***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

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SMART Goals For the New Year

Happy 2015!  Once again,  we’re at the top of the calendar and the entire year is ready to unfold before us.  Traditionally,  January is the time for making resolutions.  Unfortunately,  most are not kept and some are not acted upon at all.  I encourage you to think about the kind of year that will make you proud and resolve to bring as many successes as possible into your life.  I respectively recommend that you should be optimistic,  realistic and proactive in that process.  Plant seeds for success as you develop SMART  goals — Specific,  Measurable, Attainable,  Relevant and Timely — that will serve as your road map this year.

1.  Be specific

Telling yourself that you want to “grow the business” or “make more money” is entirely too vague.  How much and what kind of  “growth” or “money” will be meaningful and achievable for your business over the next 12 months?  Are you looking to increase the amount of your monthly or quarterly billable hours?  Is your goal to expand your client list?  Are you in search of perhaps fewer,  but more lucrative assignments?  Would you like to add more prestigious clients to your roster?  All of those factors have the potential to stimulate business growth and bring in more money.

Specify and quantify the type of growth that you seek for your business and how much you aim to attain.  Would you like to increase your client list by 10%?  Increase gross sales by 20%?   Add one Fortune 500 client to your roster?  Increase prices for existing clients by 5% and new clients by 8%? Assess your top line (gross sales),  bottom line (net profit) and client list and consider what will be beneficial for the business; what is possible for you to impact; and determine which criteria will be used as the barometer of success.

2.  Take action

Cutting costs,  creating operational efficiencies,  clarifying your marketing message,  stepping up your networking efforts,  pursuing referrals,  raising prices and revitalizing social media activities are among the strategies that you will evaluate,  prioritize and perhaps pursue as you develop action plans and move forward on your goals.  For every goal that you set,  create an action plan with time table.

3.  Shoot for the stars

Aim high and set ambitious goals,  but be reasonable.   Setting unattainable goals is not helpful.  It is unlikely that you will add 30 clients to your roster in a year,  but if your business is one with a long sales cycle,  adding three new clients would be a real victory.

4.  Review quarterly

Reality will impact your goals along the way,  so it will make sense to periodically evaluate your progress to plan and make any necessary adjustments.  Monitor your measuring sticks and find out what is working and what may not produce the desired results.  Are there any goals that have not shown progress at the 3 month mark?  Do you know why that is so?  Pay attention to your progress,  or lack thereof,  throughout the year,  to help keep yourself focused on achieving what you set out to do.  Reward yourself when milestones are reached,  to maintain your motivation and enthusiasm.  Maybe there is a conference that you’ve wanted to attend previously,  but were unable to budget?  Increased sales may fund that item on your wish list and your business will benefit even more that you planned.

Start now and draft your business goals and do all that you can to make 2015 a rewarding year.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Marketing 2.0 : How and Why You Do It

All those with a product or service to sell must institute a marketing program that promotes those products and services to target customers.  Marketing programs consist of strategies and activities that derive from promotional objectives you would like to achieve for your products,  services,  or the company overall.  Advertising;  writing a blog, newsletter, or book;  speaking at business associations;  teaching a subject that showcases your expertise;  making an in-kind donation to a local charity event;  presenting a webinar;  nominating yourself for (and winning!) a business award;  writing a press release to announce to local media that you are presenting a webinar,  have won a business award or published a book;  networking to meet new colleagues or reconnect and build relationships; and presence on social media are examples of activities that carry out your marketing strategies and have the potential to ensure the achievement of marketing objectives.

For most,  the goal of marketing is to increase sales  (that is, revenue)  by increasing awareness and trust in the company and its products and services and in that way increasing the number of its potential customers.  Marketing is a way to fill the sales pipeline,  as is prospecting for potential customers  (wear your sales hat when prospecting,  although prospecting is not quite selling in the same way that marketing is not exactly selling).  Generally,  marketing strategies are created to produce one or more of these results:

1. Awareness,  so that target customer groups will learn of the existence of your company and its products and services.

2. Perception,  so that target customer groups will think of your company and its offerings in a certain way.  This is the core of brand development; trust and confidence are the primary attributes that you must persuade customers to associate with your company and its products and services.  Depending on your business,  other attributes you may want to attach to the brand are luxury,  practicality,  innovativation or quirkiness.  Reputation management and crisis PR are under this heading.

3. Behavior,  so that target customers will be persuaded to take action.  Your objectives may include attracting new customers;  encouraging repeat business from existing customers;  encouraging sales of higher-ticket items or premium services;  or stimulating referrals by persuading customers to recommend your products and services to others.

Because time and money are limited resources for business ventures large and small,  it is a big advantage to know which of your marketing activities works and if possible,  to also know which activities are effective for certain customers.  Further, it is essential to know how many customers come to your business as a result of marketing activities.

To measure the return on investment ROI of your marketing program,  one must venture into the realm of marketing metrics,  from data analytics to Big Data.  Next week,  we will look at simple yet revealing marketing metrics that will evaluate the effectiveness of your marketing and guide your future marketing activities.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Cosi Fan Tutte: Uber Achievers

Hello again and welcome back to the list of suggested behaviors and activities that will help you achieve your 2014 wish list.  For the past three years I presented New Year’s Resolutions but this year,  you get to pick what you want to do.  I’m here to help you get what you want!  To do that,  I read up on motivational psychologist and Associate Director of the Motivation Science Center at Columbia University School of Business Heidi Grant Halvorson,  who writes for The Harvard Business Review.  Dr. Grant Halvorson is a highly successful professional,  but unlike many charmed individuals,  it is safe to say that she knows how she became,  and remains,  successful.   Here are the final four elements of her 201 1 e-book,  Nine Things Successful People Do Differently:

VI.   KEEP ON KEEPING ON: Be willing to commit to long-term goals and persevere in the face of difficulty.  Studies show that those who are able to put shoulder to the wheel and push through adversity obtain more education in their lifetime and earn higher grade point averages in school.  To help yourself along,  plan specific actions that when followed will bring you to your goal.  Devise a timeline for your action plan,  monitor the efficacy of strategies and reward yourself when important milestones are reached.

VII.  BUILD WILLPOWER MUSCLES: Our self-control muscle is like any other of our muscles.  When we don’t use it,  it eventually atrophies.  Use it or lose it! Give your willpower muscle a good workout by taking on small challenges that compel you to do something that perhaps you’d rather not,  e.g. taking on a home cleaning and organizing project.  Establish must-start and must-complete dates and then commit to them.   If you find yourself wavering and making excuses to put off the project—don’t!  Flex your willpower muscle and do some heavy lifting.  As you develop inner strength,  also known as self-discipline,  you’ll ready yourself to take on bigger challenges and achieve more life-changing goals.  It’s like training for a marathon by starting with 5K races.

VIII. DON’T TEMPT FATE: No matter how strong your willpower becomes,  it is important to always respect the inevitable fact that human beings have limits.  If you over-reach,  you’ll run out of steam or out of luck.  Avoid taking on more than one major challenge at a time if you can help it.  Do not be over-confident and bite off more than you can chew by setting obviously unattainable goals.  Successful people instinctively know what is in the realm of the possible and refrain from setting themselves up for failure.

IX.  FOCUS ON WHAT YOU WILL DO: …and not on what you will not do.  Research on thought suppression shows that trying to avoid a thought has the opposite effect and makes that thought grow larger in our minds.  The same holds true for behaviors.  By trying not to engage in a bad habit,  like smoking or eating junk food,  the habit becomes strengthened instead of broken.  Instead,  turn your thoughts toward implementing strategies that will bring you to your goal.

I hope that reading Dr. Grant Halvorson’s  Nine Things  helps you to acknowledge what you’ve been doing right all along.   As well,  I hope you’re able to identify the mistakes that have undermined you and that going forward,  you will develop successful strategies that pave the way to your most important goals.  Have a wonderful year.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Become An Uber Achiever

Happy New Year!  Please accept my sincere best wishes for a happy and successful 2014.  As is customary,  I begin the year with information I consider to be motivational,  since a new year  (along with Spring)  suggests a fresh start.  In my first posts of 2011,  2012 and 2013,  I presented lists of suggested New Year’s Resolutions for you to adopt.  This year,  I invite you to choose the goal of your dreams and I’m pleased to pass along suggestions on how to make it your own.

You may have noticed that many highly successful people do not have a clear sense of how they manage to grab the brass ring time and again.  Often,  uber achievers do not have an awareness of what allows them to succeed or prevents them from failing.  How do certain mere mortals repeatedly gain the favor of the gods?

It is true that we all have a repository of certain attributes,  advantages,  competencies and talents: the natural salesman,  the math whiz,  the influential family.  Some may encounter a wise and powerful mentor along the way,  who guides them onto the right path,  keeps them out of harm’s way or gives them the heads-up about opportunities on the horizon.

Motivational psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson says in her book  Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals  (2011)  that research on achievement suggests that successful people reach their goals not only because of the cards they hold,  but also because of what they do.  Halvorson has spilled the beans on what other behaviors makes the rich different from you and me  (with apologies to those who do not equate success with wealth):

I.    BE SPECIFIC: When setting goals,  be as specific as possible.  Knowing precisely what you want to achieve keeps you motivated until you get there.  Furthermore,  identify and commit to specific actions that must be taken to reach your goal,  actions that leave no room for doubt about what must be done.

II.   CARPE DIEM: Achieving goals means recognizing and acting upon opportunities before they slip through your fingers.  Make sure that you don’t fail to ride a good wave because you didn’t bother to anticipate its possible arrival,  or because you were distracted by competing pursuits and dramas.  Open the door to success by planning to take real steps toward your goals.  Studies show that planning trains our brain to recognize and seize opportunities when they arise,  in that way increasing our chance of success by about 300%.  In other words,  plan to succeed.

III.  MONITOR AND MEASURE: Achieving goals requires regular monitoring of one’s progress.  Know your timeline and milestones and adjust your strategies and actions according to progress made.  Rewarding yourself for interim successes is a good idea.

IV.  REALISTIC OPTIMISM: Thinking positively about the likelihood of achieving your goal is enormously helpful in creating the conditions for success and sustaining motivation.  Nevertheless,  guard against underestimating how difficult it may be to get where you want to go.  Anything worth having is likely to require significant time,  planning,  sacrifice and persistence.  Daughter-in-law of the Prince of Wales,  mother of a future king of England,  Catherine Middleton used to be called “Waity Katy”.   Now she’s known as the Duchess of Cambridge!

V.   GETTING BETTER: Believing that you are able to reach your goal is imperative.  Equally important is believing that you can acquire  the ability to reach your goal.  In other words,  focus on acquiring whatever the building blocks of success may be,  whether that means learning new skills or developing relationships with those who can help move you forward.

I’ll be back next week with a few more building blocks for you to incorporate into your plan for success.  Have a great week.

Thanks for reading,

Kim