Posts Tagged ‘Growth’


How You Can Grow Your Small Business to 7 Figures

Stocksy_txp1c8dcf91CD8000_Small_201077So many entrepreneurs I meet think too small. They’re concerned about paying today’s bills, and give little thought to where they’d like to take their business down the road. That’s an obstacle to success, but one that can be overcome with a little planning and strategy. But the most important thing to making more money is to believe that you can. So let’s get started! It’s time to stop struggling and start thriving in your business.

First, Visualize What You Want to Achieve?

Don’t be afraid to unleash your imagination here. Think big! Would you like to run a $5 million company? Sell it in five years and then retire and travel the world? You can’t hope to grow to any level of success if you don’t first establish what your goals are.

Write these goals down and develop a vision board. No matter how pie-in-the-sky they seem at first, if you think it, it can happen. It’s not your job to judge your desires, just to record them. Seeing these goals on paper or a poster will help you get the right mindset to start believing in those goals.

Next, Figure Out How to Get There

You wouldn’t leave for a major road trip without a map. It’s the same as a business owner. You need a plan for how you’ll get to the destination (those goals you set). It may be overwhelming right now to consider becoming a $5 million company, but if you break that goal down into smaller ones, you’ll actually be able to achieve them.

Maybe the first step is to hire a salesperson or expand the area you service. These are small and simple tasks. Continue your list of action items that will help you reach your goal, and assign timeframes to them. You could even list tasks to complete each quarter to lead you to your goal.

Find One Thing You Do Really Well

This might be a superior product. Or your insanely fast delivery time. Whatever that characteristic that makes you different (and better) than the competition, own it. And use it in your marketing material. You want people to know what makes your company unique from the second they discover you.

Hire the Right People

Few solopreneurs are able to reach that 7-figure goal without a little help. And there’s no shame in hiring people who are smarter than you! Find professionals who can complement your skill set with other qualities, and hire help to fill in the gaps with those tasks you simply don’t have the bandwidth to do yourself.

Another note on hiring: it’s important that you create a company culture that makes all your staff — whether they’re full-time or freelance — feel like part of something bigger than themselves. They’re going to be key in helping you hit those 7-figures, so make sure your company is inviting and that they want to work hard for you for years to come.

Refine Your Sales Process

The smoother your sales process is — and any other process in your company, for that matter — the more sales you can make. Automate what you can, from letting people easily make purchases online or sending an email after a purchase, and put personal attention where needed. This is where having sales staff can make a huge difference. You want every single customer to feel like he has the support and access he needs should he have questions or want help.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Success doesn’t happen when you keep doing the same thing over and over. It happens when you pay attention to what’s working and do more of it, and cull what’s not working. Be constantly diligent to ensure that you’re firing on all cylinders and moving closer to that 7-figure goal.


When It’s Time to Break Up With Your Partner

????????????????????Not every business partnership is meant to last forever. Some partnerships start off well, but as the company evolves, it outgrow its usefulness. Here are the typical bad signs of an impending breakup:

1. Respect and trust are fading.

The basis of any partnership is respect and trust. You may no longer respect the skills your partner brings to the company. You may no longer trust your partner to deliver the results that are needed to be successful. You may be hearing things from other employees about what your partner is saying behind your back. 

2. Your skills are no longer complementary to your partner.

You may have gained their skill or other employees in the company may have picked it up and excelled at it. Either way, your partner’s talents no longer seem so critical to the success of the company.

3. Communication has broken down.

You no longer talk to each other. It seems like the only conversations you do have are via email, text or through other intermediaries.  The talk keeps moving away from the goal in your business to one that is getting too personal. Every conversation with your partner seems to end in an argument. 

4. You disagree on how to spend money.

You and your partner now want to invest company resources in different things. Perhaps you want to reinvest in growing the business and he/she wants to harvest by taking much of the profit out.

5. You want to work on different things.

You no longer agree on the strategic direction of the company and it keeps the team divided. In fact, more and more there seems to be two teams inside the company- yours and his/hers.

6. You think you work harder than your partner.

In the early days, it was the two of you all the time. You continue to grind away at the business, but it seems like your partner is kicking back a bit too much and is never in the office.

How to transition:

Breaking up is always hard to do. Start by communicating the obvious and review the six points above with your partner. Discuss privately each other’s view on the problems. Agree to keep employees, customers and vendors out of this private conversation.  Look for resolutions. Consult your shareholder agreements for buyout procedures and other remedies. Go to an advisor that you both trust to help with the transition.

How did your breakup go with your partner? What were the first signs?


Experience Your Business the Way Your Customers Experience It

About this series: This series of articles from Nextiva will help you grasp of the essentials of customer service: the principles and guidelines that will serve you well in any era, regardless of trends, changing technology, and a constantly evolving customer base. Our guide is Micah Solomon, customer service and customer experience consultant, author, and speaker.

Every day you’re in business, take some time to make sure you’re experiencing what doing business feels like, looks like, sounds like, tastes like, smells like as a customer.

Even great companies fail at this, more often than they realize.

A simple example

Here’s a simple example of what can go wrong, and why.  Do you ever wonder why it’s so often chilly in your favorite restaurant?  Even the great Charlie Trotter’s restaurant was notoriously frigid, for all the warm service you received as a guest there. 

The reason is this:  Restaurant work is hard, active work.  Restaurants are staffed by employees who are on their feet, hustling, working their rear ends off.  Good employees. Helpful employees. But employees who most likely don’t realize that sitting down, expending zero calories as you wait for your caloric infusion (dinner), is going to cause a guest to have a different sensibility relating to comfort and temperature.

It’s not always simple

Striving to see things from your customer’s perspectives has some inherent traps. If yours is an unusually innovative company or trying an unusually innovative approach, sometimes you will throw intentional or unavoidable obstacles (a steep learning curve, for example) in the way of your customer.  This means sacrificing immediate sales or immediate ease of use in the interest of ultimate success.  For example:

  • Maybe you have the wrong customers. This is a reasonable theory, for those of us who are truly brave and truly trying something new.  If you’re opening a restaurant with cutting-edge cuisine (sorry about the cascading foodservice examples today—I must be hungry) in a primarily tourist-trappy “Tour Buses Welcome” part of town, it may take time before you are discovered by the discerning diners you’ll truly need for your business to ultimately thrive.
  • Maybe your customers won't immediately get what you're about, and maybe that's ok. If you can see into the future (like Steve Jobs) there’s a chance you can bring your customers with you, not instantly but over time.  Just because a system seems alien on day one doesn’t mean it always will.  Remember how weird having a mouse and no keyboard commands was in the ‘80s until we adapted.  Think about what it was like when ATMs were introduced.

Don’t kid yourself.  Usually you’re being oblivious, not innovative.

Most of the time, this innovating-ahead-of-the-customer isn’t what’s causing your blind spots. What’s going on is more likely that you’re simply unaware of how your business comes across to your customer, how you’re abusing your customer’s patience and aesthetic sense while the poor customer is trying to do business with you. 

You need to become aware of, and then eliminate:

  • Elements you intend to be simple that are actually confusing

For example: Does your website violate usability rules and expectations?

  • Elements you intend to be easy that are arduous

For example: A customer can be in a heck of a bad mood by the time they even get into your store if they find it hard to find parking, if your address is unclear, if your hours are incorrectly reported by Google or Yelp. 

  • Elements you intend to seem trustworthy and straightforward, that don’t come across that way to your customers

For example: Pricing that a customer assumes to be all inclusive but that requires extra charges to be complete. (Charging for wifi may seem reasonable to a hotelier, since she knows what it cost her to install the system, but it won’t seem that way to a hotel guest.)

How do you get there?

Well, there’s no "we are there now—we’re done“ in customer service. But it’s a process you have to start, and continue, forever.  Including:

  • Park where where your customers park
  • Come in the same entrance your customers come in
  • Read what your customers read (for example online reviews of your company — and of your competitors); don’t assume their journey with your company begins on your website or at your front door
  • Use the public website for your company, logging in as customers log in (no insider override here, please).

Amazon box as delivered by UPS/ copyright Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

(c) micah@micahsolomon.com

Wonder why amazon.com is such a powerhouse?  Well, there are a lot of reasons.  but here’s one you probably only think about if you live in the Seattle area:  Amazon has 80,000 built in customers.  Literally everyone who works there orders from them, the same way the rest of us do.  And these 80,000 users catch issues fast, suggest improvements minute to minute and day to day (which are then often acted on right away).

There’s one more element to it.

There’s value in getting to know your customers outside of their interactions with your company.  In other words, finding out what the rest of their lives look like.  This isn't easy either, but it’s important. Otherwise you can only create an environment that is comfortable for people who are more or less similar to you. To give you a simple example of this: I worked with some car dealers recently who had the most male-defined waiting rooms you can imagine.  Although more than 50 percent of their purchases (and, I’ll bet, even more of the decisionmakers on purchases) are women, the overwhelmingly male managers were who had picked out the furniture and even the magazines for the weighting areas.  They would have done better to have someone (most likely female) who understood the norms and expectations of their customers a bit better.

Seeing your business from the viewpoint of your customers isn’t easy, and won’t always come naturally.  But it’s worth it. 

 

© 2014 Micah Solomon


10 Pieces of Advice to Ignore

Entrepreneurs get advice every day from their professional advisors and information they read. A lot of it needs to be ignored. Pay close attention to disregarding these platitudes and what to do instead:

  1. It takes money to make money. Many entrepreneurs spend too much money getting their company off the ground. In fact, having a lot of money can lead to being wasteful. Use small investments to test ideas and get paying customers. Based on this success or failure, spend alittle more money to test the next action.
  2. Do what you love and the money will follow. This principle has the entrepreneur focus on what they want to do instead of what the customer wants. Building a company is about finding the pain a buyer has, not what the entrepreneur wants to provide. Instead, do what you love and if you solve a customer’s pain, the money will always follow.
  3. Failure is required for success. This is what many entrepreneurs tell themselves when they fail. While failure is not required for success, ultimately it is part of every entrepreneur’s experience. Never fear failure. When it comes, acknowledge it, learn what you can, then take another action to give you another chance at success.
  4. Failure is not an option. Not only is it an option, it is the most likely outcome. Get comfortable with the fact that you will fail some of the time and not knowing exactly what will happen next.
  5. A penny saved is a penny earned. This is short term thinking. While it is important to be carefully frugal with your money, not every transaction needs to yield the maximum profit. Successful business owners invest in long term relationships.
  6. Good things come to those that wait. Waiting is typically not in an owners DNA. As another platitude says “Don’t wait for your ship to come in, swim out to meet it”. Being proactive rather than reactive will typically win the day.
  7. A penny for your thoughts. Be careful not to give away your value to customers for free. Entrepreneurs typically undervalue their products and services since they are uncomfortable asking customers to buy.
  8. The customer is always right. If the customer was always right, most entrepreneurs would be out of business! When the customer has a concern, the most important thing is to listen and show empathy. They don’t need to be right, but always need to be heard.
  9. Another day, another dollar. Making money is not a linear process. Successful small business owners look for the leverage in profitability and this typically is not in the form of working harder or longer hours. Look for the financial leverage points in hiring other people, intellectual property or a dedicated distribution channel.
  10. Money doesn’t grow on trees. While this is literally true, there is ways to make money all around any entrepreneur. Follow the customers that have the money to solve their pain and the money will follow. 

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Be Like Google: How to Build a Valuable Brand

Your company’s brand is what people say when you are not around. Customers buy from brands that they know, like and trust. If built right, your brand can be one of the most valuable assets your company owns.

Google-LogoThis past year, Google finally topped Apple for the title of the world’s most valuable brand. According to Millward Brown’s BrandZ study, Apple’s brand value diminished 20 percent to an estimated $148 billion while Google’s brand value increased 40 percent since last year to reach $159 billion. Rounding out the top five on the list of the most valuable brands are two more technology firms: IBM at $170 billion and Microsoft at $90 billion. The fifth spot is claimed by fast food giant, McDonald’s. Where is Coca-Cola? Number 6.

Including the top four most valuable brands, a total of 18 technology companies made the list accounting for $827 billion in brand value. Facebook’s brand value increased 68% to reach number 21, while Twitter and LinkedIn make their debut to the list coming in at 71 and 78 respectively.

According to financeonline.com, there are several explanations for Apple’s fall. Here is what happened and what small business owners can learn from the world’s top brands:

  1. Perfectionism can slow your company down. Apple and Google could not be more different with how they choose to roll out their products. Apple exemplifies perfection and secrecy, while Google is known for releasing beta versions of their products and embracing feedback from the crowd. Overall, Google seems to take more risk (like Google Glass and a self-driving car) and is less afraid of failure. Lesson: You will make mistakes, so fail faster. Done is better than perfect.
  2. Build your brand image carefully. Even today, the Apple brand is impossible to separate from its cofounder, Steve Jobs. Can the company keep its winning brand without its visionary leader? Pundits continue to ask questions like how much of Apple’s breakthrough products was the result of one man’s genius? Alternately, Google is seen as a team of incredibly talented people on a mission to develop the world’s most innovative ideas. Lesson: A brand image can grow more easily and sustainably if it is not be tied to one person.
  3. If you’re going to set the bar high, make sure you can reach it. For a decade, Apple redefined product categories with iTunes, the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. This is what consumers have come to expect with every new product. Its failure to launch an innovative new product to match the genius of the past has contributed to its fall. Lesson: Don’t get caught in the Innovator’s Dilemma. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Innovator%27s_Dilemma

Set the bar high for others, but be able to consistently reach it yourself.

How have you made your brand valuable?


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Keys to Success in a Family Business

Stocksy_txp9b4a083fTr5000_Small_64619Did you know that 70 percent of family businesses never make it to the second generation? How can you avoid your family business becoming that kind of sad statistic? The key to keeping a family business surviving—and thriving—is communication. Here are five keys to good communication in your family-owned business.

  1. Pay attention. Is someone making a lot of bitter comments, showing up to work late (or not at all), or otherwise acting out? Keeping your eyes and ears open to what’s going on around you can nip communication problems in the bud.
  2. Address issues openly. Rightly or wrongly, many families “communicate” (or don’t) by sweeping things under the rug or denying that problems exist. When this kind of miscommunication infects the workplace, it can destroy your business. No matter how tough it is, make it a point to bring up problems before they fester.
  3. Keep it all in the family. Family business conflicts should be addressed openly, but that doesn’t mean they should be discussed in front of non-family employees. Call a family meeting or hold a one-on-one with the individual involved to hash out the problem before you involve non-family workers.
  4. Never assume. Because people are family, you may assume they will respond to things in certain ways or assign certain behaviors to them. (“Susan always gets offended by little things.”) Try to get beyond the “roles” that siblings, parents or other family members play in the family (the smart one, the peacemaker) and focus on the roles they play in the business. Give your family employees the same respect you’d give non-family employees and don’t attribute feelings to them without actually asking them how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking.
  5. Air the grievances. Let each family member get their feelings out in the open, even if you feel that one person is obviously right and the other wrong. An outside advisor, such as a family business consultant, your board of advisors or even a family therapist, can be helpful in mediating family business issues impartially. (It’s important, though, to make sure all family business members agree on who the outside advisor/s should be—ideally, before any problems arise.)

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Is It Time to Invest in New Employees—or Is New Technology Enough?

Do you really need to hire new employees—or would new technology serve the same purpose? According to the fifth annual Brother Small Business Survey, a whopping 72 percent of small business owners believe new technology would provide a better return on their investments than hiring new employees (28 percent) this year. No wonder nearly half (49 percent) the small business owners surveyed said investing in new technology is their top priority this year.

It’s not exactly cut and dried. If you’re confused, you aren’t the only one: 63 percent of survey respondents say they often feel “overwhelmed” by the number of tech tools available to help run their companies, and struggle to keep up with knowing what technology to buy.

What are small business owners planning to buy this year? Well, 41 percent say they’re going to invest in mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. About one-third will buy Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, 20 percent will buy social technologies and 15 percent say cloud services will be essential to their businesses this year.

So how do you know whether you should hire—or if buying new technology could fill the bill just as well? When debating new technology, ask yourself:

  • ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????What is the learning curve for this tool? Can you or your existing employees get up to speed quickly enough that the tool will quickly start providing a return on investment?
  • How much time will the tool save? If the amount of time it saves allows you or your employees to absorb the new tasks into your existing workday, that’s ideal. However, if the new technology will add hours to your workday, you may need to hire new staff to handle the load.
  • Will this tool create additional work or additional business? Sometimes a tech tool can work so well it creates more work. For instance, your new CRM system may create more work at first as you follow up more frequently with prospects and customers. However, eventually it should create new business, not just new work. When you implement a new tool, figure out the break-even point at which it’s generating enough new business to finance hiring a new employee. 

Where Small Businesses Are Stuck in 2014

During the course of their career, every small business owner gets stuck. The key is to know where and how to get unstuck.

My annual survey of 5,000 small business owners identifies the problem areas. Here are a few excerpts:

  1. Treating their company like a job. The Survey: Over 40% of owners do whatever customers need in order to earn money for their business. This does not allow them to strategically ramp up a profitable business. The Solution: Don’t take every piece of work offered by a customer. Focus on what the company is good at and get more of that profitable business.
  2. The daily plan gets interrupted when entering the office. The Survey: 53% don’t have a plan for their day or it gets destroyed when the start work. The Solution: Before opening email, voice mail or social media, do two important tasks that will make the day productive.
  3. Stocksy_txpe7f75a0ezH4000_Small_41935They never take a break. The Survey: Over 50% said they are too busy to take a break and always have their phone near them. This is because they have a fear of getting left behind. The Solution: Find a daily place without a smartphone where personal batteries can be recharged and let creativity flow.
  4. They fear failure. The Survey: Over 40% said that failure is not an option. They fear it so much that they stop taking risks in their business. The Solution: Accept failure. Learn something. Let go of that failure and take another action to get to another success.
  5. They are afraid of selling. The Survey: 41% are either afraid of rejection or not sure how to build a relationship with a prospect. 59% said that they are too busy servicing existing customer to find new ones. The Solution: A company can’t really sell anything to anyone. They need to be there when customers are ready to buy by executing a daily systematic marketing plan.
  6. They stop marketing as soon as they have sales. The Survey: 58% only market their products when they do not have sales. They also believe their products are so superior that they do not need to market them at all! The Solution: Execute a systematic marketing plan through content marketing on a weekly basis.
  7. They don’t know how to use or have stopped with social media. The Survey: 54% either do not have a social media strategy or have stopped using it. The Solution: Social media is part of promotion. Use it to form relationships by providing help to customers, prospects and connectors.
  8. They let poor performing employees stay. The Survey: 53% never fire employees since it is too uncomfortable or they are too loyal. The Solution: Be slow to hire and quick to fire. Find the team that makes the company profitable. Fire anyone that does not add productively to the company.
  9. They don’t ask for help. The Survey: 44% never ask for help because they believe they have to figure it out on their own. Many others are unsure of who to ask for help. The Solution: Find a formal or informal group of advisors and mentors to answer pressing questions. Do not go it alone!
  10. They allow personal smartphone usage at work. The Survey: 74% do not monitor personal use of smartphones which can destroy company productivity. The Solution: Have a written policy that personal smartphones are not to be used during work except in emergencies.

Bonus: They rarely review their financial statements. The Survey: Over 20% never look at their financial statements because they are hard to understand. The Solution: Get trained to understand every line of the company’s financial statement. Review them monthly.

Tell me where you are stuck!


How to Keep the Rule of 3 from Ruling your Business

Even with the best laid plans, it has become clear to me that every business project follows the “Rule of 3”: it takes three times longer, costs three times as much and is three times as difficult as it should be.  This is a universal truth, so if you can accept it and even embrace it, you can put yourself on a path toward a more successful future for your business.

Here are some ways to battle some of the Rule of 3 issues that have been frustrating business owners since the beginning of time.

Everything Takes Longer, but You Can Get There

Setting your expectations too high is often the cause of this phenomenon.  Once you align yourself with realistic goals, you can head for longer term success.  Consider the following situations:

  • Getting the big order from a new client:  New customers may want to test the waters by initially offering smaller jobs.  When you impress them by providing high-quality work on time or before deadlines, the large order will come.
  • Getting a new product to market:  Even with extensive planning, Murphy’s Law accurately predicts that something will inevitably go wrong.  Perhaps a vital part is not delivered, manufacturing becomes halted, or your entire software development team gets the flu a week prior to scheduled delivery.  One way to deal with this issue is to develop an accurate delivery date up front — and then, multiply it by three or at least add some padding to the date. The worst case scenario is that you end up delivering early.
  • Providing on-site support for clients:  The moment you lose control over the place where your work is performed or your product is installed, any number of things can go wrong.  If you need to rely on a client’s computer, you might get a defective one.  Or you may set out to install 220 volt equipment in a building with only 120 volt outlets. Make sure that your contract provides detailed requirement specs and estimates the resulting time delays if those requirements are not met.

Of course, time delays can also amount to income delays.  So, make sure that you have enough capital to ride out the extra time.

Creativity and Planning Helps Handle Extra Expense

Stocksy_txp31123075Gu3000_Small_81280Even the big business players want to bring projects in on budget, but additional expenses do not generally bring their operations to a screeching halt.  As a small business owner, you do not have the luxury of overspending, but there are some ways to help avoid — or at least deal with — financial surprises.

Just as you need to add a buffer when planning the timing for an undertaking, you have to do the same when it comes to budgeting.  After a careful analysis tells you that your new widget will cost $5,000 from design to final production, you need to plan for what you will do if the actual expenses turn out to be $15,000.  Even if you don’t have the cash on-hand to deal with the additional costs, create a Plan B so that you have a pre-approved bank loan in place or someone waiting in the wings to help.

You may also be able to manage the additional costs with some creative strategies.  For example, a vendor might be willing to barter its product in exchange for one of your products or services.  If you think bartering is not a viable way to conduct business, I recently heard of a web designer who conducts all business within a “gift economy.”  He designs and builds websites as gifts for his customers, trusting them to gift back based on what they believe is fair value for his work.  While he reports this business model has worked well for him, I’m not recommending — or even suggesting — that you take such an extreme approach to your cash flow.  But entering into a barter agreement can be valuable in a pinch.

It May be Difficult, but You Don’t Have to Go it Alone

There is nothing better than the power of people.  Every small business owner should find a support group of other business owners that they can use as sounding boards for business challenges.  The Web offers many ready-made groups that you can turn to, or you can form your own group.  Often, the experience of expressing your concerns out loud is enough to help you find solutions.  And the chances are that others in your group have worked through the same issues and have found successful solutions.   At a minimum, they can provide you with some comfort when things are inevitably more difficult than you expect them to be.

Dealing with the Rule of 3 can be one of the most frustrating aspects of running any business, but you can lessen its effects with creative thinking and a few good friends. And for those times when you feel overwhelmed by these issues, remember — there’s always ice cream.




 
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