Audit

Get Your Business Back On Track: Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now onto the question of mapping your competition.

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

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

1. Competitor’s Name.

2. What are the products or services they offer?

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

4. What do you think their competitive advantage is?

5. What are they key features or benefits?

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

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

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

Your competitive advantage.

See what I did there?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get Your Business Back On Track: Part 1

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

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

“What am I doing?” 

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

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

Back to business model basics. 

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

1. What are you selling? 

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

2. What does the transaction life cycle look like? 

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

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

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

Yeah, I see you! 

4. What are you tracking? 

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

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

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

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

Hypothetical Wellness Coaching Business (HWCB)

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

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

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

1. What are you selling?

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

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

2. What does the transaction life cycle look like?

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

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

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

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

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

4. What are you tracking? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I STILL WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

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

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