Category Archives: Business
realize this one sounds a bit crazy, but keep reading. I’m not suggesting that anyone go out and create more weaknesses. No, that’s not a way that anyone is going to make a livable wage as a consultant. Nor are you going to win many clients by stating that’s what you are doing.
Here’s what I mean and how to do it.
There are things in this world we are afraid of. Or things in this world we are hesitant to do. There are things in this world we have never even considered doing…like eating uncooked carrots or carrot cake or wanting to have anything to do with carrots. But when you thoroughly look at the numbers on carrots…they are definitely good for you.
I had never considered doing videos. In fact, standing in front of a camera and trying to sound intelligent scared the heck out of me. And for money? No way. But a client asked me to do it, I somehow said “yes,” they paid me to do it, and now I routinely – weekly – do opinion and how-to articles both for my consulting practice and for my clients. I’m starting to get asked to do a lot of speaking engagements. Haven’t done those yet because they involve a lot of traveling which I’m trying to avoid because I have a bazillion kids…but I might do that soon, too.
So, how do we maximize our weaknesses?
Go outside your comfort zone and own it.
My entire consulting practice – at least this second version of it – was built off of one project management article I wrote that another organization stumbled on. They asked me to do more. And that turned into more, and new requests to do other things, and then requests to lead projects, and on and on. All because I went outside my comfort zone and wrote one single article. We have to continually do that in our consulting practices to grow as professionals, stay fresh, stay challenged, and continue to offer things to our potential client base. Always offering just the same things will put you out of business fast.
Rather than just come at clients with the same old offerings, ask them what they want or need. It may be very similar to what you’re offering, but just different enough to give you a learning experience while you get paid for it. In the end you’ll have something new to offer the next client. This is how most of my consulting practice offerings have originated.
Embrace unknown technologies.
A client asked me to write a white paper on VDI – virtual desktop interface. I didn’t have any experience with VDI products or implementations, but when you’re offered a large price to do something like that, you fake it till you make it if you’re pretty certain you’re up to the task and can learn along the way. So I did it and it turned out great. Same for when I was leading a project for a client in an industry that my parent company had never touched before. We all learned along the way, but we did it. And now they can offer that project management and development option to others in that challenging industry. It definitely maximizes your weakness in the short term, but opens up new doors quickly and new revenue opportunities as well.
Finding the right idea to start a small business is the first step in your startup efforts. The challenging part is building a brand around the idea that people will remember. Your great idea enters into a competition with other peoples’ great ideas to gain the eyes of the consumer. How can you build your brand in ways that will keep you in the minds of your consumers?
Start With a Good Logo
A logo helps distinguish your business from all the others out there that sell similar products and services. The pictorial nature of a logo – even if it’s just words printed in a stylized way – helps customers remember you and helps them think of your company as an established, reputable small business. Your logo should look professional, and optionally, include an image that’s in some way associated with your industry. Unless you are an artist or are very proficient in graphic arts, it’s best to have your logo professionally designed for you. There are many sites online that provide that service at reasonable prices.
Once you have a logo, be sure to include it on everything associated with your business. It should be on your website, social media pages, business card, letterhead, envelopes, fliers, giveaways and print advertising. Try to think of the colors in your logo as your brand colors, too, and use those colors whereever appropriate (such as your website.)
Create a Catch Slogan or Tagline
Slogans (also called taglines) are very short phrases that express what your business is about and – more importantly – a beneficial result your customers derive from the business or product. When you create a slogan, it helps distinguish your business from others and make it more memorable. M & M’s slogan, “Melts in your mouth, not your hand,” is one example. Another: Bounty’s tagline, “The quicker picker upper.” Use the slogan where ever you use your logo, and consider having a version of your logo created that includes the slogan.
Get Ready to Hustle
Brand awareness is simply marketing and although social media and other forms of digital marketing have added new options, nothing has changed. The people who hustle the most will find the most success. Don’t look to technology to be your hustler. It’s all up to you. Online marketing is only one channel among all of your networking and offline strategy. Door to door and cold calling aren’t dead.
As entrepreneur Mark Cuban says, “Work like there is somebody working 24 hours a day to take it all away from you.”
Get Others in on the Hustle
You don’t have to be the only one that hustles. You need some super fans hustling for you. In modern advertising speak these are, “brand advocates.” Maybe they had such an awesome experience that they talk about it online to their large social following. Leverage those people. Offer free product or a referral fee for anybody they send to you.
Find More Hustlers
Do you know how Uber rose to power? The company looked for the big name social media influencers and offered free rides. You might not have the marketing power to invite Kendall Jenner or some other giant name in the social media landscape but local and regional bloggers with a huge following will work too.
You’ve seen infographics—those illustrations filled with facts and other valuable information. If your business is in the consulting sector or some other professional or semi-professional niche, leverage your status as an expert and create a shareable infographic full of facts and figures that your potential customer would want to know. Don’t skimp on this, though. Make it really good. Hire an expert to design it.
Design a Tool
Have you ever taken one of those online quizzes? They’re fun, engaging, and immensely shareable. But they don’t have to be, “who is your ideal mate” type quizzes. They could be something that the customer finds value in relating to your business. If you’re in the roofing business, it could be a quiz to rate how much life is left on their roof, for example. You’ll likely need a programmer to help with this but that isn’t as expensive as you might think.
Sponsor a Community Event
Many small businesses have put their logo in a high school program, on a local 5k, or some other valuable community event. The problem is that your logo isn’t enough. Don’t just sponsor the event, show up! Bring water if it’s an athletic event. Run an all-day contest of some sort, and most important, meet people. Create relationships.
Social Media Ads
If you want to get your business in front of the eyes of potential customers, you have to advertise. If you have no budget for paid advertising, the chances of gaining traction are slim. Even $50 per month for social media advertising is better than nothing.
Other businesses in and out of your space are trying to keep their brand in front of their customers too. Explore strategic ways to partner up. A website building company could partner with a video producer to create content for each other or a plumber and electrician could advertise together as a complete solution for somebody doing home upgrades. Splitting the cost of advertising is a cheap way to get your brand to many more people than you could on your own.
A recent report published on Adweek found that 49% of people still prefer brands to contact them through e-mail. You can use social media, text messaging, or phone calls but all of those combined were only 22% of people’s first choice. Look at Mailchimp or one of the other e-mail marketing platforms to get started.
Old School Mail
You probably think sending people old fashioned mail is dead but you would be wrong. That same survey found that 22% of people still respond to direct mail campaigns—especially if they’re 35 or older. Many of the strategies we listed above could be made into a direct mail campaign.
Sadly, we live in a world where outstanding customer service is becoming an exception rather than a norm. Your brand will stay top-of-mind to your customers if they look forward to dealing with you. Chic Fil A has made a name for itself not just with great food but with equally great customer service.
Are you a decisive person? If your answer is, “I don’t know,” you’re probably not! Some people are better at making decisions than others. Some people are better at making the RIGHT decision better than others, and some people could use a little help.
Regardless of which category you fall into, as a business owner, you’re likely faced with making decisions all day long, some that could have lasting impacts.
Learn to make better decisions faster using these six steps:
1. Quit Trying to Achieve Perfection
Economist Herbert Simon wrote about “satisficing” in 1956. Basically, a satisficer takes action as soon as their criteria are met. It’s not a matter of settling for less than the best. Instead, it’s setting and sticking to criteria that you know you’ll be satisfied with once they’re met.
Maximizers are different. They want to make the best or optimal decision. Even if their criteria are met, they will keep looking for a better option. They’re never truly satisfied because they believe there’s a better option that they couldn’t find. Satisficers are happier because they spend less mental energy trying to find perfection. Constantly looking for more information comes at a cost. At some point you have to stop and make a decision.
2. Think Like Franklin
Make Better Decisions Get our free guideJoseph Priestley was the nephew of Benjamin Franklin. Priestley wrote to his uncle about a tough life decision he had to make. Franklin told him to use something he called moral algebra. Divide a piece of paper in half and write the pros on one side and the cons on another. After thinking about it for a few days, when you find a pro and con that are of equal weight, cross each of them off your lists. What is left is the best answer.
3. Go with Your Gut
Psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer wrote a book called “Gut Feelings.” He said that we’re wired to make quick decisions based on limited information. “Heuristics,” as he calls it, is simply taking efficient cognitive shortcuts to make better decisions faster.
To break down all of the science, think of this: Every decision has numerous variables you could consider, but if Gigerenzer is correct, you will quickly decide which are the most important and only consider those.
You might be thinking that considering less information is quite an ignorant approach to making a decision. If that’s your view, there’s a large body of psychologists that agree with you, but Gigerenzer asked a computer to analyze which Chicago high school a pair of hypothetical parents should most consider for their child. The computer weighed 18 variables using a complicated formula. In the end it only considered 2 of the 18 variables to make the choice. Gigerenzer argues that this is proof that more information isn’t better.
Working with clients and customers in different time zones is challenging. It’s also a change in how you think. Unless you have experience in national and international business, thinking in terms of time zones, cultures, and non-standard work hours will take time to deal with and get used to. Here are a few tips to help.
1. Use Your Phone
Sometimes the most useful features of your phone are tucked away and easy to forget about. One of those is the world clock. If you have clients in multiple localities around the world, put each of them into the world clock on your phone until the time zone differences become automatic.
When the time changes in the United States, that time zone app will become important again as you figure out who changed and who didn’t.
2. Establish Time Zone Rules
When you start working with a new client, have the time zone talk. When setting deadlines, meetings, and other time sensitive correspondence, will you set dates and times using their local time or yours?
Since you should make things as easy as possible for your client, offer to always use their local time. Set that as the standard for all conversations going forward. It might seem silly to talk about it but any business owner who deals with non-local clients will tell you of the confusion of setting phone or online meetings with some customers.
3. Be Time Considerate
If you’re working with customers in California and you’re in the Eastern time zone, be kind and don’t schedule anything until at least early afternoon unless they prefer early morning meetings. On the other hand, if you have a client in London, schedule things for early morning your time since they’re 5 hours ahead. And be careful of when you text people. It’s easy to fire off text messages without thinking about somebody who is sleeping that has their phone sitting next to them on their nightstand.
4. Keep Constant Communication
You’re rarely going to see your clients outside of your geographic area, most likely. In the age of technology, it’s easy to be effective without being physically on site, but at our core, we’re still more comfortable talking to humans rather than computers and smart phones.
Give your customers a sense of comfort by communicating as constantly as appropriate. Schedule Skype or Facetime calls every once in a while, to keep the human element involved. Don’t be annoyingly present but be easily reachable during normal business hours—and after hours, actually.
5. 24-Hour Work Day
If you’re an online business selling products, for example, your reach is worldwide. You will need people ready to answer customer service calls 24 hours per day. Some companies use call centers for this but if you don’t plan to outsource customer service, either have a team scheduled or go the route of Apple and have work-from-home customer service reps around the world.
6. Outsource to Where Your Customers Are
Companies often solve time zone issues by outsourcing to countries around the world. Call centers, manufacturing, software development, and administrative tasks can happen anywhere in the world now. Especially for small business owners, foreign outsourcing might feel a little scary—how will you know if they’re working and doing a good job? How do you find the right workers?
With a small investment of your time, you can not only help your own business, you can help a person or people around the world by providing a job and steady income.
If you believe in keeping labor in your home country, foreign outsourcing isn’t for you but there are plenty of business and humanitarian advantages to taking work out of the country.
Along with time zone issues can also come cultural considerations. Workers familiar with that culture can improve the customer service experience while also removing the time zone issues from your plate.
7. Have Boundaries
Breakfast in one time zone is dinner in another. Sundays where you work is Monday somewhere else. If you have a business with international reach, you could literally work all day, every day—and some business owners come close to doing that.
You owe it to yourself and your family to put work away at some point. Chic Fil A had revenue of more than $6 billion in 2015 yet they are closed on Sundays. More work isn’t necessarily better work. Take some time to rest and relax.
Words that come to mind when you’re trying to build an online presence—overwhelming, daunting, frustrating, and stressful, right? Not only is everybody competing for customer eyes and ears online, you have very little time to invest into what has become an essential task to business growth.
The good news is that you don’t have to stress out about this. Keep calm and get started.
1. Make it Utilitarian
Putting a sign next to your cash register or a little Facebook icon on your website isn’t going to cut it. Printing your website URL on your receipts won’t get you anywhere. Nobody is going to engage with you simply because you asked them to. Give them a reason to find you online.
Examples: Run a contest. Ask people to post pictures of themselves using your product. If people rely on your company for information, post it on your website or social media first. Find a reason that your customers have to find you online.
2. Limited Offers
You would think that people would be too wise to fall for the hard sell limited offer. NOPE! Customers don’t want to miss out on something that is limited. Having limited offers on the home page of your website and sending out promotions will build your customer base. There’s plenty of market research that shows that telling people not to miss out still works.
3. Create Advocates
You don’t have time to build your online presence but you can put people to work to do it for you. You just need advocates. Here’s one way: Let’s say you offer a $99 service that teaches people how to cook Mexican food. (No doubt, an amazing community service.)
You could offer people a $20 discount if they post a status on social media about the class. You can even create that ad and all they have to do is hit the share button and they get a coupon code for $20 off. Pretty cool, huh?
4. Improve Your Website
Your website is a giant piece of science. Every square centimeter matters. You should craft it as meticulously as you did your product or service. Every piece of it matters. Keep these things in mind:
a. Tell your customer who you are, what you do, and how they get it. If you don’t communicate that within the first 5 seconds of them finding your site, you will lose a large portion of your sales.
b. Tell them how you will solve their problem. Why are they looking for you? Speak to their problem and tell them how you can make it better.
c. Get rid of most of the text. They aren’t reading it anyway. Every word matters. Make all of them impactful. Less is more.
d. Don’t talk about yourself. They’re more interested in themselves than they are you or your business.
When you make your online presence into something for your customer instead of something that talks about you, they’ll begin to show up.
5. Your Social Media Playbook
There are literally millions of articles about how to use social media but here are a few quick tips.
a. Not all businesses will benefit from social media but most do.
b. Pick one social media platform that matches your demographic. A teen business might use Snapchat while a business catering to those 30 and older might use Facebook.
c. You don’t need to be on every network. Pick 1 or 2.
d. Talk about your customers. Not yourself
e. Create community. Advertise sparingly.
f. If you want to advertise, pay for online advertising. It’s cheap compared to print.
g. Respond. If people start a conversation with your brand, continue it.
6. E-mail Isn’t Dead
Uninformed “experts” are sounding the alarm that e-mail is dead but the facts are that it’s still the best form of online outreach. Here’s how to do it right.
a. E-mail quality content less often. Once per week or every other week is fine.
b. Target customers. Sending offers for children to singles or couples without children is annoying to them, for example. Know your customer and send e-mails that they want to receive.
b. Use imagery. Pictures and videos are essential for customer engagement.
c. Include a call to action. It might not to be to purchase something but a learn more button or some other way for them to further engage is essential.
d. E-mail lawfully. Ask their permission before adding them to a list. Know the CAN-SPAM laws.
7. Join with Another Business to Drive Online Engagement
Looking for other businesses that have the same type of consumer is a great way to build your own customer base without having to pay high marketing fees. Partnering with them on a promotion is a great way to introduce your brand to more people. Work together to come up with an outreach where you could share costs and get bigger exposure.
8. Keeps Things Current
Too many business owners build a website without any plan of how to keep it fresh. People won’t pay attention if you don’t have anything new to say. Whether you build your online presence yourself or hire somebody, have a plan for constant updating. Who will own the website and social media? The ongoing maintenance is just as important as the initial build.