Make The Most Out Of Your Business Planning This Year

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To quote a song that will hopefully be an earworm for you, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.” This song has been my jam as we enter into the second week of 2018. 

Why?

Because it’s, “Time for you [and your business to finally] to go out go out into the world.” 

Ok, sorry. 

I’m done with the lyrics. 

But the song applies to the post I promise. 

In order to talk about accountability and growth in a non-cheesy and meaningful way it means you have to accept that some things will have to change and what better to serve as a natural inflection point than the New Year. I want to help you kick start your accountability, business planning and goal setting from a slightly different perspective. To do that I’ve prepared a few things I want you to consider as you’re finding your stride in 2018. 

Here are five things that I would offer anyone looking to start the year off right. 

1. Inventory everything. 

Now I’m not saying that you need to painstakingly document every pen and paper clip but for the love of Mike, please have an idea of what you need to do/have to bring your product or idea to fruition. If you want to start a gym then have an idea of what the minimum amount of equipment you’ll need to open your doors. Have a business that sells a physical product - make sure you have some in stock before you start advertising them. Have a restaurant then make sure you have the ingredients to provide what you have listed on your menu. Everyone is always busy and even more so this time of year so ensure your customers stay happy by making sure you have what they expect you to have when they are ready to engage with you. 

2. Cash Flow. 

Ever been on a cruise ship? Well they know exactly what they need as cash inflows from each passenger on the cruise to make it a profitable one. They have inventory and supply chain procedures that would give Wal-Mart a run for their money. Understanding your cash outs and ins is something that small businesses don’t pay enough attention too. Most of the time, in my experience, they just pay the bills as they come in and deposit the revenues for the day. That’s all well and good but what kind of analysis are you doing so that you can keep steering your business in the right direction. Just because you’ve managed to keep your doors open (physical or digital) doesn’t mean that you are successful. It just means you’ve been paying your bills on time. Plus how do you know what’s working and what’s not if you aren’t keeping score on how efficiently you are allocating your resources. 

3. Time Management. 

How do you keep track of your hours in the day? I’m not just talking about the billable time or the time that you play shopkeep. I’m talking about all the rest of the work that needs to be done. Are you making time for the administrative tasks appropriately or are you just throwing everything into an office and hoping that as more time passes things will just work themselves out. Time is just like money - it’s a scarce resource. You want to make sure you are doing something to so that you are maximizing the time you choose to be working. Remember just because you throw hours at a project doesn’t mean it’s going to be good - I’d take deliberate and focused time over brute strength over-work any day of the week. Extra point: make sure you make the most out of your sleep time. I’ve just started tracking my sleep habits and I’m already impressed by how little changes can make me feel amazing the following day. 

4. Don’t stop learning. 

There is always better ways to do stuff. There are always new tactics and lessons to be learned. So make sure you allocate some of that scarce resource, that is your time, to developing your skills. Personally I’ve been working on my Photoshop skills and I’m having a blast doing it. I will probably never dawn the title of graphic designer but understanding Photoshop will help me deliver better products more efficiently to my clients. This could apply to leadership, being an entrepreneur, a language, and even managing Quickbooks. (I would definitely recommend Freshbooks though if you are looking for a finance manager.) 

5. Stop saying and just do. (Just in case you need a little more support.)

In the last 2 weeks I’ve seen a plethora of articles and posts all about getting you to achieve your goals. Everything from journaling to sharing your goals on social media to create some accountability. While those tips are great they aren’t going to do what needs to be done to get your goals accomplished - you are!! Why would I tweet something if my audience can’t really hold me accountable? Facebook statuses fly by with the speed and fury of a passing fighter jet and most people are just creeping their friends or friend’s photo’s - is that really a place to tell the world you are ready to take your business to the next level? I’m guilty of this too. I download productivity habit tracking apps, I journal for revenue growth, and I’ve even told my friends and family of new happenings. Sometimes those things don’t happen and it’s because I (and you) are great rationalizing machines especially when something feels or seems like it will be work. To get past that you have to start and keep yourself on an action train. Start doing and then keep doing - it’s the only way you will get things done. The GTD is an example of a method that is really great for helping you strategize but don’t get too preoccupied in the planning. Sometimes “good enough” is what you need to get on to the next task. 

I hope this list helps. I know they all aren’t necessarily connected but each of them is important if you want to get your business or life moving in a positive direction. Especially number five. So to recap: take stock of your stuff and money, keep learning to keep yourself as efficient as possible, do work, and limit how long you spend playing in online scavenger hunts for a few laughs. 

Like I said, I’m a people too, and I get a little lost and depressed sometimes too. Over the last week or so - I’ve been making a conscious effort to shake that and put my own advice into play. I don’t like complacency and I’m leaving it behind. Feel free to join me! 

Get Paid What You're Worth In 2018

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Happy New Year! 

In today's post I want to encourage you to make your way through Casey Brown's Ted Talk where she talks about getting paid what you're worth. I think this is a great way to start the New Year because her stories go beyond just the financial gains of making more money as she communicates how getting paid what you're worth impacts how you see yourself, your self-confidence and your self-worth. 

Whether you're an employee, an entrepreneur, have New Year's Resolutions or are just thinking about what you like to get done this year this Ted Talk is for you. It's a mindset reframe as you get back to work this week. 

And, just in case you aren't convinced that it's really worth your time here are a few of my favorite lines from the talk:

"Find your own voice, a voice that's authentic and true to you and communicate your value." 

"No one will ever pay you what you're worth. They'll pay you what they think you're worth and you control their thinking. "

If that second quote didn't reach out and touch the part of your brain that controls motivation then I don't know what will. I mean, it's a really great few sentences to let your brain chew on as you're thinking about how you want to be perceived this year. 

Ok, enough rambling from me I hope you enjoy this video as much as I did! 

Your boss probably isn't paying you what you're worth -- instead, they're paying you what they think you're worth. Take the time to learn how to shape their thinking. Pricing consultant Casey Brown shares helpful stories and learnings that can help you better communicate your value and get paid for your excellence.

Want to get ahead in 2018? Understand these Five Forces!

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I read an article that took me back to my undergraduate economic/business studies at Bentley University (College when I was there). 

Well took me back to the feelings I had as an undergraduate. 

Allow me to take you back. 

Take you back 10+ years ago to young me sitting in my first Microeconomics class - a class that would yield my lowest grade in my academic career to date might I add. What I remember most about this course were the conversations and the breakdowns between what the book said and how we could apply in real life. I loved this course but I seriously struggled, so much so that the professor actually said I should consider a major change. 

But I stuck with it. I knew, even though I didn’t always get the material at the time, that it was important to know about the incentives that motivated how firms interact with each other and how people interact with firms. Fast forward to now and I’m teaching college courses, mostly economics and finance, including designing original economics courses for business programs. Take that Freshman-Bentley-Econ-Professor-Who-Didn’t-Believe-In-Me! It’s being pragmatic in understanding what motivates people and making everyday economics a skill set that I rely on everyday. Getting to the heart of causality and creating strategies that have real impacts for people and firms. 

Why did I share that with you?!

It’s because of Michael Porter. This article reaffirmed the mission that I have for myself and for Disruptive Strategy. Basically when I grow up (professionally) I want to be in a similar position to him. Porter is a strategist, economist, and professor that has done an amazing amount of work touting the benefits of competitive systems to get and keep economies moving and growing.

Reading this article made me feel like that undergraduate that had a world of possibilities in front of them. It helped me remember that the skills and the tools that I’ve been sharpening over the last decade not only have value but are needed by people and firms because it’s more than what simple Google searches and templates can provide. 

One of my favorite systems of his is the Porter 5 Forces Model and I wanted to share it with you. Since its inception strategic consultants, planners, and advisors have been using this system as a basis to create strategy for firms of all sizes. The kicker is that it’s based in pretty topical economic theory - remember the things that “shift” a supply and demand curve, or how markets find equilibrium, or better still price elasticity of demand?? 

Yup, it all comes from there!

Here’s what you need to know about the 5 Forces Model to be a better strategist: 

There are 5 Forces that drive companies in competitive markets: 

- The threat of available substitutes
- Amount of buyers and their bargaining power
- Amount of sellers and their bargaining power
- Rivalry/competition within a market - number of existing players
- Barriers to enter a market

Substitutes 

When bringing a product or service to market you have to consider the available substitutes. How much do they cost? How close is the experience to your product or service? What might differentiate you or how can you increase your value/perceived value? There are lots of tablets out on the market now but, why do people choose to buy an iPad? Why might someone choose Google’s Nexus 7? How can you position yourself to be perceived as a niche product or service?

Buyers

Can the buyers work together to have an affect on a market? What kind of information are you providing for your buyers? What is the collective experience of your consumer? Do you have a product or service that allows for multiple points of entry at differing price levels? Is the experience so streamlined that consumers can always expect a certain experience? Are you building stakeholders or are just banking on perceived obsolescence? Think your cable company. Odds are if you call complain and leave their prices won’t need to change because there are more than enough subscribers willing and able to pay the prices that they ask for. But, if you everyone in your town/city cut the cord and subscribed to Hulu and Netflix then the cable company might have to listen to the concerns of the consumer. 

Sellers 

Can you benefit from pitting sellers/vendors/distributors against each other for your business? Can you diversify the way you collect your inputs? Are there any suppliers that would help you grow your economies of scale - reducing your average costs over the long term. When you enter a market or are thinking about making your product unique it’s crucial to consider your supply chain. If there are any hiccups or if you choose cheap over value then that might have an effect on the quality or consistency of your own products. 

Rivalries between existing firms 

It’s important to assess where other firms are in your market. What kind of market is it? There will be big differences between how you approach an oligopolistic market vs something where there is a bit more competition. It’s also important to monitor how the market behaves. What I mean by that is keeping track of how things are marketed or how fast products/services change. An example would be Apple’s iPads and iPhones. It used to be that those were launched about annually but because technology is changing so fast it’s moved up to about a 10 month release time for new stuff or at least updates to existing stuff. When doing your branding or positioning seeing what the currents are doing will help you better utilize whatever resources you have available. Nothing worse than marketing in a place where no one is looking. So identify your markets and who consumers as well as firms identify themselves. 

Barriers to entry

What will it take to enter a market or just start a business? What are the costs or investment necessary to be a competitor? Are there any obstacles as far as availability of resources to get you going? What are tax liabilities or government policies that need to be taken into consideration? Nothing worse than being in business for a while then getting slammed with a tax bill that you weren’t even close to being prepared for. Are there distribution channels available for what you are doing or do you have to create your own? You might be in business already and need some help gaining some scope on growing - so it’s important that you understand the questions to ask to get the best information to overcome barriers. 

I know went over these 5 Forces really fast and it’s a lot of questions to ask or even try to answer. There's a benefit though in even starting to think about this stuff. When you start to think about these forces and answers these questions some really neat stuff happens. You start to get really clear on what sets you apart in your market. You start to see what your (real) competitive landscape looks like and you start to see how you can continue to add value to people's lives. 

I just realized how long this post is going, so if you are still with me - you are awesome! Awesome and exactly the kind of person I want being part of this community. I want to do more on creating strategy and using the 5 Forces Model so if you have questions on application or making this more pragmatic please shoot them along by signing up for the Disruptive Strategy Newsletter!
 

Prepare for 2018 Like a Pro

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The last few weeks of the year are always interesting productivity and business growing monsters. It’s a balance between enjoying the holiday season, not giving up on your goals and trying to get a hold of people who may or may not be checked out already. What I love most about these few weeks though is that they are great for putting your head down and sprinting towards making good on your 2017. The close second to that is that they are also great times to reflect a bit in your business. 

It’s a great time to be a little honest and a little raw about the level of effort you put into your business this year. In this post I’m going to share with you an outline you can use to review your efforts this year or as an agenda for year end conversations you may be having with your team. 

Before jumping right into the outline I want to share with you a bit of a framework you should follow first if you really plan on getting anything useful out of this reflection exercise. 

Prepare 

This is a big one most businesses owners I talk to just gloss over. They gloss over it because they think that everything they need to think about in terms of what their business did over the course of the year is just floating around in their brain. Wrong. What’s floating around in your brain are the misremembered experiences and perspectives you’ve help through the year that your brain chose to hold on to. It’s your view of your business through either rose colored or excuse tinted lenses. If you’re going to take this reflection seriously you need to have an objective view of what you were or weren’t able to accomplish. So pull out those financials, bank statements, social media dashboards, etc. 

Set the tone 

Sounds simple but it’s important not to skip. You shouldn’t be going into this exercise looking for only the things you did wrong. You want to celebrate the things you did right too! This reflection process should be about identifying where you can continue to grow in your business and how your current capabilities and capacity map against the goals you want to set for yourself in the coming year. 

Review performance expectations

Whether you actively think about it or not as a business owner you have a job description. These are the task, responsibilities and actions towards outcomes you committed to when you started the business. Reviewing the expectations you set for yourself everyday will help to measure your performance against the reality of growing a business. This is where being honest is important because it’s easy to rationalize why something you committed to didn’t get done when you’re the one holding yourself accountable. The real test is being honest about the dedication or commitment you showed up to work everyday with. Again, don’t get bogged down if you had a spell or two of lacking enthusiasm every time you sat at your desk. The entrepreneurial journey is less of a check mark and more of a rollercoaster - it’s about the patterns of activity over time that really matter. 

Notes on goal setting 

There are a million and a half ways to set goals. Finding the one that works for you is important but regardless of what system you use I want to make sure that you are setting goals in targeted areas, that build on your strengths, that develop you as a professional and finally that are aligned with your values. If you’re setting goals that don’t matter to you or that you can’t commit to then it doesn’t matter what’s at the end of that rainbow because you’re never going to get there. They should stretch and challenge you but not be so far out of your abilities or habits that you just chalk them up as a loss subconsciously before you even start. #newyearnewyou

Make sure you schedule time to follow up

It’s unfair to expect that you can do this work now, file it away and just figure that you’re on the right path without checking in at this time next year. My recommendation is to break your goals and plans out by month so that you can check in along the way. It’s ok if your course changes over time because you’ll be actively assessing what’s important to you and your business and what’s not. Following up will help fight the self sabotage (something that I am super guilty of) and help you build momentum as you start to hit benchmarks and see real growth. Plus, you’re executing on one of my favorite sayings of all time - “What gets measured, gets managed”. 

So now that we’ve set the stage below here is some swipe copy you can use to run your year end review conversations. This works as a self reflection exercise as well as a conversation with your contractors, team members or employees. The headings should apply to most people and I’ve added some question primers to help you think through those headings but feel free to add or subject the reflection questions based on what feels right for the body of your work in 2017. 

Agenda for Annual Review

Planning/Teamwork

What did you accomplish? What worked well? What didn’t? 

Attitude Toward Assignments

Where there types of work that you enjoyed more than others? Types of customers? Where your employees or team on board with what was asked of them? Did the work you do feel authentic to you? 

Knowledge of Duties

Did you feel like an expert in your job? Did you have the technical skills to deliver the value you promised to your customers? 

Your Community

How connected were you to the community you serve? What kind of connections did you create? Where did you add value to the networks that you are a part of? 

Working Relationships and Cooperation with Other Personnel

Did you play nice in your sandbox? Where their situations or relationships that could’ve gone better? Did you (and your team) create an experience or environment that encouraged people to do their best work? Do you feel like you managed your time, team or expectations appropriately? 

Operations 

Did you have a system for moving your business forward every week? How did you measure success or growth? Is that a fair way to measure it going forward? If you breakdown your work process are there places where you might be able to delegate or create efficiencies? How much time did you spend working in your business vs. on your business. 

Response to Assignments or Body of Work

Were their projects or works delivered that you weren’t proud of? Were proud of? What went well? What didn’t? 

Conformance to Work Schedules, Assignments and Instructions

Did you deliver on time every time? Were you honest about the time you put into your business this year? Do you plan on working more? Less? How can you work smarter? Did you manage your customers expectations of your work deliverables and timing? 

By the Numbers

What did this years quantitative data look like compared to last years? Are there any patterns of note? How are you going to use what you learned this year for next year’s: budgets, calendars, sales activities, inventory management, content planning, engagement, and other trackable metrics?

Goals for Next Year

What is important to you? What do you care about? What value are you going to deliver to people? How are you going to measure success? How are you going to get people to pay attention to you? 

That's it! 

Keep the notes before the agenda and the agenda in mind when you're thinking about how you're going to prepare for 2018 and you'll be setting yourself up for success because you're doing it from an honest place. There's no worse feeling then looking at the New Year all bright eyed and bushy tailed only to set goals that will doom you from the start. Don't forget to make this process your own. What I've outlined for you here really is the bones of a process. Some of it may not apply to you or your team and that's ok. Just take some time, mentally prepare to be honest and set good goals to help launch you to your next levels of success in 2018!

Do This To Make 2018 Your Best (Business) Year

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Short post today because I want you to do less reading and more watching! 

This time of year is a great time for reflection, for figuring out what worked and what didn't and for thinking about the changes you want to make for yourself and your business in 2018. 

It's a great time for innovation. It's a great time to challenge your (and the market's) assumptions to try to figure out how you can deliver more value to the people you serve. Being innovative is not a new topic nor is it a concept that only applies to tech companies. Bitcoin and cryptocurrency advocates are innovating right now with the start of Bitcoin Futures. 

In this TED Talk Joi Ito talks about how innovation isn’t just for agile software. It can be applied in any industry and as Joi says it’s “bottom up, democratic, and chaotic”. This TED Talk might be a little dated, 2014, but the heart of the message still very much applies. 

And, I loved it. 

While Joi talks a lot about his projects, the sciences, and big data I believe his message absolutely applies to entrepreneurs and more specifically about strategy and business development. When you are trying to grow your business there are a lot of moving pieces you have to constantly be considering. Being a now-ist embodies what it means to create strategy, react to the sentiment of the market and to make real choices everyday or your customers will just find someone else. Being a now-ist also means not worrying about having every perfect resource or a plan that maps out your business over the next three years. It means that you figure out what’s important to you and you move forward from there. Real information, real decisions, real people and real results. 

If you are facing the start of the week or the end of 2017 a little discouraged I encourage you to give this TED Talk a watch and to challenge you to deploy on Ito's message. 

Avoid Burnout By Prioritizing Systems Over Passion

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Passion and building a business go together like Nutella and....anything.  Sometimes though, you need to take the spoon out of the Nutella jar and think more about how you’re building your business instead of how delicious the experience is. 

Really. 

What this post is going to focus on is how systems will trump passion (most) every time. I 100% believe that grit, as a function of passion, can play a big role in your business’s success but it’s not a sustainable and repeatable activity. Businesses have seasons just like anything else in life. Your passion is important to help you ride out those rough seasons but it’ll be the systems that keep you moving forward. 

This might sound harsh but I’m going to start by calling passion out. 

Passion needs to  fall behind systems for entrepreneurs because it’s inconsistent. It’s easy to be passionate about something when it’s going well. In fact, entrepreneurs experience a passion snowball when their efforts are being rewarded by either revenues coming in or growing exposure. What happens when things aren’t going right for you? What happens when it gets hard? Well, coming up with the passion to keep pushing forward gets to be more draining and there’s a chance that feelings of doubt and regret start to creep in. It’s normal for passion to ebb and flow or even change all together. The challenge is not trying to build a sustainable business on a passion platform alone. 

Enter Systems. 

Passion is great for setting goals, shaping vision and setting your business's values. Passion is the rawest most authentic version of your business. You need those things and that rawness for any strategy to be really effective. Why? Because people connect with passion. When it comes to making the operational choices that matter in your business, passion and goals alone shouldn’t be the deciding factors. You need systems to help you evaluate whether or not a decision is worth making for you business. You need systems to make sure that your customers get the very best experience every time and you need systems to help keep you passion in check. 

So what is a system then. I want you to think about systems as recipes for your business that you cook in repeatable intervals. Think of like baking a cake for your business every day, week, month etc. Only instead of something delicious like red velvet it’s more nutritious for your business like writing blog posts, keeping track of expenses or even just dedicated times for cultivating new prospects and leads. Systems should be simply designed to be repeatable and specific like any good recipe. 

That’s it.


It’s a simple idea that is not always easy in practice. It shouldn’t matter how you feel that day, what the economic environment is looks like around you (short-term market variability), or if you are lucky or not. What matters is that you have a set group of actions designed to produce results that creates efficiencies for you. 

An example might be blogging. Let’s assume that I’ve already proven to you that blogging for your business is a worthwhile endeavor. For me, I’m very passionate about teaching business owners like you to build sustainable businesses but, there are some days that I might not feel like “showing up”. And I haven’t. My goal here is to show up every week but if you go back through the posting dates you’ll be able to see a few posts that stretch a little longer than a week.

How can you and I keep building a relationship if you can’t rely on me to show up and hopefully deliver amazing content to your eye-holes? My system for blogging is built into my morning routines and rituals so that it’s part of what I do every (read: most) week(s). Passion starts and stops in the mind but it’s the system that puts my hands to work. 

Systems also create opportunities for you to collect and objectively evaluate your business’s data. As business owners, using passion as a way to distribute resources or making choices can get a little confusing. Passion is inconsistent and in your business you can’t afford to make choices inconsistent for a whole number of customer experience reasons. It’s important to be able to take stock of what you're doing and measure it against your goals or how you define success. 

Systems trump passion because they help to build momentum. Even the smallest systems, like getting a run in every day at lunch can help you keep your momentum going. Why? Because you have started and finished something. Not only that but it’s in an effort to reaching the goals that your passion helped set. It’s the feeling of doing the work and not just wanting the want. 

Here’s my challenge to you and your business. Find your goals and post them somewhere so that your brain can let them go. Then go out and create the incremental systems that will outline the actions you need to take everyday to find that success you chose for yourself. They can be qualitative or quantitative but the point is to take action. Don’t forget to keep track and analyze along the way. 

Finding efficiencies or opportunities for competitive advantage is a good thing :)  You are trying to plan out any space or time where a wavering passion might get in the way of reaching your goals. Anyone can set a goal and for proof think of all the times you or your friends set a goal, stressed about it a bit, and then stopped caring because their passion evaporated. What will set you apart is deciding what work to do and how to do it - then doing it! 

Take the long the view on what you want and start working your systems today! 
 

Stay Focused And Get More Done This Holiday Season

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This is the best of times and the worst times when it comes to managing your business.

Very Charles Dickens. 

Rapid fire holidays means lots of opportunities to get out from behind your computer or office and have a little fun. But it also means that everyone else is doing it too and, if you are running or growing a business it can be challenging. Challenging to get a hold of clients, get invoices paid, and even deliver your products. This post has 5 tips to keep your business focused this holiday season. You can be sure that I’m doing these since I plan on power-eating my way through the end of this Thanksgiving week. 

1. Get aggressive with your systems.

If you’ve been lax on your follow up now’s the time to tighten up. Especially if you are looking to get paid on your outstanding invoices. I use Freshbooks and it’s a huge help to send gentle pokes out reminding clients that they need to cut those checks before they sneak out of their offices. Stick to your checklists, schedules, and planned times as well. The more deliberate you are with how your time is allocated for meetings, etc the more efficient you will be with that time. 

2. Get festive!

A few decorations can help go a long way with your productivity. Even some minor holiday trinkets can be just enough to satisfy those impulses to go out and enjoy the season. A little color and change can help keep you focused and foster an environment you aren’t racing to leave every day. It can also help to get you and your team re-engaged as the act of decorating can be a community building activity. Holiday’s can be a great opportunity to add a little depth to the relationships you are building professionally as well - so be sensitive to the diversity of your crowd but don’t be shy! 

3. New projects.

While lots of businesses are sprinting towards the year end there is always the chance of burning out the teams that support you (or even yourself). So use the next few weeks to plan, execute, and evaluate a new project. Not to add extra work but to keep you motivated. If there has been something you’ve been putting off nows the time. Between trying to get a hold of people and your own delivery you may have some extra time. Use it to add value. By the end of the year you will have something completed and can use that momentum to ring in 2013...along with all the housekeeping that goes into sweeping up 2012. 

4. Manage expectations.

Benchmarks and goals are great but they have to be achievable to make the most impact. If you are coming on the the year end and you are grossly underperforming in any of the goals you set for your business it’s time to re-evaluate. Actually that’s what your quarterly check-ins should be used for but we all get “busy” sometimes. So plan for the rest of this year from today. What can you and your business do today to finish the year strong. Re-evaluations don’t have to be a bad thing and can recharge your business and your team. Then at the end of the year/beginning of next year use what you’ve actually done to forecast for next year. Please please please don’t just marginally increase your goals by some arbitrary or even industry stated percentage. Create goals that are lofty but not such that you become inactive all together just incase you miss a benchmark or two. Remember reaching goals creates momentum and that’s what keeps you moving forward. 

5. Use motion.

Move around. Stand up while you work. Creating motion and movement during your day can really help keep you focused. It’s the long periods of sitting or solitude that really do us in during this time of year. If you are a solopreneur invite someone to just share some space and that will help foster that movement. Take breaks often but plan them strategically - use them as a reward for instance - and move around. Movement gets different parts of your brain firing,  oxygen rich blood flowing and delivering glycogen to the brain which can be great for critical thinking. Plus you never know where you might find some inspiration! 

I hope this list helps keep you focused as you are trying to finish out the year strong. The worst thing you can do is just throw your hands up and do nothing because that’s what you expect everyone else to be doing. I won’t be doing that and I’m one of the everyone. I plan on using this time to keep growing, keep networking, and build some steam so when the first Monday comes in 2018 I’ll be well on my way to making it my best year yet. 

If you have any tips that help keep you motivated around this time of year I would love to hear them! Please feel free to leave your comments below :)  
 

Make The Most Out Of This Busy Season

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Don’t let the latest NFIB report get you down. Better still don’t let it slow you down. Here’s what’s going on. The National Federation of Independent Businesses puts out a report called the Small Business Optimism Index and in its last report a few key indicators dropped by as much as 3 points from September to October 2017. Overall though there was a slight increase, which is a good thing. Up to this point Earnings Trends, Expected Credit Conditions and Plans to Increase Inventories took the biggest hits which means business owners up to then have been a little apprehensive about growth through the fall season. 

But, that’s all about to change as the holiday spending season starts to ramp up and as consumer confidence starts to build. 

Small businesses are really excited this season reporting more job openings and higher expectations that spending and the overall economy will improve. That’s a really good thing. To summarize a few points it is reporting that about 21% of business owners polled claim that they expect real sales to be higher, 32% expect the economy to improve and 35% claim they have current openings they are unable to fill. It might looks like a mixed back on the surface but it’s looking like there’s going to be a strong finish to the year. Which means, regardless of how you’ve done so far your business you can still hit the goals you set for it. 

Don’t let a few lagging indicators negatively affect your business!

While these reports are helpful for getting a gauge on what’s happening on a macro scale you shouldn’t let reports like this be an excuse for not performing your best. Every business has hurdles but it’s how you deal with them that will dictate your successes. 

My advice is just to power through. Here are a few places to start: 

Take a look at your margins and other operational metrics to see how you can make your business leaner and more efficient. I want you to think about how you can get the absolute most out of the resources you currently have access to. If you can’t instantly bring more money in right away then look to see if you can create some cost savings and streamlining. 

After that start reaching out. Reach out to current clients, past customers, anyone that might be a stakeholder and ask them about their experience with your business. Get some feedback or ask for a testimonial. A drop in an index doesn’t mean that the act of business is coming to a halt it just means that you have to get creative and strategic about making your deliverable unique. 

Focus on the service. Whether you are customer or operations-centric it’s important to never dismiss people the people that are paying you. Especially when it’s so easy to use pricing/discounting as a sales weapon. Don’t get me wrong I love a good sale but if you aren’t careful you could price yourself right out of business. So focus on adding value, focus on the service and the interaction people have when they engage your brand. If someone is paying you for something then they should have your full attention. It’s that attention that will keep them coming back. 

This post wasn’t supposed to be a list of how to not get bogged down by a mixed bag of business owner opinions but it ended up that way.
I’m not mad about it. 

There is always something that can be done to push your business forward even when the news says the opposite. Remember that there are outliers in any statistical representation, there’s always a standard deviation. So shoot for that. Don’t just say you are different be different. Use Twitter and Facebook to engage with your constituent base. Start a kickstarter campaign for a cause with your business leading it - do something to show people you and your business cares. But most of all don’t just go through the motions. You have to mean it! If you aren’t genuine in your efforts you will be as obvious and as snake-oily to spot as the person who shows up to networking events trying to bulldog-pitch-a-sale at every conversation. 

Don’t be that person. 

No one likes that person.


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. 


Want A Better 2018? Put Your Customers First!

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It’s getting to be that time again, holidays and end of year planning. This time of year can mean a few different things for the businesses out there trying to do great things. If you’re in retail it’s go time for you, the fun is just getting started. If you’re a CPA you might be heading into year end filings. If you’re in the construction trades you might be winding down. As 2017 comes to a close businesses find themselves in a few different seasons when it comes to their development cycles. One thing always stays the same though regardless of your industry.

The drive to get better in 2018.

This time of year my Audible library is especially full. I spend a little more time exploring and screening all the fun entrepreneurship books and titles that promise to help business owners be better. There are tons of great books out there from classics like “The $100 Start Up”, “Four Hour Work Week”, and “The Lean Startup” to “Reinventing You” and “Side Hustle: From Idea to Income in 27 Days”. I’m seeing that there’s a bit of a lack of care though in one particular area, a business development hurdle of sorts.

That hurdle is really caring about the customer experience.

Sure, lots of resources ask you to survey your audiences, interview your customers and try to learn as much as you can about their pains and what they are willing to pay to solve them. That’s all well and good because it’s a function of getting your product or service into the hands of the people that really need it. And, I am all for efficiencies, especially when capital is hard to come by. These books really are great resources if you are looking to jump into something and go from zero to launch as quickly as you can. But, books like this do a really great job at giving you the initial energy and know how to get something MVP’ed out then sold and kind of leave you there.

If you’re trying to build real momentum in 2018 they leave you wanting for a little more about curating the customer experience and building for longevity in those customers.

Going straight from idea to sale which isn’t a bad thing. It’s just short term thinking leading to short term money. I’ve been witnessing a push for entrepreneurs to create, validate and build revenue only to sell the business they just created or be absorbed, aqui-hired, etc.

It’s a Hollywood Effect - you see the big players all over media and think to yourself, if they can do it why can’t I? I’m not saying don’t go for it, I am saying that it will be work, and lots of it, so be prepared.

*Stepping on to Soap Box* I tend to think less about MVP’s and more about customer experience and longevity of the firms I work with. It’s the stability that creates jobs that puts dollars into pockets and bolsters economies of all sizes. Granted an Instagram size acquisition will put get some a nice paycheck but the economic impact of that windfall can be limited depending on the intent and value of the nouveau rich. *Stepping off Soap Box*

Things to think about whether you are starting a new business or have been in business for years looking towards delivering the best possible customer experience:

1. What is the customer walking away with?

Are they just another walking wallet or user? What value is your product or service providing and is it doing that well enough to warrant a return customer? If you’re struggling with why they bought from you then you should check out last week’s post about buyer motivation.

2. What kind of impact do you see your business having on your community?

Communities don’t have to be the immediate neighborhoods, cities or towns you operate out of. Even on the web those that support, interact, and engage with you are part of your community. On top of the value from consuming what intangibles do your stakeholders get when they become part of your community. Are you furthering a cause? Do you have a mission? Give back? Maybe just a company that prides itself on its own integrity and that is enough to make customers want to keep coming back?

3. Don’t worry about price points right away or rushing to production.

Take time in making sure the quality of what you produce is where you want it. I’m not saying it has to be perfect but it should be something you can be proud of. Creativity and energy is going to keep pushing you to adjust and improve on the fly. If you rush to MVP and it flops will you have the time, energy, resources, and pride to see it through the creation/production cycle again.

These are only a few points I wanted to bring up. Making better decisions, cultivating real relationships with your customers and growing your business takes time. So if you’re serious about getting better in 2018 you have at least a full month head start on your competition. So start now.

Every creative and development process is a little different as there are lots of business models and platforms to build on. Don’t waste time trying to find the perfect model or methodology for your business. Spend all that time you’d usually allocate to Google searching the best way to get your customers to like you on actually engaging with your customers.

After reading this post I want you thinking about your business in a qualitative way and less of a how-can-I-pitch-this-if-I-were-on-Shark-Tank kind of way.


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. 


The Top Three Buyer Motivations

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In today’s post I want to get straight to the point. I’m going to outline the biggest reasons why people buy from you and I want you to see if your marketing, branding or actions map appropriately to your customer’s motivations.

Here are the big three:

1. Impulse.

Have you ever been scrolling through Amazon and hit that “Add to Cart” button out of instinct? You weren’t hunting for anything in particular but it felt good to make that purchase. Amazon is really good at showing you things it thinks you’ll like, need or could want and they know that everyone likes an easy dopamine hit. You also get those good feelings because your brain rewards you for engaging in a behavior that’s rooted in survival - like storing food for the winter, getting a perceived good deal, or avoiding FOMO. Your brain gives you that quick dopamine hit and you enjoy the benefits of your purchase in the short term.

Is your product or service recreationally based? Is your value proposition tied directly to providing an amazing customer experience? If it is then you should think carefully about how you’re rewarding your buyers in the now or immediate future. Nerf does an amazing job of this for it’s customers of all ages - it’s a brand that is the physical embodiment of fun. You might not be selling soft foam toys but you might be able to glean a thing or two from Nerf’s marketing if you’re counting on your customer’s instincts to buy.

2. Reflex or Reaction.

When people are buying out of reflex or reaction they are addressing an immediate need or problem. If your toilet is flooding in the middle night and you call a 24-hour plumber, that plumber is charging you a premium to help you solve that problem. Out of sugar when you’re baking cookies means you’re running to the grocery store. Struggling with marketing, received a cease and desist order, or need help building your business development efforts means your engaging with the appropriate professional services provider. I think you get it.

If your product or service solves a specific problem then you need to figure out what situations best create the opportunity for someone to find and use what you’re offering. Is your marketing mapping to the times when people need you most? Are you leading with the value you provide in those tricky situations? What about how much better someone’s life is after they engage with you? Understanding your customer’s biggest motivators or “why” for needing you will help position your business for success because you won’t just be listing your features or benefits. Remember, people don’t go to the hardware store to buy a power drill you’re selling the hole the drill makes.

3. Aspirationally.

The promise of change can be a big motivator for people. Right now we are living in a world where one of the biggest draws in something like a new phone is its ability to get smarter. I know this first hand because I bought the new Pixel 2 XL because of Google’s promise that their AI would get smarter which means it will help me be more productive. Yes I needed a new phone but aspirationally I’m always looking for better ways to do more and be more and this phone tugged at all the right heart strings for me. The promise of being better is why online courses, fitness programs, and even some professional/life coaches sell so well. It’s because customers engage because they believe that going through a process or consuming a product/service will make their lives better.

Having the power to sell aspirationally is a power that you need to wield carefully. Well it’s actually less Spiderman’s Uncle Ben and more of a King Arthur’s Excalibur (double edged sword.) The reason? Of all the ways to position your business to your customers, aspirationally is by far one of the easiest. It’s easy to come up with words of inspiration and promises of change. What’s hard is delivering the value on that promise. What’s hard is getting people to finish the online course they started with you, to take your advice and actually do something with it and to stick to the diet the fitness program outlines. That’s why it’s a double edged sword. Not only that but the market is overcrowded with hucksters that will gladly take money from a customer and be happy with delivering a mediocre at best experience. So, if you’re business is promising a transformation or a benefit that makes someone’s life better you need to make sure you have the chops to deliver.

Now you’re challenge.

I challenge you to take a hard look at your business. I want you to really think about why people engage with you and the value that you deliver. Then you’ll be able to figure out which bucket catches most of what you do. It might not be perfect but it’s important to focus on one of the three reasons why people buy and realign your marketing so that it matches the motivations of your customers. It will help you save money and talk directly to your customers more authentically. There’s no wrong choice here and I’ll give you three examples to match businesses that are doing each one really well.

Note: None of the following businesses are sponsors in any capacity. I just think they are great examples of the reasons why people buy.

Impulse - Vat19.com - https://www.vat19.com/ This site sells really fun and interesting gifts. They have a ton of fun in their videos and on their site and do a great job of inviting you to join in on that fun.

Reaction - Freshbooks - https://www.freshbooks.com This is an small business accounting and invoicing service that steps in when your business needs to up its professional game. They do a great job nurturing small businesses and letting their customers know that they are going to be there when their customers needs them.

Aspirationally - Marie Forleo - https://www.marieforleo.com/ Marie Forleo is a big deal in entrepreneur and business building circles. The reason is because she delivers hard on her promise of helping business builders change their lives so they can build businesses that reflect the “special gift” only they can deliver.

See, no secret formula. Just great marketing celebrating where people are on their buying journey. Best of all these examples aren’t trying to capture everyone. They’ve identified how they deliver value and why their target customers are most likely to buy.

Now, get to work!


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. 


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!

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Why People Really Buy

Why people buy.jpg

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.  

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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.