Growth

Best Business Books For Real Growth

Business Books.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

Business Growth.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Make time for exploratory thinking.

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

3. Products, vendors, and costs oh my!

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

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

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

Thinking In Straight Lines To Grow Your Business

Lines.png

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.

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

Marketing Mini Series .png

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

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

Reasons to not make marketing yourself an afterthought:

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

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

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

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

1. How many Ps are there?

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

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

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

2. It’s Product, Not Slogan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adding value.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay Tuned!


10 Ways To Grow Your Business In 2019 #GlowUp

Hello, 2019!.png

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

So, let’s just jump right into it!

1. Monday Morning Quarterback.

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

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

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

3. Create something.

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

4. Ask for a referral.

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

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

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

6. Check in on your competitors.

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

7. Get lean.

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

8. Create something new for your current customers.

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

9. Audit your data.

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

10. Talk to the media.

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

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



2 Steps To Better Accountability In Your Business

Accountability (1).jpg

Accountability is one of those things that as an entrepreneur, side hustler, and business builder you hear/read a ton about.

It’s almost impossible to flip through an your favorite business podcasts, blogs and even trade publications and not see something about accountability.

And for good reason!

There are probably hundreds of thousands of businesses that never get a fair shake because their founders couldn’t figure out how to keep themselves accountable.

Accountability lore is littered with bits and nuggets of productivity and business building science but, it’s something that you still struggle with. You read, research and consume everything you can so that you can hopefully do the things you said you would. It’s not always easy to get the work out of your head and into the hands and hearts of the people that need it the most.

Sound like you? A little bit? It’s definitely something I struggle with from time to time.

By the end of this post you will have two simple guidelines to follow to help keep you and your business running the way you want. This is not going to be one of those posts that tells you to put sticky notes on your mirrors and to announce your intentions to the universe.

Why?

Because it’s easy to ignore (or rationalize away) a note you posted and even easier to dismiss the universe because the universe is not someone (something?) that you interact intimately with on a daily basis.

When everything is going well in your business you don’t have to think about accountability. You are hitting the milestones you set for yourself, making progress on the goals you set for the business and you may even have repeat customers. It’s when things go a little unplanned, when your launch isn’t as big as you thought or when suddenly you have more competitors that you realized that you have to really lean on keeping yourself accountable as an entrepreneur.

It’s easy to walk away when things get hard. It’s easy to blame any number of externalities if your audience didn’t “get” what you were trying to put in front of them. What’s tough is picking your head up and looking around. What’s tough as an entrepreneur is figuring out how to hold yourself accountable.

Here’s the first step in holding yourself accountable:

1. Give up control.

When you, the person, are the business it’s easy to wake up everyday and change the rules a little bit. It’s harder to do that when you create and establish a business that has it’s own, well communicated, values, mission and strategy for growth. I know it might sound arbitrary if you are a solopreneur or part of a really early stage joint venture but stay with me. When you are out in the world talking to people and engaging with them online, part of what they see is the business that you are representing. Authenticity really starts to take hold when you, the person, mirror what you’re telling the people you interact with what is important to your business. Armed with the knowledge that most people decide to do business with those that they know, like and trust, how you align who you are personally deciding to do each day with what your business claims you do creates a nice feedback loop. Actions always speak louder than words - unless their written words online..then it’s an action, may be. This is not openly telling the universe to hold you accountable. Giving up control forces you to keep yourself accountable because every decision you make is going to be measured against your claims of the business and scored by everyone you interact with.

Just thinking about that dynamic gives me the accounta-goosebumps.

The second rule I’m adapting from my friends in the Lean Startup scene.

2. Validated Learning.

Your business is probably going to change as time passes. Your customers tastes and expectations will change. The technology you choose will change. Your business model might even change. All that is ok and necessary for you to keep your business relevant in the eyes of the people you are trying to serve. Validated learning is important here because it’s a concept that gives you permission to create hypotheses about what’s going on the world around you, take little risks, plan experiments and apply what you learn for the betterment of your business. Validated learning acts as mini booster shots for your accountabilities immune system. It does this because every time an opportunity comes up to apply something you learn in your business you have a choice. You can choose to make the change, that’s holding yourself accountable, or you can choose to do nothing and continue to run your business with systems, processes or products that don’t work so well.

If you are serious about building a better business and earning better profits why wouldn’t you apply the things you learn?! When you build validated learning into your business you are essentially tricking yourself into holding you accountable. It’s a beautiful thing!

These are two very real things you can start to do right now that will force you to take better actions in your business. I’m pretty sure no one likes to be micromanaged but if it’s your business that is micromanaging you it might be ok and validated learning takes the choices almost right out of your hands. So figure out how to structure your first few ideas to test and get (even more) clear on what your business stands for and get to work!

Business Development: Heart and Hustle Edition

Biz Dev.jpg

Over the last few years, I’ve worked with, and given advice to, a few hundred business owners. It’s been awesome to hear their stories, their challenges, their successes, and what drives them to show up every day. A handful were big name Fortune 500 companies but most were small businesses run by amazing people trying to build a life for themselves and their families. Across industries, sectors, geographic locations and levels of experience, I’ve noticed that there are really two big questions I get asked most often. 

They are: 

“How do I grow?”  

and 

“How can I get myself unstuck?”

These are both really big questions. If you’re reading this and are asking yourself one or both then you’re in the right place. While I won’t be able to give you specific advice for your immediate situation I can give you some great places to start focusing your attention. (If you’re feeling really froggy feel free to shoot me an email and I’ll do my best to give you some honest and authentic feedback - nunzio(at)disruptivestrategy.co)

In this post, I’m going to outline a handful of things you can do right now that have a relatively low financial cost but require more of a time commitment. I’m doing this by design because of the reality of growing a business and getting unstuck means figuring out what work matters most and creating the bandwidth to double down on it. The goal is to do more of the stuff that gets you the most results. Crazy right?! Unfortunately building enough momentum to create real change in your business can feel like you’re running on a treadmill that’s being dragged through a swamp. 

It can feel like hard work, it can feel slow, it’s can be a murky mess...And sometimes even uncomfortably humid?!

Don’t let that deter you though! Patience and momentum are interesting forces and when harnessed well can yield positive results for your business that you hadn’t even considered. So try a few of these and let me know if you work your way into a pleasant surprise or two. 

1. Remember that doing business is just people connecting with people. 

When you’re scrambling to drum up new business it can be easy to forget that doing business is a person to person sport. It’s also easy to forget that people do business with you because they either believe you can provide the value you promise or you already have delivered that value. It’s easy to forget these things because the stress of finding your next customer or client starts to pile up and your attention starts to shift to actions that will potentially get your message in front of more people. So you’ll spend more time on social, maybe throw a few more dollars that you don’t have at ads (both online and in real life) and even give your local Valpak direct mail contact a call. Those aren’t bad things but the ROI is low and (most of the time) your spending time and money on activities that you can’t sustain. I mean honestly, when was the last time you bought anything from a ValPak - no offense but spammy direct mail doesn’t produce the results it used to. Instead, I would suggest going the complete opposite. Don’t think about how you can reach more people by casting a wider net, think about how you can make a real connection to a few people who will actually support you. 

If you’re a small business who are the handful of people that could go to bat for you in terms of offering referrals, creating other relationships, writing testimonials or even buy from you? Connecting, or even reconnecting, authentically to these people will provide you more value than any direct mail effort. Why? Because these are people who you’ve walked through the process of getting to know, like and trust you! Who better to go to bat for you or to take the risk of inviting you into their network? 

Lastly, if you’re at the end of this first point and you’re really struggling to identify people then maybe it’s time to get out into the world and find networking groups/events. In lots of communities all over the country, and the world, there are networking groups that meet weekly like BNI (Business Networking International), there are Young Professional groups, Chambers of Commerce, etc. These are places you can show up ask lots of questions, shake lots of hands and start to develop mutually beneficial relationships. You just have to make it a priority to get yourself out there! 

2. Get to work in your inbox and start sliding into DM’s. 

Email and DM’s are a double-edged sword. On one hand, they are awesome tools that can connect you to virtually anyone, in any company, anywhere in the world. On the other hand, you have to compete with the millions of people that are vying for your contact’s attention in cluttered inboxes full of spammy and impersonal nonsense. 

Think I’m being hyperbolic? 

Take a look at the current state of LinkedIn’s messaging system and tell me that the messages in your inbox aren’t just impersonal copy and paste jobs. You have the opportunity to stand out though. The odds are low so it’s definitely a numbers game but if you spend the time figuring out how you can add value to someone’s day in a meaningful way there’s a good chance that they’ll open up your next email and the emails after that. So, how can you offer a complete stranger enough value that they engage with you? First I’ll tell you what not to do. Do not send them a cold sales pitch that clearly reads that you’re just looking for their business. No relationship and no value equals no sale. What you should do is try to connect in a real way, just like the first tip. Here are a few suggestions: 

You can offer a resource that could help them with their business or problem. 
If you’re a designer maybe you offer a recommendation for a site or piece of marketing you came across. 
Do you have an audience or market that they could benefit from with a little exposure from you? 
If you’re a marketer maybe a suggestion followed up with a little support that could benefit their brand, products or service. 
If you’re any other professional services provider, maker, or do’er is there something you can do on “spec” that might be of value to them? 

If you think all that sounds like a lot of extra work with an uncertain return on investment you’re right. It is! But this is part of the process. Creating relationships and proving yourself to someone takes work, deliberate and thoughtful work. You win by embracing that and doubling down on the fact that most (all) of your competitors wouldn’t put in the same time or effort. 

3. Ask for introductions. 

I already explained that I think the current state of LinkedIn’s messaging is a complete mess. That doesn’t mean it’s without hope though. LinkedIn is an awesome place for you to reach out to the people that you already know and ask them to connect you with someone specifically in their network. Just like the first two points, you might have to explain yourself a bit but, as long as you’re leading with providing value it’s easy for your contact to make the connection. This is also another numbers game. There are going to be people that you’re connected with that refuse and ignore you. Don’t take it personally, say thank you and make a note to work on the connection you already have with them. 

This strategy works in person too! 

If you’re lucky enough to have a database of people who’ve already done business with you this is a good time to reconnect. Check in with them, really care about how they are post-buying from you, and ask to be connected to the people in their lives that could benefit from engaging with you. In general, people are AMAZING BS Detectors so if you try this by faking gratitude and appreciation they will freeze you out. No one likes to be sold to and like even less when sales-y people try to sell their friends and family. I’m sure we’ve all known a well-intentioned and poorly executing MLM sales person, used car salesperson blasting their offerings on their personal Facebook Page or real estate professional coldly mining for referrals.  

So we are at the end of my list for you now. You’ve probably noticed that none of these tips were instant-make-money-now-online-marketing-sales-tactics. It’s not because I don’t believe in the efficacy of those tactics and strategies, because I do. (Here's a link to a post that outlines 10 tactics you can put into action right now.) I think well written and well-meaning copy, email funnels, and social strategy are awesome tools to support business growth. But if right now, today, you’re sitting looking for your next cut and paste marketing tactic to try to entice your next sale then I say it’s time to take a step back and immerse yourself in the business of connecting with people. Your business will thrive in the long run because you took the time now to build a community of customers, readers, watchers, and listeners that care about you and your business. It will sustain because people will buy from you, keep buying from you and refer the people they care about. Getting one more sale because you click baited someone might be good the first time but there’s a decent probability that they don’t try you again. 

This is going to take work. It’s going to feel like a slog and that’s ok. To grow or to get unstuck is going to take the momentum you build as you shift your focus back to serving the people you committed to the first day you opened your doors - even if it’s not scalable. 

Your Business Model Blueprint

Business model.jpg

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!

Get Your Business Back On Track: Part 1

Back on Track.jpg

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 *
Name

5 Tips To Help You Narrow Your Market And Your Focus

Narrow.jpg

Happy Memorial Day Weekend! 

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

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

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

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

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

Here are 5 questions to help you narrow your focus:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

7 Things To Keep Track Of To Keep Your Business Growing

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

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

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

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

Literally makes my skin crawl. 

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

Why should you care?! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Gross Revenue 

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

2. Leads and Referrals

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

3. Profit Per Customer/Sale

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

4. Cash or Operating Reserves

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

5. Inventory or Client Turnover/Lifecycle 

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

6. Market Share and Brand Equity 

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

7. Time To Market

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

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

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

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

New Lease.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

By keeping these concepts in mind.

1.) Are you beating obscurity?

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

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

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

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

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

4.) Fit vs Opportunity

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

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

10 Quick Actions To Grow Your Business

Grow Your Business.jpg

T-Minus eight days until the 2017 tax filing deadline. I’m hoping at this point you’re not one of the people that’s waiting until the last minute to file because we all know that’s when software stops working, Post Offices run out of stamps and servers are so overloaded that your returns never get transmitted. But that’s not you right?!

Right!

With all that extra time you can work on other parts of your business.

I’ve been running into businesses lately that are looking to get out of the flurry of their day to day to do’s and get into acquiring their next clients or customers ASAP. Which is what I'd like to help you spend that extra time that you have because you won't be scrambling to file your taxes.

Spring, in general, is an awesome time of year for businesses - the flowers start to bud and business owners start to pop their heads up from their desks and realize that maybe they weren’t as proactive as they thought they were going to be through the winter.

So, let’s get to working ON (not in) your business!

It’s my job to make access to better strategy easier and more actionable for you. In the spirit of that, and to kick off Spring 2017 right, I have put together a list of 10 quick actions you can take today to better shape your business’ strategy and to make your business more profitable.

Action 1: Decide who is going to get your focus right now.

You need to be able to articulate those who are the most important in your business right now. Is it a specific kind of customer, a new market segment, the people you’re interacting with online, the neighboring businesses in your community, your fans, etc. Getting clear on who you want to give dedicated focus to will help you better hone how you spend your energy and more articulately measure the return you’re getting on those efforts.  

Action 2: Look Around.

Determine who your most relevant competitors are and understand how they do business. This will help you dial in what makes you special and how you deliver the best value to your customers.

Action 3: Business Aspirations

Get clear on what success looks like for you. Is it a dollar amount, a specific profit margin per transaction or a certain number of customers served? Being clear and SPECIFIC about what success looks like will help you make more consistent decisions in your business.

Action 4: What Gets Measured, Gets Managed.

You won’t know if you are spending your time well if you aren’t keep track of it. The same goes will all your resources. Right now, pick a few things that you think are important and start tracking them. How can you know if your business is on the right track if you aren’t measuring what you are doing?

Action 5: Communicate Your Mission

For your strategy and your business to be successful, everyone involved needs to understand not just what you are doing but why you are doing it. Is your mission and vision written or presented in the easiest most earnest way possible? People won’t support you if they can’t understand why what you are doing is important.

Action 6: Stop Planning.

Strategy is not planning. Strategy is deciding what’s important, creating a way to make systematically better decisions and taking action. Do something right now that will push your business forward in way you can measure that aligns with your mission.

Action 7:  Competitive Advantage.

It’s really tough to be the lowest cost option and the highest quality {insert what your business does}. Don’t worry about chasing market share and start worrying about what you do better than everyone else around you. Make a conscious decision to focus on keeping what’s special about you and communicating that specialness with everyone.  

Action 8: Look For Trends.

Customer’s tastes and tastes are always changing. Look for trends in how people are spending to make sure that you are delivering what they want how they want it.

Action 9: Do All Of Your Branding Assets Align?

Perspective and perception are everything in business. Take stock of what your business culture looks like. Does how you run your business match how you interact with your customers? What about your social media and other web assets - are all of those personas aligned? People are a big part of your strategy and how you present yourself to people matters.

Action 10: Simplify Your Business Model.

Businesses are most profitable when they are easy and intuitive to deal with. Look at how your business functions from start of customer relationship to finish. Are there any steps you can remove, streamline or products/services you can repackage. Your business model is how you make money, it’s important that you make it as easy and as clear as possible for better engagement.

Strategy doesn’t get better of more effective unless you actively work on it. You shouldn’t just be winging it! You might not have time to do all of these right now but pick the ones you think could help you get motivated and taking actions first and knock them out.

Commit a little time to making your business more profitable this year, I mean it’s still only April!

Oh oh oh..before you go, I want to share something with you! If you were wondering if any of the stuff I write about is worth anything I want to share a testimonial with you. This is a business I’ve worked with that’s seen some great results because of the work we’ve done together. It’s super exciting because it means the stuff we talk about (and the stuff I write about) really works!

Last week Nunzio gave a very compelling feature presentation about how he helps businesses maximize their profit. This week I want to share how he has supported Serenity since we started working together four months ago.

The first thing we discussed was setting Serenity apart from all the other yoga studios in the valley. And there are a lot of them! He asked me specific questions to flush out my value proposition and to get me thinking about my mission and vision for the business. Where did I land? Real people, doing real yoga, with their real bodies. Catchy!

Nunzio helped me identify and describe my ideal client so we could brainstorm techniques to sell more services to both current and future customers. We talk regularly about building relationships with fellow community businesses to generate sales and using current satisfied customers to help spread the word. We’re now talking about bringing in new products that I can sell to current customers to increase revenue. Green tea or Luna bars, anyone? He held my hand while I raised prices, he played a large part in developing the script for my commercial and he remains extremely patient with me as I struggle with my technological issues. And, we support all our ideas and decisions with data. The numbers don’t lie.

Drum role please … thanks to Nunzio’s support, I have increased my revenue year over year by 80%! I think that’s pretty impressive!

Finally, Nunzio is the consummate professional. He pushes me outside my comfort zone while also maintaining guardrails to keep me focused. He learned all about the yoga industry in order to provide educated opinions and direction. I am extremely grateful for his support and his positive attitude. Being an entrepreneur can sometimes feel pretty lonely, but it’s nice to know I have someone in my corner who is always watching out for me!


Michele Lyman
Serenity Yoga
— http://www.serenityyogastudio.net/