Business Forecasting Helps You Make Money

Summer 2017 will officially arrive on June 21 and the warm temperatures promise to seduce us with sunshine and flowers. Summer is the primary vacation season and many businesses slow down with its arrival , with the exception of tourist industry service providers and wedding planners and their usual sub-contractors: caterers, florists, photographers, DJs and videographers, many of whom are Freelancers.  The rest of us, however, have to get creative and try to maintain our discipline and resolve as the heat and humidity conspire against ambition.  This lovely time of year can present a real financial challenge for Freelancers.  How can we remain productive and scare up some billable hours? Summer is the ideal time to devote attention to positioning  your venture to make money in the fourth quarter and beyond.

I suggest that you conduct business forecasting at your organization this summer. Business forecasting is the cornerstone of business planning and business planning is the foundation of enabling business profitability.  Forecasting helps business owners and Freelancers to objectively examine the monetary value of each revenue stream that the venture generates, so that it becomes very clear which lines of business are making money and the amount of profitability of each line.  Forecasting shows you where you should devote your resources and in that way generate increased billable hours, revenues and profits.

Forecasting in your Freelance venture is crucial: client work, teaching assignments, writing assignments, subcontracting work for other Freelancers and maybe even an under-the-radar odd job along the way to fatten the coffers are among the business activities in which we engage to maintain cash-flow.  It’s very useful to know which of these lines of business is worth more attention and those that you may want to drop, since the returns are meager.

Let’s face reality—we B2B Freelance service providers often don’t know when our next client will come along, or what s/he will want to spend on services when that happens.  It’s so easy to wind up scrambling from new client to new client without getting much repeat business, or adequate control over our earning capacity. That’s why it’s vital that we:

  1. Identify where the earning potential really is (and it might not be client work)
  2. Create strategies and action plans that promote successful participation in those of your business activities that are the most profitable

There are thousands of Freelancers who make their real money not from client work, which can be both scarce and erratic, but on other related business lines.  For hiilucky Freelancers who have national renown, that could be book sales, paid speaking engagements and paid writing assignments.  For others, it’s their coaching business that is the real profit engine.  In such cases, the client work is necessary to lend credibility and enable access to the other, much more profitable, activities.

So how does one conduct business forecasting? If you use Intuit QuickBooks software, you can build a model on that system.  If you have at least three or four years’ of client data in QuickBooks, you will receive much valuable, actionable information about your business, including:

  • Profitability and profit margins
  • Average revenue /client
  • Average billable hours /client

If you keep your financial data on Excel, review the past five years’ of invoices (or as far back as possible in a newer venture) and identify your top five or ten most lucrative revenue streams, whether that is client work or other related projects.  Invoice dates will reveal seasonal revenue generating patterns and the invoices will remind you of which of your services sells the most and which the least.  Billable hours and hourly or project fee rates should also be noted. It will take longer to generate the data, but as with QuickBooks, much valuable and actionable data can be extracted from your Excel based financials.

There are two basic methods of business forecasting, Qualitative and Quantitative. Qualitative forecasting models are based on market research and they’re most effective in predicting short-term cycles. Quantitative forecasting models are based on data and the approach is more effective than the qualitative model in predicting long-term cycles.

There are various types of quantitative forecasting approaches and for small and medium size business forecasting, the Time Series Method is most useful.  The Time Series Method uses historical financial data to predict future results.  When you go to your bank for a business loan and five years’ of your financials are requested, the loan officer is using the Time Series Method to predict whether you will be able to generate enough cash-flow and sales revenues to repay the loan on time.

Once you have your financials in hand, Step 2 of Business Forecasting is the development of a marketing plan that contains strategies and action plans that create the road map that your organization will follow as you seek to expand those business lines that generate the most revenues for you and consider dropping those that perform poorly.

When you see with irrefutable data that reveals which of your services brings home the most money, you will likely get a clearer picture of your ideal clients and the messages and marketing platforms that resonate with them.  An amended pricing strategy and/or sales distribution method may be instituted, as might tweaking of your business model.

Business forecasting reveals patterns in client activity that are often overlooked and the process allows you to anticipate demand for your services, reveals which services historically have produced the greatest sales revenues, reveals the types of clients that spend the most with you and in general, shows on what side the toast is buttered.

With objective confirmation of your best client categories and most popular services, you can concentrate on how to access those clients, including bigger budget clients within the categories and you’ll know how best to sell to them.  You will work not only hard, but also smart, to grow your client list and increase billable hours, revenues and profits and that will be the best use of your time during this glorious summer.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

On Conducting an Interview

Because you are an ambitious Freelance consultant, you regularly provide content marketing that showcases your expertise and reinforces your brand with current and potential clients and, when good fortune intervenes, motivates them to give you some much-needed billable hours.  As you plan your activities, you may at some point reach out to a fellow Freelancer, a good client, or another expert and ask to include that individual in your content marketing by way of an interview.  Featuring another perspective every once in a while keeps your marketing content fresh and more interesting to the audience.  I’m thinking of doing exactly that sometime soon, if my target interview guest is willing to speak with me on the record.  Stay tuned.

At some point in your professional life it is likely that you may decide, or be asked, to interview someone, so you would be wise to learn the process.  Successfully conducted interviews hinge on good preparation.  While some of us may feel that interviewing is an intuitive skill and that we should be able to manage the process spontaneously, that will not be the case.  You could probably muddle through, but why not take a couple of hours and learn how to get it right?

Think first of an interview guest to invite.  Who do you know who might tell a good story, or share some useful information that will be appreciated by your audience and does it seem possible that you’ll be able to convince that person to speak with you? 

Second, consider the basic interview format. Will your guest agree to a face-to-face Q & A that will be required for a video, or will it be a phone interview that is suitable for your podcast, blog, or newsletter? Email interviews often do not produce the best results according to many journalists. 

Third, brainstorm questions or topics that might be interesting to your audience and play to your guests’ strengths. You may want to write up a list of potential questions, or make note of possible topics. Visit the Twitter feed, Facebook page, LinkedIn profile and conduct an internet search to find out what may have been written by or about your proposed guest.

Invite your potential interview guests in a phone call. Some requests require a more personal approach than email.  Immediately upon reaching an agreement with your guest, send a confirmation email.  Two or three days in advance of the interview, send a second email to confirm the interview time and place and specify whether a phone call or in-person meeting will take place.

In all formats, introduce the guest to your audience and give a brief bio. If your interview will be video or podcast (audio), welcome your guest warmly and thank him/her for agreeing to appear. Your audience needs to hear, and see, this greeting. If the interview will appear in text you will still give a warm welcome and thanks and that exchange will appear in print.  

As you ask questions be friendly and upbeat, to help your guest to feel comfortable and safe.  Avoid “gotcha” questions designed to make the guest feel judged. Keep your mouth shut and practice active listening as you take notes as the guest speaks  (you can record as well and if you plan to do that, ask permission).  If you hear a particular word, phrase, or aspect of the topic that piques your curiosity or seems to give unexpected insight into the question, enter it into your notes and then ask a follow-up question. In this way, your interview will become a conversation, rather than a stilted Q & A session.  The best interviews are what seem to be a relaxed and intelligent conversation between the host and guest.

FYI, it is sometimes necessary to ask the same question two or even three times, in different ways, to persuade your guest to give a complete answer. It’s important to build rapport throughout the interview to make the subject feel comfortable sharing information.

You may need to nudge the interview back on track if your subject goes off on a tangent, in particular if this is a video or podcast conversation.  A useful phrase could be, “How does that relate to the big picture”? Conversely, you might draw out more information from a reticent guest when you ask, “Do you have a story that will illustrate your point”? At the end of the interview, thank your guest for participating and enlightening the audience.

If the interview will appear as a podcast or video, your guest may appear for 15 – 20 minutes, unless his/her topic is especially compelling.  If you are interviewing for your blog or newsletter, 15-20 minutes is probably still a good time limit for the conversation. Overwhelming your guest or audience is to be avoided.

Interviewing a guest for your chosen content marketing platform will build your audience and enhance the brand of your guest as well.  Create a win-win situation for you and the guest by carefully considering the benefits that will accrue to each of you through the proposed interview and be sensitive also to the interests of the audience.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Portfolio Style Consulting

The typical Freelance consultant offers to the marketplace a flagship tangible or intangible professional service that is accompanied by several quasi-related supporting services that s/he is qualified to deliver, according to the needs and budgets of clients.

Freelance consultants find it necessary to create multiple revenue streams generated from an array of  services as a way to make the Freelance life financially and professionally rewarding.  Even in the best of times, consulting projects can have infamously long sales cycles and Freelancers must guard against significant revenue gaps. Furthermore, offering more services is a way to attract more clients and billable hours.

While some Freelancers are able to make a good living in consultation with just one or two clients, an arrangement that is no doubt considerably less stressful and time-consuming than juggling several responsibilities, each with its own location, decision-makers, deadliness, cultures and invoicing rhythms, that is nonetheless a very vulnerable position.  Just as the tide comes in, it eventually recedes; any client can choose to decrease billable hours or terminate the relationship altogether, just because.

So we spread our eggs amongst several baskets as a way to appeal to a broader range of clients and mitigate risk.  We must be aware, however, that explaining our various competencies in trust-inspiring language that successfully bundles everything together under one inclusive brand umbrella is perhaps the greatest challenge of marketing and selling the services of a Freelance consultancy.

Like it or not, clients tend to pigeon-hole the consulting contractors that they know, to make it easier to remember whom to call when the need for external expertise arises.  As a result, the Freelancer has two self-branding promotional tasks that will help clients understand how and when our services might be useful:

  1. Position oneself as a highly knowledgeable and trustworthy expert.
  2. Become known as the go-to consulting expert for a given competency.

Convincing “verbal packaging” is urgently needed.  I’ve recently seen the term portfolio suggested as an elegantly simple way to describe how Freelancers help clients to achieve mission-critical goals.  The portfolio system allows Freelancers to present our unique skill sets, the sum of our experience and judgment and the outcomes we regularly deliver, packaged similarly to financial services products, a format that is familiar to your prospects.

Your portfolios will contain marketing, rather than financial, strategies but that does not diminish their value. Plus, clients will agree that diversified portfolios provide the smartest investment solutions and that is what the successful Freelance consultant delivers, every time.

Like a financial services expert sells the advantages of his/her investment portfolios, assign value to and spotlight the ROI derived from the services available through the portfolios contained under the umbrella of your consultancy.  Introduce the portfolio system to your consulting practice by first categorizing and grouping your services into distinct portfolios and then articulating the benefits and outcomes associated with each.  Develop “verbal packaging” to tie them together in a way that helps prospective clients to understand how and when to do business with you.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Outsourcing Your Content Marketing: Legal Safeguards

Regarding the process of content marketing, I work both sides of the street.  In addition to generating original content for this blog, for the past 6 or 7 years I’ve worked as an outsourcer, both generating and editing content for two monthly newsletters and serving as editor only for a third.

The practice of content marketing has taken root in many organizations, from Freelance consultancies to multi-national corporations.  The responsibility for generating a good deal of that content has been outsourced.  President Trump is apparently the author of his own tweets but many corporate execs, government leaders, celebrities and other public figures are not.  Text, images, audio and video content destined for blogs, newsletters, webinars and an array of social media platforms might be created by an in-house social media specialist or, increasingly, the function is performed by an external marketing firm or a talented and plucky Freelance consultant.

Ideally, your content marketing will become an effective inbound marketing strategy and “pull” self-selected potential prospects who will be primed to become your customers.  Along the way, good content will also enable customer engagement and enhance and promote your organization’s brand.

Producing top quality marketing content is time-consuming and you may at some point decide to outsource all, or segments, of it.  Before you finalize that decision, take the time to consider what you would like your content to do for your organization; how much content it makes sense to produce; and how you can protect your intellectual property (because the content represents you and your business, whether or not you write it).

Determine the best content marketing platforms for your business

As always, it’s necessary to know your customers and target markets to determine the type of content that will resonate.  B2B clients will have different expectations than B2C or B2G customers and you must reflect that in your platform choices.  Be advised that you cannot and should not attempt to be all things to all people.  Consider picking one or two options, depending on the size of your organization and budget.  Develop an editorial calendar so that you will feature relevant seasonal topics throughout the year.

  • Weekly blog
  • Monthly newsletter
  • Semi-annual webinar
  • Email marketing
  • Social media updates
  • Semi-annual case studies
  • Annual video (with audio) featuring you or other key team members

Specify the outsourcing requirements

Clearly describe what you would like your outsourced content specialist to do.  Do you want content creation and editing, or do you want editing services only for content that you create? Will your content be original, or will you mostly feature short preludes that introduce links to other articles that tell your story? Would you like images included in your newsletter or blog? Might you like short videos to be embedded in your blog or newsletter and will that function be the focus of the outsourced duties?

Finally, when would you like your blog or newsletter to publish (for example, every Tuesday at 6:00 AM or on the 15th of every month?) Share your proposed editorial calendar and publishing schedule with your outsourcer, so that s/he will know what to create and when to have the content ready.

Assign the content copyright

Stay on top of this one, people.  Be advised that unless you specify in the outsourcing contract that all content belongs to you, then ownership will lie with the outsourcer who creates it.  On your own, or after your outsourcer is no longer in your employ, you may want to repackage text, images, or video from your blog or newsletter and use it on your website, in email marketing letters, or in a book (that could be written by you or by the original content outsourcer, a ghost author) and you must ensure that you will have the unrestricted use of what you paid for.

Further, you are advised to include an indemnification clause against possible copyright infringement of text and images that the outsourcer may (unwittingly) commit.  Some images are free, 95-year-old plus images are in the public domain and others are for sale.  Misinterpretation can be costly.  Also, proper credit must be given to images and failure to do so will cause legal problems for you.  Your business entity is the publisher of the content and is the responsible party.

Address the potential legal liabilities of your content

If your content addresses a subject that requires some manner of official licensing—medical, legal, investment, architectural, engineering, or nutritional, for example—it will be wise to include disclaimers or some assurance to readers that the information provided meets accepted regulatory standards and best practices.

Contract with outsourcing termination clause

Include all points detailed above in a contract that is signed by both you and your outsourcer and send a signed copy to the outsourcer.  Hire an intellectual property attorney to review your draft contract to ensure that both you and your outsourcer are protected.   Be certain to specify  who owns the content and how it can be used after the work relationship has ended.  Non-disclosure of potentially sensitive information can also be included.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

The Content of Content Marketing

Content Marketing continues to have a life of its own, riding a wave of non-stop hype. But what are all that text and all those images floating through space really worth to your business? I edit two newsletters,  one short and sweet,  the other several pages long and filled with lots of text and photos. One newsletter I assemble myself by reaching out to obtain snippets of relevant and timely new information and an image or two each month.  The second I solely edit and what a laborious process it is to slog through all that dense text!  Can you guess which entity generates the most revenue and profit?

Why, the owners of the short newsletter that gives splashes of fresh info every month plus one or two new pictures, of course.  Those organization leaders do not bury themselves in the labor and expense of high-maintenance content marketing.  They are instead pursuing clients and making money. They are not merely busy; they are productive. They know their role as business owners.

If you can build and maintain a good stable of clients without a web presence, by golly I say you should do it. Truth be told,  most of the most successful business owners and Freelance consultants that I know have no website and no social media.  Instead, they are known and trusted by clients and referral sources.  They are going to the bank and not to their keyboards or video cameras to crank out “content”.

Enter the experts

The short answer is,  if you’ve done something successfully a number of times,  you can claim the title.  However, there is also the axiom “Those who can do and those who can’t, teach.” My client who has enlisted my services for the production of the monthly weighty tome hasn’t had a client in something like five years (I’m serous). She swans around speaking on panels, moderating panels, writing articles for a couple of journals that don’t pay (I edit those as well) and overall being a very busy girl. But I’m not sure how she pays her mortgage. Trust fund?

Noise makers

Everybody with access to a keyboard or a camera is doing some level of content marketing,  even if it’s only for themselves and their Twitter friends. Everybody’s pulling out a cell phone to snap pictures of something—the first snowfall,  the first crocuses and at the Boston waterfront a couple of weeks ago, when the air temperature was minus 10 and the Atlantic Ocean was about 40 degrees,  the fog that was rising from the water as a result of the 50 degree temperature difference (it was quite a sight). all those photos become content posted to social media.  It’s all noise that competes with what Freelance consultants and other business owners are aiming to do,  that is,  get the attention of potential clients and referral sources.

Branding is not personal

Supermodels and a certain group of raven-haired sisters (and their mother) in southern California seem to have done very well with the personal branding concept,  but that doesn’t hold for the rest of us.  Unless you were lucky enough to have held a job that allowed you to publicly build a reputation amongst prospective clients,  or you descend from a prestigious family,  the differences that you (and I) point out to clients are only differences and not distinctive competitive advantages.  We are the same, only different.

Strategic, original, relevant, concise

If you have the time and inclination to delve into the content marketing fray,  be strategic about the process, most of all. Have a clear and defendable purpose.  My purpose for producing this blog since June 2009  has been to

1.demonstrate that I have good business judgment

2. demonstrate my writing skills

I’ve referred prospective clients to the link for this blog and the strategy has been successful.  I’ve gotten at least three clients,  including a (modest) book editing assignment,  my first. Editing two newsletters also helped me to snare that gig.

Further,  read about business topics in places like The Financial Times,  The New York Times, Business Week,  Inc. Magazine,  the Harvard Business Review and other credible sources. Those can become your inspiration,  along with your owned lived experience,  to generate original content.  Do not bother to try and pass off groupings of links to articles as your blog or newsletter content.  Do not insult people.

Finally,  whatever your topic, two and a half pages of text, or 1000 words, has got to be your max. When writing this blog,  I start thinking about creating a two-part post if I surpass 800 words. Attention spans are not what they used to be in this noise-filled arena of experts.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plans For Your Business

Whatever the health and condition of your Freelance business venture, you will at some point benefit from planning.  Business planning of any type provides a roadmap that will help you to successfully achieve your business goals.  Business planning can be instituted when sales are tanking and you need to find a way to improve billable hours.  Or you may have decided to aim for larger assignments  or roll out new services and need to figure out how to make it happen.

I’ve taught business plan writing for 7 or more years and I’ve also developed a one-day business plan writing workshop. As I see it,  the process of writing a business plan gives the writer (or the team) many opportunities to think things through and  get the magical thinking out of one’s head. The business plan shows us first,  if the dream is potentially viable and second,  how to make the dream a reality.

The plan you write will depend on what you set out to achieve.  If you’re launching a start-up that will involve significant outside investment,  then you’ll need a very detailed plan that focuses on financial projections;  marketing plans that delve into customer acquisition, the competitive landscape, the product or service launch, messaging,  sales distribution; and operational aspects such as manufacturing,  staffing and quality control.  Freelance consultants will mostly focus on marketing, in particular defining the target clients,  client acquisition; providing the right services; appropriate pricing; and the budget to pay for their marketing strategies.

Whether your plan will be used to launch a big venture and attract outside money,  or is a boutique style service provider, include the following elements in your plan.  Even if you’ll be writing what amounts to an extended marketing plan used for a one-person shop,  it will be a good exercise to include these elements, because you’ll be encouraged to think seriously and strategically about your mini-enterprise.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Present the business mission statement. Include as well the date when the business was formed; key management personnel; your unique credentials or experience that make you especially suited to start and successfully run the venture; the business legal structure (LLC, Sole Proprietor, or Corporation); the products and services; one or two key competitive advantages (maybe you have a patent?); sales projections; and the amount of capital needed (if you’re looking for investors).

BUSINESS DESCRIPTION

It’s traditional to present a brief description of your industry and its outlook,  nationally and regionally. give the details of your products and services and competitive advantages. Identify whether your venture is B2B, B2C, or B2G. If you hold a patent,  detail the competitive advantages that it will convey. Have there been any technological advances that will help or hinder your business?  Divulge here.

MARKETING

The category is a big tent that encompasses sales, product or service distribution,  competitors, advertising,  social media, PR,  networking,  branding, customer acquisition and pricing. The plan written for a mall organization will essentially consist of an extended marketing plan, because for Freelance consultants,  success hinges on identifying and reaching clients who will pay as well as pricing the services advantageously.

FINANCING

Whether you’ll self-finance because you’re wealthy enough,  or the venture is small and  not especially demanding of capital investment,  you nevertheless need to know with a reasonable degree of certainty how much you’ll need to spend to carry out the plan ( that could be a new product, or the purchase of something big, or a marketing plan, for example).  If your strategy is to attract investors,  they’ll need to be convinced by your projected sales revenue figures,  because they’ll want to know when they’ll be paid back or know when to expect profits if they are made co-owners of the business.  A break-even analysis, projected income statement, projected cash-flow statement and projected balance sheet are required by those who will need significant money.

OPERATIONS

How will day-to-day business processes function?  Tell it here,  along with providing the organizational chart,  the business location,  the method of producing that which you sell (if you are,  say,  a Freelance book editor or  graphics specialist,  you produce the service yourself),  your sub-contractors (if you are a special events organizer,  who is your usual caterer, florist,  limo service, etc.?) and quality control methods.  This element is about logistics.

for more information on writing a business plan,  visit the Small Business Association website https://www.sba.gov/tools/sba-learning-center/training/how-write-business-plan

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Business Model = Profit Engine

Hatching an idea for a business involves much more than inspiration.  Your entrepreneurial idea must also include a strategy for making the idea profitable. That strategy is known as the business model. The function of a business is to provide products and/or services that help clients solve their business or consumer needs.  In addition, your business must work for you  and generate a reliable and abundant revenue stream from which you derive your annual income.

Before we go any further, let’s clarify the meanings of business model  and business plan.  Your business plan  is a document in which you describe the mission of your business; the target customers; the marketplace and competitive environment in which it will operate; its marketing, financial and operations plans; and the legal structure it will be given.

Your business model  will detail how the venture will attain and sustain profitability. The cornerstone of a good business model is a competitive analysis, which will help you verify target markets (customer groups) and establish your expected value-added in the presence of enterprises that offer similar products and services.

The primary element of your competitive analysis is customer knowledge, something that regulars to these posts know that I encourage frequently.  Information-gathering is a vital and ongoing business function.  James King, Director of the New York (state) Small Business Development Center, notes that “…customer purchasing patterns change rather rapidly and if you’re not ahead of your customers, you’re not making sales.”  Along with your selection of products and services to provide and customer acquisition strategies, operational aspects — that is, the process of how your products or services will be delivered — must meet the often fluid expectations of customers and will therefore figure into your venture’s business model.

Once you’ve developed a proposed business model, find a trusted potential customer or business owner or colleague and ask for a review.  Discovering and closing immediately obvious gaps is something you’ll want to do before your business is up and running.

King recommends that aspiring entrepreneurs “Sit down with someone who doesn’t have a vested interest and ask that person to poke holes in your model. If they do a good job, you’re going to be better prepared for any eventuality. The more risk you can eliminate, the higher the probability that you’re going to be successful.”

One is advised to revisit the business plan and business model every couple of years, or at least when changes in your industry, local business environment or technology have the potential to impact your sales revenue or how your do business. This practice will also give you the benefit of reviewing your projections as regards expected vs. actual target customers and allow you to refine planning for growth and expansion, as you create strategies for sustainable business success.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Build A Winning Business Model

Whether you are considering the feasibility of launching a business or you are on the leadership team of a business that is several decades old, the business model for the organization is the hub around which all activities revolve. The business model is the blueprint that details how you will create and sustain a money-making business venture. It is the engine that drives revenue. Fail to identify a winning business model and you fail to build a business that will succeed over the long-term. Creation of a profitable business model is a multi-disciplinary exercise that encompasses marketing, sales, strategy, operations and finance.

Identify your primary customers  (Marketing)

If you will focus on B2B clients, describe who they are: for-profit or not-for-profit organizations, Fortune 1000 companies, start-ups. If you plan to focus on a particular industry, specify that and specify also the department(s) in which you will find your decision-maker and/or key purchase influencers and the job title of the person who can green-light your contract. Detail also the services or products that you will provide to your target clients.

Detail the business processes  (Operations)

Where will business transactions take place? Will you have a physical location and will clients visit you there? Will your business be primarily online? Will you have a consulting practice and perform most of the work off-site on your computer? How will clients pay—by check or credit card at the time of purchase, or will you bill them? Must you ship products? Describe how and from which location you will provide or deliver your products and services and the system of payment.

Identify the resources necessary to operate  (Finance)

Before your business is up and running, what must be available? Along with business cards and probably a website, computer, smart phone, and maybe a tablet, you may decide on print collaterals as well. You will need a business bank account and you may need a process by which you can accept credit cards as a merchant. Must you rent commercial space? What will the construction costs be for the build-out of your office space? What will insurance, special certifications and utilities cost you? How much product inventory does it make sense to have? Must you hire help? Determine how much you must spend and have on hand before you can commence business operations.

Define the value proposition  (Sales)

Make the case as to why your products and services are superior to what competitors offer. Learn what motivates your target customers to seek out the products and services that you will provide. How are target customers getting the job done now? Perfect your selling points and learn to neutralize the most common objections that prospects will raise.

Determine key business partners  (Strategy)

Will your business success be greatly helped by getting referrals from a particular source? In other words, if you plan to become a florist or a caterer, it will make a lot of sense to develop relationships with event planners. Referrals are always crucial to building your client list, so figure out which types of businesses you can build a mutually beneficial relationship with—what can they do for you and what can you do for them?

Build and fill the sales pipeline  (Marketing)

Describe the various methods you expect to use to build awareness of your business and find prospective clients. Social media will provably be used, but which platforms can be expected to have the most resonance with your target clients? Teaching, conducting webinars and networking will serve you well in the early stages of your business and throughout. Client testimonials, referrals and case studies will support you as your client list grows and you develop a track record.

Expect to fine-tune and innovate  (Strategy)

Until you begin to welcome paying customers, you will not really know if your proposed business model adequately meets their needs. Expect a reality check and build innovation —that is tweaking —into your business model.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

***WARNING***WARNING***Take Action Now

Ernest Hemingway said it best when he warned of how financial troubles visit us: slowly at first and then all at once. There are usually warning signs,  but they are not always recognized and they may persist for months,  or even years. For example,  business owners can go into denial about regularly occurring mid-month cash-flow problems if at the end of the month the bottom line looks healthy. Working more hours can be seen as just a sign of the times and in many ways that is a valid assumption. After all,  someone has to manage the social media accounts and generate the content marketing.

Oftentimes, corrective action can be taken to divert the impending disaster and other times, the crash is fated. Still, forewarned is forearmed and taking steps to protect the business enterprise is always the right thing to do (as long as one does the right thing!). Presented here is a list of early warning signs that indicate all is not well in your business venture:

1   Flat or declining revenue

2.  Unreliable cash-flow: difficulty in covering payroll, accounts payable, or payment to sub-contractors or vendors

3.   Prices reduced to stimulate sales

4.   Critical business investments cannot be budgeted

5.   Repeat business is declining

6.   Leads are dwindling or the sales conversion rate is declining

7.   Referrals are declining

8.   Inability to keep pace with growth, operational systems are overwhelmed

9.   Inability to fulfill promised deliverables on time

10. Client complaints about the quality of products or services

11. Accounts receivable statements not issued as scheduled

12. Working many more hours just to “hold on”

So what can you do? First, be vigilant about detecting warning signs and pay attention to the client list, conversion rate of leads, referrals and the amount of repeat business. If those values begin to trend downward over the course of a year, that is serious. Do you have a new competitor? Might you need to upgrade customer service? Should you step up networking? Or do you need to update your marketing message and sales pitch to better reflect client priorities?

Declining revenue and cash-flow issues might be at least partially remedied by sending accounts receivable statements on time, or increasing the down-payment that clients are asked to pay when a contract for services is signed. Declining revenues also ask you to look at the products and services that you offer and how you package and present them. You may need to increase prices, if expenses are cutting too deeply into revenues.

If repeat business and/or referrals are noticeably weaker, networking to renew your relationships and meeting new prospects may do the trick. Figure out ways to stay in contact with former and current clients. If you haven’t been sending holiday cards in December,  make a note to look into the process by the end of October.  Send congratulatory emails if you hear of a client success story. Reinvigorated marketing and PR can also be a useful defense, including content marketing. It may be time to start a monthly newsletter, to remind your client and referral bases that you are relevant.

On the other hand, maybe you’re facing too much growth too fast and you lack the infrastructure to successfully manage your good luck. Get ready to spend money to hire the right help and make useful systems or technology upgrades ASAP and cure problems in service delivery immediately. You are only as good as your reputation and word of problems travels very fast.

Finally, console yourself with the knowledge that every business venture must eventually respond to change and that will mean doing things differently and taking on risk by plunging into the unknown. How we respond to change is a test of our mettle. Be brave and face it down by first conducting an analysis of your business environment, competitive landscape and client priorities and then developing strategies and action plans designed to save the day.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

ID Your Target Customers

Step One in evaluating the prospects of a business venture requires that you know who is likely to become a customer.  Here are 8 smart questions that will help you gauge whether you have a viable target market for your enterprise:

1.  Who will pay a premium price for my products or services?

  • Investigate how much business those who would be your closest competitors are doing and learn what motivates their customers to do business with them and find also pricing info,  if possible.
  • Assess your competitive advantages: do you possess a  “secret sauce”  that will make customers do business regularly and pay a little more?
  • Assess the value of your personal brand: who will do business with you because they value what you represent and do?

2.  Who has already done business with me?

  •  If your business is up and running,  growing your business often means persuading those who are already customers to do more business with you.  Which upgrades and extras to your service line might your current customers buy?
  • Speak with customers you know well and ask what adjustments in service,  features or delivery system would make their lives easier.
  • Design a survey and send it out to your mailing list and also add to your website and social media,  so that you can get more opinions and validate the findings of the customer Q & A.
  • Beta test new products and services with current customers,  to gauge their acceptance and refine the concept,  packaging,  marketing message,  delivery system,  price point, etc.

3.  Am I overestimating potential demand for my products and services?

  • Hire a marketing research firm to run a focus group to estimate the size of the market for your product or service.
  • Smaller budget holders should refer to numbers 1 and 2 and figure out how much business competitors are doing and if applicable,   ask current customers which new offerings would be useful to their organizations.

4.  Am I assuming that everyone values what I value?

  • Reality test your take on the priorities of your target market by asking them,  in face to face meetings or via surveys.  Read industry blogs to confirm how customers use similar products and services.
  • Find the thought leaders and listen to what they say about the need for what you plan to sell.  Without revealing your motive,  you can write in and ask questions.

5.  Does my business model match my target customers?

  • The business model is the blueprint for positioning your venture to make a profit.
  •  The ideal customer groups for your products and services must receive the right marketing message in the right way.  Products and services must be sold in the right way at the right price,  using the method of payment that customers expect.
  •  Design a business model that inspires trust and confidence and is user-friendly convenient.

6.  Who are my main competitors and how did they get started?

  • Study three or four close competitors and learn the back story of the founders.  What competitive advantages do they possess?
  • How long have those competitors been in business and what may have changed,  or remained constant,  in the business environment that allowed them to find success?
  • Define critical success factors for your venture.

7.  How will potential customers and I find each other?

  • Hair dressers,  manicurists and employees of consulting firms have the great advantage of being able to steal future clients from their former employers.  If you are employed in the industry in which you plan to open a business,  start now to strengthen relationships with those customers who might jump ship and go with you.
  • Learn how to reach your target customers.  Which organizations do they join,   which conferences do they attend,  which blogs or newsletters do they read,  does social media for business resonate with them and where should you advertise.

8.  Do you see opportunities to expand your target market?

  •  Eventually, it will become necessary to find ways to expand your business either vertically or horizontally. Stay abreast of happenings in the industry and maintain good communications with your customers to understand what you might offer in the future.
  • Can you create a niche market or two by tweaking what you have,  or offering it under another name and advertising in different media?

Thanks for reading,

Kim