Posts Tagged ‘Small Business’


How to Close the Gap from Prospect to Happy Customer

Sales is a scary thing for many small business owners, but if you can figure out how to turn your sales fear into sales courage, you will change the game in your business. The key lesson I have learned about sales, in my almost 17 years in business, is that the gap between getting a prospect and turning that prospect into a customer can become shorter and shorter with only a few steps. Here are ways you can shorten that gap:

  • Speed up your sales cycle
  • Weed out unqualified prospects
  • Convert with confidence
  • Remove the fear from sales for good

Step 1: Know who your target audience is with 100% certainty. Nothing else in removing the gap between prospecting and completed sales will work without this foundational step. You want to know:

  • Who they listen to
  • Where they hang out both online and offline
  • What their sense of humor is (this is very important believe it or not!), and
  • What the one problem or challenge is that keeps them up at night.

Step 2: Tighten up your business brand. Design your signature content and your business around your ideal customer. Use the lingo of your ideal customer. Mimic the style of the experts they pay attention to. Create Facebook posts based on what they like to see from businesses similar to yours. Create a brand image with attractive logos, tag lines, and clear messaging about who you are as a business, where you are going, and who you’d like to come with you. Note: A blog is a great place to make this step a reality; you can create, nurture, and control well into the future.

Step 3: Review your previous sales cycle. Ask yourself how long it took to go from prospect to sale with all of your products – even if it was one sale of one product or service. You need this as research for how to cut down on time – and extra steps – in the sales process.

Step 4: Beef up your brand awareness: Use what you’ve learned about the length of time and the steps necessary to close a sale. Did your ideal customers in those past sales convert faster than customers who were not in your ideal target audience? Most likely the answer is yes. Solution: Beef up your brand awareness. Consider using one social media platform more to draw your target customer to your website.

Step 5: Make them testify to your greatness. When you have strong brand awareness around your business, sales that normally take one year shrink to six months or less. Sometimes you can close up in ten minutes with one phone call. The key is to get your ideal clients to say amazing things about you – and record them! Video testimonials are the Holy Grail, and they’re just as tough to get, too. Start out with written testimonials on trusted platforms such as LinkedIn or Yelp. The more of these you have, the shorter the steps in your sales conversion cycle and the more your sales funnel is filled with highly qualified prospects.

Put these steps to work and let me know how you are succeeding with this. I am confident this will shorten the gap between meeting a prospect and closing the sale and ending up with a happy customer.


Mondays with Mike: Preparing To Pitch: Getting To The Decision Maker

There is almost nothing more frustrating than delivering a passionate, compelling sales pitch, only to discover at the end that you’ve wasted your time and spent all your energy making your case to a person who isn’t empowered to pull the trigger.  It doesn’t matter how good a salesperson you are if you’re not sitting down with the decision maker.

But it ain’t always easy to get to the decision maker. 

Let’s face it.  Folks in charge have a million things and people competing for their attention, and if they didn’t figure out a way to make themselves unavailable, they’d spend all day with reps trying to sell alarm systems, better phone service, or advertising.  Decision makers have to say “no,” and they have to get pretty good at it if they want to get anything productive accomplished.  And that makes it hard for you – the one person with something of value to sell – to work your way into an opportunity to pitch the decision maker. 

Until now.

I’ve developed a strategy to get around the defenses and make it into the inner circle.  First, I realized that nearly every decision maker has a sizeable ego.  The ego comes from the hordes of salespeople clamoring for approval, time, and attention, and while ego can be an obstacle to doing business, it can also be a point of entry.

Back when I owned a computer forensics firm, I had my sights set on one particular company – the category leader – who I’d wanted to land as a customer practically forever.  I knew they needed my services, but the challenge was getting to the head honcho and convincing him.  He was impossible to reach.  I called, emailed, tried to leverage mutual friends … no joy.  I swear at one point, I figured he was enjoying my pursuit, and that’s when it occurred to me.

I wrote a letter (yes, a real paper-and-pen letter) and asked him to be my mentor.  I promised not to make a sales pitch, but I asked for fifteen minutes of his valuable time so I could get some advice.  I was shocked when he agreed, and I kept my end of the bargain.  I told him I wanted his perspective on what I could do to make my company better.  He told me.  I took notes, asked a few questions, thanked him for his time, and I left.

When I got back to the office, I went to work.  I looked at his recommendations, and I make a plan to improve on every area he’d mentioned.  My staff and I worked hard to deliver better service and really improve the company from the ground up.  When I’d accomplished the goals I’d set, I called my new mentor and asked for a second meeting, again making the promise not to make it a sales call.  We met, I showed him the progress I’d made, and I asked for another set of suggestions.  Rinse and repeat.

When I showed up for my third meeting, it was clear that the decision maker – my ideal client – took great pride in the changes he’d helped me make, and then the magic happened.  He looked at me and said, “I want to be your customer.”

I’d kept my word.  I hadn’t tried to sell him a thing, but simply having access to the decision maker gave me the opening I needed to convey the dedication I had to being the single best computer forensics guy on the planet.  If I hadn’t asked for his advice, he never would have had the opportunity to get to know me, and he never would have understood how much he needed me.

Now, you’re not going to get to every decision maker simply by asking for some advice.  Some are too busy; some aren’t interested.  But what I’ve found is that when I can get that first meeting, I know somewhere down the road, I’ll convert my new mentor to become my client.  Build your relationship with decision makers, and you’re opening up those choice opportunities.


Selecting a Merchant Service Account Provider

Whether you run a brick-and-mortar retail store or an ecommerce store online, you need to be able to accept credit cards easily. After all, most people pay with them, and you want to make it as painless as possible for people to buy from you. To that end, partnering with a merchant service account provider can provide a simple way for you to process credit card payments.

How the Industry Has Changed

Just a few years ago, your only option to accept credit cards was to invest in one of those bulky credit card swiper machines. Sure, these are still used by lots of businesses, but some changes have opened up your options today.

If you run transactions online, there are online card processing services like Paypal, WePay and QuickBooks Payments. No machines needed (other than your computer). If you accept payments on the go, like at a farmer’s market or book signing, there are mobile payment processors like Square to consider. Many integrate with your existing accounting software, making it simple to reconcile your purchases.

What to Expect in Fees

Naturally, any merchant service provider will charge you to use its services. Some services offer a free plan with a slightly higher per-transaction charge, versus a plan with a monthly fee and a lower per-transaction fee.

You’ll typically pay between 1.75% and 2.9% of the transaction price per sale, plus a nominal flat fee per transaction, like $.50. Your service provider may charge more for transactions that require you to key in the credit card number versus swipe it (these are at higher risk for fraud, so they want to cover their bases).

How to Find the Right Provider

In looking for the right merchant service account provider, start with the accounting software you use, as they may have a credit card processing service, or may partner with companies that offer them.

Ask about fees. It’s definitely worth it to shop around for the best price and service. For example, if you know you’re going to have a high volume of sales, look for a company that will discount the percent they charge you if you hit a certain dollar amount in monthly revenue. Those savings add up fast!

Consider how often you’ll actually use the service. If you plan for sporadic use, it’s probably not worth signing up for a monthly fee package just to cut back on the percent per transaction. You want that monthly fee and savings in per transaction costs to be worth it for the number of transactions you’re processing. Essentially: how much are you willing to spend to be able to accept credit cards?

Ask how quickly funds will hit your account after a transaction. The sooner the better, but some companies take up to a week. Can you afford to wait that long to get paid?

Before you sign up, check with the Better Business Bureau to ensure that the company doesn’t have any complaints against it.

Look for a free trial and give a few different merchant service providers a spin. See which is most intuitive and easy to use, and stick with it.


How to Develop Compelling Content

If you need to drive traffic to your website to generate sales, one surefire way to get your numbers surging upward is with compelling content. Content is what you write for your blog, email newsletter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and anything else digital. Writing powerful content is about having the right vision in your head and the right attitude before you even write one word. 

Write content well and you've cemented your success with sales. Here are a few pointers I've put together for you. Be sure to stick to each one because one without the other will tank the entire project.

  1. Your customers have a problem only you can solve. Identify the things that make your customers cringe. Present the benefits of working with you. It could be, "We handle that for paperwork for you." or, "Our clients have often received 25% more sales from our consulting." The customer will think, "I want a 25% increase!" Now you have their attention.  
  2. Focus on one product or one service at a time. Do not, under any circumstances, list 10 products and expect to win sales. It's actually easier for you to write information about your products when you feature just one.  
  3. Have a conversation. Imagine your ideal customer is sitting across from you at a cafe or restaurant. The words and phrases you would use during that coffee or lunch are the same ones you should use when writing your copy. It's about a conversation, not stuffy facts and figures. Be chill. It will relax your prospect and make them more open to what you have to say. 
  4. Keep the copy short and to-the-point. There's no need to write the Magna Carta here. State the benefits of what you offer. Follow up with features. Include testimonials from happy clients, rinse and repeat. 
  5. Focus on what makes you stand out in your industry. Be sure to relay a special technique or addition to a product no one else in your industry offers. It's amazing how that one key element of your content can be the difference between an "I need this right now!" and a "Maybe I'll buy next quarter when we get the new budget." 
  6. Ask for the sale. Just as with face-to-face sales calls or sales presentations, there comes a time when you have to go for it. Always include a clear way for your prospect to become a customer. It could be clicking a link, replying to an email, or giving you a call. Make sure you give only one option, though. You want the prospect to take immediate action, instead of deciding which way to get in touch with you. 
  7. Monitor your results. Some people only have eyes for their profits and loss statement. You know better than that. Proper positioning of your offers leads to more sales, so be sure to keep an eye on how many people are visiting certain pages on your web site. Note how long they're staying there and then you can make key decisions on which products or services to feature in the future.

I can sum up every one of these seven steps in one sentence: Write knowing who you are, who your customer is, which problem you're going to solve, and how you will ask for the sale. If you do those things, you will get a positive response from your prospects and existing customers.


What Pace is Right for Your Business?

"If everything seems under control, you’re not going fast enough." This quotation comes from notorious race car driver, Mario Andretti. Just as maximum speed was essential to gain him an impressive 111 career wins, it is just as important for businesses that want to get a leg up on the competition. The real gift, however, is in knowing what "fast enough" really is versus what "too fast" looks like. Here are some tips on how to make sure that your business moves as quickly as possible — without crashing into too many walls.

Look to the competition for clues.

When deciding exactly how quickly your business needs to run, keep in mind that you're not looking to break any speed records. You only need to be a bit faster than the competition to establish the pace that your business needs to achieve. When other similar businesses seem to be passing you by, try to find out what they're doing and how they're doing it.

Do rival stores move customer lines faster simply because more employees are at the counter or do they possibly use a more efficient checkout process with less paperwork than your store requires? Does your service business need to turn away clients during peak seasons, while other companies make liberal use of trusted contractors during these times? You may not be able to do everything that they're doing — particularly if their operations are significantly larger than yours. But, every idea that works for you will be golden.

Business volume requires speed.

Your overall goal is to maintain maximum business volume at all times, so look at your work force and other resources to figure out how many products or services you can realistically turn out for maximum sales.

The good news is that increasing speed does not always require a large cash outlay, so start by examining areas where you can increase efficiency. If your business sells its own products, inspect the product assembly process. The chances are good that you will find activities that you can combine to avoid duplication of efforts or change the process order to avoid bottlenecks. Similarly, have you looked at the sales force process? Can you spread out sales districts or otherwise rearrange the force to increase sales by covering a larger or more prolific geographic area?

Of course, at some point, you have to spend money to make money. You may need to increase head count to turn out more products and sales. But, don't forget that an investment in automation might be a viable alternative. Whether you use machines to count and pack widgets, or you look into computer software to automate tedious administrative processes, every minute saved can become a boon to business outcomes.

Too much haste can make waste.

The key to Mario Andretti's racing success may have been speed, but he probably wouldn't be alive today if he didn't know where to draw the line between top speed and too much speed. Luckily, bodily injuries are likely not a major concern within your business. Still, your entire business will need life support if you choose speed over quality.

Strike the right balance between the tortoise and the hare. You might increase production by eliminating excessive quality checks, but too few quality controls actually increase production of returned products. Or, your tax accounting business won't increase profits if you spend too much time attending IRS audits due to significant tax return preparation errors. As you increase the pace of your business, always monitor closely to make sure that quality remains stellar.

When you think you're moving quickly, try to add a notch.

Any business will reach its peak pace at some point, but never become complacent. When you think your hamburger restaurant can keep pace with no more than 100 take-out customers during each hour of the lunchtime rush, maybe a change in advance prep can accommodate 3 more customers per hour.

Doing the math conservatively based on a $5.00 burger and a two-hour business lunch period, that change will bring you an additional $60 per day. If the change doesn't create additional cost, that pace increase can earn your restaurant $15,600 per year. It's not huge, but it's not chopped liver, either.

Err on the side of cautious adventure.

Mario Andretti saw his share of crashes and rollovers, but he's still considered one of the most successful American race car drivers — and he's still alive to brag about it. At age 75, he's no longer a race car driver, of course, but he boasts many new successes, including a winery and a petroleum business. He has approached every aspect of his life with a sense of adventure. Like Andretti, your small business needs to take some calculated risks to speed to the finish line and beyond.


Mondays with Mike: 3 Reasons Why Small Businesses are Better than Big

12-21 Small is better smallWe all know big businesses have a number of advantages.  They’re better capitalized, better known, and many of them have the benefit of years of history.  It’s easy to get caught in the trap of wondering if small companies will ever have a chance to catch up.  Here’s the good news:  Not only do small businesses have a shot at taking a piece of the market, but there are actually advantages to being the little guy.  What makes your small business better?

  1. Speed.  Say you decide your business needs to begin taking advantage of the positive exposure Twitter can give a company.  You can literally get started in a matter of minutes.  Your ability to make changes at lightning speed is a definite advantage over massive corporations that would take months to assess the problem, make recommendations to the powers-that-be, and maybe – sometime in 2016 – get around to setting up a Twitter account.  You’re able to take action right away.  Given the speed at which markets shift, being able to move quickly is more important then ever before.
  2. Efficient decision-making.  When Amazon started the Kindle Unlimited program last year, I decided right away I wanted to participate in order to get my books into as many readers’ hands as possible.  Big publishers – the kind that require analysis, market research, and the agreement of a committee – took far longer to make the decision, and that gave independent authors like me a big advantage.  Until the big guys got in the game, independent authors had the advantage of a large pool of readers with limited choices.  Getting into a new program or a new method of going to market early means far less competition – an advantage for those of us who can make decisions quickly and efficiently.  Again, efficiency makes you able to pivot at light speed, while big companies are like unwieldy ocean liners that require miles to change direction.
  3. The underdog role.  Don’t ever underestimate the public’s love for the little guy.  We root for small business, and the growing emphasis on shopping local benefits those of us who operate small companies.  Anything you can do to emphasize your role as the challenger, the underdog, will rally support for your brand.  Focus on your company’s relationship to your community, and make it clear that you’re in business for reasons other than just stacking up a bunch of cash so your CEO can get an 8 million dollar bonus. 

Your ability to move quickly and make decisions independently allows you to interact with consumers efficiently and with a personal touch.  You’re not a faceless corporation shifting profits overseas; you’re a local employer whose roots make you just like the people your company serves.

Emphasize your independence.  Embrace it.  Let your customers know they matter far more to you than they ever could to a big, faceless business.  Make the advantages of being lean and agile work to your very best advantage.


Mondays with Mike: Taking a Step Back from your Business

11-23 Step back from biz smallMost entrepreneurs I know – myself included – eat, sleep, and breathe our businesses, at least at the beginning.  It’s easy to see how it happens.  We start with nothing but a great idea and determination, and we nurture our companies.  We’re proud of what we’ve built, and we want to see it continue to grow.

But there are times when we need a break, and it can be very difficult to walk away and trust that our business can survive without our hands-on, day-to-day attention.

Meet Donnie Miller, CEO of Technical Adventures.  He started his full-service IT company about ten years ago, and he did it just the way most of us have.  He did everything – sales, customer service, numbers, lead technician, fire extinguisher, and chief bottle washer – all by himself.  And he needed a break.  He hadn’t taken a vacation in years, and his company had plateaued.  What did he do?

He walked away and took a six-month sabbatical.  Now he didn’t just walk out the door one day with no notice and vanish.  He took specific steps to set his company up to run in his absence.  His steps:

  1. Hire the right people and put them in the right positions.  Donnie had hired great, trustworthy people, folks he could rely on to run his business well, but it wasn’t until he actually took a day off – physically left the office – that his employees really started to shine.  If your staff relies on you to be the final arbiter of every issue that arises, you’ll never see them reach their potential. 
  2. Start small.  Donnie started by leaving for a few days at a time, checking in by phone.  He realized quickly that he was used to feeling needed and the phone calls were really more for his benefit than that of his managers.  When Donnie figured out that his staff would call when they needed him, he was ready for longer breaks from the office.
  3. Assess results.  After Donnie’s first six-month sabbatical, his business had dropped by thirty percent, mostly because he’d been the entire sales force before his departure.  He put people in place to handle sales, evaluated the successes and failures of the systems he’d put in place, and made the necessary changes. 
  4. Look at the big picture.  One of the chief benefits of Donnie’s absence was the fact that he knew his company could manage everyday matters without his assistance.  That freed him up for all sorts of new projects.  He could focus on all the new ideas and growth-oriented projects he’d never had time for back when he handled everything personally.  He was finally able to steer his company the way he’d always wanted.

It takes guts (and no small amount of humility) to step back from your business and let it run without you.  We get so wrapped up in thinking our value is in our hands-on micromanagement that we forget it’s our vision that’s our chief asset.  By following Donnie’s example and removing our ego from the equation, we often find the solution is far simpler than we realize.  Stepping back can give you and your company opportunity to grow.  


Is Speed the Best Way for Small Businesses to Attract Customers?

The fast casual business model enjoys continued success for a reason that goes beyond low prices: customers are busy people who see time as money. Every minute that they spend waiting for service is a minute lost to other daily activities. This same concept holds true for any business — from store-fronts to consulting services. But in some cases, faster service can cause a speedy customer exit. Before taking action to accelerate your operations, you have to ask three basic questions to make sure that your changes attract customers, rather than deter them.

1. Will Speed Reduce Quality?

The first question may seem obvious, but you really need to carefully forecast the product or service outcome before you decide how to go into high gear. Maybe speeding up will give you advertising bragging rights because you can deliver custom widgets in half the time of your competitors. If you save time because of a unique manufacturing process that continues to deliver high-quality widgets, you'll have loyal customers. If you reduce production time by eliminating time-consuming (but important) quality assurance checks, however, former loyal customers will stay away in droves when their widgets break down moments after their purchase.

2. Does Speed Require that One Size Fits All?

Next, ask yourself if you can deliver the precise product or service that your customers need at high speeds. Just about every product requires some degree of customization; grocery stores even offer potatoes in a range of types and sizes. The real question is whether your product or service lends itself to offering the right variety right off the shelf or if you need to customize the product to make every sale.

To make this decision, you have to carefully analyze your customer needs. If you sell vinyl siding, for example, sky blue might be a perfect choice for some homeowners, but others may need gray mixed in to blend more naturally with the roof color. Offering stock colors allows you to complete installations more quickly, but it will send many customers to other vendors. If you can speed up the color customization process, however, you offer the kind of speed and flexibility that can attract a broader range of customers.

3. Can Speed Alienate Customers?

Not all time is created equal. Customers don't want to waste time, but they often view the time that you spend with them as a commodity. Service businesses are often particularly tied to time, with medical offices being a primary example. Patients typically (and correctly) place more trust in doctors who spend more time with them. Time is as much a part of the product as a cure. Cut down on that time and patients may feel like they are part of an assembly line. Unless you have no competition, they will look for another doctor who shows greater respect for patients.

Waiting time, on the other hand, is dead time for customers and there are usually any number of ways that you can provide services more quickly. Medical offices show respect for patients by getting them out of the waiting room and into treatment rooms more quickly by providing nurses who handle preliminary tests before the doctor walks in. If they are located in shopping centers, they may provide patients with 15-minute warning pagers. Auto parts stores can dedicate a separate line for customers with time-consuming questions. Customers ordering specific parts can zip through the process — order-takers at the counter quickly deliver a list of parts to order-pickers, who rapidly fulfill customer needs from a well-organized warehouse.

Efficiency is Always a Worthwhile Goal

Time is money for your customers and for your business, so it makes sense to constantly look for ways to deliver high-quality products and services as efficiently as possible. Even if you can't advertise "the world's fastest service" or "customized wedding gowns while you wait," your customers will recognize your company's value and pass the word along to others. Remember that word-of-mouth is often the best advertising of all.


Starting Small: Why It Might Be Your Best Bet for Business Success

8-19 business growth smallWhile you may have a large-scale idea for a new business, sometimes it’s better to take just a small segment of your plan and focus on starting your business on a small level. If this is your first business, you may want to target an endeavor that will help you build skills without wiping out your nest egg. A business that can succeed on a small level gives you great training wheels for building the experience, knowledge, and competency you’ll need to take your company to the next level. Here are several reasons why it might be your best bet  to start small for business success.

1. You’ll Save Money

Starting with a narrow scope of business means you can run it out of your extra bedroom or den. You won’t have to rent office space or furnish a suite. There are even tax incentives or deductions you can take to save money as you build your business on the small side. If you do need specialized space for your endeavor, you can investigate subleasing space from other entrepreneurs, which reduces costs.

2. You’ll Need Less Capital to Get Started

Bootstrapping is an effective strategy that allows you to grow into your business and keep initial financial outlays on the low end. Instead of stressing over technology requirements and phone systems, you can concentrate on creating your sales funnel or refining your product. The fancy phone system can come later (if at all). A lean business structure keeps you flexible and focused.

3. Learn as You Go

When you base your business on a hobby, you can start by making a handful of products, selling them, then growing when you’re ready. As your business takes off, you can educate yourself in other areas of running a business, creating a formal business structure, managing employees, and meeting regulatory requirements.

4. You Can Start Today

If you set your sights on a small enterprise, the barriers are lower and you can get going more quickly. You don’t need a huge infrastructure, massive staff, or complete line of products to get started. You have no excuse for not starting your business today.

5. Your Sweat Equity is Valuable

By doing everything yourself, you learn all that's needed to keep your company going. Of course, it’s great to hire out those things that you are not able to do, but if you have direct knowhow those experiences inform your executive decisions down the road. It will also help you make better decisions that impact your customers. While financial investment is necessary to building a business, your sweat equity is just as necessary to growing your endeavor. 

6. It’s Simpler to Run

Smaller companies are lean machines and often have higher profit margins because they are simpler to run. There are fewer costs associated with overhead and administrative requirements with a small-scale business, and you can reassess market changes frequently and pivot when necessary. When big jobs come through, you can team with other small companies or hire contractors to deal with the workflow if it’s more than you can handle.

Slow and steady wins the race. Start small. Test the market. Grow with intention. Sample the cheese before you bet the farm on your idea. When it comes to small business success, the truth is: scaled-down, slower growth companies do just as well as their big sisters.




 
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