Posts Tagged ‘Mondays with Mike’


Mondays with Mike: Win Customers With Your Authenticity

6-15 Be Authentic smallEven though I’m not an accountant, I understand just how important effective accounting and accountants are to running my business successfully.  A few years ago, I attended an accounting conference, and I’ll admit it:  I wasn’t very excited about it.  I hire accountants because that’s not where my natural talents lie.

But there I was, armed with a gallon of high-octane coffee, committed to sitting through what I predicted would be a boring presentation.  The featured speaker stepped up to the podium, and I nearly groaned out loud.  He was everything I was afraid he’d be:  boring suit and matching monotone voice, with a heaping helping of a snooze-worthy Powerpoint.  Making numbers interesting ain’t easy, and this guy didn’t even try.

I made it through the presentation without falling asleep and drooling on my neighbor, and I hightailed it out of the seminar, glad to be gone.  You can imagine my dismay when I attended a friend’s barbecue a few weeks later and literally bumped into the accountant speaker.  Since we were face-to-face (and because he recognized me,) I was stuck.  While I was thinking of excuses to escape, he surprised me, though.

He was actually funny.  He was relaxed, dressed casually, and he was really interesting.  It was like it had been his boring clone making the presentations, because this guy was nothing like he’d been the first time we’d met.  We were laughing about a joke he’d told when he said something that simply stunned me.  He said, “Man, I hate having to be all professional at work.  I wish I could make money just by being myself.”

I’m pretty sure I spaced out for a moment as I though about the weight of what he’d just said.  He had no idea that he was more compelling, more appealing, and even seemed more trustworthy when he was being himself.  By putting on a false front in an attempt to appear professional, the accountant was making himself fit a mold that not only wasn’t comfortable for him, but was also unappealing to his clients.

I left that barbecue with two important takeaways.  First of all, that guy is now my accountant – the very best I’ve ever had.  Secondly, I realized just how important it is to be brave enough to be our authentic selves.  In fact, it’s when we give ourselves permission to let our real personalities emerge that we’re most likely to find clients who really connect with us, our values, and our big-picture goals.

Now I’m not advising that folks stop showering or litter their sales pitches with dirty jokes, but what I am advising is that we stop trying to pretend to be someone we’re not.  Let your creativity peek out.  Give your quirky sense of humor a chance to brighten your sales presentations.  Will everyone get your off-the-wall jokes?  Probably not.  But the ones who do are more likely to end up as customers for life.

I’m reminded of the wise Dr. Seuss’ timeless advice:  “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.”  Let your authentic self shine through, and you’ll find your best, most loyal customers.


Mondays with Mike: 5 Changes The Cloud Will Force Your Business To Make

5-25 cloud changes smallWhether we like it or not, change is inevitable.  Even though we know a change will ultimately be for the good, some of us have to be pulled kicking and screaming into the light of new technology and new practices.  So maybe you’re one of those folks who’s put off transitioning your business to the cloud.  Knowing what’s ahead can help you be best equipped to handle what’s ahead.

  1. The transition is inevitable.  Seriously, you’re going to have to do it sooner or later, if for no other reason than you’ll have to if you want to retain good employees.  9-5 office jobs have gone the way of cocktail hours in the office.  It’s going to be harder and harder to find staff who don’t demand flexibility in terms of hours and even working locations.  Moving to the cloud lets you enable staff to work at hours and locations that suit their needs.  It’s a good thing.  You can either become flexible or lose your great staff to employers who are.
  2. Consumers demand convenience.  Okay, we’re spoiled.  We expect to be able to Google anything and have answers at our fingertips within seconds.  If your business doesn’t provide mobile apps or instant access, you’re less desirable to consumers who want it all now.  Having your business running on the cloud means you’re able to work wherever and whenever, offering your clients speedy and high quality service.
  3. You’ll need to train your staff.  Just like any new piece of office equipment, you’ll need to set aside time to make sure your employees are up to speed on the new cloud functions.  You may need to schedule time in the future to deal with inevitable upgrades, so you can be sure your staff is equipped to give great service throughout the transition.  You may also need some new hardware – think touch screens, dual monitors – in order to maximize the results from your move to the cloud.
  4. Sharing and securing information are the new priorities.  The biggest benefit of the cloud is that you and every member of your team can access information from all over the world.  The biggest liability is that you’ll need to make sure your data is secure.  You’ll have to protect what’s confidential and make sure only authorized users have access to confidential materials.  The good news is you’ll find lots of resources to make securing and sharing your information as safe and easy as possible.
  5. Bandwidth is everything.  Once you’re up and running on the cloud, you’ll have to make sure you have consistent, reliable access for all the members of your team.  You’ll also need to develop contingency plans for how you’ll handle power outages, Internet service problems, or the host of other problems that can disrupt the way you conduct business. 

While you may not initially be enthusiastic about transitioning to the cloud, you’ll be better positioned to capitalize on its enormous benefits if you’re prepared to manage the changes. 


Mondays with Mike: Boost Your Bottom Line With Recurring Fees

5-18 recurring fees smallAttracting and converting new customers is an important part of any business.  Revenue is the lifeblood of our companies, and it’s important to devote time and energy to ensuring we have a steady, fresh supply.  One source of revenue we shouldn’t overlook, though, is our existing customer base.  If we’re chasing down new clients without first looking at how we can maximize revenue from our current clients, we’re missing out on real opportunities.

One of the very best ways I’ve found to bump up my billing is by converting customers to a recurring fee plan.  Here’s how it works:

Say you own an HVAC company.  You have a stable of corporate clients, and when they call you for a repair, it’s never cheap.  Your average call results in a bill for $2000.  You make an average of one call per year to each client, but you’re looking for a way to increase your per client earnings.  So you offer your clients a plan.  They pay $200 each month, and when they call you, their service is covered (with appropriate restrictions of course.)  Your revenue per client has gone up to $2400 per year, and you’re providing a huge benefit to your clients as well.  Rather than having to scrape together $2K when the a/c goes on the fritz in August, they know they’re covered.  They benefit from predictable costs, and you benefit from increased revenue and predictable income.  It’s a win-win.

But there’s more: your technicians have added incentive to work efficiently, since they’re not billing by the hour.  They also have incentive to fix things properly the first time, since any shoddy work will come out of your bottom line, should they have to go back for a second repair.  Likewise, your customers will call you at the first sign of trouble, rather than waiting for a small problem to turn into a large one.

You’ll be surprised at how easily you’ll be able to convert customers to a recurring fee model.  We’re far less likely to balk at a low monthly fee than we are to experience sticker shock when we look at the annual total.  Once your customers get used to your new model, they don’t even think about that predictable monthly expense.  It’s practically invisible to them.

Nearly every business can find some way to implement a recurring fee program.  Whether you’re a liquor store that enrolls clients in a Beer-of-the-Month Club, or you’re an office supplier who bills monthly for copier servicing plans, you can find a way to make recurring fees work for your company.

The best of both worlds is when your recurring fees bring your customers even closer to you and your staff.  Creating an elite program for your top-drawer clients gives the client an ego boost and gives you a revenue boost.  You’re preserving future business, and you’re doing it in a way that lets your clients manage their costs effectively. 


Mondays with Mike: The Secret To Being More Productive

To Do ListWe’re positively obsessed with productivity.  We all want to do more in less time with better results.  We look for ways to be more efficient, more effective, and more profitable, all while trying to preserve some time for our lives outside work.  Should you doubt that we’re obsessed with effeciency, simply enter “productivity” on Amazon, and you’ll be inundated with a slew of books, tools, and products designed to make you more productive.

The problem is that much of the productivity stuff out there is really just a sales pitch.  An author is trying to sell you a book.  A calendar company is trying to sell you a new planner, or a business guru is trying to get you to subscribe to his videos teaching you how to manage your time better.

I’ve spent a lot of time and energy working out my own system for boosting my productivity, and I’m about to give it away to you.  Why?  Because it’s so damn simple and so damn effective.  My two-part technique will help you do more work in less time, and it doesn’t cost you a cent, nor does it require any fancy gadgets.

First of all, you must unplug.  Now, calm down.  I don’t mean from everything forever.  What I mean is you must eliminate those things that are the chief, proven culprits of time suckage.  Facebook.  Twitter.  Instagram.  YouTube.  While all of these social media giants can genuinely be legitimate business tools, when you’re sitting down to work through your to-do list, they’re your enemies.

Turn.  Them.  Off.

Even your email can be a distraction if you’re constantly checking it and finding yourself derailed every time you send off a quick reply.  Checking email periodically, rather than constantly can permit you the time to focus and work more efficiently, rather than stopping, dealing with email, then finding your place and remembering what you were working on before getting back down to it.  Reduce your distractions, and you’re more productive.

The second part of my technique deals with prioritizing your daily tasks.  The only tools you need are paper, pen, and highlighter.  Sit down with your piece of paper, draw a line creating two columns, one narrow and one wide.  In the wide column, list all the tasks you need to accomplish, in whatever order they occur to you.

Once you have your tasks listed, use the narrow column to mark each task with a symbol.  Tasks that will generate revenue within the next thirty days get a dollar sign in the column.  Tasks that will serve the needs of an existing client get smiley faces.  Tasks that both generate revenue and satisfy a client get both a dollar sign and a smiley face.  Tasks that accomplish neither of these goals are left blank.

You start working through your list with the projects that have both dollar signs and smiley faces.  As you start each task, highlight it (so you know where you were in case of interruptions,) and when it’s finished you cross that item off the list.  Yay, you!  Next you move on to smiley face tasks, then you tackle the dollar signs.  Only when you’ve satisfied existing customers and generated revenue, do you move on to the other tasks on your list.  You’re working through your day in the most productive way possible.

Real productivity doesn’t require gadgets or how-to books.  Becoming more efficient means filtering out the distractions and working on your real priorities.


Mondays with Mike: Be Prepared! The 7 Biggest Cloud Risks

5-4 Cloud Computing smallI was an early convert to the cloud.  It suits my business and lets me work anywhere at any time.  While I’m an enthusiast of mobile access to all my information, when you’re making the leap, you need to be informed about potential problems, so you can head them off.  Here are some risks you’ll want to mitigate:

  1. Inconvenient maintenance times.  Inevitably, whatever host you choose for your cloud-based apps, there will be times when there’s behind-the-scenes tech work being done.  You’ll want to make sure you know when maintenance is scheduled so you don’t bring your entire team in for a big project, only to discover your site’s down.  Keep track of scheduled maintenance.
  2. Upgrade/update schedule.  Just when you get comfortable with the way an app works, it’ll be time for an upgrade … and you get to learn it all over again.  My favorite way to combat this problem is to stay informed about updates and get a core group of your staff trained early, so they can be a resource to the rest of the staff when you absolutely must update or upgrade.
  3. Terminated Employees.  Gone are the days when all you have to do is take back a set of keys from an employee who’s leaving.  Now, you have to make sure you protect the valuable information that’s stored online – accounts to which your employees have access.  Make sure you have a company procedure for changing passwords and protecting your privacy and the privacy of your clients.
  4. Inadvertent change.  Back when phones were just phones, the worst thing we had to worry about was accidentally “butt dialing” someone.  But now that our companies have Facebook and Twitter accounts with mobile access, you have to be extra careful you don’t accidentally post something on your company’s Facebook page that you intended to be on your personal page.  Have your IT folks add in extra steps to ensure nothing is accidentally posted or altered via your mobile apps.
  5. Legal Problems.  Certain industries not only expect, but even require confidentiality in client records.  Whether you’re an accountant, an attorney, a doctor, or any number of professions for which privacy is paramount, you must ensure your records on the cloud are completely secure.  Take the time to vet your cloud provider’s security, and you’ll head off lawsuits.
  6. Becoming a bigger target.  While it’s unlikely someone would try to break into your individual PC in order to get information, when a cloud provider amasses thousands of users records, they’re a much more appealing target for thieves who want your data.   Choose your host wisely and have a backup plan in case your account is compromised.
  7. The cloud is unavoidable.  I’m not warning you about the problems you may encounter to keep you from making the transition.  I’m helping you avoid some of the pitfalls of working on the cloud.  Assess your risks, mitigate the ones you can, and then take the leap.

More business is done on the cloud every single day, and the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.  Businesses who do their homework, create a deliberate plan, and manage the transition carefully will be poised to capture more business and manage it more easily than ever before.  


Mondays with Mike: Take A Lesson From The Marketing Masters

4-20 Marketing Experts smallThere’s something to be said for trusting the experts, and also for taking the time to do a little research.  Rather than believing you have to come up with all the answers on your own, sit back and learn from the real masters of marketing.  Who are the folk you should pay attention to?  Read on.

  1. Walt Disney.  Not only was Walt Disney the master of sales and advertising, but he was also one of the first true marketing masters.  One of the most important things I’ve learned from studying up on Disney is his belief that the people who design something should also use it.  Only when a designer fully understands the needs and desires of customers, can he or she build an experience perfectly.  Disney had all of his ride designers for his amusement parks ride every ride, over and over, until each detail was just right.  Even details as small as the fireflies on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride were carefully managed.
  2. Mary Kay Ash.  If we can learn anything from the pink-hued world of the woman who built an amazing cosmetics empire, it’s the power of multi-level marketing.  Women all over the country earned their pink Cadillacs simply by selling to their friends and family, building a network and recruiting other sellers.
  3. Steve Jobs.  Jobs didn’t just want to produce machines that did new things.  He understood the huge impact of intuitive design and super stylish packaging.  Rather than selling a smartphone that took a PhD to operate, instead, Apple launched a phone that didn’t even require an instruction manual.  Packaging products with stickers that identify users to other users is also a masterful tactic in image marketing.
  4. Tim Ferriss.  Ferriss is nothing if not a big ideas guy.  He teaches us that a claim needn’t necessarily be one hundred percent true in order to be a powerful selling tool.  While we don’t literally believe we can work just four hours a week, or become a chef in four hours, we’re still lured in by the idea that we can be substantially more efficient or more educated in a short period of time.  Ferriss operates on the principle that we all want to improve, and none of us has boatloads of free time to do it in.  Wild claims can work.
  5. David Ogilvy.  Whether you’re a new entrepreneur or a veteran, the most important lesson you can learn from Ogilvy still holds true.  Split testing pays dividends.  Make sure you’re making the very best decisions by testing variations and alternatives.  Try two versions of the same email offer and track the results, or run two versions of a new ad, each in a different zip code.  The point is we may think a move is successful, but unless we test it, we don’t know for sure.
  6. Michael Phelps.  Though we don’t necessarily think of the Olympic golden boy as an entrepreneur, he can certainly teach us a thing or two about brand building.  Phelps shows us the benefit at working all out, with single-minded dedication to becoming the very best at just one thing.  Phelps is focus personified.
  7. Seth Godin.  Godin gave us the purple cow – his term for a remarkable product, one that stands out from the crowd.  What Godin teaches is the benefit of making your brand distinct from everyone else.  Be your own, unique thing, and do it better than anyone else.

There’s so much entrepreneurial literature out there, you could spend your entire career simply reading, rather than working.  Since none of us has that luxury, it’s essential that we extract the heart of the very best advice out there.  Following the examples of the very best – the marketing masters – sets you up for success.


Mondays with Mike: How Ripple Innovation Can Invigorate Your Business

4-13 Ripple effectIt always hits me the same time every year.  I don’t know whether it’s a craving for warmer weather, or the realization that it’s time to dig deep and get started making the year a successful one, but the end of the first quarter is always a tough time for me.  I’m tired of winter in New Jersey, and my summer vacation is too far off to lift my spirits.

 Whatever the reason, by the end of March, I feel like I’m in a slump.  My strategy to shake off the winter doldrums, though, works every time.  I find a problem in my business – something I simply haven’t tackled yet, and I set out to make things better.  One of the most effective ways I’ve found to fix something that’s broken, and brighten my spirits at the same time, is to use ripple innovation.  Here’s how it works:

  1. Ripple 1:  Find the solution within your own company.  Far too often we can’t see a solution because we’re stuck in our own head – blinded by our compartmentalized approach to problem solving.  So you’re looking for ways to improve your IT support?  Ask your sales force.  Not only will they have situational awareness your IT guys and gals don’t, but you never know – they might also have more tech skills than you realize.  Look outside the department you’re trying to revitalize.
  2. Ripple 2:  Find the solution inside your industry.  Look to your competitors (who typically face the same challenges you do,) and see how they do business.  Maybe your competitor’s Facebook page brings in tons of new business.  Maybe the guy down the street has found a sharper price on office supplies.  Look around to find best practices among your competition.
  3. Ripple 3:  Find the solution in any industry.  You may think your business is industry specific, but you’ll be surprised what you can learn from broadening your perspective.  The food truck that moves around town, yet always manages to have a line when they pull in?  They might be using Twitter in a way you can imitate.  The jewelry store with a reputation for the best customer service in the world?  You can learn something about consumer loyalty that will translate to your company, too.
  4. Ripple 4:  Find the solution in nature.  If you’re really stuck, try zooming out even further, to look at the way the natural world works.  Say you’re having trouble retaining employees, even though you pay great wages.  You might need to look at animals who spend a little longer nurturing their young before sending them off into the world.  After all, animals who hatch and have to fend for themselves right away often have rather high mortality rates.  Try implementing a longer training period, so when you turn your employees loose, they’re able to thrive on their own.

The basic idea of ripple innovation is that you have a whole world to learn from.  Broadening your perspective to include other departments, companies, industries, and even other creatures can only benefit you and help inspire a new period of growth. 


Mondays with Mike: 7 Ways To Cut Costs Without Stifling Growth

4-6 Cost Cutting  smallToo often, we discover a new way to reduce our expenditures, only to find out it’s not ultimately good for our bottom line.  The trick is to manage our costs, while still flourishing.  I know – that’s easier to say than do.  But here are seven sure-fire ways to keep your business growing on the cheap.

  1. Pool your resources.  You and other local businesses share many of the same needs.  You need things like ink for your printers, paper towels for the kitchen, and health insurance coverage for your staff.  If you can come together, assess your needs, and approach your providers for these goods and services, you can often negotiate for a better group rate.  Your ink supplier, for example, will likely win some new customers, and you’ll all save money.
  2. Hire contractors.  Take a step back from your staff and assess your real staffing needs.  Often it’s advantageous to hire contractors for certain jobs, paying them a much higher hourly rate, but only using them as needed.  Your staff gets more flexible work days, and you save money in the end.
  3. Free advertising.  So one of your competitors goes out of business, but their billboard on the edge of town is still standing, inviting prospective customers to call their now-out-of-service number.  Call the phone company and arrange to have that old phone number forward to your line.  When the phone rings, you can explain the situation and detail what you’re willing to do to earn that customer’s business.  Why pay for a billboard when you can get one for free?
  4. Cut phone costs.  Most business owners don’t realize how much money they spend annually on their phone services.  Explore lower cost – or even no cost – options like Nextiva.  You may find better call quality and services for far less than you’re paying now.
  5. Assess your office space.  Over the life of your business, you may find that you expand or contract from time to time.  When you’re paying for a space that’s larger than you need, you’re wasting money.  See if sharing a space with another company makes sense, or look for options with shared public areas – kitchens or restrooms.  Make the most of your rent dollars.  Also keep in mind that landlords with space that’s been vacant for a long period of time are far more willing to negotiate rates.
  6. Train your own talent.  Superstar, experienced employees command high wages – no two ways about it.  If you hire raw talent, and take the time to bring your staff up to speed on your own, you can realize huge staffing savings.  Whether you take a chance on an intern or find a diamond in the rough worth taking a chance on, training staff not only saves you money, but also lets your mold your staff to work the way you want.
  7. Get your staff involved.  One of the best moves I ever made was to have a sit-down with my employees and solicit their help in finding ways to trim unnecessary expenses.  They came up with ideas that would never have occurred to me, and when they pitched in, we had a whole team of people working to improve the bottom line.

Cutting costs doesn’t have to be painful.  Finding creative, win-win approaches is the key to making successful, long-term changes without inhibiting your company’s growth. 


Mondays with Mike: 5 Stellar Tips For Landing Great Customers

3-30 Landing New Customers smallAssuming you’re delivering a great product at a fair price, and assuming you’re making sure your customers get outstanding service, one of the simplest ways to generate more revenue is to land new customers.  But you don’t want just any customer.  You want the big fish – the ones who generate the best revenue.  Here are my top tips for finding those clients, sometimes where you least expect them.

  1. Look for year-end opportunities.  Whether it’s the end of a calendar or a fiscal year, many companies find themselves in the position of scrambling to spend funds so they don’t lose them for the following year.  While other companies coast from mid-December to New Year’s, if you hustle and look for those year-end dollars, you’ll be surprised what you can land.  Even if you get a trial period agreement, you’re setting yourself up to over deliver and score the longer contract when the short-term funds have been exhausted.  Check in with clients who have upcoming fiscal year ends as well, and you’ll often find the same opportunities.
  2. Leverage tax savings for small businesses.  Particularly useful both at the end of the calendar year and around tax time, pitching your product to a client can be even more compelling if you include not just the initial investment cost, but also highlight the potential tax savings that investment can create.  So while your product is certainly a good value on its own, a business who purchases it is also reducing – through the expense – their tax liability.  It’s just going the extra step to think it through for your clients.
  3. Video Sales Page.  I can’t believe how few companies use this tactic, especially given how cost effective it is.  Say you’re making a pitch – could be virtual or in person.  You’re moving through a slide show presentation that highlights all the benefits you can provide.  If you add a slide with a brief video, customized with your prospect’s name and details that matter to her business, you’re taking your pitch from the abstract to the very concrete – and that’s a good thing!  Making a video costs you nothing but a little time, and it’s a personal touch that will separate your company from the crowd.
  4. Build the vendor well.  This tip sounds counterintuitive at first, but it really works.  Instead of asking a great client for referrals to other clients, ask for referrals to their vendors.  The idea is to work with other suppliers to find efficiencies, share customers, and ultimately deliver better service.  You’re broadening your network, while focusing on what matters to your existing clients – great service!
  5. Throw a party.  Take the time to invite your very best clients – along with top new prospects – to a huge celebration.  Whether you grill out for a summer bash or pour champagne at the end of the year, putting your happy clients in contact with prospects lets everyone see how much you value your relationships.  You’ll bring in new customers, and you’ll be able to thank your existing ones.  It’s a win-win.

While generating new business is only part of what we do in a given day or week, it’s important to focus our efforts on those customers who will bring the best returns.




 
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