big fan of the saying - “what gets measured gets managed”. I also know that the reality of running a business can be messy at times so I want to encourage you to look at what you’re actually tracking in your business. How are you defining success and are your actions in the business mapping to those metrics? 

5. Can you identify potential gaps in your value proposition? 

I don’t have to tell you that you can’t be all things to all people. But, there may be opportunities to provide additional value for customers. Now this is a slippery slope because it can be easy to squirrel off and build a menu of offerings that you believe can add value to people’s lives. I want to challenge you to think about just those options that fall within the scope of work and deliverables you’re already executing on. 

Those are the five questions I would recommend that you start with to help you get your business back on track. To help give you a little more context let’s do a quick hypothetical example of these questions in action. 

Hypothetical Wellness Coaching Business (HWCB)

Hypothetical Tagline: Teaching you the tools you need to live a happier, healthier life. 

Hypothetical Scenario: HWCB has been in business for over a year and hasn’t had enough interest in the business to justify going full time. Business owner still works part time at a traditional job to make up the income need gap. Over the past year this business has offered everything from reiki, to life coaching, to relationship coaching, to holistic dietary coaching, to essential oil sales and even career coaching. Up to this point business owner continues to “invest” in resources and skills they believe will continue to differentiate them against the sea of other “coaches” in local market. HWCB has even dabbled in creating a course or program offering but has failed to get it launched after a handful of creation attempts. 

Here’s an example of how this business owner could use this audit process: 

1. What are you selling?

Hypothetical Response: HWCB primarily sells a coaching or advisory service. While the reiki and essential oils are also possible revenue generating activities they aren’t the primary way HWCB prefers to interact with customers. The hope was to run an online course or coaching program but it hasn’t come been created yet. 

Takeaway: Prioritize the coaching right now. In this example there are a lot of resources being wasted trying to build out, market and sell all these different services. 

2. What does the transaction life cycle look like?

Hypothetical Response: With reiki and essential oils people pay HWCB directly in person and either get the service or product. With the coaching HWCB sends out an invoice for the month, customers pay through a link in the invoice and then meets weekly with customers. The coaching engagements just ends at the end of the prepaid invoice retainer/fee. No real follow up after the coaching engagement ends. HWCB has to keep track of cash and electronic payments as they clear through different accounts and through different mediums. 

Takeaway: Since HWCB is going focus on coaching there will be no need to handle actual cash anymore. This will simplify the accounting process as well as the scheduling process (time management) as HWCB will be focusing on a single coaching offering. At this point HWCB also didn’t have a good follow up process for after the coaching engagement ended so this should be a point for continued development. 

3. How did you come up with your current prices? 

Hypothetical Response: After doing some superficial searching online and looking around at some local peers the price per hour was just decided to be $100/hr. Felt right. 

Takeaway: Don’t use YOUR feelings to price. Dig deeper into the value you offer as well as accounting for any relevant experience, successes or credentials you hold. Those things may help you command a premium. Digging deeper into customer profiles could also give you a better idea of what they might be willing and able to pay for your services. Keeping an eye on competition is important because you want to be relatively competitive but that shouldn’t be the only pillar you use to price. 

4. What are you tracking? 

Hypothetical Response: Not really anything because HWCB isn’t really doing much. Why bother?

Takeaway: This is a toxic business building mindset. Tracking nothing means you can, with some real certainty, expect nothing. With a business in this stage and upon getting to this point where HWCB has resolved to focus on coaching my recommendation would be to focus on:

1. Sales activities: referrals generated, emails sent out, consults scheduled, coaching programs sold per month, etc. 

2. Success metrics: How much have people’s lives improved? 

3. Content Schedule: What is HWCB doing every week to provide value to people that find HWCB in the places it turns up online. 

Even with just these three ideas HWCB can start to build some consistency into how the business is being run and potentially grown. 

5. Can you identify potential gaps in your value proposition? 

Hypothetical Response: Thought I was doing that with my essential oil sales and other services I offered. 

Takeaway: Wrong. What HWCB was doing was confusing the main offering, what they were essentially best at. In this example it might be beneficial to see if there’s a level two version of the coaching offering. Maybe HWCB focuses on coaching a person through a specific problem with a specific outcome goal in mind and can foresee that down the road there will be another, different, set of obstacles. Maybe there’s a resource like a book or a web tool that can be recommended to augment the newly focused coaching process. These are things that could enhance the business not just a spray and pray approach to solving everyone’s problems all the time at any stage in their lives. 

Final Takeaway: At this point hopefully it’s clear that HWCB should get more focused on a coaching offering specifically, make the offer clear, solicit prices that makes sense, keep the transaction simple, sprint towards getting great results for people that can be shared and get laser focused on the sales and marketing tracking aspects. Selling more and different stuff doesn’t make HWCB attractive to more people, it scares them away because they aren’t confident that HWCB can do any of them well. By doing these things HWCB has stripped away all the extra stuff that was just consuming resources and frees up time, money and even mental space to do the work that will matter most for the business. 

If you’re a health and wellness business I hope this was helpful for you and even if you’re not you can still get a ton of insight on your business by going through this process. This will help you get to the heart of the work that matters most in your business but you have to be absolutely honest with the process. 

Otherwise you’re just playing business and nothing will get better. 

I STILL WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

Below this post is a one question survey. I’d love to help you with what you're struggling with when it comes to your business development. I’m promising to do my best to get back to everyone that responds. 

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Is #Hustle Hurting Your Business?

If you’re the kind of entrepreneur or business owner that uses #hustle after every social post then this blog post is for you. I want to try to scratch the surface on what #hustle really is and if you’re constantly #hustlehard’ing, what kind of damage could you actually be doing to your business. 

Let’s start by trying to get to the heart of #hustle. Immediately below this text is a 2:00 video from Gary Vaynerchuk (the OG of #hustle) defining what #hustle means to him. Give it a quick watch and then we’ll catch-up. 

Ok, so “squeezing every last bit of juice out of the orange”, “maximizing the energy you’re putting into somebody”, and “putting all your effort into achieving the goal you have at hand”. I think those are probably the best little bits out of that video because they are objective - mostly. They also convey a lesson that almost anyone can apply wherever they are on their entrepreneurial journey. In the rest of the video he goes on about how he doesn’t have Friday nights because he uses that time to hustle, hiring an assistant, etc. Those are things that are Gary Vaynerchuk specific and unfortunately the things that people pay the most attention to. 

I think, for the most part, he does a great job in this video conveying the heart of what #hustle is and at the same time there are a lot of people that get this concept very wrong. They get it wrong because they try to map their goals against someone like Gary Vaynerchuk’s. They map their activity against what he documents and throws out all over the web. They map his actions in growing the multiple businesses he’s responsible for to the business they are growing.

And, that’s a problem. 

It’s a problem because every business owner has different strengths, capabilities and are at different stages. What happens when you map where you are today against what someone like Gary Vaynerchuk has built over decades? You end up with an abundance of entrepreneurs confusing spammy sales techniques and short-cut growth tactics with sustainable and authentic business growth. 

Let’s do a real time experiment. I challenge you to open up Instagram and search the #hustle tag. Even though there’s a gap between the writing of this post and you doing this exercise I guarantee the results will be the same. You’re going to see THOUSANDS of posts with quotables, hacky business guru’s giving generic advice, Ferraris and lots of fitness model types either trying to grow their brand or sell you something like Herbalife. 

This is my problem with #hustle. Anyone can take a few minutes and Google an image then use an app to throw some advice-y text over it and position themselves as an expert. You end up doing something that feels like work and even delivers the great little accomplishment dopamine hit we all chase but, it’s probably not going to be the activity that delivers the most value for your business. 

I know that’s not everyone so let’s divide people up into a few simple categories. 

Category 1: Are some of these accounts capturing moments of “squeezing every last bit of juice out of the orange”, “maximizing the energy you’re putting into somebody”, and “putting all your effort into achieving the goal you have at hand”? 

Sure. 

Category 2: Are some of them trying to emulate the activity they see work for larger accounts, capitalize on a popular # or are idealizing the act of working 100 hour weeks? 

Also, sure. 

Ok so you did this little experiment and are now thinking, so what? 

This applies less to the people that fall in the first category and more into the second. The ones that confuse the amount activity or the amount of hours they're working with #hustle. It’s a problem because they are using a volume metric to measure success for their business. 

It’s my goal to help you avoid burnout and the damage can go along with blindly #hustleharder’ing. Burnout is a very real issue because just working harder may end up costing you money, time and even important relationships you could otherwise leverage your business growth against. #hustle can also be unsustainable and even worse could possibly convince you to quit too soon because your not getting the results that your favorite social guru may be getting. 

I want to see you grow your business at rates that make sense for you. I want to see you reach the goals you set for yourself and deliver the value you’re promising to the people that you serve. So I’ve come up with a few questions you can ask yourself when you’re floating around online and realize that you’re not living the life that social media says you should be. 

Below is a list of things to think about when you’re feeling like you’re not #hustleharder’ing enough: 

1. Are you doing more of the Deep Work - the work that really matters in your business? Or, are you just plowing through a to-do list full of tasks where you’re just playing in the business? 

2. Are you trying to sell to everyone instead of spending the time to really get to know your customers and figuring out how they could best be served? 

3. Are you tracking the handful of metrics that matter most in your business? Like: units sold, number of contacts required to get to a sales meeting, clients managed, etc. Something that is quantifiable and that isn’t some kind of vanity metric. 

4. Is your messaging authentically you? This matters because this is how the world sees your business. You don’t want to be drowning in a sea of Tai Lopez quotes, supercar pictures and photos of stacks of money. 

5. Are you really engaging with people? Are you having real conversations with people either in real life or online and offering value or getting feedback. If you’re just always shouting the same stuff everyone else is you’ll never be able to scream louder than the noise in the room. 

6. Do you have clear goals set for yourself that you check in on regularly? 


7. Are you suffering from “Butt In Seat Syndrome”? It’s an affliction that many entrepreneurs suffer from that results in talking about the things you’re going to do and never doing them, over developing plans and never starting them and general avoidance of the hard work that goes into building a business. 

I’m all for working harder and smarter. It’s a mission of mine to support entrepreneurs as they are trying to grow. I just want to make sure that you’re doing it in a way that makes sense for you and that allows you to do your best work.

Here’s to #hustle’ing responsibly! 

I STILL WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

Below this post is a one question survey. I’d love to help you with what you're struggling with when it comes to your business development. I’m promising to do my best to get back to everyone that responds.  

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Why People Really Buy

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Before I can answer the question, “How do I get more customers?” I think it’s important that you take a step back and try to figure out why people buy - and especially why they buy from you. You need the “why” before the “how” because even the highest converting tactics will fall flat on their sales-faces because you won’t have the substance to shape those tactics around.

Here I’ll show you.

If you were to fire up another tab in your browser right now and Google the “how” I bet you’ll find a whole bunch of articles from lots of well known resources listing all kinds of business development platitudes and generalities that leave you wanting for more. No, no wait I’ll do it for you, this way you don’t have to leave this page. Here you go -

The first 7-8 responses right there. From places like BusinessInsider, Inc.com and Entrepreneur promising you tips, tricks and tactics to help you get more customers right now. Even the top result outlining a process you’ve probably already heard or seen a bunch of times.

It’s general information that will probably lead you down an internet search rabbit hole because you won’t get what you need and the act of the doing the research gives your brain the same kind of dopamine hit that will come with actually doing the hard work of figuring out the “why”. General information about this stuff is important because it could inspire you to think about solutions or approaches you may not have thought of before but if you’re landing on these search results odds are you aren’t feeling all that creative and you need to find some results fast.

Here’s how to supercharge those “how” results but getting to better understand “why” people buy anything in the first place. This is the quick and dirty version because I want you to immediately jump from this post into actually doing something that will generate the sales you need for your business.

1. People are creatures of habit.

You’re a savvy business builder so I’m sure you built yourself a picture of your ideal customer avatar. You have their likes, dislikes, ages, geographic and lifestyle demographics but do you really understand their habits? Their real buying habits all the little instant gratification and self-indulgent buying habits. Odds are you don’t and you’re trying to sell something that disrupts the habit patterns of your customers.

Behavioral Economist Dan Ariely has done a ton of work around real life buying decisions and here’s the summary: more options lead to indecision as the buyer brain panics and decides to not choose and once a buyer makes a decision about the kinds of purchases they make it becomes habit and then the brain moves on. In real life your customers aren’t weighing the costs and benefits of every sales pitch they hear; they are mapping it against their previous experiences and they kinds of decisions they’ve made in the past they were already happy with. If you aren’t building your your offering in a way that makes it easy for people to just inject you into their daily lives then you’re fighting an uphill battle.

Does your offering fit into the habits your target customers already have? If not here’s a place to start.

2. Do you understand what your customers really value?

If this question was broken out in a series of college courses they would look something like this: Selling 101 says that your products and services should be solving a problem for your potential customers. Selling 201 says to connect that problem to the value your customer will get after they engage with your business. I’m willing to bet that you’ve already tested out of the first two courses so let’s jump right into the third. In Selling 301 I’m challenging you to get to the heart of what people really care about. Do your customers really care about saving time, money or <insert generic life goal>? (Read slightly sarcastically.) That’s the question that really matters. Let’s use a real example. If the only toilet breaks unexpectedly in your home what do you do? Well, you might try to diagnose it yourself if you’re a DIY’er and you had the time and space to do that or if you’re like most people you probably just want the problem fixed so that you can move on with the rest of your life. Good plumbers know that and will price in window that you’re willing and able to pay (no one is really happy when something you expect to work stops working), rewards them for being timely, fair and delivering quality repairs. That plumber is directly delivering value in a real life consequence kind of way.

I know I value plumbing that works when I need it to and I can honestly say I don’t spend a ton of time thinking about it. Does your offering deliver a guttural value for your customer that’s more than just an idea or a “would be nice”. Can you drill into the emotional places that people don’t really like to talk about because it wouldn’t present well in an Instagram post and deliver value there?

3. People are constantly looking for validation.

How many times have you pulled the trigger and bought something and then rushed straight to YouTube to see if there were reviews on the thing you just bought?

No one?

Just me?

People do this because they are looking for validation and to feel significant. When I buy something on Amazon and go back to watch reviews on that thing it’s because I want to know that I didn’t make a bad decisions. Because, I believe I’m the kind of person that makes (generally) good decisions. Odds are you have those feelings too. When customers buy, along with looking for real value and for something that fits into the habits they’ve already built for themselves, they are mapping that purchase against the idea of the ideal person they aspire to be. Your job is to support the ideas and beliefs your customers identify with because you’ll be able to better connect with them and shorten the know-like-trust cycle that’s required to get that customer to engage.

Sounds silly but if people like Shari Levitin author of “Heart and Sell: 10 Universal Truths Every Salesperson Needs to Know” support this idea then it’s got to have some weight right?! Here’s a direct quote from Levitin from a recent Forbes interview, “People today are consumed with a desire for ‘likes,’ friends, connections, and fame. Yes, there’s actually a little Kardashian in most of us. The average Millennial shifts among devices and apps 25 times every non-working hour in pursuit of the neurochemical high of approval.” - Forbes

If you’re struggling to find new customers then I would take a look at these three things first. Are you connecting with people in a real way, a way that could motivate them to buy? It’s great that you’ve refined your sales copy or just finished that free Facebook Ads online course but all the strategic sales copy in the world isn’t going to be enough to convince someone to take action if you aren’t reaching them in a significant way. Your best compass for this is thinking about how you buy. Not, how you think you buy or how you’d like to buy but what you’ve actually bought.

Take a look through your account statements and do a little “real-talk” style audit of your last dozen or so purchases. Can you put your finger on your real “why” for each of those purchases? Sure some might be pragmatic and functional but I’m sure you’ll find a few that were really just guilty indulgences or that contributed to supporting the “ideal you”. Take that ammunition and see if you can apply it to your offerings, can your product or service be those feelings for someone else?

I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

Below this post is a one question survey. I’d love to help you with what you're struggling with when it comes to your business development. I’m promising to do my best to get back to everyone that responds.  

Name *
Name

Business Development 101: Stop thinking and start growing your business!

One of the questions I get most often is, “How do I get more customers?”. Whether it’s the clients I’m working with, entrepreneurs I meet at networking events or even family members thinking about finally starting their own thing it’s always the same. As soon as someone hears that I’m a management consultant or that it’s my job to help businesses grow the barrage of how-to questions starts. Most of the time I love talking to people about what they are up to in their businesses - especially my clients. But sometimes it can be a little trying because regardless of what I have to say some entrepreneurs aren’t interested in the “it takes work or patience” prescription. Those people are interested in the silver bullet. They are looking for me to share that one super-secret piece of advice that will launch them ahead of their competition.

And I hate to say it but that kind of advice doesn’t exist. Or, if it does it’s probably coming from someone trying to sell you something that you probably don’t need.

Sure there are strategies, tactics or tricks that may work in the short run to help you collect based on taking advantage of some short term market trend or technology but that’s not sustainable. I’m interested in helping people see sustainable growth and developing the tools to help them be successful in the long term. Not just working on a piece of copy for example that designed to motivate a buyer to buy in the next email you’re sending out.

So, in this post I’m going to share a quick and dirty business development process that will help you identify opportunities and give you a system to measure your business growing efforts against. Let’s call it Business Development 101. Oh, and of course I’ll share some of the tools I recommend to help you get started on a zero/small budget.

Let’s start with the process!

1. Identify your target prospects.

Depending on your business you might be looking to sell to end consumers directly, get in front of influencers, identify business or enterprise customers or to connect with a specific role within a company. You can’t start the business development process until you know exactly who you are trying connect with.

2. Why should your prospects care?

Once you have an idea of who you are trying to connect with it’s important to try to get a handle on why they should care. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a business or an individual if you don’t have a compelling reason for someone to care about what you’re offering you will not get any kind of response. How are you going to add value to the things they are working on? How are you adding value to the things they care about most? If you can’t clearly articulate how your prospect’s life will be better after having engaged with you then you shouldn’t reach out.

3. Is your prospect going to respond?

You may have identified the VP of Marketing at a company you’re looking to connect with but are they going to respond if you shoot an email to them? Maybe?! If you have a strong enough ask, a warm introduction or some extra social proof juice of your own you may have a chance at getting a response. Most of the time you may not though. So digging a little deeper you may have to try to identify people that would be more likely to respond to you. Are there others working in that Marketing Department that would look like a hero if they forwarded your idea up to the VP? Can you offer your products or services a resource for that team to make their lives easier? You won’t be able to succeed if you can’t find people that are going to be most likely to respond to you.

4. Mine for contact information.

I like trying to start off with an email if I’m trying to get ahold of someone for the first time. It’s not as intrusive as a call and it allows you an opportunity to try to capture their interest. The trick is that finding someone’s email address isn’t always easy. Sometimes you may get lucky and find some contact info on a social or professional profile but those are far and few between. Later on in this post I’ll share one of the tools I use to get the naming conventions for emails from parent domains in an attempt to reach someone specifically. If you have the time my recommendation would be to find them on social and attempt to build the relationship there first. It’s very much a long-play but your chance of success is way higher when someone gets to know, like and trust you.

5. Craft and send your initial pitch.

Less is more with for first emails. Instead of explaining what should and shouldn’t be in your emails here’s a template I’ve used in the past. WARNING: Spamming the same pitch to lots of people IS NOT BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT. Doing this goes against everything we’ve already talked about when it comes to offering real value to the people you’re trying to connect with.

NAME,

My name is YOUR NAME and I'm from YOUR BUSINESS. REASON WHY YOU'RE REACHING OUT.  REASON WHY THEY SHOULD CARE OR BE INTERESTED IN A FOLLOW UP CONVERSATION.  FOLLOW UP BY REFERENCING SOMETHING OF RELEVANCE TO YOUR PROSPECTS JOB/CAMPAIGN/NEED.

To give a quick snapshot of what some of our work has looked like in the past here are few links with view counts as well. There’s also a link directly to our website.

1.

2.

3.

If you think we can add value to the work you're already doing let's set up a time to chat in the next week or so.

Best,

YOUR NAME

That’s it! Short, sweet and personalized to make a connection to something that they value.

6. Follow up.

For every 100 emails you send you may get between zero and a few responses. That doesn’t mean you give up. Remember you’re trying to develop a relationship where there was probably none before. So, it’s ok to follow up with additional information from a position of you giving value first.

7. Repeat.

Sending a few emails, getting no response and quitting doesn’t mean you’re business development process failed. It just means you didn’t give it enough time and/or your heart really wasn’t in trying to develop actual relationships with people. This is the part where there’s no magic bullet that most people hate to hear - it takes real work, more time than you think and lots of patience to give any business development plan a chance at success.

Ok, that’s the process!

So from this process you are already probably gleaning how to track success. My recommendation would be to either use a CRM that you like or just a spreadsheet to track things like contacts, dates of emails sent, whether or not they were responded to, how many emails were exchanged and what kind of business resulted from those communications. Tracking your reach and engagement over time will help you hone your message in a way that respects the time and interests of those you’re trying to get a hold of and supports your business growing efforts.

On to the tools.

Here is a list of tools that I think are worth checking out. Most of them are free or have a very usable free option for those that are just starting out or are looking to keep their budget as lean as possible. These are NOT referral or affiliate links, I’m recommending these tools because I’ve used them myself and think they are solid resources.

1. Hubspot. http://www.hubspot.com Here’s you’ll find a really good CRM and Sales Management platform. What I like most is that with the free version of Sales you get to see the opens and behavior for 250 emails you send out. The CRM is really robust as well. It might take a little time to set everything up the way you like it but once you get rolling it’s an awesome source to store and analyze the data your business development spits back at you.

2. LinkedIn. http://www.linkedin.com Regardless the size of your personal network LinkedIn is an awesome professional person search engine. If you’re looking to connect with anyone that works in a business or that owns a business odds are you’ll be able to find them on LinkedIn. Depending on their profile settings you’ll also be able to get a sense of who they are as professionals, interests, accomplishments, etc. All great things for trying to find common ground in which to connect.

3. Email Hunter. http://www.hunter.io After you’ve identified the people and businesses you are trying to get in front of you’ll need an email address. This is where Email Hunter comes in. You get access to a handful of searches free and then if you register (also free) it goes to 100. Here you’ll type in the domain and this site will do its best to give you the naming conventions of the email addresses used on the site. From there you just match it to your prospects name and you’ll have a pretty good chance of sending an email off that actually lands in someone’s inbox. Whether they open it or not is a whole other story.

So there you have it! That’s a quick and dirty Business Development 101. Are there other tools or approaches you can use to grow your business? Absolutely. But this post is designed to help you stop stalling, stop evaluating CRMs, stop playing in Excel in an attempt to build the perfect sales tracker and just start doing. One of the biggest reasons that you’re not finding the business development results you want is because you’re not spending enough time doing the actual development work.

Stop thinking, start building new relationships and building a sustainable business.

Take Control Of Your (Business's) Money

Has it been a month already?! Well, I'm back and you're going to see some new and interesting (I hope interesting) formats coming your way. 

Late summer is an interesting time of year. Lots of business owners will tell you that August and December are their worst months because their customers disappear. While I have a whole bunch of problems with that kind of thinking the one counter I want to offer in today’s post is that this time of year (and in December) is a great time for a  little reflection in your business.

It’s important to pick your head up from working on deliverables to make sure you're making decisions that keep your business moving forward - in the way that you want. That means taking a look at how your managing your money everyday. Whether you’re just starting out or running a 7-figure business, understanding your budget will help you make better decisions when it comes to making bigger time, monetary or relationship based investments. And yes, even if you feel like you don’t have any money you still need to think in terms of a budget.

In today’s post I am going to walk you through the concepts, tips, and tactics that go into organizing your cost structure so you can price as strategically as possible. This post is going to explore the major cost questions and concepts that you should be considering when you are bringing your good or service to market. The goal is to avoid what I’ve seen so many other entrepreneurs do and just use mental math to think about the costs of doing business – and ultimately get themselves into a lot of trouble.

To start you need to understand that there are two kinds of costs, well there are more than two but, let’s start with the two big overlying arches of costs. There are explicit costs and implicit costs. Explicit costs are costs relating to money that is used to purchase your resources. That can be inventory, wages, works in progress, and even the packaging your products or service go into. They are probably the costs that you are the most familiar with because the money comes right out of your pocket.

The other category of cost that is a little sneakier to nail down is the implicit cost. An implicit costs is the cost associated with the opportunity either lost or gained in choosing how to use your resources. It’s also known as opportunity cost. Think of it as the cost of what you give up to gain something. It’s these two broad concepts that are at the hinge of every business decision you will make. You have to decide not only is the money your spending worth the resource you're spending it on but, what else could you spend that money on – could that money be best utilized in some other part of your business?

In answering the “what if” cost questions you have to break out your costs a little more to get a better understanding of how money is flowing out of your business. You do this by breaking your costs down into two major categories. I know another pair of terms but these are costs that you can put directly into the cost analysis worksheet that goes along with this post.

The first are variable costs.

Variable costs are costs that vary with your level of output or production. These are costs that are either growing or shrinking based on how busy you are. If you’re a restaurant owner it might be the produce you purchase that week and if you are a small service provider like an attorney it might be the amount of letter head you print. As you need more stuff to bring your product or service to market you need to spend a little more money. It’s crucial to keep track of these costs over time as they will not only help you keep your pricing competitive and profitable but they provide some insight on how your business is doing in the long term. You might be able to discover your busier times of the year or get some insight on how successful your advertising is for example.

To best track your variable expenses think about them in small groups. You don’t have to list every single purchase you have but think about the types of purchases you make regularly that may change over time. Are they office supplies, perishable food, wages, manufacturing costs, etc? Based on your level of activity you may even be able to negotiate lower costs per unit/purchase with your suppliers. Trying to discover ways to create strategic relationships with the people or businesses you buy from is a great way to keep those variable costs as low as possible and to protect that profit margin of yours.

The second type of costs to isolate are the fixed costs.

And, just like their name sake these are costs that remain relatively the same over time. These are the costs that you might not have input in and just have to pay as part of operating your business. They might be costs associated with rents, utilities, bank loans or notes, business or property taxes, mortgages, interest payments…I think you are getting the idea. Again these are costs will not change with your level of output. These types of costs are usually set by contract and can be revisited periodically.

If don’t have many fixed costs now I would encourage you to think carefully about the contracts or agreements you get into as you ramp up your business. Incurring overhead costs aren’t 100% avoidable but you can try to insulate yourself by doing your own due diligence and even just having open conversations with your providers about the type and stage of your business. Just like your variable costs, don’t lump them up into one number. Go through each month and pick out the groups of costs you are responsible to keep track of. It’s important to drill down a bit with these because you can revisit them periodically to negotiate rates and payment terms as you develop a history with your creditors.

When you add up all your variable costs and fixed costs you get to see your total costs. I encourage you to break these costs out over a monthly time span because that’s naturally when you’ll be paying for them and it’s a little easier to visualize how money is flowing in and out of your business. That monthly cost figure you arrive is called your cost of production and you can do a few neat things with it.

First you can divide it by say the number of hours you worked or the number of products you sold that month to get an idea of the average cost per unit. Remember, this isn’t how you should be directly pricing your product or service but it is a good idea to see how your costs are spread out over your business each month.

You can also use the worksheet. This worksheet is a great tool as not only does create a visual for your biggest cost drivers but it also maps it against a Pareto Curve. If you’ve ever heard of the 80-20 principle, this is the same guy. That curve is a guideline for efficiency. Guideline not a law and it might not always be appropriate for you.

It’s a starting point.

What this curve shows is where you might be able to find efficiencies in your costs. Costs that are consistently outside of this curve should be explored and attempted to be reduced. Now in some cases you might not be able to with say a rent cost if you are already signed into a year long lease but, that’s not to say you shouldn’t be thinking about a possible move or negotiation later on.

Use this worksheet along with your financial statements to develop as deep an understanding as possible in your costs. Keeping them as efficient as possible will help you keep you profitable in good economic times and even not so good economic times.

Build More Foot Traffic For Your Business

This week I wanted to answer a two part question that I get a lot from the businesses I work with:

How do I bring more customers into my business? 

And, on top of that, how can I make it happen right now? 

At first glance it sounds like a question that you can throw into Google, instantly get 2.7 million results for, visit the first few links then cherry pick and try a few of your favorite business growing tactics. Then, sit back and watch the wallets and purses stroll in. 

Totally simple right? 

If it were totally simple my question to you is then, why do so many business owners struggle with getting and keeping the attention of their ideal customers? 

Because, something like this may be simple but it’s definitely not easy. That’s where this post comes in to help. This week I want to dissect this question a bit and hopefully provide a little insight and a few systematic actions you can build into the business-growing work you’re already doing every day. 

Let’s first dispel the terrible business myth and tactic that advises you that lowering your prices will instantly solve all your lack of customers problem. Sure, lowering prices may work in the short term but it won’t support you as you’re trying to build your brand’s integrity and it probably won’t inspire thralls of new customers to rush your check out counters. In (most likely) your case your goal should be figuring out how to beat the hurdle of obscurity in your ideal customer’s minds. Beating obscurity means being interesting enough for your customer’s to give you a shot at winning their business. 

To help you jump that hurdle I’ve outlined three things you can start doing today that will help you sustainably establish yourself as a trustworthy brand and be interesting enough to earn that increased foot traffic (and ultimately convert that traffic into customers) you need to see your business grow. 

1. Become an Event Planner.

It doesn’t matter what you are retailing or the service you are providing, if you put together interesting events people will come. This can be anything from speakers to small group events. An example that comes to mind recently is a yoga studio attempting to throw a giant outdoors yoga class in the middle of a busy outdoor shopping plaza. Lot’s of people, relaxed fun group workout, a DJ spinning trendy music all and lots of regular looking people enjoying an activity that is sometimes over glamorized by Instagram fitness models. People having fun, good music and great branding could be a triple win for this business. Event that you throw can be as intimate or as big as you want. Here’s another example for a coffee shop with a large student population. This coffee shop doesn’t have a ton of square footage but it can host intimate open mic’s, bring in authors, or even speakers on controversial topics to draw in different coffee drinking crowds every night of the week. Taking advantage of your social media (which you totally should have running) presences will help get the initial word out and provide an awesome platform for future conversation and engagement. Don’t worry about packing the house right off the bat; just stay consistent and show the people that do show up the best possible time. By virtue of the event you might see an uptick in your retail/service sales during the events but it’s the long term where you will really benefit. Show your stakeholders you’re willing to invest in creating diverse and enriching experiences and your business will steadily grow. 

2. Cross Promotion. 

Businesses are often not islands unto themselves - even though it feels like that sometimes. Entrepreneurs make friends, join networking groups and even local professional/social/civic organizations. A great way to build some foot traffic and to get some extra attention is to offer  incentives for the customers of other businesses to interact with you or host another business’ call to action. I don’t recommend this because most receipts often go straight into garbage cans but it can be something as easy as a coupon in the form of a receipt. A tactic like that might work for your local grocery store and a Jiffy Lube but odds are you aren’t either of those businesses. So, you have to get creative! What kinds of products or services can you give away or provide your patrons with for honoring some arrangement made with a neighboring business? Can you make it interesting? Unique? Unexpected? Even gamify the experience? If pizza shops and gas stations can keep customers loyal by offering rewards for patronage why can’t you and the businesses that are around you do the same thing by offering value your respective customers will actually enjoy? 

3. Give a little, but give often. 

If you have ever donated time or money (and shared your contact information) you know that every once and awhile you get a call to action via mail or email from the organization you either supported or that needs your support. Giving is good for a lot of reasons but most importantly for your foot traffic problem it’s good optics. Giving shows your community that you are connected and invested in the place that you do business. Plus, donations don’t have to be major dollar contributions as most businesses can’t substantiate that and still keep their doors open. But, small in kind donations, donations of time, and even small financial donations can really go a long way because you are putting yourself out in the community and also in front of your ideal customers who also support those organizations. If you have a brick and mortar space think about how you can host events that would benefit the nonprofits that ask of you. What old inventory can you donate? How can you motivate your employees to get more involved in the community on your behalf? If yours is the business that becomes the hub for social nonprofit activity you will be growing your foot traffic and your reputation all while having a little fun. 

If you’ve made it this far two things: thank you and you can see that none of these answers address getting people through the door right now. That’s the tough thing about building a business, building  a business sustainably means playing a bit of the long game. Along with these three tips you can also work on creatively making the most out of any kind of advertising or marketing budget you might have to get people’s attention. Doing that might be a bit of a bandaid to get a few quick sales but you won’t be doing the work to cultivate a sense of community. It’s community that makes people not only want to keep buying from you but to bring their friends to buy from you as well. I believe that planning great events, figuring out how to give and collaborating with other businesses are the best ways to maximize your brand’s personality and helping you overcome the hurdle of obscurity.

Don’t worry about space or infrastructure - just get it going! Put some chairs out, find someone to come speak and go. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just good. You can tweak on the fly and best of all your business will benefit every step of the way.
 

Better Navigate Your Business Support System

When you are working on a business that’s been in the works for a while or even just starting from scratch getting support is super important. No one tells you that working on a business can be pretty isolating and lonely at times. And, on top of that when you’re feeling isolated and lonely your motivation to do anything basically flatlines. Win-Win-Win, right?! 
 
NO. 
 
You can’t focus on growing your business if you're struggling to find the inspiration to produce content, find new customers or even just put pants on when you show up to scroll through your inbox in the morning. 
 
Pants. The struggle is real. 
 
This is why it’s important that your family, friends and community support you because, (in as anti-woo a tone as possible) that support is what is going to give you the strength to push forward when times get a little tough or you’ve been wearing sweatpants a little too long. 
 
Asking for and receiving support is a bit of a double edged sword though. How do you balance the support you need and the unsolicited (often well intentioned and inevitably worthless) advice that comes with it? 
 
As an entrepreneur here’s how you can get the most out of your support system. These five tips for navigating everyone’s feedback (with some support from me to you as well), will help you stay true to your vision and mission and while helping to drive you past whatever hurdle has kept you from doing your best work. 

1. Listen sympathetically.

Don’t just shut down when your support system offers tips and suggestions around helping you grow your business. I know they might not be offering anything that you will ever remotely implement but they are looking out for you. So be supportive back, take the suggestions with a grain of salt but most importantly validate the business support giver. Do not just shut them down because that’s the quickest way you will lose what the support or interest that person has in you. Getting good at being a great listener can literally make or break your brand.

2. Document everything.

Now I’m not just talking about what needs to be done or what you are doing at the moment. When friends and family help make sure you take notes. It shows that you’re engaged, that you appreciate them and will allow you to thank them appropriately. This is big because it helps to curb false senses of entitlement or resentment later on.  Everyone likes to feel important and it’s critical that you make an effort to show your gratitude.  As you're building a business getting your community to invest in your growth with more than their wallets means you’re creating advocates and raving fans in the future. 

3. Use accounting systems that work for you.

This tips is money specific and I had to put it in because literally everyone, including me, thinks they have the perfect solution when it comes to money. Also, it’s probably one of the most popular pieces of unsolicited advice you’ll receive from any would-be business advisor. Everyone has an idea for how you SHOULD be keeping track of your finances. Some old, some new, some pretty obscure and some legally ambiguous. Older generations might encourage you to use paper and pen, newer ones might have cloud based suggestions but it’s really up to you and your tax preparers. Your numbers are ultimately your numbers! You are responsible for all the liability and the gains. Me personally, I love Freshbooks. It’ cloud based and super easy to use.  

4. Choose your favors and resources carefully.

Everyone “knows someone” these days. Most of the time when your support system offers help it’s because they think it will really be valuable or cost saving for you. That’s not always the case. It’s important to navigate these relationships and suggestions carefully. You might have to let people know that your budget can’t handle a service or product or that you don’t think it will be a good fit at the moment. Gratitude is king here too, make sure your support systems knows you appreciate them! 

5. Settle up as soon as possible.

If you have friends and family working for you it’s important that they are compensated for their efforts.

Reciprocity is KING.  

It’s not just about handing over cold hard cash either it’s really any kind of value exchange. Think about the last time you helped a friend move in exchange for pizza and beers. Yes you were willing to help but the value exchange made it a little easier. Even if they refuse to accept, the act of offering is critically important. It validates experiences and keeps people from harboring resentment for your project or business. It’s easy for someone to contribute and feel a sense of entitlement or feel like they have some kind of stake in the profits or proceeds if what you’re working on really takes off. As an operator you need to manage those expectations as soon as possible. So, by offering some kind of repayment helps to wipe slates and egos clean. 
 
Make sure you are careful navigating personal relationships - it’s just as easy to offend when dealing with close knit support systems and money!
 
Hope you enjoyed these tips and they cover at least a few of the real issues you might be dealing with in your business developments. If you feel like I might have missed any feel free to leave it in the comments below - I’d love to keep this conversation moving!

How To Get Unstuck: Barriers To Entry Edition

Worried about the obstacles that you’re facing in your business? Odds are those obstacles are the result of not understanding the barriers to entry your business faces - even if you’ve been in business for while. 
 
“Barriers to entry” are way more than business buzzwords that fumble out of the mouths of people playing business. In fact the concept of “barriers to entry” is applicable to more than just starting a new business venture. The last time you probably heard that term was in an economics class in either high school/college or if you’ve talked to me long enough and have listened to my opinions about a few big public businesses. 
 
At the very least, that makes my competitive strategy heart sad.
 
No need to panic though because in this post we are going to talk about why it’s important to think about the barriers of entry and exit in your industry or business and how that can help give you a bit of an advantage. Competitive advantage is not static - you have to keep working at it! 
 
One more quick thing. To all the naysayers out there pining over why their businesses aren’t growing - the pie is not too small. There is enough marketshare to go around for everyone if what you’re offering is valuable! 
 
Especially, those that effectively differentiate, understand their barriers and pick the right niche. So before I start getting push-back on how strategy is just a mental exercise and that it takes big bucks to use strategy effectively just remember that if you can get your business to be laser focused, you’ll always find a rabid and engaged customers.
 
Ok prerequisite rant over.
 
So a barrier to entry is simply defined as a thing you need to do to get your business up and running. Barriers can also be reasons why customers aren’t buying from you. It can be an action, a purchase, government regulations or even experience needed to get you into an industry or to get customers to engage with you. Some industries are more capital intensive than others - think the capital requirements of a car manufacturing company versus the capital requirements of an english tutor. 
 
The other side of that pendulum are industries that require lots of experience or education. Think of the time and experience it takes to be a great doctor and attorney versus more entry level jobs.  Some firms attempt to capitalize on a specific barrier to control what firms can get into their market or industry. They may control the raw materials, contract with wholesalers or distributors, pay big lobbyist dollars to keep regulation in their favor or even control all the media outlets to keep you from advertising.
 
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t compete especially if it’s what you are passionate about! You just have to figure out how you can differentiate and deliver on the things that make your product or service special.
 
Barriers to entry tend to me a muddled mess sometimes. Start-ups and veteran businesses can stretch themselves too thin when trying to figure out which ones are most mission critical to focus on or to try to create a competitive advantage. Here are a few I like to keep in mind, that are more focused on how you run your business, when I’m thinking about keeping a business competitive in terms of barriers.

  • Network Effects - Think about the communities your stakeholders have created in support of each other and your brand. This can be a huge intangible asset.
  • Proprietary Processes - This is your firm's secret sauce. Do you do something in such a special way that has your clients and customers resonating with not only the result but how you bring that result to them. I have a favorite coffee place and it’s not because the coffee is great but because the coffee servers are great to talk to.
  • Switching Costs -  Cell phone companies are amazing and notorious for this all at the same time. Locking customers into contracts creates a barrier for new entrants or at the very least creates a lag time before groups of potential clients or customers can be reached.

These absolutely apply to customer's willingness and ability to engage with you. Are you making it easy for them to buy from you? To connect with your story or brand? To understand why you are so valuable that they would be doing themselves a disservice by not using you? 
 
Barriers to exit are very similar to entry. Some firms might choose not to play in a certain industry because it would be to hard to exit quickly or smoothly. It can be a challenge to offload plant, capital or equipment when a business closes. Firms might have high financial obligations to their employees might be locked into contracts with their suppliers.
When you are thinking about working on your competitive strategy I wouldn’t sleep on barriers. Better yet I challenge you to take a shot at drilling down into the three that I listed. Can you figure out where your advantage can come from and how you can better differentiate yourself. The biggest takeaway is sorting through all the noise when people talk about barriers to entry. Spreading yourself too thin can tax your resources and your spirit.
 
I would love to hear how you are navigating your barriers to entry? Do you have any insights or questions? My goal is to keep the conversation going and to really get entrepreneurs more in tune with what’s going on around their businesses and not just what’s happening in them. 

6 Actions To Help You Build Momentum In Your Business

“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” - Michael Porter
 
There is no better way to start this post or a Monday morning than with a with a quote from famed Harvard Business Professor and Strategist, Michael Porter. This is a great quote because it applies to established or more mature businesses that are focusing on allocating resources for the week at a macro level as well as to the new solo entrepreneur who is firing up GMail for the first time Monday morning and trying to decide which thread needs responding to first. 
 
Short (and most likely true) answer is none of them. 
 
#MondayMotivation
 
Monday mornings are my favorite time of the week and here’s why. They are great for setting intentions, making plans and getting your desk ready for all the epic activity that’s going to come. Monday’s also provide the interesting opportunity to decide what not to do. Choosing what not to do is important because, regardless of the size of your business, it forces you to decide on the most mission critical actions that will move the needle forward in your business. We all have constraints that we are dealing with so making deliberate choices around how you allocate resources in any given day, week or quarter is important. Long term winging-it is always a losing strategy.  It also helps to keep you from diluting what makes your brand special by trying to be too many things to too many people. 
 
I’m sure you wouldn’t have to think long and hard to find enough work to fill a 100 hour work week. But, would all of those 100 hours be efficient? Value-adding? Activities that will support the direct growth of your business? Or, would you be playing in your CRM trying to decide the perfect amount of data fields when you don’t have any data to input yet be what’s going to drive more people into your pipelines and dollars through the door?
 
Probably not. 
 
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a tidy and well managed customer relationship management system as much as the next sales driven professional but at some point the diminishing marginal utility on your administrative activities will catch up with you. 
 
With today’s post I want to offer you six actions you can take right now to start building momentum on the week and to help you decide which actions are worth the investment towards making this week count. 

1. Close on something. 
 
You don’t have to be in sales to finalize a deal or a sale. Before you hit full on Monday triage mode after an inbox ignored through the weekend take a look at your to-do list. Is there a conversation that needs to happen, an order that needs to be filled, a proposal to be followed up with? Sealing any deal helps to start to build momentum and honestly feels pretty good! 
 
2. Rearrange your tasks.
 
Front-loading your responsibilities with all the easy stuff can actually be a negative thing because you are eventually dreading doing the not-so-easy stuff later. You’ll start to procrastinate and get distracted. Moving your lists around and reordering them in a way that mixes the heavy and the light lifting will also help keep you motivated and moving through the rest of the day. 
 
3. Stop focusing on Inbox Zero. 
 
I can honestly say that for a while I was little obsessed with my email inbox. (I think a part of me still is but, it’s that part is getting smaller by the day). While effectively communicating is crucial to help you start to the week of with a bang it’s not going to magically make you more successful - and it’s a distraction. Streamline your notifications so that you aren’t getting texts, app updates, desktop alerts, or any other notifications and focus on the important stuff in Actions 1 and 2 above. I’m not saying ignore your inbox but I am saying learn to identify the stuff that needs an immediate response from everything else. (No, not everything needs an immediate response!)
 
4. Take on a new project or two. 
 
Everyone is busy or at least they think they’re busy. You are no exception. Saying yes to help out with a project or taking on a new project can help set your productivity gears in motion. Doing this accomplishes a few things: you are continuing to prove your value as a resource to the people you serve and you will have to deliberately allocate the scarcity of your time a little smarter. Showing colleagues, co-workers, clients, etc. that you can be counted on and that you are willing to jump into something new always has the potential to create new opportunities for success. 
 
5. Get your prep-work done! 
 
Just because you have a meeting on Wednesday doesn't mean that you should wait until Wednesday morning to prepare for it. That’s what everyone else is going to be doing. If you have some time today do it now. The work you do today will be more researched and prepared than anything you might rush to come up with - no you don’t work “better” under pressure. It will also help take some pressure off of your task lists and schedule. If you haven’t already, working to shift your mindset to one of investing time and not spending it will start to pay off immediately. Better prepared means more efficient, more professional, and a better chance for you to be recognized for being awesome by not wasting people’s (boss’/client’s/stakeholder’s) time. 
 
6. Read something.

If all else fails today make sure you take some time to work on bettering yourself. It can be professionally, intellectually, emotionally, or even spiritually. Invest some time in learning a new skill or sharpening ones that will help you create the week that you want for yourself. If you are an entrepreneur take some time to work on the parts of running a business that you might not be too strong in. I find that happens a lot with regards to getting the most out of a small business's financials. There are tools and websites that are all about helping you grow as a professional - this blog included! 
 
Hope these six actions help you drill down and figure out what’s not worth doing. As a business builder and grower your primary responsibility is to deliver the best experience possible to your customers and then after that it’s to figure out the work that will best bring in more of those customers. When you’re firing on the most important cylinders doing good work for great people it won’t be hard to build up a little momentum. 

If You Want Business Growth You Need Accountability

Transcript:

Hi everyone! I’m Nunzio and you’re watching Manager Minutes: Episode 3. In this series it’s my goal to help you close the gap between what you planned to do to grow your business and what you’re actually doing in the business - in 5 minutes or less..
 
In this episode I want to cover accountability and how I’ve been seeing a lack of it lately.
 
If you’re trying to grow your business you need to be accountable for your actions. If you’re expecting success I can tell you that it WILL NOT come unless there’s some kind of activity attached to it. You can’t keep blaming your setbacks and false starts to externalities. It’s not the world’s job to remind you how to run your business. 
 
No one owes you attention. No one owes you referrals and no one owes you success. 
 
You have to put your big boy or big girl plants on and decide if what you’re doing is worth your continued efforts. You also have to decide if you actually care about the goals you set for yourself.
 
If deep down in your squishy bits the goals you have on paper aren’t really the things that motivate you then you’ll never be able to hold yourself accountable. 
 
My challenge for you today is to look for sources of feedback in your business. Are there things that are happening or not happening that you can draw some kind of inference from. If stuff is going how you planned and your response is just posting all kinds of success quotes all over social media then you need to stop - and get to doing more of the work that matters. Look for the levers that you can push or pull that will support you working towards some kind of goal. 
 
Moral of the story here is to strengthen your accountability you have to start doing (and measuring) the work you keep telling people you’re doing. 
 
I’m Nunzio you’ve just finished Manger Minutes: Episode 3 and I’ll see you in the next one.

Make The Second Half Of The Year Count!

Today I want to just jump right in and talk about the mid year review process. It’s the middle of June which makes it an excellent time to hit the pause button on your business activity to take a look at what’s going on inside your business. 
 
I want to talk about why that’s important and give a few tips and actions you can take and try out in your business. 
 
Let’s start not in the middle but at the beginning of the year. 
 
At the end of every year you hear all kinds of stuff about setting resolutions, getting your annual plans, budgets and setting your business strategy for the year. It’s all rally cries and 4 hour strategic planning retreat or exercises. 
 
That’s all good stuff because for a short time you are forcing yourself to get crystal clear about what you want and how you’re going to get it. At least in an idea generating-optimal resource allocation-best case scenario planning kind of way. 
 
But, unfortunately, like well intentioned weight loss resolutions, after a few weeks, most businesses fall off the resolution wagon. Falling off your over idealized business resolution bandwagon doesn’t have to be a bad thing though. 
 
See, strategy and plans need to be more fluid. The trap is that as soon as you get in the flow of doing your business there are lots of pressures that a business owner has to deal with, that maybe weren’t accounted for or aren’t included in any of that early planning. If you built a rigid plan with maybe a few unreasonable or unrealistic expectations, there’s a chance that you get a little discouraged and throw the strategic planning baby out with the bath water. 
 
That’s when most businesses chalk up that whole process as not being worth it and validate how they feel by claiming that quote, this stuff doesn’t work or all that advice sounds great for everyone else but not for MY business end quote. 
 
That makes my heart sad. 
 
All that resolution and early year planning work is important for a lot reasons. They are the same reasons why they are important in the middle of year as well. 
 
Reasons like: 
 
Taking stock of what you’ve accomplished to date and look for constructive feedback on areas where performance is lacking. 

Discovering and eliminating possible roadblocks that are keeping you from achieving your goals.

Adjusting goals because people's tastes and expectations can change over time.

Getting information from you clients or customers about their satisfaction.
 
Making sure in the course of doing business you’re honoring what’s important to you - those would be your mission and values.

And, last on my abbreviated list here is making sure that you’re getting the most out of your time, money, emotional energy, patience and the list can literally go on in terms of the resources your business needs to thrive. 
 
I think you get the point. What happens is during the year we get busy. Get busy trying to do all the important things that help keep the people that we serve happy and returning as customers. But that leaves room for unclear strategy to creep in. Unclear strategy and conflicting priorities reduce your business’ performance and profits. 
 
That’s no bueno. 
 
So here is a list of 3 actions you can take during your mid year review process to help get your business back on the tracks you laid back in January. 
 
Gather your data. Every business has data. It might be a little different but start gathering. Start putting together things like client/customer sales, how many times you engage with customers, how many times do you have to engage with a prospect before they make a decision, how are you measuring success with things like social media or other marketing channels, what are all the steps in your process from customer interest to close, how much time are you spending doing admin stuff, or networking?
 
I’m hoping you get the idea. Then once you have all that in front of you and in some kind of way that makes sense you can make your way through some of the bigger questions about your business. 
 
Start with the big questions like: 

Where are we?

What do we have to work with?
 
Where do we want to be?

How do we get there?
 
What you’re trying to suss out are the mechanics of your business. If this were that weight loss new years resolution review what you want is to see how your body is doing now compared to the beginning of the year and have you been doing what you said you were. Then whether you were or not take a look at what’s happening right now and try to work out how you can still get to success if you’re a little short or if you are blowing your fitness out of the water what’s the next set of goals you can work to. 
 
After the mechanics I want to get into the experiences. 
 
A very important part of the review process is getting clear on what you want the people who interact with you to experience. They can be the same or different for all the different kinds of people your business interacts with. Everyone you meet is not necessarily someone that will listen to your pitch and you have to be comfortable with that. At the same time though you want to make sure that whoever your audience happens to be at the moment when they walk away, you did your best to be authentic in terms of your mission and values. This is getting at the heart of what’s important to you. 
 
In terms of our weight loss goal again, it’s like if you were using one of the many MLM weight lossy kind of products and all you did was spam social media asking people to buy or plan some kind of party. If taking your fitness more seriously has transformed what you want to do to reflect helping other people embrace their fitness is spamming <insert mass marketing weight loss gimmick> really the best way to get that conversation going. Probably not and if you’re like me you’ve already muted a few friends that have done that. Sorry friends muted friends if you’re listening. 
 
This last piece is about digging deeper on the “How” question from the first part. What you need to wipe from vocabulary from this point are vague business success generalities like: Make more sales, get more customers, have more engagement, set more meetings, coach more clients, make more stuff. 
 
Get the idea? 
 
Move away from the generalities and start quantifying what success looks like. How many more sales do you want? How many more customers? What kind of engagement? How many more meetings? How many more coaching clients? How much more stuff are you making? 
 
Once you get specific you can start to break out your schedule and allocate the time or other resources you need to allocate to hit those goals. You should have an idea because you already did the work of pulling the data. It might be more than finding the groove in your schedule. WHen you are looking at your business, you need to get clear and incremental on the actions you need to take. 
 
I mean, if you were a client of mine and said ok my goal is to get 30 new customers this year I’d say great so what are the steps you think you need to take to get the next client? That’s how you start. If you make your way through enough next’s you’ll be able to make your process a little more streamlined every time and figure out the tricky little things that work and tease out the things that aren't working so well. 
 
That’s it! That’s your review process for the month of June. You didn’t have to start from scratch and hopefully you're just building on the momentum you’ve been growing from the start of the year. I hope that the reasons I’ve listed are compelling enough to help you work through the three steps of getting your data and answering the big q’s, then working on the experiences you want to create, and lastly getting granular on the work that needs to be done to finish the year successfully, however you define success. 
 
I’ve just finished this process for myself and realized that success for me has changed a bit and that’s not a bad thing. My personal review process has shown me how I can take what I’m working with and authentically use my strengths and resources to finish the year strong. 

Manager Minutes Episode 2: How To Set Better Goals

The second episode is live! This is exciting because I'm already working on small changes to make this a better experience for both of us. 

Transcript:

Hi everyone! I’m Nunzio and you’re watching Manager Minutes: Episode 2. In this series it’s my goal to help you close the gap between what you planned to do to grow your business and what you’re actually doing in the business.
 
In this episode I want to highlight three things that will help you set better goals. 
 
Let’s start with measurable. When you are working on setting goals it’s really important that your outcome, effort and action be quantifiable. You want to be able to look down at your progress at any given time and know exactly where you are, what’s working, what’s not and what needs to be done. 
 
Next is actionable. It’s awesome that you want to do more, be more or make more but “more” is not a real action. When setting goals that you are serious about achieving you can’t treat your actionable items like bullet points on a bad resume. So get specific and quantify the action you want to take on a daily, weekly, monthly or any other time interval basis. 
 
Lastly is making sure that your goals are realistic. If you aren’t honest with yourself about the time you have to commit to your goal or the work that needs to be done then your goal will just sit on a list somewhere. Your goal should challenge you but it needs to also be rooted in common sense. So ask yourself, based on my current situation, ability and constraints can I stretch myself a bit and still make good on this goal. 
 
However you are planning goals right now I hope that you’ll pay a little more attention to making sure they are really measurable, actionable and realistic. 
 
I’m Nunzio you’ve just finished The Manger Minute: Episode 2 and I’ll see you in the next one.

Manager Minutes Episode 1: How To Set Better Priorities

Welcome to the first episode of Manager Minutes! I've decided to take the leap and start learning my way through producing video content. On this journey it's my hope to continually up the production value and deliver content that you can put into action every day. Below each video I'll always do my best to also include a transcript or show notes for you too. 

Transcript: 

Hi everyone! I’m Nunzio and you’re watching Manager Minutes: Episode 1. In this series it’s my goal to help you close the gap between what you planned to do to grow your business and what you’re actually doing in the business.

For this first episode I want to call your time management skills out. Well, actually my goal for this video is to supercharge those skills by giving you one simple things to remember when you’re trying to decide what to do next in your business.

And that's priorities.

You need to  get to the heart of what's important in your business. Before that though you have to come to the realization that you’re never going to get everything on your To-Do list done...ever.

What you can do right now is decide on the most important 1 or 2 things that you need to get done each day and build the rest of your supporting tasks around those.

I already hear you asking, How do you decide on what's a priority when everything I do is important in my business??

Well person who abuses #hustle in all your social posts there are two questions you can ask if your tasks:

1 Is what I need to do directly impacting the value I'm delivering to my customers?

And.

2 Is what I need to do directly getting me closer to one of my goals?

A yes answer to either one of those questions means you have a priority on your hands and that you should probably be filling the rest of your To-Do list with supporting tasks for your new priority.

So figure out what matters most and get to doing the work that matters most in your business.

I’m Nunzio you’ve just finished The Manger Minute: Episode 1 and I’ll see you in the next one.

Stop Consuming Motivation And Start Mining For It!

Motivation is an interesting concept. 

It has the potential to refill your entrepreneurial gas tank allowing you to crush your to-do list and at the same time; the acts of hunting for and consuming motivation related materials can literally cripple your productivity. 

What I’d like to explore today is how you can use motivation to push your business forward. It’s not the Tony Robbins or Gary Vaynerchuk kind of motivation that I want to explore though. The motivation I’m talking about is getting to intimately understand what motivates the people you’re trying to get to listen to your message. 

A critical and fundamental concept you need to understand as you’re growing your business is getting to the heart of what motivates the people you’re trying to serve. 

Before we start I need to potentially call you out. (Sorry in advance.) I need to call out the people who are a different person when they are trying to get some kind of engagement out of their audience. Different from their normal everyday, walking through life buying stuff kind of person that we ALL are. I need to call out all the people that have and share all kinds of tips, tricks and tactics for growing a business but never actually do any of those things themselves. It’s like saying, “Having clearly articulated goals are really important but, I’m a better operator when I just wing it.” They are the people that binge watch/listen to business development stuff but never take any action...and then complain about the externalities that are working against them when they get zero traction. 

What?! 

This is one of the problems with motivation. You expect consuming some soundbite driven piece of content to magically change you into a super-productive-business-building machine. That might work for a few people that need a push on an off day because they already put in the time to build real business infrastructure. If you’re the “entrepreneur” that’s been waiting to start for three years, one more podcast isn’t going to be the thing to push you into launch mode. 

For the love HubSpot, it’s not the economy’s fault! 

So, let’s approach motivation from a different angle. Let’s turn motivation into an asset that you can deploy strategically to support you building your business. In order to turn this consumable into a value-add for you we have to define motivation. 

Motivation’s New Definition: Benefits offered, earned or granted to help someone in their decision making process. It’s an incentive that is offered to encourage someone to take action. 

Sounds basic but sometimes revisiting the fundamentals is how you get better.  So, now that we are on the same page let’s talk about what you can do to better understand what motivates the people you’re trying to serve, to take action. I have a few questions you should think about when you’re trying to get to the heart of what motivates people. There’s also a point you should avoid as it can be a false-indicator for a lot of people. 

1. Where are they already spending their time online? 

When you observe your potential customers spending time on social and streaming platforms what do you do? They are clearly willing to accept the benefits of consuming some type of online media and chasing some kind of feeling in exchange for the finite minutes they have in any given day. If you’re trying to get into the headspace of your market, figure out where they are going online, what they are consuming and how they are engaging each other. If you can get to the heart of why they are chasing a quick dopamine hit from binge watching another episode of the Flash instead of buying from you, you can start to work on making your value proposition a little more interesting. 

2. What are they most proud of? 

Being proud of your kids, a DIY craft project you just finished or the website you built can tell a lot about what motivates you. We are in a market where the default for a lot of people is to over-share. You can use this to your advantage. Pay attention to the feelings and outcomes your prospects share when they tell you a story about a time they were most proud recently. You’ll be able to infer what outcome or value-delivering switches need to be manipulated to deliver a must-have experience to your customers. Big shiny new purchases might signify a preference for seeking high-end consumables, high quality products or getting great deals. If someone tells you in painstakingly proud detail all about how little Jimmy learned how to ride his bike without training wheels and proud-papa insists you watch all 30 minutes of the video he shot on his phone, quality family time might be something important. 

3. What does their life look like? 

Scanning the landscape of your ideal customer’s life can provide you with a lot of insight. As consumers we make decisions everyday that to us, feel inconsequentially when looked at individually but, summed up can tell a lot about what motivates us. If you’re marketing savvy this is the part where you start to build up the demographic profile of your ideal customer. Ages, neighborhoods, employers, favorite brands, celebrity crushes - all these things (and more) can offer you insight on how your ideal customer makes their decisions and the values they truly hold dear. 

Those three questions are a good start and if you start to really dig into each of them you’ll be able to collect a ton of data about your ideal customer. There is one thing that I want you to look out for though and it goes back to what I said early around the disconnect between people say they are and what they actually do. 

Be wary of taking things like social profile one-liners for granted. Be wary of any singular piece of information you collect, actually. When you’re trolling through a seemingly endless sea of available data on people, you can’t let a singular piece of information carry a significant amount of weight. What you’re really looking for are patterns in behavior and patterns for incentives. Just because a random social profile in what you believe is your ideal demographic says they love travel doesn’t mean they have ever actually traveled. Taking information on face value can be dangerous as you’re trying to craft your value proposition. 

Remember you’re trying to provide value and sell to real people, not the disconnected version of themselves they display online. 

So the next time you’re feeling a little behind get hydrated and avoid the urge to binge watch motivational videos on YouTube. Instead, roll up your sleeves and try to get a little deeper into the heads of your consumers - your business will thank you for it. 
 

5 Tips To Help You Narrow Your Market And Your Focus

Narrow.jpg

Happy Memorial Day Weekend! 

This weekend marks the unofficial start to summer and with any good season change it's also a good time to take stock in your business and do a little reflecting on your plans the next couple of months. To help you with that I'm going to share with you 5 questions you can use to help you build ideas and think through who exactly are the people you want to serve. 

"Well, I'm serving everyone that I can" - said the business owner who was so afraid of losing the sale they weren't thinking about authentically growing. 

Wanting to serve everyone is natural. If you felt that it was easy right out of the entrepreneurial gate to turn potential sales away then you are a really rare breed.

It doesn’t matter if you are a new business or have been around for a while there is always pressure to bend to the whims of the people that are willing and able to spend their money on us. The trick is to get really good at picking which of those whims to indulge and which to just let site in the suggestion box. 
 
In order to help you control constantly changing and adapting your brand around for what everyone wants one of the first things you need a handle on is deciding in which market your particular good or service is playing.

That’s not to say that you can’t grow beyond it, pivot away from it, or create new stuff entirely down the line. Getting narrow and specific about your market or your best target customer/experience will be crucial in accelerating your growth. Not to mention increase the rate of return on your time and capital investments. 
 
When you focus and get narrow on your market it gives you the opportunity to serve that market with a greater level of depth. You are working on building relationships and authority with your potential customers and on becoming a resource for them. When you niche down you also have the opportunity to better understand all the pieces of your own value chain - especially with what happens after the customer engages with you.

Here are 5 questions to help you narrow your focus:

1.) Of the people you serve the hardest are there any common factors that tie all of them together beyond the solution you provide? 

2.) Does your product or service address a pain point entirely or is what you offer part of a bigger solution? 

3.) How big is your market and is there room for realistic growth? 

4.) Are you differentiating against any competitors? Are there any core capabilities that give you an edge over them? 

5.) Do your stakeholders believe that you are an expert in your market? If not, how can you tweak your marketing to best communicate that to your customers in the best medium for them?
 
This list of 5 questions are important and hopefully hit you with a bit dose of “real”. When you are talking about identifying markets it can be easy to drift off into academic-exercise land and out of answering the questions that matter most.

Think about your business and these questions with the focus on narrowing your market so that you can dig deep and start growing. Move away from being a mile wide and an inch deep and into an inch wide and a mile deep - that’s where real connections and solutions get made.

 
 

How To Go From Business Casual To Business Growth

Let’s set the stage. 

It’s Monday (or any weekday morning or whenever the equivalent of “Monday” would be in your business). 

Today’s the day you’re taking things seriously. You woke up in your CEO pants and you have more determination now than you’ve had since you made your business growth-centric New Year’s Resolutions. 

You get to your desk, shake your mouse to wake your computer up, open up your inbox and a new tab in your browser and...just stare. In an instant all the thoughts you had about making today the most productive day you’ve ever experienced evaporate, like a dream you can almost remember after waking up. And, just like that your motivation takes a bit of hit and you fall back into your normal start of the work week routine. Or, worse is you have to deal with some fire that instantly bogards your plans for today. 

I can help get your business back on track today and any other day that you happen to wake up wearing your CEO pants. I’m going to introduce you to a few Lean principles that you don’t need a “belt” or certification to put into practice that can help keep you on track when you’re business (or motivation) feels like it’s running off the rails. 

Let’s start with a quick, non-business, definition of the Lean process. It’s basically just a set of ideas, principles and processes designed to help your business deliver the most value possible in a way that keeps your expenses (money, time, emotional capacity) as low as possible. It’s a way of thinking designed to help you more efficiently shape and organize how you’re getting to the goals you have for your business. 

Below I’m going to outline four concepts you can put into action right now. This could be especially useful for those of you that have been distracted by their inboxes and are running a little low on business growth momentum at the moment. 

1. Jump on the Continuous Improvement bandwagon.

Continuous improvement is definitely a concept that gets lots of lip service but ends up being one of those things that gets thought about but never really put into place. The heart of continuous improvement is:

1. Getting you to think about the opportunities you have in a project, 
2. Then working on how you might be able take advantage of those opportunities, 
3. Trying out those changes or actions,
4. And, reviewing how those changes or actions worked out for you. 

Here’s where you can change that. Schedule a chunk of time every week essentially creating a meeting with yourself that you CAN NOT cancel or reschedule to work on your projects. Working on the planning, evaluating and tracking of your highest value projects weekly will allow you to focus on the work that matters most and force you to make decisions about how you’re carving up your work week. The goal is to avoid just showing up and blindly working on whatever needs immediate attention or what you think you “should” be working on. Adding a little more structure and an extra lens or two to the work you’re doing in your business will also help you figure out if the goals and outcomes you’re working towards are authentically the right ones for you and your business. 

2. Decide how you want to compete in your market. 

Clearly defining strategy is the concept that business owners sweep under the rug the most. I know because I see it every week. Business owners trying to grow think that strategy is just an academic exercise. They believe it’s important but don’t have the time to really think about because they are busy running their business. Well if you want to be successful, defining your strategy can’t be an afterthought. An easy, do it right now, way to get to the heart of your business strategy is to think of your business in terms of what. The biggest what you should be deciding on is what are you doing to consistently set yourself apart from your competitors and still delivering on the value your customers expect from you. 

3. Make friends with Pareto. 

You’re probably a little too close to your processes. Your marketing processes, your financial processes and operations processes can be a lot to try to keep organized as you’re in grow-mode. I mean that in the most loving way possible. Being close to your business is usually a great thing because it means you have your finger on the pulse of everything it takes to move your business forward. It also means you can get a little nearsighted about your processes and will sometimes be unable to tell what’s wrong with them. The Pareto Principle can help you figure out what work really matters and which parts of your processes matter most when you apply it to the work you’re doing and the data you’re collecting. Essentially, the principle states that 80% of your outcomes will derive from 20% of the work that you’re doing. At first glance this is a little deflating if you’re asking yourself about the other 80% of the work you’re already doing. Try not to worry about that and instead invest in optimizing that 20% of work that’s producing your results and do more of that kind of work! 

4. Stop (or strive to stop) doing all the work yourself. 

As you’re peeling through your business data and are starting to enjoy the good feelings that come from better efficiency care of the Pareto Principle you’ll start to notice that it’s getting easier to repeat the work you’re doing daily. Taking the time to stabilize and document the processes you use everyday will help you move away from doing everything all by yourself. If you’re serious about growing your business you’re going to have to hand off some of the things you have made yourself responsible for so that you have more time to focus on growing. I know it’s tough right now if you’re a solopreneur or part of a small team but you have to start writing things down. Not only will it be helpful when you’re trying to track whether or not your activity is producing the outcomes you want for the business but it’ll save you lots of time when you decide to grow your workforce. At the very least it will save you time having to relearn some task that you may only do quarterly - like building a cheat sheet for yourself essentially. I’m working on a process right now to help me edit video faster so that I don’t get stuck toying with all the neat features in Adobe Premiere. 

This is a good place to end for this post and a great place for you to start working more efficiently in your business. Taking control of your time has more to do with growing your business than you initially thought. How can you give dedicated attention to customer development and marketing if you’re spending time doing work that only marginally benefits the business? And, for the love of Gary Vaynerchuk spending 100 hours a week working and #hustle’ing doesn’t mean anything if the work you’re doing isn’t directly delivering value or making it easier for you to deliver value to your end consumer. 
 

7 Things To Keep Track Of To Keep Your Business Growing

There’s a ton of stuff to keep track of when you’re trying to grow a business. Inputs, outputs, customers, time, investment, impact and the list goes on and on. How do you know what’s important to track and what’s not? What’s the difference between vanity metrics and the metrics that represent real dollars in your bank account? 

I have some tips to help you out and they all revolve around supporting the strategy your building for your business already. 

Having your strategy (essentially your why, what and how) together will help you manage and measure the effort you’re throwing into your business. There’s a catch though, business strategy, the instructions that you're constantly building and adjusting for your business comes in lots of flavors and sizes. 

On top of that there’s no single best approach that is always applicable for every situation and no single tool that fixes every problem or overcomes every challenge in your business. Which ultimately leads me to one of my BIGGEST pet peeves, when I hear “consultants” talk about a single process they run everyone through. 

Literally makes my skin crawl. 

I am a big fan of having a strategic toolbox to sift through to help the business owners I work with find resources that makes sense to them and create change that matters. It works because just like in real life when you have a specific problem with your car or house you (or someone you pay) reaches into a real tool box and pulls out the right tool for the job. In this post I’m going to outline some important metrics you should be keeping track of, these help you identify specific problems or opportunities. That way when you reach into your strategic tool box you have the right information to pick the right tool for your business growing job.

Why should you care?! 

The challenge for you as a busy business owner is to choose the right approach or tool to help you manage your business. Maybe you’re looking to create overarching guidelines in your business or you need to decide how you’re going to sell you to a particular customer. Maybe you’re somewhere in between the 30,000 foot view of your business and boots-on-the-floor action. At each one of those stages there might be a different tool to help you navigate the buffet of possible decisions you could make and track all the outcomes that are possible.

How do you know which one is for you at any given moment? 

You know based on the data you’re using. If you’re a savvy entrepreneur type you might better know the meat and potatoes of your business as metrics. If you don’t identify as with the sexy way entrepreneurs are portrayed in the media that’s ok too - this is also for you. 

Better data (or metrics) means that you can better scan through all your options and pick the advice and resources that will be the most helpful. Better data and metrics will also save you and your business lots of time and frustration if you’re working with any type of would-be “consultant” that might be trying to funnel you through some predetermined evidence-based system. 

PRO -TIP: Most peer reviewed, well documented and established strategic frameworks are evidence-based. 

Here are a list of 7 metrics you should be keeping track of in your business. These are not the only 7 you should be keeping track but it’s a good start if you’ve just been winging it for a while. It’s in identifying challenges or opportunities in any/some of these that should guide how you find solutions or resources to get the most out of the time and energy you’re putting into your business. 

I need to throw out this disclaimer before we get into these - If you’re not tracking these in any kind of real and quantifiable way (some might be a little fuzzy I know) then you will not get any value out of this! 

1. Gross Revenue 

This is the money that’s coming into your business. Tracking gross revenue weekly or monthly can help you keep track of how the return on your efforts as you’re out in the world making people’s lives better. It can also help you identify patterns in your customer's behavior, especially if there is some kind of seasonality to your business. 

2. Leads and Referrals

This one can be applied to you retail folk but it’s better suited for any kind of service business. Tracking your leads and referrals every week or month can be really helpful in identifying where your business is coming from. I am a big fan of doing the most important work and putting your most attentive energy into the places you know yield great results for you. I know resources are finite and I know you know what it feels like to have lots of lines in the water with nothing biting. Keeping track of where your leads and referrals are coming from will help you avoid sales and marketing burnout and find the resources to help you better leverage the places you know your best business comes from. 

3. Profit Per Customer/Sale

It blows my mind when I ask people what their profitability looks like per customer or sale and they stare blankly at me. Don’t be a blank-stare’er. You need to know how much profit you’re getting from each client or sale for so many reasons. A few of which include how you’re pricing your goodies, how much time or energy each transaction demands of you and how scalable your business is. If every time someone pays you for something you are winging it how can you expect to get better and build a sustainable business that will support the lifestyle you want? 

4. Cash or Operating Reserves

If you're small you might not have much cash but your biggest asset could be time. You still want to manage time just as you would any cash in your business. How are you spending your resources? Are you weighing any opportunity costs? Have a list of priorities in terms of what gets your attention or cash when you’re working? It’s ok if you don’t have answers to all of those questions right now. What’s not ok is not tracking where those resources are going and what the returns or outcomes are on any of those investments. Keep track of your cash it will help you manage any kind of seasonality you happen to uncover while you’re keeping an eye on your gross revenue. See what I did there? It’s all connected! 

5. Inventory or Client Turnover/Lifecycle 

This is a fun one. How long do your goodies usually stay on your shelves before they sell? If you sell anything every extra day something sits represents cash your business doesn’t have and the growing possibility that it might not sell/expire. You might not ever be as tight an inventory management ship as Wal-Mart but buying appropriately will help you from sinking cash into too much inventory. For my service kin out there the equivalent measure is capacity. How many people can you serve in any given day, week, or month? If you are charging a fixed fee for service you want to make sure you are doing the best job you can and moving those clients through your service pipeline so that you can free up space to take on new clients. The longer it takes you to deliver the longer it will be before your next paying customer steps up and engages with you. 

6. Market Share and Brand Equity 

These metrics can be a little fuzzy for some business owners. The goal here is for you to keep an eye on where your business is in relation to your competitors in your industry. If you can get census data or some kind of industry specific insight on where you place that’s great. It’s also ok if you can’t but, if you’re fighting to get people to walk through your doors (physical or digital) and spend money then you should evaluate your competitive landscape every once and awhile.  Don’t think you have competitors? I’m willing to call you out and challenge you. I challenge you to think about any feasible substitute someone might be able to spend their discretionary dollars on and achieve some kind of similar outcome, feeling or experience. 

7. Time To Market

How long does it take for something to go from being an idea in your brain to an actual saleable thing. Keeping an eye on Time To Market will give you an idea of efficient your operational processes are. If you’re like me then you probably have lots of projects that you get really excited about, start and then never finish. Measuring Time To Market will help you keep yourself from investing too much into projects like this and to help keep you focused on the things that matter in your business. Those are things like serving your existing customers and doing the work that gets you recognized in your market. 

Just because your business is small, or smaller than your competitors, that does not mean that you can overlook being analytical. Every week or month you should be sitting down, getting elbow deep in the data of your business and looking for trends. It’s in how the data of your business changes over time that you will be able to identify REAL opportunities and challenges.

It’s through your data that you can make decisions, take actions and actually track your outcomes. You’ll also be able to look for the right tools or resources to help you make the decisions you need to make to push your business forward. No generic or blanket approaches to address your business’ specific needs. Keeping track of metrics in your business also keeps you from just feeling helplessly stuck or worse throwing money at anyone that sounds like they might have a good idea on getting your business unstuck. 

Here Are 4 Things To Remember When You're Looking For New Office Space

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I’m sure at some point in your life you’ve heard the phrase, “If you build it, they will come.” It’s from a 1989 Kevin Costner movie called “Field of Dreams” and it’s totally relevant for today’s post. Odds are you’re like me and have never seen the movie in its entirety but, you’ve heard your dad/uncle/older brother say that quote more times than you can probably remember.

Most people use this quote when referencing building a new product or service in their business. It comes from the idea that if you can identify your customer's pain point and offer a solution then you’re chances at organic business success greatly improve. Maybe that’s the case every once in awhile but, if you’re an entrepreneur struggling to grow I can say that 99% of the time that saying is total bunk.

Real life is not a baseball diamond in the middle of a farm field where ghosts of players show up and everyone has a grand old time. In fact, if you’re building into a physical space hoping new customers will come you are in for, probabilistically, a world of hurt.

This is a problem that I see all the time. I see business builders getting really excited about their ideas and solutions jump into an over leveraged buildout hoping that a grand opening celebration will solve their cash flow issues.  Then, when it doesn’t, scramble to figure out how bills are going to get paid while trying to simultaneously drive more traffic through the doors. It’s a really tough situation to see and a tougher situation to be in if you're the business owner.

So, when do you know if jumping into a new space or investing a bunch of time and money into your current space is worth it?

By keeping these concepts in mind.

1.) Are you beating obscurity?

If you’re business wasn’t getting any attention before your new space why would jumping to a space change that? Odds are it won’t. Taking stock of your business’ audience and community is a great place to start. Are people showing up at your events? Interacting with you on social media? Leaving you great reviews and testimonials? Coming back as a paying customer on a regular basis? Being able to leverage a real and engaged community is going to be critical if you hope to see real bodies in your space when you open your doors.

2.) Do you have enough revenue to support a space?

There are some expenses that you have to make when you’re starting a business. Building a website, getting business cards possibly investing is some kind of inventory/customer management system all qualify. These expenses, while potentially significant, are all flexible in terms of when you choose to incur those expenses. You know what isn’t a flexible expense? A long term lease payment. Well, that and all the other fixed expenses that go with buying into a new physical space. If you’re just starting out, struggling to grow or have really inconsistent sales why would you commit to a long term expense? Using some credit to finance expansion is great only when you can, with some minimal level of certainty, predict what your revenue is going to look like in the future. And no, just because your five year plan says you’ll be profitable in six months doesn’t mean the market you’re serving thinks the same thing.

3.) Will your customer’s tastes and expectations be changing any time soon?

Opening the doors on your shiny new business space is a great feeling. The fact that that your customers are walking through your doors,  engaging with you, buying from you and walking out getting the solution you’re offering them is why you chased the entrepreneur feelings in the first place. Will those feelings last though? How much research have you done on the disruption that could be happening in your market space? Can reasonably expect consumers to maintain their buying habits for at least as long as you have your lease? Transportation and medical aren’t the only industries that are subject to disruption anymore. Everyone knows the story of Uber and AirBNB but have you seriously thought about what disruption would like for your business? Before jumping into your new space or signing the dotted line on that renovation loan it’s really important that you try to take the temperature on how people consume similar products or services.

4.) Fit vs Opportunity

Opportunity is a tricky beast, especially when it comes to real estate decisions. Before you jump in a new space because it feels like fate dropped the space into your lap you need to think through a few questions. First, is this really the best space for you? Will being in this space make it easier for your current and potential customers to interact with you? Will the space be able to grow with you? At it’s core though this is the old “right vs right now” dilemma and the weighing of the costs/benefits of being in whatever space you’re thinking about. How you navigate this dilemma really comes down to making sure that the decision reflects the heart of your business as well as the financial needs that go along with financing your aspiring growth. The best thing you can do for yourself is to remove the emotional component of the fit and create a checklist of “must haves” for the space. That way, no matter how serendipitous something feels, you can use your checklist as a guiding light to ensure that you’re really making the best decision for your business.

Growing a business is tough. It’s hard enough as it is to fight for the attention of your audience then get them to trust you enough to buy from you. Don’t make it even harder by jumping into a space that leads you to transferring your financial stress on to your customers. When you make the decision to expand into a physical space it’s important to remember that your decisions should be enhancing the customer’s experience, not taxing it. Just because you drop a fro-yo spot in a popular shopping plaza doesn’t mean you’re entitled to the foot traffic - RIP Let’s Yo! East Longmeadow.