Business Growth & Management Articles
Stay ahead of the curve with insights from our CTL Associates.
By Mark Bartz
In our hurry-up world, anything that saves us time is invaluable. Recall the days before computers were mainstream and someone suggested that computers would free up our lives: give us more of a work/life balance? Far from it. Now those of us who (seem) to have the best work/life balance are either: a) On Prozac, or b) Pretty darn organized.
A quick question. When you open your computer each day, where do you typically go first? Your e-mail? Facebook? Linkedin? Google? That’s really where your day begins, isn’t it? As most of us would like to be “b” above (pretty darn organized), I want to share something with you that can get you to that promised land. I recently researched and tested several “homepages”; these are the customized pages you open on your computer each day. I’m guessing you currently use Google or Yahoo. But there other – frankly better – options. Here’s the list of fully customizable homepages I studied: Eskobo; Favoor; Netvibes; Pageflakes; Protopage; Gritwire; Schmedley; Webwag.
And the winner was? Check out Netvibes and Pageflakes as viable replacements to iGoogle and MyYahoo. Let me know your experience.
I just finished reading a small and excellent book, The Fred Factor, by Mark Sanborn. A good book and here’s why. The premise of the book is that there are several things we can all do which cost us neither money nor much time, and that these little things result in us standing out from our peers. What are those things which you can do today? Make a list and it may surprise you. The goal? On one level it’s altruistic; this is how we better serve others in our lives – colleagues, customers, family. On another level the book makes a subtle but brilliant point: all these little things you do add up to great success for you in your career. Segue now to the “mother” theme. It seems everyone these days is seeking a “silver bullet” in their careers: something new. The Fred Factor seems to disappoint on that level – it seems at first glance to offer nothing new. In fact, if I were to summarize this book I would say this is all the wisdom our mothers taught us – but which we simply ignored or forgot. Yet the wisdom our mothers taught us is of great value – albeit not particularly “new.” I listen to national training programs. I read the latest “How-To” books on career development. No small epiphany here – these books and seminars are not really teaching us much that is “new”; these sources are actually re-stating what our mothers told us years ago. Want proof? The following is word-for-word from national figures – authors and a translation into “mom-speak”. “Wisely consider all strategies.” Translation: look both ways before you cross the road. Ready for more? “Effectively leverage your corporate resources and talents – let nothing go to waste.” Translation: Clean your plate. There are children starving in Africa. “Lead by consensus.” Translation: There are two sides to every story. “Corporate vision is critical.” Translation: Things aren’t always what they seem to be. “We face new opportunities – and new challenges.” Translation: the grass may be greener on the other side of the fence, but you still have to mow the lawn. “Be innovative and unique.” Translation: If your friends all jumped off a pier…would you follow right behind them? “Look to the future – learn from previous corporate mistakes.” Translation: “I’ll give you something to cry about.”
I suggest we skip a few seminars and just take our mothers to lunch. We’ll save a lot of money, we’ll get just as much wisdom from our mothers, and she will appreciate the time we spend with her. Seriously, get off the computer and go call your mother – when’s the last time you took your mother to lunch?? Perhaps if she charged us huge fees for her words of wisdom we might listen to her more often?
By Laura Ege
I have long promoted the idea that business owners should choose up to three core marketing methods--and no more!--to promote their businesses. Otherwise, you wind up too diluted, and you aren't able to effectively connect with your audience through any of the channels. Which equals tons of "busy work" on your part and not a heck of a lot of results.
No matter what stage your business is in, here are a few suggestions to help make your marketing and media channel strategy more effective:
- Limit your selection to three channels or methods. If we apply the 80/20 rule (20% of our actions net 80% of our results) to our daily business actions, I believe marketing must be in that 20% of high-return activities we devote our time to each day. Limiting your choices will give you more time/energy to create true, focused results in each channel rather than chaotically bouncing between too many options.
- Base your selected channels on your niche. Different channels naturally attract different tribes. If you're marketing in channels your ideal tribe never uses... well, enough said, right? The other option if you're already entrenched in certain channels is to change your niche to match the channels.
- Immerse yourself in your selected channels. Once you have chosen your channels, create a strategy and systems to make the most of your time in each one, both from the standpoint of being efficient with your time and of communicating very consistently with your tribe.
- Revisit your business model. Do your programs and services align with your marketing channels? What about the actions you take and decisions you make in business each day? Are they optimally aligned with your marketing and media channels?
Setting your fees can be tricky for both new and seasoned entrepreneurs. It brings up so many questions and fears around choosing the right price and what happens if you choose the wrong one. And the higher the stakes (or bigger the contract), the worse the doubts become. One particular question that came up for one of my clients this week was, "What happens if I quote too high and lose the sale?" Honestly, that is a possibility. I wish I had a magic solution to make sure that never happens to you. I can offer you a few strategies to minimize the chances of hearing "no" on that important sale.
- Focus on benefits, not features. Spend 80% of your time emphasizing the results your prospect will experience from working with you and only about 20% talking about your process. Make sure you help them understand the true dollarized impact of not working with you too.
- Learn good sales conversation skills and then practice, practice, practice. Few entrepreneurs I know enjoy sales or even feel comfortable with the idea of "selling." While this topic could be an entire book all in itself, let me just say that it is well worth your time to learn good sales skills from someone who can teach you to sell in complete authenticity to who you are. You'll have the tools and knowledge to have an effective sales conversation, which will significantly increase your confidence. And confidence sells!
- Survey your audience ahead of time. If you are selling to an organization, you might find out what their budget is for the services you are offering. If you are selling to individuals who may not have a specific budget in mind, you can still engage them in formal surveys or informal conversations to find out what they would be willing to pay for the benefits your service or product delivers.
- Start small if you're new in business or launching a new product or service. I'm a big believer in charging what you're worth, and I see far too many entrepreneurs who charge too little. Yet when you're new in business, it's often easier to start small. This could mean start at one price and keep raising your rates a little with each new sale. Or if you are going to be selling large-scale service packages, you can start by selling one piece of the package at a time until you're confident that the entire package is on-target for what your audience wants and will pay for.
- Take a look at your mindset issues around money and charging for your services. If you've taken the necessary steps to understand what your audience wants, create services that truly meet their needs, focus on benefits, and hone your sales skills, yet you're still feeling resistance to setting your fees, it's time to look at the underlying mindset issues that might be holding you back from charging what you're worth and getting it.
One recurring theme I hear from entrepreneurs...either: “I've hit a plateau in terms of dollars earned/hours worked,” or... “My business has totally taken over my life.” I guess the good news is either scenario means you're at least reasonably successful. The bad news is neither is a fun place to be! If this describes you and your business, here are three quick strategies I suggest addressing to help you get unstuck:
--Business Model. In either of these scenarios, I can just about guarantee you've outgrown your current business model. At minimum, it's time to restructure your current service packages. If it's been a while since you've reviewed your business model, it may even be time to revamp your entire business using a new model. Bonus note: I recommend revisiting your business model at least once a year (or even twice a year) to make sure it still supports your business and financial goals.
--Pricing. If you're maxed out on hours available to work, raising your prices is an obvious strategy. Typically, you'll wind up working with fewer clients (which translates to fewer hours if you are using a 1:1 service delivery model) while enjoying greater levels of financial return.
--Team. There are several possible ways to leverage this strategy. I highly recommend hiring support staff (whether virtual or in-person) to take over everything you don't enjoy so you can focus on your "sweet spot" in your business. This frees up additional hours to deliver your services if you've hit an income/time plateau, and it also eliminates a significant level of stress if your business has taken over your life. Another way to leverage this strategy is to start working with subcontractors, joint venture partners, or affiliates. Again... greater capacity to impact your clients while lowering your personal time and energy commitment.
By Janet Civitelli
Recently I asked a group of entrepreneurs to tell me what causes them stress in running their businesses. Many of their responses concerned having too much to do and not enough hours in the day to get it all done. Some business owners described a feeling of constant anxiety about the tasks that are left undone because of time constraints, and some business owners admitted to feelings of severe burnout because they keep trying to do everything, no matter how unsustainable their workload is.
When pressed about why they don't delegate some of the work, entrepreneurs give a variety of reasons. Here are the top reasons given for reluctance to delegate and some discussion about those reasons. You will find that I am a big fan of delegation and learning how to do it well.
1. "It would take so long to teach someone how to do some of my job, it is easier to just do everything myself." It is true that it would require an initial investment of time to teach someone how to do some of the more routine aspects of running your business. But there are a lot of extremely smart people in the world, and many of them know how to use accounting software, create or maintain a Web site, respond to simple inquiries from clients, scan or file paperwork, run errands, etc. Once this person is up-to-speed, you can save hours per week by not doing these tasks yourself.
2. "I would love to delegate but I can't afford to do so." In making this financial decision, you really need to weigh the opportunity cost of doing everything yourself vs. creating more time to do the important work of strategic visioning for your business, marketing to land more work, delivering awesome results so that clients want to book more business with you or customers want to buy more products from you, or simply having more time for self-care so that you don't begin to break down under the strain of an unmanageable workload. Can you afford to neglect the functional areas of your business that are the most important? Can you afford to become too exhausted to continue?
3. "I tried delegating once and it didn't work well." This excuse makes the assumption that if something doesn't happen the first time, it isn't worth doing. But how many things in life are accomplished on the first try? You can identify which part of delegation was ineffective and change that part to do it better the next time. Learning how to delegate effectively is a skill that requires practice. Each time you try, make it a learning experience and be assured that as your skill grows, you are getting closer to becoming competent at delegation.
4. "I am afraid that if I delegate something, it won't get done the way I want." Effective delegation requires that you are able to specify the outcome you desire and to check in with the person doing the work so that he/she doesn't get too far off track before you redirect in the right direction. Schedule frequent check-ins in the beginning, when someone doesn't yet know your style, and consider it an investment in the future. After you establish that you and the worker are in sync about expectations, you won't have to track milestone progress so carefully.
5. "I'm afraid I will hire someone and then realize I made a mistake and be stuck with the person." Many entrepreneurs find that it is easier if their first hire is an independent contractor/freelancer rather than a permanent employee. This way, you can evaluate for a trial period if there is a good match between what the freelancer offers and what you need. (Make sure to follow the IRS guidelines about hiring independent contractors, including the rules about allowing the freelancer to have control and independence about how he/she accomplishes his/her tasks as long as the output matches your expectations.)
6. "I don't know where to find freelancers." There are lots of resources now to find talented individuals to hire. HireMyMom.com (http://www.hiremymom.com); Upwork.com (http://www.upwork.com); and Guru.com (http://www.guru.com) are just a few of them. If you would rather investigate resources closer to home, contact the career services office of a local university and find out how to post a job to hire a student.
Once you taste the freedom that effective delegation brings, you will be so glad you learned how to do it. Then the only task left to do is to figure out the best ways to use all that time you have freed up!
As business owners, we tend to fall in love with our processes and the "technical" aspects of what we do. We spent hours getting trained in the procedural know-how of our craft and often many more hours carefully setting up our processes for working with clients. So it can come as a rather disconcerting shock to realize...your prospective clients don't care about how you do what you do!! When it comes right down to it, everything in marketing is really about problems/pain and results. That's what people actually care about. They're paying for results. What's in it for me? Will my investment pay off? Can you get rid of my problem or get me to the goal I want to achieve?
So how do you make the best of things in the face of this "cold, hard fact"? Here are a few quick tips to get you started in the right direction:
- Become intimately familiar with your niche. When you know every detail about what keeps them up at night or what dreams fill their hearts, you will be able to easily and deeply connect with your clients. It's especially helpful when you get to the root of a problem they are experiencing that they are willing to pay you to solve!
- When writing any sort of marketing content, spend the bulk of your time (on average a good 80%) either addressing your audience's deepest problems/pain or the biggest results they will achieve from working with you.
- Use stories frequently in your marketing...your signature story, stories of your clients, general stories of interest that prove your point. People love stories! We can relate to stories on a much more personal level than we can to a list of facts about your process. Stories draw us in emotionally--helping us see at a heart level how we can be a part of your services--instead of simply engaging the brain in a logical argument about whether to invest with you or not. As a bonus note, even when I'm using stories to communicate in marketing, I still employ the same basic structure... pain or problem someone started with, the turning point, and the results or outcomes experienced afterward.
- Touch on your process only briefly AFTER you have established a strong and emotionally compelling case for problems/results. So you talk about how they will accomplish A, B, C, D, E, and F by working with you... and "oh by the way, we achieve that through X, Y, Z."
One of my favorite topics is business development and marketing; since I've been getting questions from all sides about how to package and price services, I thought I’d offer five quick tips to get you started:
1. Get crystal clear on your niche. What is your unique expertise? Who is the “tribe” you are passionate about serving? What problems are you solving for your tribe that they are willing to pay to have solved?
2. Develop your signature system. Start with the ultimate outcome your clients receive from working with you and create the step-by-step system you take each one through to get them to achieve that outcome.
3. Turn your signature system into a cascade of related services/products. You will want to create a variety of offerings at different price-points. This is one of the fastest ways to increase your income! Also, make sure you always have an upsell or way for your clients to keep working with you beyond their initial purchase. And by starting with your signature system as a base, you can ensure your services and products are always “on brand.”
4. Get clear on the results your clients experience from working with you. Nearly every single time someone comes to me because they’re stuck trying to come up with a price for their services or they’re choking over quoting the fee to a prospect, it’s because they aren’t clear enough on the specific and tangible results the client will receive. Start by creating a list of 30 results your clients experience for each and every one of your service offerings.
5. Know your numbers. It's not enough to just check in with what your competitors are charging for their services and slap a comparable price tag on yours. You need to know what your services are truly worth -- both to you and to your clients. Go back to your list of results and assess what those results are worth to your clients based on the impact in all areas of their lives. Now look at your costs associated with your various services... overhead, cost of delivery, etc. Consider all these “numbers” when pricing your services.
By Wayne Mitchell
Time Management 101
Succeeding as a Consultant
Structuring Your Business
Selling Career Coaching Services Using a Client Handout
Owning the Customer Relationship
Managing the Executive Client Relationship
Managing Client Interactions
Efficiency Breeds Performance Improvement
10 Steps to Entrepreneurial Excellence