Vet Your Next Business Idea Before You Launch

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The best time to start a business was yesterday, the second best time is today. So what’s stopping you? Before you can get to the fun bits around setting up a website, choosing your project management software and taking the perfect Instagram picture you have to decide what it is you’re business is going to do.

Yes, for the record I do indeed think it’s fun to evaluate and pick out project management software. No shame in my game.

Are you a service provider?

Selling a product you created?

Selling other people’s products?

Offering a subscription for access to content you’ve created?

Created a marketplace to help buyers and sellers find each other more easily?

Who are you serving?

How will your offer transform your customer’s life? Make it easier? Prevent stress?

That’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to asking the questions that will help you focus the idea you have right now into something that can be consumed, utilized and ultimately transform the life of your perfect customer.

In this post I’m going to teach you how to vet a business idea in six steps or less. The idea here is to help you move through and explore your business ideas quickly to ensure that you’re spending your time (and money) as efficiently as possible. What this post does not do is guarantee your success. You’re responsible for that one but I can help you figure out if the idea that’s rattling in your head now or scribbled on the back of that napkin is worth giving an honest try for at least the next twelve months.

1. Look around.

What does the current competitive landscape look like? Are there businesses that do exactly what you do? Are there businesses that offer a close enough solution to make the choice a little difficult to your target market? I would challenge you to look long and wide for all the existence of as many possible substitutes to your offer as possible. The exercise of looking at the competition has to be purely observational at first. It can be all too easy to work your way down the rabbit hole of your competitive advantage. I want you to save that energy for later. Right now it’s about piecing together a picture of who your competitors are, how big the market for your offering is and trying to figure out the perceived effectiveness of your competitors. That includes looking for reviews and evaluating the content those brands share. You’re not just going up against a bunch of businesses when you start from scratch, you are also competing for the attention of their (sometimes) pre-established tribes.

2. Who are you serving?

Truly understanding your target customer is critical. Lots of business coaches and gurus would advise you to create a persona or set of personas for your target customers. These are profiles you build that match the lives of the people you hope to serve. The goal is to use these profiles to help you better craft your marketing, brand and sales messages to this audience. It can also help to manage the expectations of the customer experience once they do buy from you. Building customer avatars is not bad advice at all. But, building your perfect customer isn’t always a luxury or a reality your starting your business into. Here’s how you can bridge the gap between building the hypothetical perfect customers and talking to the real people that exist right now that would make for your perfect customer. Talk to as many real people as you can. Talking to as many real people who are close to your ideal customer will help you get to know what they really care about, struggle with and spend money on. Having a Platonic idea of who your customer means nothing if that customer never puts their credit card information into your sales page. Real people spend real money every day. The rub is trying to understand what might motivate those real people to spend their real money on you. In the Lean Startup world they call this customer interviews.

3. Value Proposition.

There’s nothing worse than solving a problem that nobody has. When you’re veting your business idea the size and scope of the problem your solving matters. Why? Because it’s the people with that problem that will be buying your solution. Solving a problem that’s too narrow with a population of people that are too small might not be a sustainable business in the long run. I love the idea of you starting your business because you are “scratching your own itch”. It’s a great place to start! Just make sure you can be reasonably sure that you’re not the only one with that problem. You should have a pretty good idea about how to position the value you plan on delivering to people after you get through steps one and two here. This is also the place where you get to splash in some thoughts on how you’re going to differentiate yourself in your market.

4. Size Matters.

The size of your market matters because it will influence the model you choose and how you communicate with people. Are you a brick and mortar business only supporting your local community, like a restaurant? Or are you shipping your products internationally. Getting a handle on the size of your market affects how you price, the inventory or materials you need to deliver your value and who you expect to show up on as regular a basis as possible. Understanding the size of your market will also help you get a sense of the expectations around pricing and how to position yourself against existing competitors.

5. Competitive Advantage.

We can finally get to one of the things that feels like real work when you’re building a business. Competitive advantage is what makes you special or unique in the eyes of your customers. Competitive advantage are capabilities that allow you to deliver your value better than any of your competitors. It can be a proprietary recipe, maybe you have an exclusivity agreement with a supplier or the intellectual property that only you can deliver. It’s not just the stuff that allows you to charge lower than your competitors, I would recommend you stay away from just being the cheapest. It’s also not some generic statement like “we have the best customer service”. It’s specific, measurable and directly relates to the value you deliver and the problem you solve. It’s also not sustainable! One of my biggest pet peeves is when I hear bad advisors talk about sustainable competitive advantage. Your customers tastes and expectations are going to change over time (just like yours do). Technology is going to get better. Industries are going to get disrupted. That means, in order for you to stay special you have to keep an eye on what’s going on around you and do the work to keep what makes you special growing and adapting to the times you’re in.

6. Teamwork makes the dream work.

Just because you don’t have the budget to bring on a full time staff doesn’t mean you don’t have a team. When you’re starting out it’s important to bring people on board who will help guide you and who you can get honest feedback from. It’s also a great litmus test for your value proposition. Getting your mentors on board or getting a few people to be on a board of advisors is a great buy-in test for your business model. As for any day to day support, look to the people that are closest to you to help spread the word, find resources or just to lend a helping hand. Be careful about managing expectations here though, lots of people will be totally willing to support you on your journey and it’s up to you to manage those relationships so they don’t feel used or abused. At the end of the day anyone that you can involve early on in the process will be invaluable advocates and evangelists for your business as it starts to grow.

The ideas around building a business is simple. You’re solving a problem for a big enough group of people that will allow you to keep solving that problem over time. It’s putting those ideas to work that’s tough which is why choosing the right idea, for the right market and with the right support is critical. The best part, you’re never really going to be sure it’s going to work. The best you can do is to keep good data and HONESTLY measure your progress regularly. Launching on a not great idea doesn’t make you a bad business builder - staying married to a bad idea for too long does. Use this post to help you think through your ideas so that when you do decide to launch, and give yourself that twelve month runway to try, it’s something that has the best possible chance at finding success.


It's Time To Up Your Marketing Game

Whether you like it or not, if you’re building a business, you need to be paying attention to marketing automation and marketing technology. Maybe not you specifically but definitely someone on your team needs to be paying attention, that’s for sure.

 Why?

 Because marketing, branding and sales (all slightly different things) rely on your ability to talk to the people you’re trying to serve in a way that gets and keeps their attention. In as common sense a way as possible, how can you expect your future customers to find you if you aren’t doing anything to signal where you are - both online and in real life. Oh, and posting one blog post every few months hoping that people will just magically find you and fall in love with you is not going to work. Trust me, I know that from painful personal blog writing experiences.

 In this post I’m going to break down marketing automation so that it’s as free (or as cheap) and as effective as possible. The biggest variable here will be your creative. I’m going to show you some awesome tools, tools that I use on a regular basis, but how effective they work for you totally depends on how well you know the people you’re trying to talk to. By the end of this post I’ll make you a marketing efficiency machine but you’re in charge of what goes out to the people you hope to serve. There’s a bright side here though when (not if) you miss the mark, you’ll have lots of great data to think about and use for better calibrating and creative in the future.

Let’s start by defining marketing automation.

Marketing automation is a big blanket term that covers any software that can help you do a bunch of marketing related activities systematically and consistently. You should not be afraid of it! Remember, marketing at its core is a conversation. As a business owner, it's your job to do the best you can to engage with the people who you believe could benefit the most from consuming your products or services. Technology that helps you get in front of those potential people as often and in as relevant a way as possible is a good thing. I mean, some of the easiest things to do are to use the phone you carry around with you every day to record some video, pictures, and audio to create content that will entertain or inform and to post that wherever your audience hangs out online.

That's literally marketing automation. You making something and then taking advantage of a platform to distribute your message.

Now on to everyone’s favorite part, the tools of the trade. For marketing technologies, I would advise that you think about them in a few buckets. Social, Sales Funnel/Conversion Optimization, Email Management, Automation/CRM and Analytics. I’m going to give my recommendations on some of the platforms I use and recommend as well as how they fit into the bigger marketing picture.

Social

Aside from the principal sites that your accounts live on I really like Buffer as tool to help manage, monitor, and pre-plan posts. When you preload your social in big batches it helps you craft better stories over periods of time. Then on the daily the time you'd spend in social can be better spent actually engaging with real people. Buffer has a really usable free option and if you jump to their monthly plan it gets even better.

Sales Funnel/Conversion Optimization

I really like and recommend ConvertKit. This one costs about $35 a month but you'll get a ton. You can build custom opt-in campaigns, set up entire email funnels, and even build stand-alone landing pages. They also have some really good A/B testing functionality so you can test the copy and marketing language you want to use constantly to really hone in on who you want to talk to and why they should care.

Email Marketing

ConvertKit fits here but it MailChimp has a really good free suite too. You can collect emails, offer freebies to download and also build email funnels/campaigns that will drip over time. They have great analytics and sorting too.

Automation/CRM

I love Hubspot. I have been using them for years and recommend their free suite to everyone. It's awesome to be able to see when people open emails, keep track of contacts/deals and they have a really robust marketing platform as well. If you upgrade to a paid version you get access to more customization, dashboards, and a bit more marketing functionality.

Analytics

I go back to the basics here and stick to the tried and true Google Analytics. Great data all around. A bit of a learning curve but once you get the hang of it you can really drill down into the behavior of your audience and use that data to craft better experiences for your web visitors in the future.

After you’ve gone and done all your signing up you’ll probably be asking yourself, now what? Or maybe even thinking that you should be finding someone else to manage this stuff. That’s a totally normal response. Before you run off to find an intern or virtual assistant to help I want to encourage you to keep it simple and to remember that it’s all about the creative. The best part is that you can create a piece of content, like a long form blog post, once and then use all these channels to distribute in ways that best suit each platforms audiences. My goal, and rule of thumb, is to try to get six or seven bits of micro content out of every larger piece of content like a blog post.

The last bit of the marketing technology I want to cover is talking about personalized marketing. If you thought that marketing automation was fun then personalized marketing is going to be even better, it’s probably the most fun you can have online interacting with people right now.

Why?

Because you’re getting to scale interactions with you in real time!

Personalized marketing is using tools like Bonjoro (personalized video message service) to create personalized videos that you can deliver right to people's inboxes that let people know they aren't just one of the thousands of emails on a list. Since the barriers to marketing automation are super low, going the extra mile and giving your prospects and potential customers real access to you is huge. Bonjoro is a paid service but even going Live on Facebook, Instagram, or even on a Zoom call gives people the opportunity to interact with you at scale in a more personalized way. The best piece of advice I can give here is to create a live show on whatever platform you like (Facebook would be a great place to start) and then show up every week at the same time. Create a place where people can expect to interact with you and where they can go when they miss you to see you interacting with a live audience, offering value, in real time.

Lots of stuff here lots of stuff.

My recommendation is to just start. Telling your story is a process that’s going to evolve over time. Sure, I really like the stuff I recommended but if starting with all of them is intimidating don’t worry about it. Use the resources I’ve listed as a starting point and stop worrying about the technology barriers or the quality of your production. The more content you create the more feedback you’ll get from your audiences about how they like to be communicated with. On top of that people are very forgiving when it comes to video, less when it comes to audio so make sure you have the best sound you can. But just create stuff, give people something to consume and they'll keep coming back. I see so many business owners never get off the starting line because they are worried about their copy, a filter for an Instagram post, or that they don't feel like they have the right budget.

You don't need to worry about any of that to start interacting with people online.

Get 1% Better Every Day! Your Business Improvement Blueprint

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How are your Kanban boards looking this week?

Are you happy with the progress you shared at your 15 minute stand-up meeting?

Flexing your Kaizen prowess in this round of process remaps?

Get to the bottom of that root cause analysis yet?

If you’re not a student of all things business process improvement or project management those questions literally mean nothing to you. And that’s ok. Well, it’s ok and a little sad because when you get passed all the inclusive language and through the fevered tribes of religious devotees these schools of thought collect there’s a lot of good stuff for any small businesses here.

I’m guessing that you or anyone really could benefit from being a little better about understanding how you do business. When you take the time to really understand how you work you’re able to make a conscious effort to improve how you deliver value to the people that need you most.

In this post I want to take a stab at distilling a few key tips and tricks from the more popular schools of project management thought that you can put into action. Things you can do that will actually create momentum or clarity so you can move the needle in your business right now.

Kaizen

Let’s start with Kaizen. People lean on the wisdom of Kaizen when they have a known problem and it looks like the solution will be easy to implement. Kaizen at its core is about continuous improvement, it’s about getting a little better every time you try something. That goes for the quality of your offerings and for the processes that make your business go every day. How can you use Kaizen in your business right now? Try using the process outlined below to help you through a tough decision or to troubleshoot something when it doesn’t feel like it’s working.

PLAN

1. What’s the most important problem or biggest challenge right now? Be specific, be granular and be honest!

2. Based on the resources I have right now, what can I do to reduce this problem or challenge’s impact?

3. If I do that, how will I know it worked? What can I measure?

DO

4. Try your idea and track!

5. While you’re working, take a second to really see if what you’re doing now is actually different from before. Change is hard sometimes and it’s easier to want change and not actually do anything different.

CHECK

6. After the new work ask yourself if it made any difference. Any positive change, regardless of how small or seemingly insignificant, is important to document.

ACT

7. Can I make that change a repeatable process in how I work?

8. Can I get a little better next time? If yes, repeat this process with new answers to the first few questions in this process and go from there.

Agile

Now that you’re an expert Kaizen facilitator let’s move on to one of the newest hottest project management systems on the block. We’re talking Agile now. Back in the early days of Agile Project Management things were simpler. It was developed by a handful of software developers at the turn of the 21st century who were just looking to get better at their craft and who were looking for better ways to work with each other. So they created a manifesto which is actually pretty interesting and it set the groundwork for people to get better about how they organized themselves when it came to building something (software) that was fluid, dynamic and sometimes without an actual end...kind of like building a business. Agile has grown a lot since the early 2000’s and is now applied to businesses of all sizes, across all industries and all over the world. On top of the Manifesto I’m going to share a tool from Agile that I really like that you can use right now to keep tabs on all the plates you’re spinning to keep your business growing.

First the Manifesto and remember, you can literally substitute the word software here for whatever your deliverables happen to be. The framework still applies.

1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer's competitive advantage.

3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.

4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.

5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.

8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.

10. Simplicity--the art of maximizing the amount of work not done--is essential.

11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

That’s such a cool set of principles! Sorry (not sorry) if my management nerd is showing. So following that I want to flush out an idea that I kind of made fun of at the top of this post. It’s a Kanban board. Believe it or not, it’s actually a simple idea that most people use already that can be upleveled by putting a little more structure around it.

A Kanban board is just a way to visualize the work that you’re already doing.

Think of it like a to-do list on steroids that’s prettier to look at. At its core a Kanban board starts with three columns: Not Started, In Progress and Completed. You can grow from those three but let’s start here. Like with Kaizen, the devil is in the details. What you’re going to do is tear apart your to-do list so that everything on your list falls into one of the three columns. Then at the end of every week you’ll go back to the board and measure your progress. You’ll get to see which tasks moved along the board and which didn’t. It’ll give you an opportunity to visually reflect on the work for the week and help you plan how the next week will go. Most importantly it allows you the opportunity to start fresh every week. We’ve all felt the crushing weight of a to-do list that only seemed to grow. It can get downright demoralizing. This board will keep you on task and keep you from beating yourself up from that feeling of never having done enough.

As you’re filling in your columns the more details you can add to each task like: due dates, what success looks like, resources that are needed and who’s responsible the better it works for you. When you get to see everything on your to-do list in a format like this you’re able to see bottlenecks, manage stress levels and decide on how you’re doing to prioritize your energy for the day. I’m going to link to an Asana page here. It’s a project management tool (that I love and use everyday) that has a Kanban board template you can jump right into with great explanations and examples.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma is the elder at the table here. It’s the tried and true. It’s project management system and the colored belt system a la karate is revered in the corporate world. It has the ability to make or break people, projects and entire business segments. You shouldn’t be scared of it though because at the end of the day it’s a lot of management ideas tucked in and around some statistical modeling. Without nerding out over the stats, like I actually want to, let’s just summarize six sigma as a system by which processes get evaluated. The closer to six standard deviations away (sigma) data can get from the mean the better. A process is said to be six sigma when there are no more than three mistakes or errors per one million data points. That means that a process is right 99.9997% of the time. That’s a big deal if you’re a manufacturer of cars, aluminum cans or pens but is it realistic for you?

You don’t need a Master Black Belt to get in on the Six Sigma love. In your business just remember the acronym D.O.W.N.T.I.M.E. This acronym actually comes from Lean processes but LEAN and Six Sigma are like peanut butter and jelly these days. So, to save you from another project management rabbit hole let’s just lump D.O.W.N.T.I.M.E in with the Six Sigma crowd because we’re talking about helping you get the most out of the work you’re doing on a daily basis here. This acronym will help you remember that you should be eliminating waste as much as possible when you’re building your business. Here are the eight wastes you should look for and suss out:

D - Defects - These are just mistakes that eat up extra time, materials, resources, energy and cost money to fix. Defects can be in things or processes. After you solve the problem, look back to see if you can make improvement so the same mistakes don’t happen in the future.

O - Overproduction - Just like it sounds, you’re making too many things. Well it can actually mean you’re doing too much work that isn’t actually producing value. You might be spending too much time in your inbox, social or actually making stuff. Check in every once and a while to make sure that you’re spending your time doing the work that really is providing the most value for you and your customers.

W - Waiting - Waiting happens when work has to stop. Might be because you’re waiting on a shipment of raw materials or for someone to get back to you because you asked a question earlier in the week. Anytime work stops for you, or there’s a bottleneck, it’s an opportunity to evaluate how you work. The less time you spend waiting the more productive you and your business can be.

N - Not Utilizing Talent - Are you giving your team the right kinds of tasks to do? Are you giving yourself the right kinds of tasks? In your business there’s a real risk of wasting time and money doing work that doesn’t align with your best strengths. You might not have the money to hire but can you think of ways that technology might be able to help you streamline the work you have to do everyday. Stop loading those social posts one at a time, for example!

T - Transportation - This is wasting time moving things around for no reason or for bad reasons. Are you taking multiple trips to the bank, post office or are just getting up to get the stuff you just sent to the printer. Planning your day so that you’re optimizing how you move things, information and people around can really save you a ton of money and headache. This trap is the worst for entrepreneurs because you run around all day and feel like your busy only to realize you didn’t accomplish anything. But you did crush a handful of personal development podcasts so it’s not a total loss right?

I - Inventory Excess - Are you carrying too much inventory? Because that’s just money sitting on your shelves. If you’re a service provider inventory excess comes in the form of not actually understand your clients needs and spending too much time trying to figure it out. When things take too long to deliver it’s always a bad time for you and your business.

M - Motion Waste - Sounds silly but if you spend more time looking for paperwork than you actually do working you’re suffering from motion waste. Motion waste is excess or unnecessary motion caused by people, machines, deliverables and inventory. Clean up your workstation and organize your digital files. Your clients and customers will thank you for it.

E - Excess Reports - Think TPS reports from the movie “Office Space”. Using the data you collect in your business to help you make future decisions is fantastic. Using tools to help you visualize and keep track of everything you have going on is absolutely necessary. It gets to be a problem when all you do is generate reports for the sake of generating reports. Excess reports also covers the waste that comes with recreating the wheel every time you have to do something that should have a standard process for. Think about editing a podcast or style guide for your blog. Those are processes and instructions you should make once and then just refer to, not waste time recreating every time you sit down to do the edits or creative. You’re literally wasting your time.

Alright! Nearly 2200 words later and here we are. If you are still with me, you’re amazing. While I don’t have a fancy credential to award you or a colorful belt to honor you with I hope that you can still find value here. Project management is a big scary world and unfortunately knowing enough to keep you moving forward in your business is pretty important. In this post we covered some of the best bits of the biggest schools of thought and they were all things you can apply or think about right now. Use resources like Asana and don’t be afraid to ask yourself tough questions about how you do the work that you do. There’s no wrong answer here, there’s only the opportunity to get just a little bit better so that next time you show up a little stronger in your business.

Building a business is about the long game and I just want to make sure that you have a few tools that will keep you in the game as long as possible. So go get a white board, start looking for waste, and check in and out on your business every week for a bit. Then let me know how it went!


Best Business Books For Real Growth

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Are you reading enough? Or, listening if you’re like me and are addicted to Audible’s subscription service. I always end up buying more credits! (My goal is 50 books a year. Love listening to stuff at 1.5x - 2x speeds.) In honor of World Book Day coming up on the 23rd of this month, I thought this would be a great time to share a few of my favorite business books.

And, just a note. While all reading is super important what I mean here with this post is immersing yourself in the books and resources that are designed to move you forward on your entrepreneurial journey. Although it is arguable that the Game of Thrones series is actually more of a business and political series of texts than it is a fantasy series...chew on that for a minute or two.

The great thing about reading is that it opens you up to perspectives, ideas, and mentorship that you might not have on a daily basis. Especially if you’re early in your business building or are a solopreneur. It can be tough to get out from under your to-do list and project management software to get into a book even when you know it’ll be a worthwhile investment of your time and attention. Let’s assume that you are carving a bit of time out to listen or read. Then the question is what should you be reading. I can’t force you to make time in your schedule to work on growing your knowledge and expertise but I can point you to a few of my favorite business books. Books that will help you grow by supporting your business growth efforts, sales, and help you prioritize what you’re doing in your business so that you can work more efficiently towards your business goals.

Here is my list of the 4 best business books I’ve read over the last few months or so.

1. “Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It” by Chris Voss. Chris Voss is a highly celebrated and revered retired FBI hostage negotiator turned consultant. He breaks down the high stakes negotiating skills that he’s helped to shape for the FBI for your everyday benefit. His goal is to help you be more persuasive in your professional and personal life and I’d say he nails it. The book helps you hone your emotional intelligence and intuition as well as gives you real and practical exercises/principles to practice that will help you be a more effective communicator. If you are looking for a little more support when it comes to in-person or online sales, negotiating (literally anything), making big purchases, or just to get better buy-in from teammates then this book is definitely for you.

2. “Crushing It! How Great Entrepreneurs Build Their Business and Influence - and How You Can Too” by Gary Vaynerchuk. If you’re reading this blog then it’s a safe bet to say that you probably know who Gary Vee is. Gary is an amazing entrepreneur, advisor, and master of all things marketing. He truly understands how to build messages and content that will inspire people to take action and teaches you how to do it in your business with this book. This book is a manual for maximizing your outreach and engagement in the current social/online environment. It’s absolutely a must read whether you have a business or are thinking about building one. This book is a great mix of theory and practical action for a growing brand that I think should be a requirement for any business.

3. “This is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn To See” by Seth Godin. Seth Godin is another super influential voice in the marketing community. Though it’s another marketing book it’s very different from the Gary Vaynerchuk one mentioned above. Where Gary’s is a manual for navigating the most relevant social platforms and in this book, Seth Godin spends a lot of time helping you get clear about the people you want to communicate and engage with. You’ll also get insight on how to position your offerings and build trust with the communities you are trying to serve. This is a very customer/consumer-centric book that drills down to help you understand that you need to be clear about how you can help the people you care about better help themselves.

4. “Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts” by Annie Duke. As someone who really likes getting into the nitty-gritty of decision making and using concepts from fields like statistics to think through problems, I was instantly drawn. Annie Duke does an awesome job of breaking down making complex decisions into thinking in a series of bets. She seamlessly translates her experience and success in the professional poker world to real world everyday entrepreneurial applications. She uses examples from business, sports, and her experience as a business consultant to teach you the tools you can use to help navigate uncertainty and make better decisions consistently. I loved this book and it’ll definitely be one of my favotires for years to come because she does an awesome job of framing how most people make decisions, react to uncertainty, and the biases that get the best of us sometimes.

These are four of my favorites right now. If you’re at a crossroads or are looking for a little support right now as you’re building a business then hopefully one of these will help. I tried to pick four that didn’t have too much overlap and that reinforce the real skills that you need to build a business that will last. If you’re still with me here and are struggling to find the time to consume this content I would encourage you to think about all the places you have in the day that don’t require uninterrupted attention. Things like commutes to work, washing the dishes, and hitting the gym are great times to pop on an audiobook and get your learning on.

If you do check any of these out, I’d love to know what you think of them. Let me know what you liked, didn’t like, or if it was helpful. I’d definitely curious to know how you apply what you learn in your business! Feel free to find me on social, shoot me an email, or just leave a comment here.




Looking to grow? Time to put on your business development hat!

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As a business owner, entrepreneur, and business builder you wear three hats every single day. On top of providing the people you serve with top notch products and services that solve their problems, you are also a media company, and a business developer. In business development? Do biz dev ops? Yeah, you get it.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. If you’re a solopreneur or run a small team you not only deliver awesome value but, you have to manage the functions of your business. Check. As a business owner in 2019 you’re also responsible for delivering content that keeps your brand relevant, trusted, and trafficked every day, that’s the media distribution hat. Check. But, are you taking your business development seriously? Check?!

Let’s start with getting a little clearer about the definition of business development. First, business development is not sales. Sales is what you are already doing in your business and it’s very transactional in nature. The goal of a sales interaction, piece of content/copy, or even some of your marketing is to convert someone from being interested to being a customer.

Business development is a little bigger picture. It’s less about the singular sale and more about flushing out bigger opportunities to move your business or brand forward. It can also be about building brand or capturing bigger pieces of the market in which you’re playing. They’re activities that support broader strategic goals, cultivate relationships, and help you look for new ways to serve current and potential markets. Business Development then is like the older brother or sister to Sales.

You’re probably thinking, “Why should I care about business development? It’s already something that I’m doing as a function of just being in business.”

Great question hypothetical heckler but, I’d argue that most people don’t spend the time or energy to do the deep work of building brand, platform, and trust in a community. Then, when the sales start to slow down it’s a mad dash to networking events, ValPak mailers, and poorly designed Facebook Ads to try to increase exposure and ask for the sale en masse. There’s no ROI positivity in any of that desperation mess.

As a business owner you have lots of responsibilities. You have to manage the expectations of your current (and recurring) customers as well as being on the hunt for your next ones. You have to produce original content regularly to build trust and referability in your community. It can be easy to push off the bigger picture and less direct outcome driven activities to a time when you have more time. Which is essentially never.

I’m going to share some tips that you can put into action right now to help you start building a healthier business development practice. These are just some ideas that you can use to start thinking more critically about what the long tail of your business looks like. You are going to essentially be digging the well before you’re thirsty here so that when a slowdown does inevitably happen for you it’ll be easier for you to recover. So here’s how you can build long term value for your business. (Also, no one likes seeing EVERY single social post from you advertising some free trial, direct ask for business, or to try some free program.)

1. A.B.G. (Always Be Giving)

Always be giving is an acronym I really love because it’s literally the opposite of the sleazy sales “always be closing”. I love it because it’s an idea that puts an emphasis on building relationships where you’re looking to be of service to people with no expectations on any kind of return. Remember business development is not sales. No one goes to a networking event actively looking for people to sell them anything. They go to interact with new people, socialize with colleagues, and support the people/causes/communities they care about. It shouldn’t be surprising that in your business development role you should be as visible in your community as possible, so definitely go to as many of these kinds of events that makes sense, but going with good intentions will set you apart from your first handshake. Plus think about all the content, pictures, ideas, and organic press that will just come naturally from showing up. Not to mention all the goodwill you earn as you become someone to create introductions and offer resources to the new people that you meet.

2. Make time for exploratory thinking.

I love #hustle porn just as much as the next entrepreneur but sometimes you have to pick your head up and look around. Checking in to make sure the people and the markets that you’re serving are still the best fits is important. Making time to do a bit of competitive research, revisit any kind of plans you put in place a while back, and doing some time/cost assessments on your own growing needs might impact the next decisions you have to make. It can also uncover opportunities and help you hone in on who you should be looking to connect with. Business growth doesn’t happen in a vacuum and it’s not a solo sport. Looking for people and businesses that you can bring value to that will also support your growth is critical to your long term sustainability.  

3. Products, vendors, and costs oh my!

I have two borderline intolerable pet peeves. First, loud chewers literally trigger a fight or flight response in me (Thanks 23andMe for verifying my misophonia.) and second when business owners tell me they do things because it’s “always the way they’ve done it”. I’m working on taming the adrenaline dump my brain delivers when someone’s chewing grossly a little too close to me and there’s absolutely NO REASON why you should do anything just because you’ve always done it in your business. Time passes, technology gets better, solutions are invented, and industries are disrupted. That means now more than ever as a business builder you are spoiled for choice when it comes to the products and services you use every day. Business development is as much about effectively managing your own internal projects and costs as it is developing new opportunities. Why? Because dealing with vendors is another opportunity to develop long standings and mutually beneficial relationships. And, reducing costs is as important to profitability as is increasing gross revenue, so there’s that.

Those three concepts are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the work you should be doing “on” your business. You can see how easy it is to push it aside because right now you’re worrying about managing schedules, keeping customers happy, and how your next Instagram post’s copy is going to read. It’s also easy to just lump this stuff into the work you should be doing as a business owner any way. That is dangerous thinking. It’s dangerous because you run the risk of being too biased towards the outcomes of today that you aren’t thinking about what your tomorrow is going to look like. And if you’re like me, you’re planning on also having a business tomorrow. This is why I like separating out business development activities as their own silo when it comes to how you’re building your business. When you separate these activities you’re shining a new light on them that allows you to compartmentalize them separately away from the day to day operations of your business. Just like being a media distributor/company it’s almost like another identity you have to dawn. That’s a good thing!

So I challenge you to create a new calendar in your scheduling app of choice, pick a bright color, and start building in business development activities today. You might surprise yourself when it comes to the conversations you have that lead to interesting opportunities that weren’t even on your radar. Don’t forget to let me know how it goes!

What is a Net Promoter Score? (And, why do I need it?)

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TL;DR: More Happy = More Growth

Big business ideas aren’t just for big businesses any more. There’s a very popular idea right now that big businesses are using to help guide the decisions they make, the markets they play in, and even how they treat their employees. That idea is the Net Promoter Score (NPS). In some corporate environments, they treat the wielders of their Net Promoter Scores with a cult leader like reverence. It gets pretty intense actually. I’m all for finding ways to measure the experience of the people you serve, and use that information to get better, but you should never put all your eggs in the one metric basket. That’s where this post comes in. I want to introduce you to the Net Promoter Score so you can add it to the toolbox of awesome things you’re keeping track of to make sure your business is growing sustainably over time. The extra great thing is that you don’t have to be a big business to implement NPS and there are FREE solutions that you can use right now to jump on the NPS bandwagon.

So, what exactly is a Net Promoter Score?

The NPS is a methodology that came out of Bain & Co. in the early 2000’s and it puts a process around identifying what keeps your customers and employees happy. The idea here is that happy customers and employees lead to organic growth over time. It might sound a little commonsensical but it’s a process you can use to measure not only how much people know/like/trust you but how likely they would be to refer your business to the people they care about. It’s a way to quantitatively measure very qualitative concepts like happiness, trust, and referability. You use the NPS consistently over time to collect feedback that will help you make better decisions when it comes to the future needs of all the people that rely on your business.

How do you calculate the Net Promoter Score?

The NPS is calculated using a survey. You ask a question and the takers of your survey respond or rate on a scale ranging 0 to 10. It could look something like, “How likely are you to refer this business to a friend or family member?” Then you rate 0 might be “Never in a million years and I hope you go out of business” and 10 might be “I already have and they’ve referred their family and friends”. Well it’s a little more nuanced than that but you get the idea. From the responses you collect you then divide them into three categories: Detractors, Passives, and Promoters.

Anyone that gives you a response with a score equal to or less than 6 are Detractors. Detractors weren’t typically thrilled by your value or service and aren’t likely to every refer or use you ever again. Unless they are especially motivated, like gave you a 0, they also aren’t likely to actively go out and lambaste you. You should keep track of where people fall when they are Detractors to see if their sentiments change over time. Can you turn a 3 into a 6? A 6 into a 7? Just because someone wasn’t thrilled with their experience in the first go-around doesn’t mean they are lost forever.

Passives are those that offer scores between 7 and 8. They were decently satisfied with their experience but would be open to switching to any competitor or substitute. Passives aren’t likely to actively refer you either but at least their experience was satisfactory. The challenge with receiving consistently Passive scores is that you aren’t memorable and your brand or business isn’t ever top of mind. It’s the professional equivalent of getting “meh’d”.

Promoters are your 9’s and 10’s. These are the people that absolutely love interacting with you. They loved their experiences so much they are likely to go out and tell people about it. They’ll actively refer to you, leave testimonials, and generally advocate for you. Promoters are those that land consistently way above the know/like/trust curve.

Ok so once you have all your scores you get to the Net Promoter Score by subtracting the percentage of customers who are Detractors from the percentage who are Promoters. When you do that you are going to end up with a score that will fall somewhere between -100 and 100. If everyone was a Detractor then you’d have a pure -100 score, meaning 100% of your responses to the survey yielded scores of 6 or under. A positive 100 comes from 100% of the responses being all Promoters, 9’s and 10’s.

NPS = %Promoters - %Detractors

What happens after I get my Net Promoter Score? And why should I care?

As a static metric the Net Promoter Score can tell you a few things. It’s a snapshot into the perception of your business. The more the negative the score the harder you might look into a particular issue or experience. It also shows you how your customers are self identifying after the engage with you. Your business probably won’t be all things to all people but are you doing the best you can for those people you do want to serve?

The real power of the NPS comes in running lots of the surveys over time. Over time you’ll be able to see how the decisions you make in your business impact the real experiences your customers are having.  It’s also used internally to help keep you and your staff honest when it comes to the work that you’re doing. Then there are the proportions and watching them over time. Are your customers moving between groups? Are they moving within groups? Being able to quantitatively watch behavior gives you real feedback about your policies, procedures, and even branding choices.

I mentioned that you can do this for lots of parts of your business. Sure it’s great to see if people are willing to refer you but you can ask lots of questions. You can ask to see the likelihood of working together again, using a venue, managing a project, willingness to use a product or service, likely to use a tool, etc. Think about all the sites, services, products, and experiences you have on any given day. Any time someone asks you to take a quick survey or submit a review they’re looking for your input and to rate them for their NPS score. You’ll notice it happens most often when something changes like new features, people, or even menu items at a restaurant.

To figure out why you should care let’s throw it back to Bain & Co., the firm that originally introduced this metric. According to Bain & Co.’s NPS dedicated site there’s a correlation between your business’s growth and your Net Promoter Score. Your NPS accounts for somewhere between 20% and 60% of your business’s organic growth rate. That’s a big deal. No matter how clever your marketing, how authentic your branding, and how well you position yourself how people feel about you can be responsible for more than half of your growth. The neat thing there is that this doesn’t only apply to people buying something from you. Think about all the free apps you use, the websites you visit, or free things you consume. As a customer, you being willing to tell someone about something you liked is a big deal. Attention in this regard is worth just as much as actual money in some cases. Again not to sound too commonsensical here but, your customers will buy more, stay with you longer, refer more, and provide more constructive feedback the higher your NPS climbs.

So you should absolutely care!

Now that you’re onboard it’s time to put your new found respect for the Net Promoter Score into action. I would recommend starting with something simple and FREE like Survey Monkey. The best part about using Survey Monkey is that they have an entire space dedicate to NPS which includes templates and tools to help you make sense of the data you’re collecting. They didn’t pay me to say any of this, I’ve always been a fan of Survey Monkey and their NPS stuff is great! Oh, and did I mention it’s a small business’s favorite price...Free! Here’s the link if you want to check it out - https://www.surveymonkey.com/mp/net-promoter-score-survey-template/

After you set all that up you’ll need to figure out who to send this too. You can send out to your customers, your professional networks, and even your family and friends. Without diving too much into the magic of statistics I would just caution you about using sample sizes that are too small or too focused. Just because you send it to three people and they all give you a score of 6 doesn’t mean you should change everything you’re doing. Keep the data you’re collecting in context and you can always ask for additional feedback. Don’t forget that this is all because you’re trying to get better and sometimes that means coming to terms with the fact that people will have less than great experiences with you.

So, make sure you add a heartfelt message at the start sharing how important your audience’s feedback is and let them know that you’ll be sending these from time to time to help you be the best version of you possible. After that you’ll be on your way to collecting data, making decisions, using feedback, and growing sustainably like all the rest of the captains of industry.


Why Business Communication Matters

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I had the opportunity to speak to a business communications undergrad class recently and it was a bit of mixed bag experience. I loved being able to share real stories and examples of how the skills they were learning worked out in the business world. I was saddened with how little they seemed to care though. It’s a bit of a paradox even a week later. I’m still struggling with this because as self identified active social media users, future job seekers, and hopeful entrepreneurs how could they not care about building the skills that make you an effective communicator? Literally, every business interaction can be boiled down to your ability to communicate an idea well enough that it creates buy-in for the people (or the person) you’re interacting with.

Blew my mind.

So in today’s post I want to share a few of the points I shared with that class because they apply to anyone that’s trying to build a brand, business, applying for their next job, or really just trying to get anyone to care.

1. Knowing your audience is super important. When you’re trying to communicate an idea, you have to think about how your audience likes to be communicated with. Where is their attention going? This includes the words that you choose, the expectations you’re trying to manage, and even their geographic location. How can you expect to create impact, enough to inspire someone to take some kind of action, if you’re message never gets understood? Worse is if you’re trying to communicate a message that no one in your target audience even cares about. When you’re trying to get your content (or copy) seen and connect with your customers you have to keeps at least these things in mind: their experience, any technical ability, skills they have/need, seniority or tenure, their age, location (both online and IRL), and any other psychosocial demographics that might be important. You can’t expect or even attempt to build a relationship with your audience if you don’t take the time to get to know them.

2. Consistency matters. You can’t expect one blog post, one cold sales email, one mailer, or one Facebook post to create any real traction for you. It takes a special mix of factors for something to go viral and odds are the last thing you created didn’t have it. That’s ok though! It’s ok because you’ve committed to showing up everyday in your business to share what you believe in with the people who you believe need you. If your goal is to get your audience to know, like, and trust you then you should be taking advantage of every opportunity you have to share content that creates value for them. Consistency also allows for better engagement and creates opportunities for you to get to know what your audience really needs, how they like to be communicated with, and how to better serve them going forward.

3. In general, people are very egocentric. I’m going to generalize here but, we only care about the stuff that directly affects us most of the time. When someone is buying something from you they care less about you and more about how their lives are going to change after interacting with you. Sounds a little glass half empty but it’s pragmatic.Understanding this can help you really connect with people. That means all of your copy, all of your messaging, even your future "About Me" pages better be tuned to station WIIFM - What’s In It For Me. Consumers want to know that you are a trusted resource, that they got to know you, and like you, but after that it's all about how you're going to provide them value. Your audience is going to be looking to see what their life is going to look like after engaging with you. I've seen a lot of businesses go from being almost out of business to thousands of percent in margin just by spinning the point of view and burying their own egos a bit. This isn’t manipulative, it’s facing the reality that people are bombarded daily with all kinds of messaging and your job is to position yourself well enough to warrant someone to give you a second look. You don’t do that by talking about yourself all the time.

4. Telling a good story takes practice. Telling good stories is part of the essence of getting people to connect with each other. Unfortunately it’s not a skill that most people can just “wing”.  You may have big ideas for your brand or business but if you’re not taking the time to thoughtfully craft messages that connect authentically with people then you’ll just leave your audiences confused. Great stories connect us, help us make sense of the world, and communicate our values and beliefs. They tap into our emotions and makes us think and feel in ways that lists of product features and benefits can’t. Being able to frame your story in a way that’s clear and authentic creates a real competitive advantage for you. In a real life application it can be the difference between actually connecting with someone at a networking event and having them so disengaged that they excuse themselves from the conversation before you’re even done talking. (I’ve seen it happen and it’s brutal to watch.)

Those were the big points I shared that day. Well those and the fact that mastering social media is a necessity these days if you plan on building any kind of brand for yourself. I did leave them with this little summary. At the heart of business communications you’re really trying to do three things:

  • Deliver Value

  • Be Real

  • Create Community

If you do those three things, regardless of your professional situation, you’ll position yourself as a trusted asset with any audience. Oh and I also shared this link to a recent marketing study by an organization called re:create highlighting the real dollars changing hands because of the reach of social media and those that can master telling great stories and connecting with people.

Thinking In Straight Lines To Grow Your Business

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You don’t have to have an advanced math degree to know that the shortest distance between any two points is typically a straight line. I bet you didn’t know that this little Pythagorean throwback also applies to growing your business too. In today’s post I’m going to challenge you to start thinking in straight lines when it comes to figuring out what to do next or how you’re going to grow.

First we have to break down what I mean when I’m challenging you to think in straight lines for your business.

Thinking in straight lines is to always be looking for the shortest actionable distance between where you are at any given moment and where you want to be. It means working out the next immediate thing you can actually do right then to get closer to a desired outcome based on your immediate constraints, access to resources, clutter on your calendar, and even emotional capacity.

The shortest distance between any two points is a straight line.

Need more clients? What can you do right now to proactively have real conversations with people who might be willing or able to buy from you?

Not getting the engagement you want on social? What are you doing right now to interact with people online? It’s more than listing where you’re showing up. Who are you mixing it up with in the hand-to-hand-combat that is leaving comments, feedback, etc?

Wondering why you’re website is getting the traffic you hoped it would even with all the SEO ninja tactics you put in place? What are you doing to give people a compelling reason to show up? Is your content/creative consistent enough? Good enough?

When you’re building a business it can be disarmingly easy to fill up your todo list and calendar with things that will keep you busy. The question I want you to ask yourself is - which one of those things/activities/tasks are going to push you closer to an outcome that you actually care about? Which ones are the straightest lines to getting you in front of the people that really need you? That would buy from you?

Easier said than done right? Everything feels like it’s important!

I get it.

But, you can only “fake it” as a business owner for so long. You can only be building, learning, and tinkering with your website for so long. Every moment that passes where you aren’t in direct service of solving the problems you started the business to solve is just time, money, and personal bandwidth burned away.

You don’t have a business unless you’re serving your customers. If you never help anyone then you just have a business operations hobby, which is cool don’t get me wrong but it’s not a business. So, what can you do to start thinking in straight lines? I have some tips to help.

1. Relax. Building a business is a marathon not a sprint. Well it’s really a combination of marathons and sprints but the idea is that trying to get everything done all the time will just burn you out. This leads me into my second tip, start setting better goals.

2. Use the GROW method to set your goals. This works for everything from building your website, creating a repeatable sales process, and even for the work that doesn’t scale (which is sometimes the most important work). Grow stands for:

G - Set a goal that has a clear and easily identifiable end point. Think I want to run the next 5k, not I want to run more.

R - What's your reality look like right now? What are the issues, the challenges, how far are you away from your goal?

O - There are going to be obstacles. Some you can anticipate and some you can't. Work on the options you have for overcoming the obstacles you can see to increase your chances of working through the ones you can't.

W - What are the small actions you will have to take everyday to make your way forward? Through the obstacles, the time constraints, and everything else you have to deal with on your way to your goal.

3. Now that you are relaxed and have some new goals, get focused in on the results. Laser focused. Every choice you make in your business will result in some kind of outcome - some are big and important and others not so much. Thinking in terms of potential outcomes will help you better prioritize how and where you spend your time so that the next actions you take are the ones that really matter.

4. Put sticky notes up everywhere that read - 80/20. Then every time you walk by them remind yourself that with anything that you do, 80% of the results come from 20% of the actions. This will help you mitigate the pull of needing to learn just a little more, tinker with your design just a little more, and edit that next blog post just a little more. That “little more” is leading you down the path of diminishing marginal returns. Let’s avoid that.

5. Be decisive, but not over active. Things aren’t always going to go your way. You can’t control what the decisions that your customers, audience, or stakeholders make. That’s ok. Being accountable is healthy because when things don’t go your way you’ll be able to learn from them and adjust. Snap reactions and the urge to instantly change everything because you got one less than ideal outcome is the quickest way to lose the trust of your market.

6. Understand, truly and intrinsically, that building a business will take hard work. You are going to have to put real time and energy into building a business. There are no shortcuts, sales funnels, or platforms that will do it for you. You have to show up everyday so spend less time planning, thinking, and talking about what you’re going to do and just do it. Feel free to visit last week’s post for a little inspiration from the internet’s best friend, Mr. Shia LaBeouf.

Oh, and never forget that the shortest distance between any two points is a straight line.

10 Things Every Business Owner Can Relate To

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In all the hustle and craziness that comes with building a business, sometimes it’s nice to know that you’re not the only one who feels some (or all) of these ways.

1. When that first cup of coffee hits… Most of the feels happen on a Monday morning.

2. After a meeting that was a complete waste of everyone’s time…

3. When someone asks you for something that’s a little out of your comfort zone…

4. How you leave that after-work networking event…

5. When everything in the project changes right before it’s supposed to be delivered…

6. The face when an idea/instructions/action plan is bad but you have to go along with it…

7. How a great coach or mentor makes you feel on a rough day…

8. How you decide who’s responsible for those mismanaged expectations…

9. How you feel when the website you’ve been working on for weeks actually works…

10. That gif you keep on file when the procrastination is a little too real…

SUPER BONUS GIF

11. What it actually feels like waking up and getting to do something you love everyday…



Small Business Marketing Mini Series Part 3: Build Your Marketing Plan

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So far we’ve covered communicating clearly, adding value, and the importance of taking your brand seriously. Now it’s time to put all that together and organize it in a way that builds traction and awareness for your business. We’re going to build your marketing plan.

Set Measurable Objectives

“We’re going to kill it!” is a great rallying cry for your business but, as a business goal it’s useless. You are a business owner with limited funds, and you should not waste those funds on efforts that might feel good but aren’t targeting a clear, measurable outcome.

Some examples of worthless (generic) goals:

  • Grow my business

  • Get more likes on social posts

  • Make a Facebook page for my business

  • Run ads on the radio

Can you tell why those aren’t good goals? Growing your business is good, but what does that mean? Be specific. Building a Facebook page for your business is an operational requirement, but what’s the goal behind it, what should it be doing for you? Let’s look at some goals that are better constructed.

Examples:

  • Increase repeat sales by 15%

  • Increase new sales during the month of June

  • Improve customer service

  • Capture five hesitant customers

  • Position yourself as a leader in basket weaving

Do you see some differences between the two groups of goals? The outcomes are pretty specific. Increasing repeat sales by 15% speaks to improved customer retention. Increasing new sales during a key month as compared to the same month last year is something you can measure. If you have a customer dissatisfaction problem, improving customer service is an important goal that should yield very clear feedback. Know what you want to accomplish first, then start building strategies to get there.

Build Plans Around $ Goals

While branding is a very important concern, whenever possible, build your marketing plans around financial goals. Why else would you do it? Even if the direct outcome is not a sale, the indirect outcome should be. For example, increasing new customers could require doing some work with current customers, encouraging them to send business your way by making them super happy. You might not be getting them to spend more money immediately, but in five happy people can each send you three qualified leads, you’re looking at more income.

The same is true for all their goals: your brand should communicate feelings and ideas that support someone’s willingness to do business with you. Your positioning as an expert or leader or artisan should encourage a customer to choose you instead of the other guy. Ultimately none of it is immeasurable or nebulous or strictly feel-good stuff. It’s supposed to get you sales.

Know Your Resources

When you go it alone, your time is at a premium and should not be used as freely as wet naps at a wings bar. Know how much time you need to dedicate to production or client work to bring in revenue, then decide how much time you will need to spend on marketing in order to bring in business.

Some marketing methods, such as using social media, have a low initial cost, but require sustained and substantial investment of time over the long haul to maximize effectiveness. Running radio or TV ad campaign local stations can do a lot of the work for you, in terms of getting people to pick up the phone or visit your site, but to have any measurable effect it’s going to require quite a bit of money. Before you start writing your marketing plan, just make sure you know which of your resources will be easier to spare.

As you plan, create systems for tracking what you spend and how it affects sales, to determine the cost of recruiting a new customer. A pay per click campaign on Google may have cost you $700 and felt like a success because of how many clicks you got. However if it only resulted in 10 sales, averaging 20 bucks each, you spent $70 per customer, and made back only 20 bucks per sale.

Track where your sales come from is much as possible, and constantly test for effectiveness. If the new business is costing you money to bring in and not paying for itself, you’re using the wrong tools or attracting the wrong customers.

Develop Strategies

Once you’ve done the research to determine how best to reach her customers, figured out what you’d like to accomplish, and know how much time and money you can commit to your efforts, then you can start thinking about strategies to help you reach those goals.

To increase repeat sales for example, focus on strategies that reward loyalty and repeat business through discounts or other bonuses. To increase new sales, make existing customers happy (this should not cost you extra) and make sure you reward them for sending you referrals. To grow business that’s just a start up, build a tight community of customers who are engaged in your success and wants to see you grow. If you’re trying to capture customers were on the fence, hard-sell tactics won’t work, so your strategy should focus on creating a dialogue that will lead you to ways of overcoming their resistance. Positioning yourself as a leader in the industry? Be a problem solver and bring other people together for idea jams.

For most businesses, you might want to accomplish most or all of the above, and if that’s the case, your strategies and methods should overlap in ways that are mutually supportive for all the goals. If all you want is a one-time sale, all you get from the customer is their money. If you want to grow affinity and loyalty and an army of marketers working on your behalf, rely on strategies that offer something positive rather than manipulating your customers.

Select Your Tools

With all the factors that go into deciding where to spend your marketing money, what your goals should be, and how to motivate your customers, it should be clear by now that your method should be the last thing you choose. Unless, that is, you want to spend your capital tailoring your campaign to a specific channel, and learn about the cost of doing business backwards the hard way.

Final Thoughts

This was a big mini series and we didn’t even scratch the service of marketing as a function of your business. There are also tons of tools, resources, other sites, and podcasts that are devoted to sharing the latest and greatest with you and the best part is it’s always evolving. Whatever the cool marketing tools are the day you find this post the meat and potatoes of this mini series still stands. You need to figure out what your market cares about, where their attention is going, how they like to be communicated with, and engaged authentically.

Small Business Marketing Mini Series Part 2: Personal Branding Mindset

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You may never have had aspirations of becoming a poster guy or gal for anything, and yet, here you are, the face of a business. The great freedom in being a solopreneur is that you are never asked to represent someone else’s image or brand, regardless of how suited it is to your personality. However, you are in a position to have others judge the quality of your offerings and content by their interactions with you. You are now both a business and a media company.

If you conduct most of your business online, be conscious that you stand to be recognized anywhere in the world. You’re fighting for as much attention as you can possibly grab in a world where the average engagement per post is less than a few seconds across all the major platforms. If your business is limited to one geographic area, think twice about going to the grocery store in your pajamas. Your customers don’t want to see you this way, and to some extent, you will always have to be “on.” You never know who will bump into you next.

When your business is just you, even small decisions regarding behavior or appearance can affect your bottom line. This can be very frustrating because everyone needs to let their hair down once in a while. While no one expects you to be anything more or less than human, consider your public behavior carefully, and, depending on the business you’re in, consider the repercussions of different actions. If you are a wedding singer for hire, don’t expect much work if you get drunk at a reception even as a guest. If you are a freelance writer, no one will think twice about seeing you at a bar, but if you post inappropriate, inflammatory, or ignorant content on your blog, potential customers will have doubts about your ability to divorce your less than savory personality traits from the work they might hire you to do.

The good news is, if you are an adult going into business for yourself, you’re probably mature enough to know that what you consider private behavior can impact your public business, and that not being a jackass in public is generally good practice regardless of your employment status.

Authenticity vs. TMI

People are reassured when they know they are dealing with people. Think of the frustration of navigating an automated phone system when all you want to do is ask someone a simple question and get a straightforward answer. Whatever channels you use to communicate with prospective and existing customers, because of the nature of solopreneurship, you don’t want to be a cold, automated, quasi-robotic presence. If they’re looking to connect with you, they want to feel like humans dealing with humans. Depending on your brand, the depth of non-business information you share will vary, but humor, positivity, and helpfulness are always appropriate.

In the world that seems far bigger than ever before, people crave authenticity and relationships. An increase in community supported agriculture, for example, is about more than just sustainable eating. It speaks to a desire for community building, and for feeling as though we are part of something.

Solopreneurs have an advantage in this business environment because they can offer unscripted interactions, and the assurance that in a business so small and personal, the customers needs will really be handled with care. Nomatter your business, and especially if you are providing a service, your brand should communicate that reassurance in some way. You have the ability to transform the transaction into something that becomes an act of helping, of fulfilling a need, or even friendship.

Fake It ‘Til You Make It

No one has to know you’re not a billionaire (yet). Your image is always going to be a projection to some extent, and it’s OK to give reality some time to catch up. As a product creator or service provider, your job is partly to inspire confidence in your offering and what it will do for your customers. No one likes to feel like a guinea pig.

Make sure that whatever you do, you do well, and that you can deliver on what you promise. You don’t have to be dishonest and suggest your client list is already very long, but count everything relevant as your body of work. Be able to demonstrate why you’re confident in your offering, and don’t use desperation as a client recruitment tool. If your customers feel as though they’re doing you a favor by doing business with you, you won’t get much respect, much money, or the kind of work you want to be doing.

Project confidence even if you have only one client right now. Be honest when asked about your business, but focus on your skills and the work you believe is ahead of you. Don’t treat your clients as practice cases, and don’t let them believe that they are doing you service. By doing consistently good work and focusing only on the kinds of products or projects that will advance your business, you are more likely to achieve the position you’re going for.

This post was more about mindset than it was about any kind of personal brand strategy and it was deliberate. The platforms are always going to change. How we share and consume content is always going to change. What’s not going to change? The fact that you still need to be able to show up as you in your business every day. And, that’s what it means to build a real brand for yourself. Building a brand that doesn’t just try to force people through the know, like, and trust curve but encourages them to stay and hang out there for a while.

Small Business Marketing Mini Series: It's time to get serious about your marketing!

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If you’ve taken the time to develop a business you’re passionate about, truly good at, and well prepared to deliver, you may as well throw in the towel if you’re not planning on doing a little self promotion. This post kicks off a multi part mini series on all things marketing for your small business. I’ll be talking about personal branding, how to position your small business so it stands out, and offering a few things to think about as you start to audit how you’re vying for the attention of your target audience both online and in real life.

Whether you are a long-time or aspiring solopreneur, you already know there is no one else to do the things that need to be done. Even though some minor tasks can be outsourced, you are the primary representative of your brand and need to be wholeheartedly engaged in tooting your own horn. No one else is going to do it for you as well as you can.

Reasons to not make marketing yourself an afterthought:

  • Your competitors are fighting for the awareness, attention, and money of your potential customers

  • If prospects are seeking your business, if you’re not marketing it, they won’t find you

  • Marketing yourself forces you to get real clear about your message so that your core offering is well-defined and targeted at the right people

A lot of solopreneurs begin with a small idea that grows into a business plan before they know it. That’s part of the fun of entrepreneurship. Because so many of them become business people with no prior design, they’re unaware of what they don’t know. There are plenty of great in-depth titles on marketing, but good basic principles are always worth reviewing. Here are a few:

1. How many Ps are there?

If you read through a marketing textbook published within the last 15 years or so, you’ll likely find that marketing rests on at least four Ps: Product, Price, Place, and Promotion. These are the major factors to consider when promoting your product. The product itself is key, of course. If it sucks, no marketing can save it. How you price it, how you bring it to your customers, and how you promote it are all equally important and must work in concert to deliver the message you want.

Of course this list of four has been augmented many times, and most marketers are ready to give you their interpretations. Here is ours: People is often added as the fifth P, and it’s absolutely crucial to remember for solopreneurs. In this case, the People is you. Get the other four right and mess up the People part, well, it was nice that you showed up. You may not be the product, but you have become the vessel for your brand message and experience.

Our addition to the list is Presence. The marketing landscape has been irrevocably reshaped by an increasingly social web. Customers expect brands to be social and attentive. They expect you to show up, listen, and, more importantly, respond. You have to address complaints, offer solutions, and high five your adoring fans over victories big and small. Even if you’re good at broadcasting your message and selling your stuff, that’s no longer enough. This one P holds a lot of power, so ignore it at your own peril.

2. It’s Product, Not Slogan

A common mistake of eager novice marketers is to wow their audience with wit and pizazz. You hire someone to design a kickass logo and spend all night coming up with the perfect tagline to stick under your sign. It’s probably clever. Pithy. But does it say anything about your product? Does it communicate clearly what you do? More importantly, does it sell your product?

When learning how best to market your product or service, get real clear on what makes it awesome and why someone should care. Know what its features are, and what the benefits or outcomes are of its use. Your marketing is a chance to promise something great that only you know how to deliver. Know what that is and let that drive your messaging, the design of your logo, and how you talk about the product. Yes, it needs to sound good, but it also needs to be convincing and demonstrative. If you can’t find a way to come up with that message about your product, revise the product, and then come back to your marketing.

3. Don’t Guess the Answers, Do Your Homework

If your resources are limited, you don’t want to waste them with efforts that won’t bring you customers. It’s bad marketing, and it’s definitely bad finance.

It’s easy to assume that because something is working for another business, it will work just as well for you. Marketing, just like anything else, is subject to trends. You might think that you need to be on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, but are they really the best way to reach your audience? If your solo business involves sending readers to the elderly and retired, you might want to spend your marketing funds on channels that lead to that audience. However, if your strategy involves appealing to the children and caregivers of the elderly and retired, your approach would differ there.

Know who the decision-maker is in the process that will lead to a business transaction with you. Understand what motivates the decision-maker. Understand where and how that decision maker can be reached. Then, and only then, start thinking about how to spend time and money reaching that person.  You might think a billboard on a major highway will get you the most bang for your buck, but the greatest ROI is almost invariably reached when your message is well targeted, relevant, and placed in the right medium.

4. If You’re Not Enchanting, You’re Doing It Wrong

If you haven’t read Guy Kawasaki’s  excellent Enchantment, go out and buy or borrow it today. The old school thinking behind most marketing is that your goal should always be a sale. The school of thought that drives the world’s best marketers teaches that your goal is to create evangelists for your business. It’s the difference between a potentially satisfying one night stand and finding a lifelong partner in love.

Much of your work as a solopreneur  will be dedicated to finding prospects, vetting them as leads, and converting them into customers.That work becomes considerably easier over time if you take the extra step to make the customer fall in love with you. Go the extra mile, offer a kindness without expecting anything in return, and, most importantly, offer them a really amazing product.

Apple computers, which is, incidentally, Kawasaki’s former employer, struggled in its competition with Microsoft, Dell, and other companies, nearly going out of business. But even during its toughest times, Apple users were known for their near rabid devotion to the product. The company has rebounded nicely, becoming incredibly profitable, and despite having a comparably small market share, still capturing the most lucrative piece of the pie. Its users are still evangelists for the product, eagerly explaining its benefits and features to anyone who will listen. Why is that? What made it so enchanting?

Adding value.

Other companies made MP3 players before Apple. But only Apple rolled out an attractive, easy-to-use device alongside an online music store to support it. The iPhone might not be the most advanced smartphone on the market, but as an application platform, it continues to outpace others–thanks to understanding that it’s not just what the hardware can do that matters, it’s what the user can do with the software.

You may point out that the iTunes store and the application store are still making money for Apple, and that’s true. However, connecting the user to a supply chain of the very stuff that makes the devices fun to use, was not the standard operating procedure for electronics manufacturers. Now, every smart phone connects to its own application marketplace, because the average user expects what was once unusual and extremely valuable.

Applying this concept on a smaller scale is not difficult, and can be even more powerful for a solopreneur. Let’s say your business is a traveling lemonade stand. How could you add value in a way that enchants customers and keeps them coming back and gets them to tell others about you? Bring a free delivery to a construction crew doing road work in the middle of July to thank them for fixing a giant pothole, and give them reusable cups that are good for a free refill the next time they come to your stand. Offer a free workshop in the park on making the perfect pitcher of lemonade, and a free T-shirt to the 10-year-old whose concoction wins the blind taste test.

For every kind of business, there are lots of ways you can add value. Even a small gesture can feel like a lot to a customer who didn’t expect anything special. If what you do solves a problem, or helps build a community around your product or service, the enchantment is multiplied.

Remember, going from prospect to lead to customer is something all businesses shoot for. Doing the extra work to create an evangelist will have lifetime dividends and yield better marketing ROI than any advertising you can hire someone to do.

Ok, so this takes us to the end of Part 1 of this mini series. My goal was to give you a crash course on what marketing really is, how to frame what you’re doing right now for success, and where you might be able to leverage what you’re already doing for better positioning.

Tomorrow we are going to be talking about putting a little more elbow grease into your personal brand.

Stay Tuned!


Craft Better Value Propositions

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Today I want to talk about Value Propositions. This is something that often doesn’t get the attention it deserves from most of business owners I talk to every day. It’s one of those exercises that everyone knows they should do but figure they can just wing it if push ever really came to shove.

I disagree.

When you’re sharing your value proposition you are literally communicating to your audience (or market) the reason they should buy from you. You are providing the answer to the discomfort or tension they are experiencing in their lives. Why wait to articulate that and potentially end up just talking yourself in circles until you lose the customer? Or worse, miss the opportunity to really serve someone.

My goal is to get you to understand that your value propositions is not something you should be winging and that it’s worth the time and effort to craft a message that will really mean something to your audience.

If you’re planning on building a business the lasts then you need to be clear that:

  • A value proposition is a message that’s more than features or benefits, it’s about letting your potential customers know that they can trust you to deliver what you’re promising in a way that will help them solve their problems.

  • Your value proposition sets the foundation for how you communicate with your market or audience and should get people thinking about what you do beyond just looking for the lowest cost option.

  • It’s literally the reason people will work with you instead of your competitors or try to find a comparable substitute.

  • It also helps to keep all your marketing and sales stuff on message. Nothing worse than thinking you’re doing an awesome job on social only to find out that people have no idea what it is you actually do.

So today we’re going to talk a bit more about what a value proposition is, why it’s important and once you come up with it - how to work it into the rest of your business.

What is value proposition?

A value proposition is a clear statement that explains how your offering solves your customer’s problems or makes their lives better. It tells your ideal customer why they should buy from you, how you’re different, and the benefits they can expect. And no, it’s definitely not just your slogan.

There are three big components in a value proposition.

  • What you do

  • What’s the benefit or transformation you’re promising (why should they care)

  • What makes you unique or different.

Getting this right means you’ve clearly identified a solution to a problem, why you and, shown your commitment to service.

What it’s NOT is a slogan or positioning statement. If your value proposition says “we’re the best”, “we have the best”, or “We’re number 1” in whatever your offer is then it’s definitely NOT a value proposition.

Why is important that you have yours clearly articulated?

If you aren’t speaking directly to your target customer in a way that mirrors how they authentically speak or like to consume information then it doesn’t matter how much good you do, no one will be able to connect with you.

Being clear about the value you provide also allows you to be specific about the value you promise. The more specific the better. What are the quantifiable and unquantifiable benefits that your customer will experience after they engage with you? How will their life be transformed? Explaining this helps your target market build a confidence in your offer because you can clearly express some kind of measurable or marked change.

People have small attention spans, when they’re evaluating options they are constantly scanning for information that they can instantly apply to their lives. They’re literally conducting gut level cost/benefit analysis to see whether or not they feel like you’ll be able to solve the problem they have. Too wordy, to theoretical, to much fluff makes it hard for them to picture how you can help their life in a real and meaningful way...or at least in a way that makes sense for them to trade their dollars for your potential value.

How to identify or clearly articulate your value proposition?

A few sentences followed by or supported by a few bullet points. That’s it. Crafting a decent value proposition starts with a brain dump of sorts and it happens in three acts.

Act 1. Listing out all the benefits of your offer.

The more specific the better. Are you making a process easier? How much time are you saving? How much money are you saving? Can you quantify the opportunity engaging with your offer brings to people? This can kind of be viewed as an exploration of the opportunity costs someone will incur by not interacting with you. Take time with this, you should feel exhausted by the end. Literally try to squeeze every direct and indirect benefit you can think of out of this list.

Act 2. Link the benefits to a value offer.

Now that you have an extensive list of how awesome your offer it is think about why people should care. Connect these benefits to the real problem that it solves in a way that makes it easy for your customer to almost imagine how better their life will be after having interacted with you.

Act 3. Differentiate.

Make who you’re talking to as clear as possible, what you’re offering and why you’re different. Why should someone trust you to solve their problem over the possible alternatives.

Weaving your value proposition into all the parts of your business?

You’ve taken the time to craft the perfect value proposition, now what? Since your value proposition is the foundation of your sales and marketing efforts it’s time to audit your copy and content. Do your blogs, landing pages, Facebook Ads, etc clearly reflect what you do and who you do it for? You just finished putting the work into identifying who your ideal customer is you know how they like to be communicated with, what interests them and what they care about. You’ll be able to craft graphics and longer form sales copy that really speaks to them. Not only that but all your content and copy can finally be focused on serving someone specific, not everyone.

It should also be reinforced everywhere you show up on line. Your value proposition is the shorthand for why people should engage with you. Having it everywhere online (all your social profiles for example) and aligning your actions with it will help people better connect with you and build credibility. It definitely helps shorten the whole know like and trust curve.

Conclusion:

Taking your value proposition seriously is important if you plan on building a successful business. If you’re counting on really connecting with people then you need to give them something to hold on to that’s more than a catchphrase or a slogan. Your customers are also really busy, early on in the relationship you can’t expect a potential customer to take time out their day to really dig into who you are, what you do, and the content you produce. That’s a luxury that you earn by after you’ve convinced them that you’re worth investing in.

Looking for inspiration? Here are a few links to sites that have collected some great value propositions:

Growth Funnel - https://www.growthfunnel.io/15-great-value-proposition-examples-and-how-to-create-one-for-your-company/

Wordstream - https://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2016/04/27/value-proposition-examples

Hubspot - https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/write-value-proposition


10 Ways To Grow Your Business In 2019 #GlowUp

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As this is going up it’s the last day of 2018. Being the last day of the year means I’m competing for your attention in a sea of business/entrepreneurial posts trying to tell you how to make 2019 your best year ever, how to set resolutions you keep, and trends to watch in the business world in 2019. That’s all well and good but I had a different idea. I wanted to share ten actions you can take right now to move the needle in your business. I like this idea way more than another how to set goals motivational type post because even if you find this post in August of 2021 you’ll still be able to take some action and get some results.

So, let’s just jump right into it!

1. Monday Morning Quarterback.

Even if you’re a team of one right now you should still carve out time early in the week (EVERY WEEK) to set the tone for the days to come. You can use that time to identify challenges in the business, flush out a content editorial calendar, and plan on when you’re going to do the work you need to grow. It’s also a great time to review the goals you set the week before. Did you hit them? Why or why not? What can you learn from the data you’ve collected in the last week?

2. Connect with a customer or someone in your audience. It’s not a secret that people do business, and keep doing business, with people the know, like, and trust.

Reaching out to check in with someone, answering a question, or responding to a social post are all opportunities for you to build real relationships with people. There’s no trick or hack here. In order to show people that you care, you have to actually care. It’s a long tail strategy but one that will leave everyone happier than just some flash sale content you spam out to everyone.

3. Create something.

I’m definitely not a fan of “Field of Dreams’ing” it when it comes to building a business but you should be creating content on a regular basis. Blog posts, podcasts, and video like Facebook Live or Youtube give people an opportunity to engage with you. You’re giving them a reason to pay attention to you because you’re offering them something of value in exchange for their attention. Creating content regularly is also great for being found online, Google really likes sites that update regularly with information that answers your audience’s questions.

4. Ask for a referral.

There’s never a bad time to reach out to your best customers and share how awesome it is to serve them. Asking for referrals gives your customers the opportunity to be the hero because that introduction will gives them the chance to solve the problems of the people they care about. Plus, it’s a great litmus test for the value you’re providing in asking people to share you and your business with the people the care about.

5. To quote the Little Mermaid, “I want to be where the people are..”. (No shame in my Disney Fan Game.)

Networking for the sake of networking or worse trying to cold sell in person is not a good business development strategy. But, putting yourself in environments that allow people to get to know you and create opportunities for you to be a resource/connector/giver is always great business development karma. Building your credibility and visibility in your community will help you shorten the time it takes for people to get to know, like, and trust you. It will help establish you as a leader in your market and help make it easier for people to refer new customers to you. Plus, your social reach absolutely amplifies after people see how awesome you are in real life. In most communities you’ll find Chamber of Commerce’s, Young Professional Organizations, and even BNI (Business Networking International) groups hosting events monthly, if not weekly. So no excuses!

6. Check in on your competitors.

Careful with this though because if you don’t set some ground rules you’ll end up in a comparative blackhole wasting time and feeling worse than when you started. This is very much an exercise in researching what people are doing and not what they are saying. Maybe you’re curious about someone’s social strategy so you look at their posting frequency, platforms, engagement, etc. Then, use that data to either compare to your own efforts and results or others in the market. Maybe you evaluate the types of content they are producing and the results that content is yielding. You can do this for social, offerings, and possibly even market share depending on the industry/market you’re in. I hate that I have to say this but make sure you’re using this data to help differentiate you and that you’re not just biting someone else’s style.

7. Get lean.

Profit is more than just growing top line revenue or getting more dollars in the door. It’s about using the resources you have as effectively as possible. Costs have a tendency to creep up on you without you really “feeling” it, I know this from personal experience. For example, take a look at all the subscription services you use in your business. Feel free to use your bank statement as your guide. Take a hard look at all of them and decide if you really need all of those services. I did that this month and cut three non-essential subscriptions. I wasn’t using them enough to justify the expense and one of them I wasn’t using at all. I bought it wishfully thinking I’d use it. There’s never a bad time to do a quick audit of your expenses to see where you might be able to save a few dollars in the weeks and months to come. Your profit margin or ad budget will thank you for it.

8. Create something new for your current customers.

If people are buying from you it means you’re solving a problem or providing a value they’re willing and able to spend money on. I challenge you to find an adjacent issue that you can offer that would benefit the people already buying from you. This isn’t just an upsell, it should be an offer that solves a real problem. Adding new products or services to your mix will allow you to deepen the relationships you have with the people you serve and ensure that they stay with you for the long haul.

9. Audit your data.

This can be a hard pill to swallow for some because it means taking a look at what you’ve been doing all year long. It means looking at what you’ve been doing in your business without the little rationalizing voice chiming in to protect your ego. Spot check a customer, take a hard look at what your cost to acquisition is in your marketing, be honest about the amount of time you’re spending on sales, or any other activity that you do to move the needle in your business. The idea here is to look for patterns and to decide what’s working and what’s not. Blindly throwing more money or hours into an activity that’s not getting you the results you’re hoping for is not good strategy at all.

10. Talk to the media.

In most communities there are a handful of traditional media channels that cover small business issues. Find out who those people are and reach out. You can offer yourself as a resource to them in their potential future stories or suggest a story of your own. Heck, in my community they even showcase small business owners with an interview every Monday. Making friends with a few local journalists gives you an opportunity to build social capital/credibility, create content, and benefit from the leverage of that media’s reach - all in exchange for your expertise. This might not happen right away but taking the time to build real relationships with people is always a great investment of your time.

This list isn’t a be all end all for business growth nor is it a recipe to follow. I’m hoping it spurs you out of inaction when you’re feeling a little lost or a little down on your business. If you happen to be reading this as we head into 2019 then great, maybe there’s an idea you liked and you can run with it. If not, no worries because there’s never a bad time to try something new or get a little introspective in your business. Just as long as you take some action, ideally a little bit everyday, and work towards some incremental improvement I’m happy.



It's Time To Put Your Cash To Work

There’s something that is instantly gratifying about being paid in cash - something kind of primal about it. There’s immediate feedback that the work you’ve just done for someone has been validated and that you now have 100% of the revenue you were promised in exchange for that value. Oh, and there’s also the fact that you now have just a little more of that sweet sweet medium of exchange to use to help you get the things you need for yourself and your business.

Cash really is king (or queen).

Even as a consultant I get excited when someone extends the offer to satisfy an invoice in cash for the work that I’ve done. It’s quick, clean, and final. I know that I’ve finished the job I was hired to do and I can move on to the next one. No worries about making phone calls, waiting on the mail, or dealing with people’s excuses for non payment.

Now, if you’re reading this odds are you know exactly what I’m talking about - regardless of the type of work that you do. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows though when it comes to dealing in cash. I’ve had quite a bit of experience coaching people in cash heavy businesses and can’t wait to share some of the lessons I’ve taught to them about how to not only make the most of it but protect you as you grow your business.

My first question has to do with what you are doing with the cash you have already?

Is it taped to the back of the toilet, in a sock drawer, or stashed in shoebox somewhere? Better yet is it non-existent because, like me sometimes, you succumb to your impulse shopping urges. (Hey even business coaches get weak from time to time!) If any of those describe you then someone should slap you on the hand, in a firm voice say “NO!”.

First thing you need to do is remove the temptation to spend and reinforce the cash that’s coming in and flowing out of your business. Now I know most of you who have hidden stashes will argue that it’s in a really good secret hiding spot. Even still, in the event of a flood, fire, natural disaster, curious house pet, or really good house party you might be exposing yourself to unnecessary risk.

Find your favorite banking institution, one you are comfortable with, and deposit! If you already have an account somewhere let’s start to use it. When you physically separate yourself or add an extra step in accessing your funds it’s been proven to help your cash management efforts. I’ll explain a little more deeper into this piece but you should have an emergency account, an account for bills, payroll, and general operation spending. I know this sounds like a lot but seeing everything working independently is a real key to keeping your business running lean and mean regardless of industry.

Next is a budget.

There are a ton of downloadable spreadsheets and websites you can use to help you with your budget if you don’t have one already. Don’t tell me that you do mental math and you always have an idea of what’s coming in and and what’s going out. I’m calling you out! When you leave things up to be mentally tallied you also are subjecting your finances to your internal rationalizations. What I mean by that is you are convincing yourself that it’s OK to spend a little extra here or there when you really shouldn't be. I’m a big fan of Quickbooks but if you feel like your too small or don’t have the time to learn something new then a spreadsheet works just fine - there are free templates everywhere. This is not just something you do once and forget about it or it tape on the wall only to eventually go blind to it.

You can’t be afraid to get a handle on your business’s finances. So we don’t even have to call it a budget. We can call it a spending plan!

A spending plan starts just like you think a budget might. You’re going to map out all the places your cash goes throughout the month. I want you to start by thinking about all your fixed expenses first: rent, equipment payments, internet, insurance, health care etc. Then work on variable stuff: office supplies, lunch meeting, fuel, electric bills, etc. At the very end I want you to create a space where you are saving between 5% and 15% of every pay event - we’re trying to bank at least part of your profit here.

So after all the traditional budgeting is done - I want you to look at what you have in front of you and make a plan for that spending. Start by breaking out a calendar and visually identifying when you might need to have cash for during the month. This can be for recurring stuff as well as payments you need to make for upcoming events, like conferences, you want to attend. writing the dates that you know you need to have cash for. It’s good to know what you have to SAVE for but it’s even better to anticipate what you are going to SPEND on. You don’t have to be afraid to spend money in your business. It’s all part of the game, especially for things like Facebook Ads, or other marketing, where it’s not clear what the real ROI might be. For those savings though you should set up a separate bank accounts I’m a big fan of divide and conquer - when you create different bank accounts for different goals or purposes it helps actually reach them because you can see real progress.

Here’s a real example. If in your entire business career you deal solely in cash do you think financial institutions will know you exists. Do you think they would be willing to extend credit to you? Probably not. Not only do you not show any kind of assets to back up the risk they would be taking on you, you haven’t showed them that you can be a credible or positive risk. When your paying bills you should be linking them to a bank account so that you can start to build activity and a reputation for being a good credit risk. As you grow you will potentially need that credit and financial history for borrowing/investment in more employees, more inventory, a new building, or just more stuff to help you deliver more value. If you don’t have the history it will be almost impossible to get anyone to lend or at least lend at any kind of competitive rate.

Without going into too much detail on this one, taxes are another issue (I have to save some of the good stuff for subsequent posts). Once you have your foundation tools in place you need to start working to protect yourself from an audit or unnecessary heat from the IRS. The easiest way to do that is pay your quarterlies. Paying something into the tax system on a quarterly basis not only lessons the blow come April (and December) but in the event of an overpayment or loss in the business, reduction of basis, you get a refund. What it also does is keep your business activities honest in the eyes of the government. When you are proactive and report properly you are less likely to draw the attention of an audit. Which again is good on so many levels.

I’ve given a bit of advice here but I’m going to offer some real tips in bullets below to give you a direction to start looking for resources that can help you - and that are free.

  • Quickbooks or any means of actually keeping track of your money - seriously take a look and budget. One caveat though is that you have to be HONEST! If you’re not honest when you start then any feedback this system gives you will be bogus. So I don’t care if you think you are in terrible financial shape, don’t mask it.

  • Start at least a checking account. Now there’s no need right away to go open 47 bank accounts. If you don’t have one for work yet go get one. Then from that account you can distribute your pay however you see fit. The benefit is that you have a running tally of what you’ve made for your own accounting’s sake.

  • Set some real goals. What do you want to do in 3 months, 6 months, and a year out? What about 3 years out? Write them out and revisit them regularly. Having goals creates an anchor to taking your money situation seriously. If it’s a new car or a new place you’ll never get there if you aren’t thinking about it.

  • Deal with your payments, invoices, and revenue right away!! The longer you leave that cash laying around the harder it will be to put away. The goal here is to avoid having to think about where the next rent check or even meal is coming from.

  • Automate as much as you can. Set up monthly withdrawals from account to be deposited into your specific business accounts. Even your bills should be set on autopilot when necessary. The more you automate the less you’ll think about it and the better you will save.

I know there was nothing revolutionary here but I hope that I at least got you to thinking about your own situations. In upcoming posts I plan to talk more about the different budgets you can try to employ and actually give a little more instruction on how to get it done. For now, let’s tackle mindset, get you putting cash somewhere safe, and start thinking about how you’re going to keep track of it.




Recession Fears Or Not, Keep Taking Action In Your Business

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Why do I keep seeing posts and articles scaring people into being nervous about the state of the economy? Just because the stock market is over reacting right now, doesn’t mean you have to worry about your business. Unless it’s publicly traded, then maybe worry for about a second then pull it together. It frustrates me to see vague headlines from so-called experts and political pundits announcing that a recession is on the way... at some point. I’m calling you out MSNBC! Because of course it will, that’s how business cycles literally work.

Our market, like almost every market in the world, is built on the premise that economies expand and contract over time, it’s literally macroeconomics 101. It kind of grinds my gears that the media is giving business owners an excuse for poor performance in the event their revenues, or impact, or engagement fall short of the goals they set for themselves. You might not be able to control whether someone buys from you or not, but you can control the actions you take in your pursuit of growth.

So to combat all the recession talk and pessimism this post is all about why it’s a great environment for small businesses and why doubling down on your efforts is a very worthwhile investment.

First off, you have to let go of waiting for the perfect time to take action. There will be never be the best time. So get over that right out of the gate. It sounds cliche but it’s true, don’t worry about perfect when it comes to doing things in your business. I’d much rather take an imperfect cold sales email that you sent to hundreds of businesses then wasting months trying to perfect an email and have never sent it. One of those things has a better chance at creating value for you and your customers, can you guess which? Think about the time and investment it takes to take something from good to perfect. Is the time investment worth the additional and very marginal gain? Probably not. So get good and then get out there! You can adjust and improve on the fly and it’s part of the learning process.

1. Small businesses are overly concerned with consumer demand.

The consumer demand I’m talking about here is what owners and entrepreneurs talk about when they all congregate - on a macro level. It’s the fuel for excuses around why no one is buying there stuff. They say things like, “Oh I heard consumer demand/confidence was down and that’s why I people aren’t going out to eat as much this time of year.” That’s a lazy, nonsense excuse. What small businesses, you, should be concerned about is your target demographics and what you’re doing to make sure your providing the best possible experience for people. What is your community doing? What are your local customers doing? Are you doing the best you can to get in front of your best customers? Don’t let all the noise of national economic concerns keep you from reaching out.

2. Money is still cheap!

If you have relatively good credit funding is getting easier and easier to get your hands on. That is a beautiful thing! Banks are willing to lend and borrowing rates are still low. So even if your business is a little slow it might be a good time to invest in you and upgrade your brand. You don’t want to start from behind on the permission-to-spend bandwagon when the media announces that everything’s going to be ok and that the stock market isn’t going to just disappear. So it’s a great time to get some extra working capital and add to that plant, equipment, capital, and especially marketing and branding. Your spending should be in service of the experience and value you create, not just because you want new things.

3. People have needs and problems regardless of the economy.

If you have a business that is filling a real need then regardless of what’s happening in the financial markets you need to keep moving. Odds are if you see a problem that needs solving so will other businesses that may have a little extra liquidity and the willingness to try capture a little extra market share. As long as your value proposition, your story, and your message, reaches people and you are passionate about the problem you are solving - it makes you a strong contender.

4. Spending still happens.

In tougher/weaker economies consumers might pull back on larger more extravagant purchases but spending still happens. Consumers will spend on the “little luxuries” that help keep them happy on the day to day. Make your product/service a part of that culture - become part of your consumers day. Think soaps, food, and even clothes. Consumers might skip the tropical cruise vacation but they won’t skimp on making sure the time they take for themselves to enjoy a shower is the best it possibly can be. Nor will they stop trying to find ways to make their lives easier. Regardless of what’s happening in the economy people will always pay for two things - to not be uncomfortable and convenience. Why? Because what they’re really buying is time and that’s always valuable. No one wants to not enjoy the time they get to spend not working on their own grind and convenience effectively buys more time.

Don’t let broad based economic indicators slow you down. In order for you to get your idea going you need to take action. So realistically evaluate your situation, your needs, your plan, and your customers and start creating. Focus on bringing that minimum viable experience to market and building from there. You might surprise yourself and everyone else at the entrepreneurial watercooler because you provided people with something they wanted in spite of the economy and what the news says.


Get Your Customers To Choose You (Again And Again)

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If you’ve spent any time trying to work out your business’s strategy you’ve probably come across a few resources. Probably more than a few, the internet is littered with all kinds of business building nonsense. Thank your lucky holiday stars you ended up here because there’s no quality standard on what someone can call “business strategy” these days. So before you download someone’s (who maybe isn’t super qualified to offer anyone any advice because they’ve never done anything ever when it comes to growing a business) free 87 page growth strategy guide, carve out a few minutes to make your way through this post.

Ohh, I’m feeling a kind of way already. I like it.

When it comes to moving the levers in your business there are the old favorites like the SWOT analysis, that no one really knows what to do with after you fill it out, and then there are frameworks like Porter’s 5 Forces Model. These frameworks are designed to help you organize your thoughts around what’s happening in your business and helping to illustrate why people should care. Something like Porter’s model is an amazing tool but it should be one piece of how you are evaluating what your business' strategy and subsequent hunt for competitive advantage will look like. Oh, and we can’t forget the most important business building faux pas, these tools aren’t going to tell you what you need to do next in your business...most of the time.

One resource that I really like and I’m guessing you haven’t seen is Mintzberg's Emergent Strategy framework. If you are a recent MBA graduate or have taken one of Mintzberg’s courses you will of course be one of the select few who have had the opportunity to dive into one of my favorite approaches. And if that description isn’t you like 99% of the world's population, you are in for a treat!

Mintzberg is responsible for Emergent Strategy. He’s the guy that made it cool to think about business decisions from a human perspective. He coined this way to think about business that weighed getting to the heart of why people make the decisions they do over time. I made reference to him and Emergent Strategy way back in the day, somewhere in the middle of 2016 and I wanted to break it down a bit more with this post. Took a few years but we’re full circle.

Emergent Strategy approaches strategy from a very human point perspective.

I love it because makes one really simple thing the contextual heart of deciding what to do next in your business. At the end of the day businesses succeed because people are choosing to engage with them. Sounds almost too simple but let’s break it down. Consumer’s choose how to spend their money for lots of reasons. Sometimes it’s price driven and sometimes it’s not. It can be about values, mission, and the intentions guiding how your consumer makes their decisions over time.

Did you solve their problem and are they coming back every time they needed that problem solved again. If you’re a restaurant, for example, are they coming back week after week to try something new on your menu? This way of thinking frames the choices your consumers make in terms of the outcomes desired/achieved. Notice I said outcomes and not goals because you need to think about your business in terms of the resources you have available to allocate to try to create an environment for success. As a business owner you should be all about doing the best thing you can and about making it easy for people to get that value from you - the latter is an outcome.

Figuring out what makes people tick fills lifetimes of work for the professionals in the fields of behavioral economics, psychology, strategy, etc. You don’t have that kind of time in your business. Let’s see if we can fast track your development of a systematic approach to making choices and getting human-people to identify the important choices to make when it comes to buying from you. Here are 5 things you can do now that will get you thinking like an Emergent Strategist:

1. Strategic Planning - Planning is not the be all and end all of business growth.

There are a four other points below this one that support Mintzberg’s framework. Planning is important because you have to take stock of the resources, capital, equipment, and people you have (or will need) in making your business work. Planning also means you need to be thinking about how your rivals are going to react to whatever you do in your market. Anticipating possible outcomes will help you get the most out of your resources!

2. Manipulation and Strategic Ploys.

Emergent Strategy is a more holistic approach and that means there’s a lot more grey area because people are not cut and dry (or rational). What can you do to better position yourself ahead of your competition? Nothing like good ole tricannery and manipulation! Kidding, maybe. Please, don’t be unethical here. But, you can use information to disrupt, dissuade or even discourage customers from engaging with competitors because they’d be making an inferior choice. That’s literally a big part of what marketing does. Slinging proverbial mud probably isn’t the best approach but communicating your value or worth over your competition’s is what you want. It’s all about triggering that FOMO.

3. Work on your patterns!

Remember building a business is about making good choices. Even if you are an organization of one, that doesn’t mean you are absolved from cultivating good organizational behavior. What are you doing every day to push your business forward? This is everything from your work routines and daily systems all the way to making the big risky choices. When you are on the clock, everything you should be working on should be in an effort to move your business forward.

4. Positioning.

In order for your business to work you have to have a really good understanding of the market or industry you belong to. This is where something like Porter’s 5 Forces comes in handy because through Porter’s model you’ll be able to figure out how you can best differentiate and offer value in your market. You will get to being profitable when you are offering something so awesome that your customers never use a competitor again. This is also a great place to be thinking about your core competencies and how you really differ from everyone else in your market space. Tastes, expectations, and a customer’s willingness to pay all change over time so make sure you are constantly checking in on your competitors and your market.

5. Perspective.

Perspective directly relates to the culture you are building in your business. Again this counts for you even if you are a one person show. What’s the environment you are building? Are you consistent with how you engage with customers? Your online presence? Do you encourage risk taking or innovation? These things shape culture and help you to build perspective. Remember, people are a big part of this strategy and how they perceive your brand counts just as much as them enjoying your products or services. Get your customers on board with how you do business!

Thinking in broader terms - in more humanistic terms is one of my favorite ways to approach to growing a business. Analysis and deciding on how to best allocate resources are important but anticipating the reactions of your competitors and the people you want to engage with shouldn’t be pushed to the end of your to do list. The world of business is kind of like the wild west at the moment. The internet makes it free to start a business but the other side of the coin is that anyone can do it. There are also lots of resources and tools and no one “right” way to find success. Don’t get stuck on just one way and take advantage of all of the resources that are available to help you move the needle in your business. Just maybe not that 87 free guide from someone who’s never done anything..just saying, check your sources.

3 Pillars For Saving A Failing Business

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Helping businesses do epic things is pretty great most of the time. Most of the time I get to enter the picture right when a business is hitting an exciting inflection point. It can look like anything from helping a business owner apply for (and get) funding for an expansion, to launching a brand new product line, and even helping businesses chart new courses for their next fiscal years. It’s the really exciting kind of change and the fun kind of tough decisions to tackle.

Unfortunately though this post isn’t going to be about the fun stuff.  

Every once and awhile, what I do is less than great. It’s less than great because the real world doesn’t work like a Disney Movie. There’s not always a happy ending. These are the times when I really want to help someone but they waited too long to ask for help or they were too stubborn to admit that they needed help. A stubborn business owner will reach out, tell me I’m their last hope, have zero resources left, and expect me to give them some kind of magic business growth bullet to save their business. And, we can’t forget that (most of the time, not always) this down on their luck business owner is blaming everything from market conditions to their past employees on why they landed in their current situation. It’s never their fault and they always already know everything.

When entrepreneurs are at their most desperate are the times I really wish I had something like that to give to their ailing business. I wish I had a cheat code I could just hand them on an Inspector Gadget style self-destructing note that, once entered, will instantly turn things around for them. I’d want to give them an instant solution because by the time a business reaches that point of no return some real learning and authentic growth has happened for a few of those entrepreneurs. In losing their businesses a few people find real clarity and learn a lot about what it takes to really run a business, instead of just playing wantrepreneur like they had been up to that point.

But I don’t have a cheat code or magic bullet to turn around failing businesses. What I do have are a few foundational business building pillars that business owners can apply to get back to basics and hopefully build their way out of their current hole. If you, or someone you know, is heading this way the thing they’ll need most is time. So, hopefully there’s still a little runway left.

Let’s get into the pillars.

Pillar 1 - Yes, your mission matters. We’re about to lace up and hit the starting line, stay with me it’ll make sense I promise.

Building a business is a lot like running a race. I’m not a runner so visualizing the challenge of running a 5k is more than scary enough for me. If you plan on finishing that race you probably need to do a little more than just showing up the day of and waiting around until it starts. If you plan on running that race successfully you have to think about lots of things. Everything from the fuel you put into your body, to the dedicated training (even if it is the Couch To 5k app), and the sneakers you’re wearing on race day. There are lots of variables and there’s lots of work that goes into getting ready for race day. The funny thing is that even though you and I are completely different people, have different reasons for running that race, have different expectations, different life circumstances, and have different plans for what we’re going to do after we finish (mine probably involves finding a burger and beer) we have one very important thing in common. Every decision that we make is in service of making sure we do our best come race day. Don’t roll your eyes just yet. This isn’t you’re normal running a marathon is a business analogy. One of the most common challenges I see when a failing business owner comes to me for help is that they aren’t making decisions that consistently map to the mission of their business. They’re guessing or using some internal judgement of the day for what they think is right when they make a decision in the business. Most of the time it’s because they don’t have a clearly articulated mission and so they just wing the decisions they need to make every day. It’s the same as showing up to race having done literally nothing. If everyday you have nothing to help you focus how you spend your time, what you should be spending your money on, what values you stand for, how you communicate with people, and what you want your customers to really experience when they interact with you then you’re just showing up to the race in jeans and boat shoes. Every decision made in a business MUST be in service of that business’s mission. The mission of a business is its reason for being and without it they’re just playing entrepreneur. Here’s where you can get more info on creating awesome mission statements.

Pillar 2 - Building a business means building real relationships.

Someone who’s complaining that their business isn’t growing is most likely citing the cause as not enough customers. That’s not super helpful insight though as you can probably guess. So let’s break that premise down a bit. The most common reasons that a business doesn’t have enough customers boils down to to main themes: bad product/service or obscurity. Let’s tackle obscurity here and save bad product/service for a later pillar.

When I say obscurity what I mean is that the business owner is not doing enough to take the time to really get to know their audience, community, target market, or however else you’d categorize the people you want to buy your stuff. There’s no relationship being built. Why would anyone trust that you can help them or support them in exchange for their hard earned dollars?  These are also the business owners that tell me that they have social pages, websites, review sites, etc. and are too busy to do anything with them. Or worse, all they only post are mini commercials for their stuff. For every post. No one wants to see that just like no one really wants to watch those Facebook Live streams of people trying to QVC their multi-level marketing clothing, charcoal toothpaste, or fitness shakes. Beating obscurity is going to take them showing up a lot more than they are comfortable with and in ways that deliver real value to people - yes, entertainment counts as value. They need to take building a robust content calendar seriously and here are some of my favorite ways to help people jump start their brand engagement.

  1. Look for podcasts to pitch to as a guest. I probably don’t have to tell you that podcasts are huge right now. I’m also guessing that you or any business owner are know lots about the value you’re the business brings to the world. Everyone loves a good subject matter expert. There are millions of podcasts and I’m willing to bet that with a little search enginuity one can put together a list of podcasts still trying to find momentum to offer up guest services too. It’s a win win. They get content and the business owner gets exposure, and also content.   

  2. Facebook Live is an awesome place to play right now. This platform allows you to just show up, share a message, and go. It’s an opportunity for a business owner to connect in real time with people and allow their community to peek behind the curtain in the business. I’m a huge fan of live but like any content that’s really valuable, a little prep work goes a long way.

  3. Don’t sleep on in person networking. Every week in communities all over the world are professional networking events you can attend. From local BNI chapters, to Chamber of Commerce events, and even Young Professional events, they’re all great places to meet new people. Notice I said meet, not sell. Managing your expectations is critical in situations like this and the primary goal should be to just meet people. Sure, a sale might happen down the line but it’s after someone has the opportunity to get to know/like/trust you/the business owner. And remember, the name of the game is beating obscurity here.

  4. Blog/Podcast/Video - Content is still king going into 2019. The modern customer consumes for lots of reasons and one of the biggest ones is that they feel that their values align with a business’s values. The best way to connect an audience or target market to a business is by communicating directly to them. I’m not saying you have to do all three, I mean if you can it’s better because there are more platform options, but you do have to do something. A business has to give people a reason to interact with them and it often starts with the simple consumption of some piece of content. A business owner that shares their message, teaches, entertains, and stands for something will always have the advantage over a competitor that doesn’t. Consumers are looking for the story just as much as they are looking for the solution or even the right price.

Pillar 3 - There’s always more work to do.

It takes a lot of work to build a business. Not just a lot of work but a lot of hours, a lot of sacrifice, and a big emotional investment. One of the toughest things I have to do sometimes is look a business owner in the face and tell them that they’re not working enough. People get defensive but my intention is not to attack them personally, it’s to show them that there are consequences for the choices they make. It can be tough to tell someone to put more of themselves into their business when they are coming from place of feeling like they’ve already made a tremendous investment and haven’t seen any kind of return. What’s worse is that most people don’t track the effectiveness of their marketing, sales, and the dollars they spend so when it’s time to do more work they struggle with deciding what to do next. Unfortunately all work is not created equal when it comes to generating positive outcomes for a business. I’m not in the business of telling people how to live their lives but if they are serious about saving their business or turning it around, their business is going to demand more of them. More creating of content, more networking, creating more opportunities for sales, etc. Often when resource constraints are at their tightest means the easiest (in concept) thing to allocate is the business owner’s time. As business owners we can’t control what our customers do after we ask for the sale or post something on social. What we can control is how many proposals get sent out, how many posts get created, how much feedback we try to solicit, and how many people the business owner chooses to interact with. It takes time.

Going back to Pillar 2 it also means doing the work to honestly assess a business’s offerings. If the market is not responding to a business there’s a good chance that there’s no product/market fit. It takes time to go back to the drawing board and really look at the assumptions that were used when that business was born. It’s going to take asking a lot of hard questions, things like:

  1. How big is the actual market for the good or service?

  2. Is it a need vs. a want vs. a novelty?

  3. Why would/should anyone care about your offering?

  4. How mature is the market? Are there cheaper substitutes? Too much of a learning curve?

  5. Do people understand the business’s mission? If yes, go back to question 3.

Iterating doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom but it does have to happen fast if a business is in trouble. The quicker a business owner can get over their ego, roll up their sleeves, and commit to getting to work the better the odds of success become. My recommendation is to try to figure out which levers lead most effectively to generating revenue and leaning hard on that work, try not to Wolf of Wall Street though.

The saddest part of what I do is seeing people give up on themselves. I get it though. In their business’s most critical time they finally find the courage to reach out and instead of giving them an easy button I have to tell them to double down. Sometimes people don’t have the stomach for that or they’re just too beat up to go on. There’s no shame in having tried though which is easier to say from behind a keyboard I know. As business owners we tie up so much of our identities in our businesses. It’s hard to seperate the entrepreneur from the business which is why I try my best to teach people that failures (or successes) are just outcomes. What happens in a business is the output of an equation whose variables include the choices made around mission, community, and the work that’s done. Sometimes people make less than great choices because they’re operating from less than great assumptions and less than great information - that doesn’t mean they’re less than great people. So, if you know someone who’s struggling in their business and they haven’t reached out to anyone yet think about sending this post their way and maybe there’s an idea here that helps kickstart a new and positive inflection point for them.

Or, at the very least softens the blow of having to close the doors. Plus there’s no rule that says you can’t try again.


5 Things To Think About When Starting A Business

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Happy Monday!

I get asked a lot of questions about starting a new business. I love it because as soon as I hear someone’s inflection start to shift to a question-asking pitch, the professor switch flips on in my brain. I can’t help it. It’s like a Pavlovian Response...minus the drool. Ok, maybe a little drool. That’s only because I get excited for people when you with start to express your entrepreneurial tendencies.

Today I want to cover the first critical steps to getting your business idea out of your brain and into the real world.

This post is my response when you ask me what you should do FIRST when thinking about starting a business. It’s not an all inclusive answer, just the literal first things you should do. Ideally I would’ve got to you before you started soliciting advice from the near infinite places online spouting business growing advice. This would literally be the conversation I would have with someone over an adult beverage at the bar after they found out what I do.

If you did start Google’ing then you’ve probably seen that some entrepreneurs, coaches, and consultants wave their fingers in the air and proclaim that you work as hard (and as fast) as you can on getting to your Minimum Viable Product out the door. Then once you’re bought in on that idea these “experts” proceed to do a not-great job of explaining what a Minimum Viable Product is because they are only vaguely familiar with the LEAN Startup Model. (Fun fact: The LEAN idea came from Toyota factories in Japan in the 1980’s. It was designed to smooth out processes and reduce waste on auto manufacturing lines. Sorry, I thought it was fun.)  

Can’t iterate if you don’t ship, right?!

While I agree with that I tend to shy away from fancy startup buzzwords and break things down into actionable chunks that you can put into practice without needing a crash course in the Lean Startup Model. This post is about doing something today to move the needle on your business idea….today.

Ok so below are the literal first things you should do if you’re planning on giving your business a fair shake. A few these may seem administrative in nature and by extension not as sexy as other things on your to-do list but they are important. You need a solid foundation before you build literally anything and going through the motions here will force you to really think through how you want to be branded, viewed, and even how you’re going to deliver on your value proposition.  

1. There is no such thing as the perfect business name.

Seriously, I can’t tell you how many chats I’ve had over coffee where there was no forward progress being made in starting a business because of a naming issue. My advice is to pick something simple, something you like, and something that can translate to a domain name pretty easily. Then pull the trigger. Clear over clever always wins. Even come up with a few options because after you settle on a name or two you’re going to need to try to pick up your domain name. If your business name changes, after you have give your company a name, over time that’s fine, you can always add domains or run your business under a different name than your company. “Doing Business As” accounts are easy to fill out and your bank will still cash the checks - which is the important part. Also, it’s really easy to forward lots of domains to a single site so don’t worry about wondering if your audience or customers will be able to find you after a while.  

2. Get separate bank accounts ASAP.

If you think you don’t need a separate account for your business because you haven’t made any money you’re wrong. I’m willing to bet that the business you are starting is planning on making money. It can get really tricky to keep business money and personal money separate when you are a solopreneur or brand new business. The IRS doesn’t care how big or small you are, they will always find a way to get their cut. While you can get your accounts (PayPal included) set up with your personal Social Security Number you would be better off applying for an EIN number. That’s the tax identification number you’ll assign to your business name. Applying for the EIN, Employer Identification Number, is easy and you get the results right there online through the IRS website.

3. Work on your Minimum Viable Audience. (This is a big big big topic so here’s the high level overview.)

Up to this step you have an idea for a business, you have a name (even if it’s going to change) and you have set up a separate account. Now is the time to start working on your audience. Start building your little piece of the interweb because that’s where most people are going to look for you. Defining your audience, creating content, and developing relationships with your audience is critical to building relationships with people. It’s not going to happen overnight so the key here is to be as consistent as possible with what/how you share and the value you deliver to people.


Most of the time people don’t really know what they want or what to expect from you. In developing your audience you will get to know their pains and how you can better deliver value to them - in turn building a better product out of the gate. Another benefit to building an audience is that you will have a group of people to share your business journey with. They can’t buy if they don’t know that you exist and they won’t buy if they don’t know, like, and trust you. The trick here is that there is no perfect number for the audience. You don’t have to wait until you have an email list with thousands of people on it. Just get a few people involved in a conversation and leverage the places you already interact online. My recommendation for you is to think about your content distribution like a tree. Your website is your trunk and in the beginning pick one or two branches to really invest in - think Facebook and Instagram. You’re going to want to go where people already are and create/share content with the goal of getting people to care enough to follow you back to your site to learn more.

4. “Perfect is the enemy of good” - Voltaire.

Your business is brand new and your audience and stakeholders know that. You can’t know what works and what doesn’t if you don’t have a feedback loop. You get to having a feedback loop by actually selling something. So start (trying to) selling. Call it a Beta, give away a few for free, or just let people know it’s Version 1.0. How ever you want to handle getting your work into the hands of the people that need it is good enough - just make sure it ships! This is definitely going to take some dedicated business development work because you are making and selling first and then asking questions later. If audience development is your inbound marketing, working on your sales game is your outbound marketing. You can also start interviewing if you’re really stuck wondering how to solve the problem you’ve identified. The challenge with interviewing is that you won’t know what people actually want or get really honest answers until you ask them to take their wallets out and buy right then and there. This step has a lot of potential for decision/analysis paralysis. Up until know you are playing business. Selling something crosses the threshold of actually putting your work on the line and delivering. So don’t dwell over perfect and just get something out in the world.

4 Continued. Keep iterating and keep selling.

As you start to build a community around your brand and your work there will be more opportunities to get your stuff in the hands of people that need it. Work on building momentum and work on asking lots of questions for more feedback.

5. Get your paperwork and documentation in shape.

This may or may not happen right away, it really depends on how fast or slow you grow. When you are starting a business there are a lot of things that can pull your attention away from building a business. My advice is to focus on doing just enough business development to communicate your business’s value and to get something to market so that you get to your first payments or sales. Once you start to get a few paying customers in the door you can parlay those funds to deal with all the application and license fees your city or town will need for you to do business where you live. Check your City or Town Halls for sure but most likely you will eventually need a business certificate or permits to operate your business. After you officially exist in the eyes of the government you can go on and work on getting the appropriate insurances, etc. My approach is to get your business making money first and use that money to grow and cover the costs of being a business. It’s a little “building the plane while it’s flying” but validation is better than sunk costs in my book.

I need to reiterate that these are not the only things you should be doing when you’re starting a business. I’ve glossed over a ton but like I said, if we were having a drink at a bar and you asked me what you should be doing - this is where I’d tell you start. This list is also a great test to see if you’re as serious as you think you are when it comes to building a business. While few in number things like taking the time to build even a minimum viable website and brand presence can take some real time. If you’re really ready to try to build a business then it’s time to roll up your sleeves, solve a real problem, tell some good stories, and see if you can get someone to pay you to help them through a transformation.


Why Being Nice To Your Coworkers Is Good For Business

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“Who do you want to be? It's a simple question, and whether you know it or not, you're answering it every day through your actions. This one question will define your professional success more than any other, because how you show up and treat people means everything. Either you lift people up by respecting them, making them feel valued, appreciated and heard, or you hold people down by making them feel small, insulted, disregarded or excluded. And who you choose to be means everything.”

Incivility affects your business's bottom line. How? Because how you treat the people you work with and the customers you serve impacts how they interact with you. At the very least incivility demotivates the people around you, makes it hard for them to buy into why they should be working with you and, at worst it turns people way. Incivility could literally be the single biggest driver that is sinking your business. In this TED Talk you’ll see that it literally pays to be kind in your business.

My favorite part of the video is there’s empirical data that supports that nice guys (and gals) don’t finish last. It’s the leaders and business owners that demonstrate civility consistently who prove to be the most impactful leaders in their organizations. I absolutely love this! It’s not about how well your sales funnel works, the colors you choose, or any other tactic; it’s about how you treat people that matters most when it comes to finding success. This even applies for the entrepreneurs and side-hustlers who are a team of one right now.

This week I challenge you to find some inspiration from the most successful CEOs that were mentioned in this TED Talk. Can you find ways to better the culture in which you work, be kinder to the people you serve, or even strive to bring someone up?

Do you lift people up or hold them down? Based on research, Christine Porath shares the costs of incivility and how civility pays. She explains how incivility is a bug—it’s contagious and we become carriers of it just by being around it. Christine reveals the true power of civility and how our little actions matter.