Business Model

BUSY ≠ SUCCESS: Beat the Hustle Porn trap, make the most of your time, and get real results.

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Bragging that you’re working a ton of hours is a very weird flex. Brick and mortar business owners, online entrepreneurs and traditional corporate professionals wear the amount of time they spend at work as a badge of honor. I’m not sure if it’s a play to garner sympathy or a way to demonstrate professional superiority over your peers/competitors but it is nonsense. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be proud of your hard work and the time it takes to produce something truly valuable. I’m just saying I don’t get why people define themselves and their success by the amount of time they spend “working”.

It’s the obsession with hustle porn that really gets me fired up. Or rather, people leaning on it instead of focusing on being effective. What’s hustle porn? Hustle porn is a term said to be coined by Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian and he defines it as “the fetishization of people--particularly entrepreneurs or employees in the tech industry--overworking themselves.” (Here’s a whole Inc.com article about it if you want to see for yourself.)

Overworking yourself for the sake of showing how hard you’re working is bad enough but, what I think is really happening is that people are pretending to be overworked so they can share their flavor of hustle porn with the world. These are the millions of people trying to scoop up their piece of the social influencer pie. There’s a big difference between someone like Gary Vaynerchuk (who I’d consider the father of the modern hustle movement) who both works long hours and is super effective for the love of the game and your average hustle porn addict that claims to be on the grind hundreds of hours per week with little to know efficacy to show for it.

It’s a real problem! It’s a problem because these pretenders are giving advice, attempting inspire and sometimes, unfortunately, huck their products or services on the backs of their busy = success facade.

This long ranty introduction is to help me set the stage to give you a tool that will help you be more productive and effective. I want to help you make better decisions and be able to audit the work that you’re doing so you do more with the time that you do have so you can best match your ambitions for your business to the action you take every day. Best part, this isn’t some proprietary and untested advice from a guy writing on the internet - it’s a tool taken right from the management science of Six Sigma. Today we’re talking SIPOC.

SIPOC is a process mapping framework and it’s also an acronym. It’s an exercise you can really do at any time and it can do a few things. First, it can give you an overall and high level view of all the important bits of work that you do in your business. Secondly, it can expose each of the moving parts of each of the individual activities you’re doing everyday. Doing this will help you identify problems and find things that create waste or add little value in your business. Both of which will help make you more effective long term.

Here’s what SIPOC stands for:

Supplier - These are the providers of the inputs in a process. They can be people, things, sources of information, etc.

Inputs - These are the materials, information and other resources you need to get something done.

Process - This is the recipe for getting something done. What are each of the steps required to go from idea to outcome or result in an activity.

Outputs - These are the products, services, or outcomes as a result of following a process.

Customers - These are the people, businesses, audiences, etc that receive the outputs.

Now that you have the breakdown here’s how to use the framework via a cooking analogy… mostly because I’ve been binge watching Bon Appetit videos on YouTube.

Before we start you need a place to keep you organized. You can use a SIPOC template, a pretty good free one can be found here at goleansixsigma.com, or go freehand but you’re going to go topic by topic and brain dump as many parts of the activity in question (or business as a whole) as possible. It will look like a recipe when you’re done. I’m going to be moving fluidly between individual activities and looking at the business as a whole because this framework can and should be applied to both.

And away we go!

Start with Suppliers.

Before you can start cooking anything you need to go buy ingredients. The Supplier category are all the places you’d have to go to pick up the particular ingredients for your dish. Sometimes you luck out and have the ingredients on hand, sometimes they’re all common enough to be found in your local supermarket and sometimes you have to drive to specialty grocers or order from Amazon. Your Suppliers in your process are all the places you need to go for the stuff you need to get your activity done. They don’t have to be physical locations or goods either. Often times with service businesses you start with doing a bit of research for a client, where are the places you go to get your information - those are also your Suppliers.

Next we look at the Inputs.

These are your ingredients. In a single recipe it will be the specific ingredients and their proportions. The same goes for a specific activity in your business. If you’re looking at your whole business then you need to think a little bigger. Inputs here are the materials, people, roles, equipment, IT systems, software, information, etc that are the MOST important in you delivering value to your customers.

After that is the Process.

In our recipe these are literally the steps. Things like bringing the water to a boil, cooking pasta for 8 minutes, heating oil to a shimmer before adding the garlic are all specific things you need to do to prepare a dish. Do the same thing for whatever specific activity is on the chopping block in your business. If you’re auditing your social media posting process it can be the steps that start with the idea for a post, to opening the right app, to posting with the prewritten caption. The more granular here the better because it will force you to get real about the actions you’re really taking when you do something. Recipes are very specific for a reason because they want you to finish with a very specific dish at the end and plus, no one likes burnt garlic. In your business you’re looking to identify as many individual processes as possible and the granularity bits apply here too. If you gloss over or over generalize the work that you do every week how can you expect to identify which processes can be improved, eliminated or delegated to make you more effective with the time that you have committed for your business.

Next are the Outputs.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of over simplicity here. In a recipe the output is not just the food you’ve created at the end of the cooking process. It’s the dirty dishes, the plates you serve the food on, the utensils you need to get to eat, etc. It’s everything that comes after the cooking part. What are the outputs that your specific activity produces? If it’s a product you’ll have a pretty easy start but with a service you might have to get a little more creative with what gets delivered and all of the process adjacent things that come with the delivery of that service. For your business these can include all the paperwork, approvals, data, and tasks that are created after your business delivers what it promised it would to the end consumer.

Lastly we have the Customers.

These are the people that, in this case, will literally consume the fruits of your labor. These are the recipients of each output of your process. In the cooking example it’s all the smiling faces that get to try your recipe. For a specific activity it can be the person or people that will benefit from what you’ve produced. It can even be delivering value to an audience if we’re talking about a social media or content creation process. In most cases every output should have at least one category of customer. I mean someone has to be responsible for the dirty dishes or at the very least be in charge of loading a dishwasher. For the business as a whole your customers can be internal and external. Not every process will directly correspond to the customer but the outputs may serve as an input for the next process that gets you closer to delivering value. An example would be a creative team that’s working to create assets for your business. The content gets created, then approved, then shared. Each of those are individual process and only one of them ends with the external audience.

Ok so by now you’re probably a little hungry and have the basics of a process mapping tool ready to go. So what’s next?

I would recommend that you start by running this exercise on your business as a whole. This will help you get a really good idea about all the work your doing in your business. The trick is that you have to be brutally honest about the work, the time, and the resources that you put into growing your business. Then once you get a handle on the high level view of your business I would challenge you to try to trim the activities that aren’t serving you and go deeper on the ones that are by running the exercise again on the individual activities. Most importantly you HAVE TO BE HONEST.

By being honest you’ll be able to really see what’s going on and how you might be able to better deploy your time and energy. One of the other best bits here is that you can run this exercise over time to help you tighten up the work your doing in your business. I know that it’s easy to get and stay busy and I also know that scope creep is real when you’re in the early days of getting customers and squeezing every ounce of value out of every dollar you can in your business. All that intensity can sometimes lead you and your business away from the core values you had envisioned when you started the business. This is an opportunity to check in with yourself, as a CEO, and decide if the recent direction of the business is still in line with your values.

And finally, you’ll be able to worry less about the pressure that hustle porn hucksters put on you and more about doing the work that really matters in your business.


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.


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.

Avoid These 7 New Business Mistakes

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The cost of entry when it comes to starting a new business is literally zero. Well, plus or minus some time and elbow grease I guess. But, it honestly doesn’t even take that long to get your business online and set up. It costs nothing to get an email address from Google that you can then use to sign up for Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and a handful of other platforms. Places like Canva make design super easy, aren’t intimidating, and are also free. You don’t even need a website anymore with how robust and connected a well built Facebook Business Page can be. 

What does that mean? It means you can start a business at any time from anywhere. 

So, when that next brilliant idea strikes should you just jump right int? 

No. 

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here so I wanted to ease into it with a punch list of reasons why you should take a pause and some time to really think through your new (or rebranded) business idea. Especially, if you’re expecting to build a lasting business. 

Here’s my list of reasons you should take some time to really think through your new business:

1. Your branding matters. Just because you can slam some text over an image doesn’t mean that you’re communicating your message clearly and effectively. 

2. Just because you can post whatever you want, whenever you want doesn’t mean it’s going to inspire people to pay attention to you. If you can’t get them to pay attention you won’t ever be able to inspire them to take action. 

3. Have you actually thought about your business model? It’s great to post pictures and to try to market your stuff but do you even know if your target market wants what you’re thinking of offering? 

4. Did you take any time in deciding if there was even a market? There’s lots of advice out there that purports that if you scratch your own itch then you’ll have a successful business. Sounds great, often flawed if you don’t think through the value proposition. 

5. A sustainable business needs a cohesive mission. Whether your offerings are unique, clever, useful, a value-adding thing, or any other descriptive marketing buzzword it won’t matter if you aren’t communicating consistent messages. Engagement is a cognitively taxing endeavor for would-be consumers. If you constantly change your messaging (like a restaurant constantly changing a menu) people will ultimately decide that the work isn’t worth the value-exchange anymore. 

6. Building a business takes work. Real life isn’t a Kevin Costner movie and “if you build it they will come” is a bad business model. 

7. Paying for a bunch of software isn’t going magically do the work for you. The same goes for any “partners” or help you may or may not have. Managing expectations has to have a real priority so making sure everyone is on the same page is huge. Setting goals, managing schedules, and planning content so that it serves a purpose (and your audience) should not be taken lightly. 

I could go on but I think you get the idea here. I’m all for acting quickly when it comes to filling a need in a market and building a business. But, that action has to come from a place of strategically thinking through the problem you’re solving or the opportunity your seizing. Just working on something for the sake of working on it is not just unsustainable, it’s a recipe for an unsuccessful business. Plus, it’s really hard to change your Facebook Business Page name if you decide that what you initially decided doesn’t mesh with the rest of your branding once you actually flush it out. 

Save time by taking a little extra time to think it through - then go nuts. 
 

Make Better Business Decisions

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Have you been decisive lately?

It may have been a while since you hung your business shingle and opened up shop. Or, you may still be working on hanging that shingle for the first time. Regardless of where you are today on your entrepreneurial journey, there is one thing that's consistent - you have to make choices.

Every. Single. Day. 

Every minute of every day you are making decisions. I mean, you decided that the link to this post/blog title was worth a look. When you did that you made an instant choice. You made a choice that meant you’d be giving up your time, and the opportunity cost that goes with this time, to get a little more insight on making decisions.

(This is very meta.)

I think it was a good choice and I hope you will by the end of this post too. 

When you decide to allocate something as simple as a few moments it might not feel like a significant trade but trust me, it matters. You are, whether consciously or not, acknowledging that you are willing and able to give up that time in exchange for some kind of value. In economics classes all around the world, this phenomenon is explained as the elasticity of demand. In literal fractions of a second, you measured the possible benefit of the insight of this post against a slew of criteria in which the aggregate of totals who you are as a person. 

What you do with your time you do with every other resource. Crazy, I know and it gets better.  

In the early stages of building a business, it feels like you have to make a lot of hard and fast choices. There are tradeoffs punching you in the face from every direction. Things like how you set your prices and deciding on the business activities that will make up what you do from day to day. You're putting the foundation in place so that people can find you, learn about you, like you and decide that your offer is worth their dollars.

It can feel like a lot all at once and it can be exhausting. So, how do you develop the stamina to make good decisions on the regular? 

Let's start by working through the biggest decision-making hurdles. The first trap I see most often is entrepreneurs holding on the freedom to make choices which really means overcoming the "maybes". 

Hoarding your freedom to make choices is a terrible thing.  Being an opportunity miser is actually keeping you from making any real progress. You are constantly burying yourself in the super extremes of opportunity costs and for good reason, so you think. Resources are scarce even for businesses that seem to be thriving, that’s always a barrier you will bump up against. Making bad decisions and hoarding freedom of choice can actually do more damage to your business than making decently-informed-probably-not-perfect choices. Why, because you're missing out on opportunities! If you don't invest your time, money or emotional energy you'll never take any action and you won't make any progress. 

These next few are smaller but worth acknowledging. These are the fallacies that will eat up lots of time, energy, and produce more stress than your body should probably be handling. 

Fallacy busting.

First is the Information Mud Pit. Feeling like you need as much information as possible from as many different experts, gurus and websites is like having your car stuck in the mud while you just hammer the accelerator. Sure it’s going to make lots of noise, throw lots of dirt around, and maybe even start to give you some forward motion but eventually, you are just going to overheat your engine, breakdown and still be stuck.

Don’t let your brain throttle about in the mud and then break down. All those expert sources are just people and they may not be in exactly your situation. Do those people have the same values, personal/professional experiences, or even biases that you do? Work on gathering enough information to cover any of the possible outcomes you can predict (there will be some you won’t be able to predict) and move from there. Just like getting out of the mud in your car it’s going to take a little patience, finesse, and the right tools. Not all the tools ever made – the same goes for research.

Next is being too busy. Everyone is busy so that excuse can’t cut it anymore. What you are doing is finding new and different (read: easier) things to deal with that can give you some satisfaction from safe handling the things on your to-do list that can be completed with the least amount of energy and work. The other part of the being too busy is trying to multi-task a little too much. When your attention is always diverted in lots of different directions the choices you make tend to be less informed, less qualified, less efficient, and just chock-full-of-mediocre. So no more excuses as they will just keep stressing you out as your list of decisions won’t be getting smaller.

The last fallacy I want to kick in the face is that you can’t get what needs to be done because there are always little fires that need your immediate attention. The problem isn’t that you are constantly in a flurry of micro-emergencies, it’s that you have failed to set your priorities. Decision making effectively takes a little work and a little prep time. It’s in the prep time that you should be stripping out your decisions and reorganizing them in a way that reflects their relative importance. I think there is a lot of importance in building momentum in getting things done but you shouldn’t front load your decisions will all the easy stuff. You won’t be taking advantage of the momentum and flexing your decision-making muscles the best way unless you prioritize.

Now that we busted a few fallacies let’s get to some action steps help make you a lean, mean decision making machine.

1. Are you actually making the decision? Sounds like a silly question to ask but it’s important to think about who really has the final say. If you are a solopreneur it may very well be you. But are you part of a team or have a partner you have to run this by? Decide who is going to be making that decision and then move forward with purpose.

2. Set the stage. Very few decisions we make will only affect us. So it’s important to consider how your decision is going to affect the rest of your business and stakeholders. Make sure that everyone is comfortable with what’s going on and understands at least a few of the major consequences of those choices.

3. Make every decision (even the tiny ones) part of the big picture. Remember when you started your business you put a whole bunch of time and effort into your values and mission. Yeah, those still exist. So make sure that your decisions are in line with what you want your business to continue to be and to be perceived being. Everything from color pallets, paper supplies, and even how you package your product will all impact how your brand is perceived.

4. Do your research. At this point I would like to direct your attention up a few paragraphs to part about hiding behind information.  You want to make sure that when you are making your considerations you are using good information – good in, hopefully good out. Keep your information lean and relevant. What that means for you is that you do not necessarily need to be an expert on how paper products are manufactured and distributed to pick a new coffee cup vendor.

5. Consider solutions, side effects and possibilities. You want to make sure you try to anticipate as many possible outcomes as possible. Not all your decisions are going to be of Earth-shattering magnitude but it’s important to be aware of how your decisions will interact with the rest of what your business and environment have going on. Your goal should be to get the most out of whatever your resources are all the time. That and making sure all the different departments continue to play nice together to make your business be the best it can.

Before we finish this post I wanted to cover one more thing.

It’s a concept that goes hand in hand with making decisions and that is managing integrity. Your businesses integrity is more than just making sure that all your decisions are in line with your business mission. It’s about allowing your customers and stakeholders to trust your business. It’s trust in you and your brand that will keep your customers coming back. You get to be a trusted resource by continuing to make decisions (for your offerings and how you manage your business) that continue to improve the experience for the customer and client. That includes how you manage your finances, how you handle bad customer experiences, and even how you choose to interact with your community.

Integrity Pro Tips:

1. Always do your best to meet your commitments – saying no sometimes is ok.

2. Treat everyone with respect that includes your competitors and even naysayers.

3. Always be honest. If a delivery is late, you’ve made an error, or shipped the wrong product out - your customers will always appreciate you being open and upfront. Their compassion and respect for you because of that honesty might actually surprise you.

Communicate Authentically for Better Business Results

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Today I want to talk about the impact of communication in your business and work on why taking it seriously is good for business. Being a good communicator impacts everything from marketing and sales, traditionally thought of when it comes to communication, all the way to management and big picture strategy. If you can’t communicate your values, your mission or who you’re trying to serve then how can you expect people to engage with you? I don’t care how tight your business plan is or how dialed in your product or service is - “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry” when you have poor communication and information is poorly managed. 

And yes, you were just literary’d

Communication is the mechanism by which any strategy in your business can be successfully and repeatedly executed. Making sure that everyone understands what’s expected of them, yes even setting your customer’s expectations, is just as important as having a good overall view of your business and a great plan in place. Communicating strategically is not just about leaving clear instructions for the next person on the totem pole. It’s about helping your stakeholders understand the why and the story behind the business. That’s what’s going to get them to care enough about who you are, the problem your solving and the value you’re delivering to engage (and keep engaging) with you. It’s also about empowering your customers to be involved in the process and to take ownership of their experience. 

If you and your business can’t communicate simply, clearly, and effectively how can you expect your customers to engage with you. Better still how can you expect all the rest of your partners, vendors, employees and even interns to jump on board with your strategy, make good decisions, and get information where it’s needed. 

Here are 5 tips to better business communication (even if you are a solopreneur)

1. Go all in on trust. 

The act of communicating - sending an email, answering a text, or chatting in the hallway - means nothing if the people you are communicating with don’t trust you. Getting a plan together and expecting that people get on board with you will only work if they trust that your motivations and incentives are aligned with theirs. Crafting a story is only part of the equation when you are trying to create a movement - it has to come from an honest and real source. Creating any strategy can be a messy ordeal sometimes and it is critical that the people that you rely on and that rely on you can trust that you’ll make good decisions if and when the time comes. 

2. Get simple. (Recurring theme throughout this site) 

Communication through an organization does not have to be multi-level and defined by your org-chart. Great communication happens when ideas can freely flow without the fear of retaliation or judgment. That’s not to say that sometimes you won’t entertain a bad idea but supporting the agency of your employees and partners to share is huge. Simple communication channels also mean shorter turn-around times on getting things done. When problems arise they are easier to spot and easier to deal with. 

3. Have a framework. 

When you are trying to communicate with your stakeholders and customers you should have a few buckets to pull from. This creates consistency and it helps you keep your sanity over the long term. Three of my favorites are trying to inspire, educate, or reinforce. Inspiring every once and awhile is important because it can be a means to celebrate accomplishments and to introduce new ideas or changes. I don’t need to tell you that everyone likes to feel important so use messages of inspiration to keep your people motivated and to keep them connected. Education and reinforcement are important because your stakeholders need direction. Now I’m not saying every communication needs to be extremely detailed and outline very precise direction but they should have some substance and it’s important to encourage learning and improvement. 

4. Clear calls to action. 

The inbox is a very special place for people. So when someone does allocate a little time out of their day to open a message from you make sure there is a clear call to action. If you’re sending an email that’s just rambly, offering no real value and with no clear (easy to take) next steps you will not get a response. You may actually be doing a little damage to the relationship you’ve cultivated with the recipient which will impact the probability of them opening your next email. 

5. Care. 

This is a big one and I wanted it to be last for a reason. If you take away anything from this post it’s to realize that when you’re communicating with someone to remember that they are in fact a real person. In today’s business ecosystem it’s easy to get desensitized to the spammy LinkedIn pitches that clutter inboxes. It’s easy to get instantly turned off because you opened a piece of communication that looks like it was written for a generic, systematized and artificial avatar of a customer. This doesn’t just go for email, it goes with any kind of communication. 

If you really care about the engagement people have with your business you have to treat them like people. You have to think about what motivates them and where the value is for them to be on the other side of your message. Just because we’re in an era where most people look for the quick win, what they can take or how to make themselves look better doesn’t mean it’s right. Care about what your customers have to say, have a little empathy for the decision maker you’re trying to reach with your pitch deck, and try to understand how what you say in your marketing materials impacts your potential audience.  

Running a business is already hard so there’s no need to compound that by being a bad communicator. Focus on communicating in ways that are clear, trustworthy, simple, organized and that show that you care and you’ll save yourself all kinds of headaches. We didn’t touch on it much but one of the biggest bottlenecks in any business process is how information is managed - which includes how you communicate. Every time you reach out to someone or post to an audience you have an opportunity to deliver value and build a relationship. You need to take those opportunities seriously because if the people you’re reaching out to don’t get to know you, like you, and trust you they will definitely NOT be giving you their money. 

PS - Here's my simple call to action. If you're struggling with your entrepreneurial journey and you think a little support might do you some good, go check out the new group program that's launching. Even if it's not for you we can still bond over one of my all-time favorite Disney movies. 
 

Your Business Model Blueprint

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You can NOT work on growing your business without first taking a look at your business model.

Your business model is the blueprints of your business. It’s the roadmap. If your business was a human body it would be the circulatory, nervous and skeletal systems...probably. Your heart? That’s your passion which, is also important but it’s not your business model. Your business model is the thing that outlines how your business is going to make money. Which would be the blood (and breathing) if we’re going to stick with this vaguely anatomically correct business reference.

There is a lot of hype about growing a business these days. It’s hard not to jump on the hype train when you see an environment of Tai Lopez Facebook ads, new crypto millionaires every week and guys like Gary Vaynerchuk motivating you to hustle harder than you think is even possible. But, even with all the hype and plugs for mentorship programs (shameless plug: be sure to check out my new group coaching program if you’re thinking of finally taking the plunge) and get rich crypto strategies, lots of people still forget to take a look at their “business’s” underlying business model.

At its most basic purpose, a business model answers the “how” question when it comes to you delivering or creating value for your customers. If you plan on being successful, which most people do, you need to make sure your business is organized and your foundation is solid before you can go off and start executing some the business growth strategies and tactics du jour.

If you don’t take the time to really flush out your business model then running your business ends up being kind of like taking a shower with your clothes on. Sure you’re in there and sudsing up with your favorite lufa but are you really getting clean? Probably not and now that sweater vest is never going to really fit right again.

Below is a quick blueprint you can use to see if your business will function how you want it to when you are ready to start executing your business growth strategy. Not only that but sometimes you are so involved in getting your product or service out, dealing with customers, and making sure you are doing enough marketing that you lose track of how your business is actually working.

Wing’ing it is never a good business model.

Think about these concepts and use them to help tighten your business up - most importantly don’t wear your clothes in the shower.

Customer Value Proposition:

- Who are your target customers?

- What important job are you doing for them? What need are you fulfilling?

- How are you packaging that offering so that it is the most effective way to communicate your value to your customer?

Profit Formula:

- Think about your revenue and where is your profit coming from? What kind of volume do you need to have to reach your profit goals? Are you selling at low prices with the hopes of high volume or high price low volume - does that match your market?

- How are costs allocated? Keep track of your spending!!! Remember your time and overhead count too.

- What is the minimum level of margin you need to earn on each sale to reach your profit goals?

- How fast is the turnaround time on the inputs you need to sustain your businesses activities? Think and plan for those cash flow needs.

Key Resources:

- What are the most important factors in bringing your business and strategy to the next level?

- These include people, strategic alliances, technology, how information flows, distribution channels and any specialized equipment.

- When you map these out it makes executing your strategy a lot more efficient!

Key Processes:

- What are the processes that are repeatable (and eventually scaleable) that you use every day to deliver value to customers?

- What are the metrics you use to keep track of your success? What gets measured gets managed!

- What are the norms in your market or industry? Understanding how business is done in your market will help you get in front of your customers faster and in a way that they are familiar with. It will also help to build your social credibility and proof as a business in your market.

These four major concepts help you better outline the model that your business follows. When you break everything out it will help you better focus and avoid doing things in your business that are wasteful or that even are too far away from what you actually wanted to be doing in your business.

Model first then grow!

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

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

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

Allow me to take you back. 

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

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

Why did I share that with you?!

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

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

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

Yup, it all comes from there!

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

There are 5 Forces that drive companies in competitive markets: 

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

Substitutes 

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

Buyers

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

Sellers 

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

Rivalries between existing firms 

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

Barriers to entry

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

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

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

Stop Chasing "Sustainable" Competitive Advantage

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

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

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

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

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

The reason?

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

No secret there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

No bueno. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Is your value being clearly communicated? 

6. Are you changing one thing at a time? 

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Get Your Business Back On Track: Part 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. 

Name *
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Use Strategy To Focus Your Business Planning

Continuing to deliver your value better than any/all of your competitors can be one of the hardest ongoing challenges any business owner can face.

That’s competitive advantage and it’s one of my favorite parts of strategy. It’s one of my favorite because it forces you to consciously decide what you’re going to do in your business and more importantly what you are NOT going to do. If you think about strategy in terms of a set of boundaries for your company it will help you focus all of your business planning and business actions to make sure you are doing your best to keep your business growing.

I know what you’re thinking (some of you anyway): “I’m too small to think about strategy.” “Strategy is too broad a topic and it’s not worth thinking about.” “I’m too busy to think about changing my business plan.” “My business is running fine.” And my favorite, “I have a strategy in my head that I’m working on”.

If you thought or are thinking of anything along those lines I’m going to just straight up tell you; you're wrong. Wrong and probably wasting time, money, and burning yourself out.

I want to outline three big questions that you can use in your business planning process to help you fight off the temptation to do “everything” just because you think it’ll bring in some extra revenue. These aren’t questions that you just answer once and then your done either. It’s important to check in every once and a while to make sure that you are keeping up with the tastes and expectations of your customers as well as what your competitive environment looks like. Remember, competitive advantage has to be actively worked for because the your market will constantly be evolving.

1. Where are you competing?

This question is tackling what market opportunity or opportunities are worth working towards. Another way to think about it is to think about the pain that your business is offering a solution for. It’s important to ground your thinking around how you can better serve that market over your competitors. To do that you need to make sure you have the appropriate resources and abilities. You might have the best and most profitable market opportunity in your head but if you can’t get it to market effectively then you need to keep distilling that idea down to a scale or scope that makes sense for you.

2. How do you compete?

After you have identified a pain you are going to solve better than anyone else (market opportunity) you need to work on how you are going to compete. Are you going to offer the best customer service, the cheapest price, or just crush-it with value. I hope it’s the value part. To engage your customers they are also going to need to like and trust you, at least enough to give you a shot in the first place. How and what you communicate is just as important to the customer as the solution they are buying from you. You are looking for capabilities and resources (also read: knowledge or specialization) that will give you an advantage in serving your very specific market opportunity better than anyone else.

PRO-TIP: Better doesn’t mean cheaper necessarily - working for a cost/price advantage is a very specific way to build a business. If you aren’t sure of the best way to price I wrote an epic pricing post here to help you through specific pricing strategies.

Ok, so the first two questions are centered around Strategy Formulation. You flushed out the pain you are attempting to solve along with how you are going to do it better than anyone else. Strategy Formulation is not all there is to strategy and this is where most people stop or get stuck. It’s why strategies don’t work out or business plans start to become more of a burden to maintain instead of an actual resource to help you keep building your business.

3. How are you going to execute?

This is how you are going to organize your time, money, people, and resources to take the strategy you’ve developed and bring it to life. The business buzzword here is - implementation. Here is where you try to map out and identify your motivations, incentives, how you are going to organize your business (processes) and even what leadership in your business looks like. This applies for big businesses and probably applies best to the solo entrepreneur because it’s this implementation that will keep you accountable to your customers and yourself. This is the nitty-gritty. You are going to be working on the processes that will push you business forward. The best advice I can give here is to keep it as simple as possible. Take a look at your business and build the action plans or lists for all the functions of your business. This even includes something like an editorial calendar for your content marketing. A simple editorial calendar is a brilliant system that will help you manage your time and stress so that you don’t have to worry about what to produce next.

Now that you have an idea of the three fundamental questions let’s cover a few traps that businesses can fall in when they are working on strategy.

  1. Bad Strategy + Good Implementation = Doing the wrong thing really well. = Wasting Time and Money

  2. Good Strategy + Bad Implementation = Doing the right thing poorly. = No to Slow Growth

  3. Good Strategy + Good Implementation = Doing the right thing really well. = Sustainable Growth and Profitability  

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been in business for years or are just starting out. Taking the time to really think about strategy is important. You need to work out how you are going to take what you have access right now and use it to deliver more value than anyone else. Here’s the kicker: It will all change. Understanding your customers motivations and pains will help you to keep your strategy growing as your consumers are growing. Business plans and strategic plans are living breathing resources - not just stuffy documents voted on at board meeting. Get specific on how you allocate your resources and how you are serving your market.

Oh and for the love of Mike you should be writing this all down! Think of these processes and action plans like a recipe to your most favorite meal. You want to make sure that every time you step into the kitchen you are making your favorite dish just the way you like it - every time. Consistency matters when you are trying to get an audience to know, like and trust you. More on that later.

Then, rinse and repeat.

If you are still feeling like you don’t know where to start you can download my Disruptive Decision Framework free! It’s a resource to help you visualize your strategy and give the strategic part of your brain a little jumpstart. You’ll also get access to the Strategy School Newsletter that’s full of extra strategy action nuggets every week.

Focus On Outcomes To Get More Out Of Ideas

There is too much focus on idea generation and idea management and not enough time given to trying things out and actually testing to see if an idea is worth iterating on. Every article and post I’ve seen lately seems to elude that the only way to find success through innovation is coming up with the next newest, brightest, sexiest, or most cost effective idea.

What?!

What happened to the iterative process?

What happened to going out and talking to your customers or potential market to figure out what they wanted?

What happened to doing the work to test whether an idea had merit or could be adapted to succeed?

In order to address those questions entrepreneurs have to first learn (re-learn) how to think about outcomes.

The funnest part about what I do is that I am always getting the opportunity to help entrepreneurs and even politicians understand that strategy is not just about a plan of action or a set of goals you might be working towards. It’s about creating systems to make good choices and to clearly evaluate possible outcomes for those choices. Thinking about as many possible OUTCOMES is such a big part of strategy!

I need you to think back to your high school or college economics classes. You may vaguely remember hearing about oligopolies as a particular kind of way a market might organize itself. It’s not a board game and I’m not going to give you a pop quiz about that particular market structure but what I do want you to try to remember are the concepts around Game Theory.

With me?

Even if you have no idea what I’m talking about I promise it will make sense in a second.

The neat thing about this simple “game” you played in your economics class or that you’ll see in the Game Theory Wikipedia entry is that all the possible outcomes were laid out in front of you. As either a player in that game or as an objective observer of the game, think Dungeon Master if you’re a D&D fan, you were able to always make the choices that were not only best for you but wouldn’t leave you making a decision that could get you into trouble. That’s dominating strategies vs. dominated strategies.

No one wants to be told that they are a bad decision maker but if you are constantly pushing yourself or your team to come up with new ideas you might be falling into bad idea territory. Before you make a commitment to allocate time and resources to idea generation you should evaluate the ideas or business choices that are already on the table. Are you measuring them effectively and can you make marginal changes to increase performance or get to however you are measuring success? Best of all you should be thinking about the outcomes of your ideas or choices.

You’re probably thinking at this point - ok that sounds good but what outcomes should I be looking for? The outcomes you are concerned with are the responses you could anticipate to your choices by your competitors and customers.

How might your customers respond to you offering a discounted version of your service?

Would they still perceive it as valuable?

What about your closest competitor? Would they try to undercut your new discounted pricing to try to stem market share?

Answers to those questions are outcomes. The better you get at trying to anticipate how people and businesses might react to the choices you make with your business the better prepared you will be and ultimately you put yourself in a position to be more profitable. You won’t have to waste time scrambling for the next idea or worry about losing customers because you will have responses and resources allocated/planned for the fallout (good and bad) of any choice that you make.

That’s strategy!

It came from iterating and evaluating not just rushing some new idea to market.

Don't Get Stuck In Strategy Sensory Overload

Henry Mintzberg is a man after my own heart. Too bad you, dear business builder, have probably never heard of him...yet. Emergent strategy is going to be the approach that makes sense for the agile, lean and <insert another word for business flexible> models.

You’re welcome.

Writing about strategy has been awesome for me. It’s forced me to really funnel through all the academic and corporate strategy hype so that I can bring you the most distilled and actionable pieces of strategy goodness. Recently I stumbled upon what is my new favorite definition of what strategy is - “the integrated set of choices that positions the business in its industry to generate superior financial returns over the long run”.

Integrated set of choices. It’s brilliant!

In this definition you don’t see the words: plan, technology, social media, or marketing. What we are talking about is getting to the heart of how you will decide to run your business. This post is dedicated to anyone wanting to up their strategy game and are paralyzed with conceptual strategy sensory overload. Here is your 3 part strategy jumpstart.

In thinking about your integrated set of choices you should be framing them (at least at the start) into one of two camps.  Are you going to differentiate or attempt to be the low cost provider?

I am drastically oversimplifying but if you are wondering what your first steps should be when trying to build a new strategy I would recommend the following 3 steps.

1. Work out your business model.

Business models can change over time and when most people think they are talking about strategic planning, they are really talking about outlining their business model. The what’s and how’s of their business. Flushing out your business model will give you a better idea of what the entire process might look like for the customer or client experience. This is how you will make money. Once you settle on something don’t worry about tinkering with trying to get a few extra fractions of percentage points in profit out of it. Odds are it will probably be changing over time. Leave it alone, start doing the work you outlined and start collecting outcomes.

2. Pick! It’s really hard to be the low cost innovator in any industry or business.

How you get to the golden “disruption” is by experimenting and iterating with your customers. I’m not saying it’s impossible to fly out of the gate and be the instant lowest cost and most needed differentiation in the market - I’m just saying you might get a better return on your immediate investments by picking one and working at it for a little while. I’ve seen many guru’s and self-titled experts misguide clients with hopes of finding the holy grail of competitive advantages that will place them leaps ahead of their competition. That’s not how it works. You need to pick first and then start doing the work to best serve who you think your best customers are right now while doing the best you can to understand the drivers and motivations of your market - especially your competitors because they are going to be the ones reacting to you!

3. Work on systematically making choices that support your pick from number

Any time a decision has to be made you need to be able to objectively qualify it as either supporting your overall strategy or not. If it doesn’t, is there a way to tweak it so that some part of it still might. This is where the fun stuff happens. It’s all in the rationalization. What I mean by systematically making choices is to constantly be evaluating how your are conducting business.

Here’s an example: As part of a service offering you provide paper copies of all your materials. You could go to Staples and keep buying paper because it’s closer, convenient, and instant. Because of that convenience you are probably not getting that paper as cheaply as you might be able to if you worked on creating a relationship with a wholesale or office supply dealer. Now, if you are competing for low cost you might want that mass distribution discount rate but if you are differentiating and Staples offers a very specific, specialized paper then you will have to translate some of that cost over to the end consumer.

This is the decision part. Are you the low cost provider or are you trying to differentiate?

Situations like this happen every day and it’s important to make choices consistently - yes even the smallest ones. This is how real strategies gain momentum, by adjusting behavior and monitoring outcomes. Yes there are bigger frameworks like Porter, Blue Ocean, and Resource Based View that you could be considering. You absolutely should but, don’t get bogged down in the learning and understanding that you never put those frameworks into practice.

Take the first steps and make a few choices now and hold yourself to them. Then iterate as you go!