Guiding Light: Your Business Plan

Business plans and email marketing have something in common. The two stalwarts have often been declared dead by so-called experts, yet both continue to demonstrate value to current and aspiring business owners. Despite the naysayers, business plans are the foundation of business success, for the unavoidable reason that many new businesses fail.

Of the 400,000 companies started in 2014, 44% had failed by year four and just 18% of first-time Entrepreneurs were able to launch and sustain a successful entity. As the saying goes, “No one plans to fail. They just fail to plan.” Don’t let that be you, Dear.

The primary reason for aspiring Freelance consultants and Entrepreneurs to write a business plan is to test assumptions about the viability of the business idea against credible information that reveals the likely demand for the product or service and customer groups that have the money and possible motive to buy those products and services. The potential viability of a business is revealed in factors such as the size of the market (i.e., those with money and motive to buy), the founder’s access to potential customers (a big factor in B2B and B2G sales), competitors who sell an identical or similar product or service (are they thriving or just hanging on?) and the amount of money required to set up shop and start doing business.

A second compelling reason to write a business plan is to develop strategies that provide a roadmap, or blueprint, that will guide the founder as s/he builds and launches the venture. Confirming target customers, identifying possible niche markets, choosing the pricing strategy and the sales strategy; creating the financial plan, the operations plan, a realistic business model and selecting the most advantageous legal structure will also be thought through in advance of the company launch.

During the process, the founder will make discoveries that may persuade him/her to refine certain aspects of the products and services intended to be sold, or adjust perceptions of who the ideal customers will be. This information may have the power to substantively improve the venture’s chances of success and sustainability.

A third reason that motivates aspiring Freelance consultants and Entrepreneurs to write a business plan is the need to seek financing for their venture, whether the funds will be used to launch or scale the company. The financing source may be a bank or credit union, a micro financing organization, private investment (friends and family), or even self-financing. Those holding money will use the business plan to make funding decisions, so founders would be wise to develop a realistic financial blueprint that projects three years into the future, as well as a credible marketing plan that accurately defines target customer groups and identifies key competitors.

In sum, a powerful business plan needs to be three-dimensional, so it distills lessons from the real world and allows the founder(s) to test and when necessary revise assumptions. This ongoing process will give the business the highest chance of success while also increasing your credibility with investors, your team and most of all, yourself.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: © Ubisoft Entertainment SA, artist’s rendering of the Lighthouse of Alexandria. The lighthouse stood on the island of Pharos, guiding ships as they entered the harbors of Alexandria, Egypt on the Mediterranean coast. The structure was built during the reigns of Ptolemy I and II, c. 300 – 280 BC. With a height of over 330 feet, the lighthouse was so impressive that it was named one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Now lost, the lighthouse was a welcomed navigational aid for over 1600 years.

10 Steps to Fortify Your Business

Here come the lazy, hazy days of summer. The sun is warm and days are long, but billable hours can be short, the result of vacation schedules at client workplaces. For that reason, Freelancers may often find it convenient to vacation in July or August. But those who prefer a winter vacation, whether on ski slopes or in warm surf, might long for a worthy assignment to get their arms around. I’ll suggest that Freelancers, as well as small business owners, look no further than our own organization for a project that can generate billable hours.

During the summer slowdown, ambitious Freelancers and business owners will use the available time to build a more efficiently run and profitable business. We’ll reconfirm our customer knowledge, examine our product and service lines, analyze our financial statements, review operations processes, evaluate customer service protocols, update competitive intelligence and refine marketing tactics.

Smart Freelancers will look inward to shore up our businesses internally. We’ll also look outward, ready to pounce on intriguing opportunities that become available. If you’re not doing so already, here are 10 smart business planning steps you should take this season.

  1. Analyze your financials

Examine your Profit & Loss and Cash-flow Statements and make note of the top line, that is, Gross Sales on the Cash-flow statement and Gross Revenue on the P & L Statement. That number (they are the same) reflects the amount of all billable hours and other income you generated in a particular month (or quarter, or year). In a potential business slow-down, it’s essential to confirm that you’ll have the funds to cover all accounts payable, including payroll, if you have employees or outsourced help.

Next, take a look at your Balance Sheet and make note of the total Accounts Payable figure. that number represents monthly business debts (e.g. office space rent and insurance premiums). If a shortfall looks like a possibility, you’ll need to find a way to either negotiate with creditors to ask for an extension, or find a way to generate money quickly. Maybe you can find a part-time under-the-radar job?

  1. Conduct SWOT Analysis

The acronym known as SWOT you may know stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Strengths and Weaknesses are internal (personal) attributes and can be impacted by you. Your strengths may include an exceptional client list, fortunate business and personal relationships that you can leverage, relevant educational or professional qualifications, and/or a product or service line that clients value and support. Brainstorm new ways to capitalize your company strengths. Acknowledge also company Weaknesses and find ways to eliminate, minimize and/or camouflage.

Research happenings that may potentially impact your organization to manage the external factors of Opportunities and Threats. Approach all potential Opportunities with forethought, so that you will remember to apply the most appropriate of your Strengths to effectively laying claim to the good. Take steps to sidestep or soften the blow of potential Threats.

  1. Rank clients

Determine who’s profitable, and who’s not. If some clients are a drain on resources, perhaps because they give few billable hours and the rate is low, either raise the price or “fire” them. You can’t afford to carry unprofitable clients.  Aim to work lean and mean. right now.

  1. Network

There will be a handful of conferences held in July and August and some may be worthwhile. If you become aware of a conference where the topics will be relevant to you, the speakers interesting and the attendees people who you may want to meet, try to find the money to attend. You may find your next client or referral partner (and remember to reciprocate).

  1. Streamline work processes

Time is the resource that those who work in the Knowledge Economy, i.e., the intangible services business, value most.  How can you provide your services faster and still maintain the high quality of deliverables for your clients? The objective is to create time to pursue more clients, analyze your business and clients, network, or simply rest and recharge your batteries.

  1. Create strategic alliances

Forming simple partnerships can make or save you money.  One of your clients could be an excellent referral source for your business and you may be able to return the favor for your client’s organization.

  1. Reduce expenses

Do you rent office space? If so and especially if your lease will expire in less than a year, why not call your landlord and suggest that the two of you negotiate a longer-term lease in return for cost concessions?  Or, if you’ve been able to pay all insurance policies on time for the past 12 – 18 months, inquire about a lower annual premium? Do the same for your credit cards regarding interest rates.

  1. Refine marketing strategies

Assess the impact and ROI of your marketing efforts and then ensure that your marketing goals make sense for your business.  What exactly do you want your content marketing, marketing and advertising and social media postings to accomplish?

  1. Target competitors’ clients

If learn that a competitor is struggling, reach out to any of his/her clients whom you know or feel comfortable approaching to discuss the advantages of doing business with your organization. If your competitor’s clients sense a possible decline in quality or fear a service disruption, they may be receptive to your pitch.

  1. Eyes and ears open

Be on the lookout for fresh ideas and opportunities. Stay abreast of news and trends in your industry and also in your clients’ industries. Interact with other Freelancers and business owners to see what they’re doing. Learn from them what’s going on around you and be prepared to explore promising opportunities that come your way.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: The Second Crop (Le Regain), 1880  Julien Dupre (France, 1851 – 1910)

Resources to Grow Your One Person Shop

Every business owner dreams of growing his/her venture into a thriving entity and some even enact plans to make that happen. Once in a while, a business owner has the good fortune to create a venture that takes off like a rocket but usually, building a business is a slow boil. Whatever your circumstances, it will take time and resources to grow and expand your enterprise.

Most business owners and Freelancers think first of investment capital, an additional product or service line, or increasing the client list and billable hours when contemplating what it will take to grow revenues and profit, but the process of building a bigger business almost always requires additional staffing as well. For the typical business, that means deciding whether new staff members will be full or part-time employees. Freelancers face a different picture, however, since most work alone. Still, additional staffing will make it possible for you to more quickly and effectively position your Freelance consultancy for growth.

So what kind of hired help might a Freelancer bring on, once the growth strategy has been determined? Start by considering which of your business functions might be successfully outsourced, perhaps to a fellow Freelancer. Specialized tasks, such as your quarterly tax preparation and filing, can be performed by a Freelance bookkeeper. Your new bookkeeper will also be able to prepare and send 1099 forms to those who bill $600 or more/year to you for professional services rendered. Furthermore, your bookkeeper can ready the information that you’ll deliver to your accountant for the annual tax preparation and filing.

Accounts receivable and accounts payable functions are other tasks that a bookkeeper can take on, since these are financial transactions. Accounts receivable management means invoicing, a task that many Freelancers have difficulty keeping up with. You’ll have to supply information about the project fee, payment schedule, hourly rate and hours worked for each billable client, but the invoices will be prepared and emailed on time. Moreover, a savvy bookkeeper will give you valuable advice about maintaining healthy business cash-flow and other financial management suggestions.

Marketing tasks, including the editing of your blog and/or newsletter (which you may prefer to continue writing yourself), is another business function that might be successfully outsourced to a fellow Freelancer. If LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms play a regular part in your marketing campaigns, then contact a social media marketing expert to discuss how s/he can help your organization.

A talented marketing expert will bring a fresh perspective and innovative ideas that can reinvigorate your overall marketing strategy, refine your approach to social media and also manage social media postings on your preferred platforms. Not only that, your Freelance marketing specialist will read and analyze statistics for each platform and use the info to guide future campaigns.

When you’ve removed a few important, yet time-consuming, tasks from your plate, you can then freely direct a laser focus on finding and creating opportunities that will ensure that you achieve business goals. You’ll design and implement an effective launch strategy for the new products or services you plan to introduce. You’ll have time and energy to network your way into a longer client list or pursue new or niche markets that will enlarge your customer base and pump up your billable hours and sales revenue. You might also explore outside funding sources that will allow you to purchase new equipment or open your first office.

Now that you understand the role that staffing plays in business growth, let’s take a look at the hiring process. Personal referrals are usually a good place to start and no doubt between the contacts you’ve made at business association events that you at least occasionally visit and your list of contacts, potential candidates will surface. You might also try an online resource such as LinkedIn ProFinder or Upwork. The Freelancers on these sites are carefully vetted and closely monitored to ensure that they meet client expectations. As you interview potential hires, keep a few things in mind:

EXPERIENCE—Does the candidate possess the necessary skill set to be an asset to you and your business? Ask to see examples of the kind of work that you’ll request.

RAPPORT—You will discuss matters close to your heart with this person, so it will be important that the two of you communicate well and get along.

AVAILABILITY—Does the candidate have time to take on the projects that you need to get done? If you envision just 4-6 hours of work per month, for example, is the candidate willing to take on such an assignment? Also, if you expect emails and phone calls to be answered on the same business day, make that known. Get agreement on when the business day begins and ends and how each of you expects requests made over the weekend to be handled.

FEE—Shop around and get quotes from three or four service providers, but understand that the lowest fee may not result in the best value for dollars spent.

REFERENCES—Inquire as to the types of clients your candidate has worked with. Ask to speak with two current or former clients, so that you understand the depth of expertise and the type of customer service that your candidate provides.

Thanks for reading,
Kim

Photograph: Nina Leen, 1948. Eileen Ford (1922-2014), co-founder with her husband Jerry Ford (d.2008) of the Ford Modeling Agency, at their New York City office. Ford Modeling Agency represented supermodels through the decades, including Cheryl Tiegs, Lauren Hutton, Naomi Campbell, Suzy Parker and Jeannie Shrimpton.

Newsletters, the Jewel in the Crown of Content Marketing

Email marketing remains a highly effective way to engage and connect with clients, prospects and referral sources.  Email marketing can take several forms and according to marketing experts, newsletters are the most effective format.  There are few content marketing tactics that do a better job of attracting, retaining and even winning back lapsed clients than a newsletter that contains well-presented, relevant information that arrives on a regular basis.

Whether readers discover your newsletter while browsing your website or it’s delivered to inboxes by an email marketing service, a newsletter (or blog) will build and enhance your brand, keep your business at top-of-mind, drive traffic to your website and encourage prospective clients and referral sources to learn more about your products and services.  Listed here are building blocks that will help you create a newsletter that will reflect well on your expertise, your business and your brand.

  1. Goals   The newsletter will be one component of your overall marketing /content marketing strategy.  Acknowledging that your newsletter is the cornerstone of your content marketing strategy and that your content marketing strategy plays a leading role in your overall marketing strategy will help you to identify appropriate goals and metrics that will monitor the success rate of your marketing activities. Consider how launching a newsletter will support your organization’s marketing goals.  Are you looking to generate leads and sales? Or are you attempting to establish yourself as a thought-leader and expert as a way to build trust and attract more prestigious clients, expand referrals, get a teaching appointment, or speaking engagements?
  2. Frequency   Decide what your schedule will allow you to do in terms of researching sources and publishing original content.  Be realistic about your time, because sticking to a predictable publishing rhythm will be important to your readers.  Choose as your publishing schedule a date (like the 1st, 15th, or 30th of the month) or a day (the 3rd Tuesday, for example).  A monthly newsletter will help you to build readership most efficiently, but a bi-monthly schedule might be OK.
  3. Template   Reinforce your visual brand and use the colors and graphic style elements used in your business cards and website also in your newsletter design.  An online search will bring you to numerous free newsletter templates and email marketing services will have templates as well.  Choose a template that you like and that will be easy to read.  Readers should be able to quickly scan topic headlines.  Make sure that your template will allow you to upload images as desired. Hubspot, the Cambridge, MA content marketing firm, in a recent survey found that 65% of email marketing readers prefer images to text when reading newsletters.  It’s also important to choose a template that will give sufficient “above the fold” space for you to create headlines that encourage readers to dive in. “Above the fold” is a newspaper industry term that describes the area above the fold in the newspaper.  In a digital newsletter, above the fold refers to what readers can see without scrolling.  Place your best headlines above the fold to reel in readers.
  4. Mobile friendly   A 2018 study by Adestra, a U.K.-based email marketing service, found that 59% of emails are first opened on mobile devices but according to Marketing Land, a digital publication whose target readers are marketing professionals, only 17% of marketers regularly send responsive emails.  Take the steps to format your newsletter in responsive design, so that it will be easy to read on a smart phone or tablet.
  5. Newsletter content   Create a newsletter that consistently delivers to readers  information that they are likely to find interesting and useful.  There are those whose idea of a newsletter consists of links to articles that have appeared in industry journals, sometimes accompanied by a personally written prelude.  That’s probably OK to do two or three times a year, but I highly recommend that you research a topic or two and write 800 – 1500 words of original content.  Your newsletter does not have to exceed two pages, including photos or short videos.
  6. Subscriber base   Your mission will be to capture as many email addresses as ethical behavior allows (no spamming please!).  Take a passive approach and make it possible for readers to subscribe on your website.  Take an active approach and initiate a business card exchange as you meet people in your travels.  Mention that you have a newsletter that covers a particular topic and ask if they’d like to receive it.  If the answer is yes, then you’ll add a new name to your list.  Include an unsubscribe feature in your newsletter template.  Check the statistics of your newsletter, in particular the bounce rate and open rate.  Correct or remove bad email addresses, to keep the list clean and your statistics accurate.  According to Mailchimp, the average newsletter open rate is 20%.  However, when you publish a newsletter that consists of original content that readers value, the open rate can be much higher.  From 2012 – 2016, I was the principal author of a women’s club newsletter (I am still a member) and the open rate approached 70%.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Bob Bernstein (l) and Carl Woodward at The Washington Post in May 1973. The two won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1973 for their reporting on the Watergate story.  ©Associated Press

Your Business, Positioned To Succeed

Since you’ve made the commitment to go into business, as a Freelance Solopreneur who offers B2B or B2C services or an Entrepreneur, who employs a leadership team to operate a complex venture you, the founder and leader, will be expected to position your enterprise for profitability and success.

Strategic planning is the process by which business leaders aim to create sustainable success for their organization and it is the essence of business planning.  Strategic plans typically forecast the upcoming 36 months.  Strategic planning is eventually undertaken by all business leaders who fully grasp their responsibilities.

Freelance Solopreneurs might request that their advisory board members participate in the strategic plan development.  Entrepreneurs can count on their team leaders and they may also invite other staff members to contribute to the process.

Step 1: A SWOT Analysis to reveal where the organization is today

Suggest that the planning team use the classic strategy planning tool, the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) Analysis matrix.  SWOT asks the planning team to acknowledge and document the current reality of the organization, in preparation for deciding how and when to move forward with plans for growth.

In the SWOT, basic information such as identifying resources that can be considered competitive advantages and factors that are considered minuses, start the process. Note that the Strengths and Weaknesses categories ask the team to acknowledge internal factors, that is, conditions that the organization can influence.  The Opportunities and Threats categories hold external factors that the organization can strive to exploit or avoid as needed, but are unable to control.

Perhaps the most important document for the planning team to examine is the Income (Profit & Loss) Statement.  Over the previous 8 to 12 quarters, have total net sales revenues met the forecast projections? What is the trajectory of (top line) gross sales? The P & L includes categories for each product and service that is sold and reveals the history of sales, gross and net.  That data allows for reasonable projection forecasts to be made for sales revenue performance in the near term and up to three years out.  From the P & L. the team will also acknowledge production or acquisition costs of goods sold for each product and service; all marketing and advertising costs; selling costs; fixed operating expenses; payroll expenses; and taxes, local and federal.

Your accountant will be an excellent resource for financial data analysis (whether or not your team includes a fiscal controller) and will be able to recommend attainable goals that will strengthen the company’s fiscal future, information that is essential to the SWOT process.

Statistics and other Information on market share, current and newly arrived competitors and changes in technology, government regulations, or the priorities and preferences of target markets, which can either help or hurt the plans for long-term growth and success, can be culled from quarterly or annual marketing data and reviewed during the SWOT process.  Quality control, operational processes and customer service protocols should likewise be included in the SWOT Analysis.

Step 2: Use the SWOT results to determine your company’s best growth goals

Once the strategy planning team has a clear picture of the current conditions of the business, the next step is to decide what growth could look like for the organization.  It is strongly recommended that the team research potential growth opportunities for the business, to first understand where expansion can be expected to be sustainable and second, the short and long-term expectations for the proposed expansion.

Plans for operational efficiencies, such as improvements in service delivery, customer service protocols, quality control and inventory management could also be evaluated and strategies for improvements formulated during the SWOT, since these elements can impact business growth and perception of the brand.

Decision-making is a huge part of leadership and the team will demonstrate its prowess here. in Step 2. Your team will have been guided by a comprehensive and candid SWOT Analysis, which allows the team to develop plans and move forward with confidence.

Step 3: Strategies, Action Plans, Monitoring and Review

Once the direction for growth has been determined and the financial and operational upgrades needed to promote that growth have been identified, then a list of growth objectives can be proposed and agreed upon by the planning team.  Once the growth objectives have been officially accepted, then the affiliated strategies and action plans, with time tables and milestones to mark interim demonstrations of success, can be developed, discussed and accepted by the team,

Major planning initiatives benefit from monthly or quarterly review, so that incorrect assumptions and forecasts can be quickly revealed and corrections made.  An internal communications plan designed to keep plan participants and non-participating staff apprised of the strategic plan’s progress supports the motivation to continue to carry out the action plans that drive success on the ground.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

5 Customer Survey Questions That Work

Every once in a while, it makes sense to address your client feedback metric, so that you will receive some lived-experience insight into your operation’s strengths and weaknesses.  You need to learn what can be done better, which service delivery or other operational processes might be simplified and what clients would like to see more of.

The smartest way to begin the client feedback process is to decide what you want to know and what purpose that information will serve.  Are you trying to develop new products or services, so that you’ll be able to give clients what they want before they know they want it? Or is business dwindling and you’re in damage control mode, attempting to win back clients?

Some market research questions are best explored through the eyes of clients and others around the conference table with your leadership team (or maybe your front-line staff, who have loads of on-the-ground experience that they’d love to share). Let’s examine when it makes sense to query your clients and when you’ll learn more from in-house research.  Given below are five standard yet very clever survey questions, some that apply to clients and others that apply to you and your team:

  1. What are the challenges that clients (in a given industry or category) are facing?
  2. Which of these problems is our organization equipped to address?
  3. What solutions are we offering now and what can we/should we add, re-tool, or quit?
  4. How effective are our solutions—what do clients most often hire us to do?
  5. What do we do next?

Note that questions 1 and 4 would best be put to your clients and that questions 2, 3 & 5 involve business strategy and would be addressed in-house, once you’ve spoken with selected clients to figure out questions 1 and 4.

How you conduct the client survey deserves some thought, as well. It might be best for Freelance consultants and small business owners to run a low-key survey by setting up an environment that enables comfortable and candid conversation.  Consider making the process informal and perhaps even seemingly impromptu.  Larger companies may feel comfortable running a formal focus group, perhaps facilitated by an outside market research firm.

Question 1: What are the primary challenges facing your client’s organization?

Whether the client comes to you or you go the client, start by asking a “how are things going in your office” question, or inquire about the next big project or objective (whether or not it would involve your organization). Find out what’s going on and let the client talk.

Questions 2 and 3: Which challenges do you want to solve? How will that be done?

Given the expertise and resources you have, coupled with the client’s inclination to contract for the necessary billable hours, which additional client challenges might you be asked to take on (or what can you cleverly propose to be hired to do)? Can your organization successfully deliver the desired outcomes, or will you need to subcontract some portion? Can you learn how clients are managing these responsibilities now? Is there a competitor who gets hired to do that work , or is nothing being done because the client isn’t sure what to do, or lacks the budget to complete the job?

Question 4: Have our solutions satisfactorily resolved the clients’ challenges?

What project did the client hire you to do? What are the projects that your organization is most often hired to do? How does do clients feel about your performance—is your expertise and ability to deliver the service trusted and respected by clients? Does it seem that you’ll receive more business from several of your clients, on a similar project or another type?

Question 5: What do you do next, based on client responses?

Now here is the judgment call for you and the team. The essence of the process is interpreting the data compiled.  What can you realistically do, based on the responses from clients in questions 1 and 4 and the opportunities and strengths within your organization, as noted in questions 2, 3 and 5?

Remember, it is most likely possible to beta test a new or re-tooled service  with a trusted client who would receive a reduced project fee in exchange for helping your organization to perfect the business model.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

Fixing Your Epic Fail

You’ve got to know when to hold’em, know when to fold’em. Know when to walk away, and know when to run.   “The Gambler”, written by Don Schlitz and made famous by singer Kenny Rogers

The Horatio Alger story remains the ultimate creation myth of the United States. Start out penniless.  Be clever, ambitious and ready to work very hard.  Recognize opportunities that others ignore.  Have the courage to take risks.  Summon the self-confidence and determination to stay the course in the face of disappointment.  Succeed wildly.  Make millions of dollars.

The most admired American heroes are the success stories, the big money makers. Paul Allen and Bill Gates, college drop-outs who pulled all-nighters to build Microsoft.  Madam C.J. Walker, a widowed young mother and one-time laundress who in 1906 created a hair care product in one of her wash tubs, out-maneuvered endemic sexism and racism, and became America’s first female and first non-white self-made millionaire (her line is now at Sephora).  Madam Builds an Empire

Striving is the template for life in this country.  Never give up.  Just do it.   However, quiet as it’s kept, certain dreams simply will not pan out because they cannot.  Some ventures are ill-conceived.  Some are very good, but the resources to launch them are not available.  For others, the timing is wrong and one either misses the market, or is too far ahead of the curve and prospective customers do not yet have the desire for the product (or service).  In these instances the smartest action is, sadly, to scrap the dream and walk away.  It is so painful, humiliating, even un-American.  Success is our brand and the whole world knows it.

One of the biggest questions we will encounter as we build a life is, when do you hold on tight to your dream and keep pushing forward through rejection and disappointment and continue to invest time, passion and money into an idea that might be doomed (or not) and when do you give up?

Failure, at some point, is inevitable.  It is demoralizing and damaging, if only to the ego.  It undermines self-confidence.  Repeated failure unravels and destroys a life.

According to behavioral psychologist James Clear, who studies and writes about performance and creativity, failure can be classified in three categories:

  1. Failure of tactics
  2. Failure of strategy
  3. Failure of vision

Clear categorizes Failure of Tactics as Stage 1 and identifies it as HOW mistakes are made.  According to Clear, Stage 1 Failure occurs as a result of poor planning, preparation, or execution.  The Vision may be sound and the chosen Stategy reasonable, but operations issues bring it all crashing down.  His remedy for Stage 1 Failure is to:

  • Examine the process of product and service delivery (service packages, sales distribution, quality control and customer service, usually)
  • Identify system failures in the sales process/ buying process as articulated by customers and employees.
  • Adjust systems and practices that impede an efficient and desirable customer experience and employee efficacy and morale

Stage 2 Failure results from a Failure of Strategy and Clear calls these WHAT mistakes. Stage 2 Failure occurs when the chosen strategy is unable to deliver the desired results.  Since there is no way to know in advance which of your presumed reasonable products, services, or proposals will succeed until there is a beta test, Clear recommends that after due diligence has been done, roll it out and monitor the progress.  His remedy for Stage 2 Failure is:

  • Launch the beta test quickly
  • Do it cheaply
  • Revise rapidly

Throw it up against the wall and see what sticks. If your strategy isn’t doing the job, have Plan B ready and give your concept another try.  Keep costs low to minimize the financial strain of do-overs.  Ideas are meant to be tested, it’s all about trail and error.

Failure of Vision constitutes Stage 3 Failure and it reveals the most basic reasons of WHY the plan failed. In this scenario, the purpose for taking the action was poorly understood.  Was there no measurement of demand for the product, service, or action taken? Did you overestimate access to target customers? Did you not acknowledge that you’d rather not commit the time and money necessary to build the business or carry out the initiative?

Some of us fail because we get pressured into taking certain actions by those whose motive is to continue a tradition or to exert control.  In these scenarios,  actions are taken to follow the expectations of others, rather than one’s own priorities and preferences.

For example, the brother of a good friend, because he was the only son, was expected to take over his father’s highly successful business.  But according to my friend, her brother was not cut out to run a large and complex business.  He lacked the necessary drive. Unsurprisingly, her brother eventually crashed the business.  Their father spent more than a million dollars trying to bail out his son, but the business went bankrupt.

If you’ve done your homework and can be reasonably confident that your vision is sound and you’re willing to invest your time and money testing Stage 2 issues (launch strategy) and perfecting any Stage 1 challenges (operational glitches), then ignore those who would dissuade you to abandon your vision.  Maybe you’ll never be wildly successful, but if you feel compelled to do what you can to realize your dream, then carry on! Avoid Stage 3 Failure in this way:

  • Determine your priorities and purpose and be clear about what you’re willing to do to make it a reality
  • Identify and stand by those parts of your dream that are non-negotiable
  • Accept that there may be naysayers

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

Business Coach Or Business Strategy Consultant?

It has become increasing popular for leaders of organizations large and small, as well as Freelance consultants, to work with a coach, as a way to become a more effective leader, manager and decision-maker. Launching and sustaining a business venture is a significant undertaking. The stakes are very high and the margin of error is exceeding narrow. I’ve briefly worked with a coach myself. But is working with a coach beneficial, or a waste of time and money? Experience told me that it depends on your goals and your choice of coach.

Here’s the good news. The International Coach Federation, a support network for professional coaches, has data that demonstrates 86% of coaching clients recouped in business revenue at least what they invested in their coaching sessions. Further, 96% of those business owners/leaders would seek coaching again in the future. The ICF found that working with a coach improves productivity:

  • It keeps you on track. Through regularly scheduled sessions, business coaching provides accountability that encourages you to pursue your goals.
  • You have a forum for reliable and confidential business advice. A good business coach is positioned to use his/her expertise and judgment to guide you through the minefield of business challenges and difficult decisions.
  • You learn to set meaningful and attainable goals. Recognizing the goals one should set and can achieve is one of the keys to success in life and business. Ideally, your business coach will help you identify short and long-term goals and work with you to devise strategies and action plans that will bring your organization into the winner’s circle.

Now for the reality. As I see it, most of the certified coaches operating today have no business experience. Their background ranges from laid-off human resources / organizational development specialists to psychologists who can no longer make the money they want in the counseling field, due to restrictive health insurance reimbursement rules. Precious few of these individuals has ever seen the inside of a marketing department, sales department, finance or operations department.

They do not know how to create a business model; they’ve never participated in writing a strategic plan; they’ve never done a marketing plan; they’ve never so much as sold an umbrella on a rainy day; they could never interpret a profit & loss statement or a balance sheet. The only business decision they’ve ever made is to repackage themselves as a “business coach”, because they see financial potential.

When I prepared to open my consultancy, I saw a business coach who has an MBA from a very respectable program and who worked as a program manager at a mid-size local not-for-profit organization.  She was an acquaintance and so I consulted her for my launch. She was good with keeping me on track, but there were real deficiencies. She was not quite worth the $75/hour that I paid her in 2003.

She was useless in helping me to define my customer or devise strategies in how to reach them.  She was equally useless in helping me to either refine my business model, or offer feedback on the likely financial potential of the model presented. She, a single woman in consulting practice just as I aspired to be, had no words of advice regarding survival strategies, meaning the development of other revenue streams (such as teaching). She is still in business today, but she’s left the immediate area. I don’t know how successful her business is.

Many coaches may have glowing credentials, but the proper application for their experience and training is as a life coach and not a business coach. As I learned, even an MBA is not necessarily qualified to operate as a business coach.  A significant percentage of coaches are someone you call when work-life balance is an issue, or you need a plan for your under-employed husband, who’s become passive-aggressive because he’s envious of your professional success.

Qualified business coaches are available, but like any other professional services provider that you seek, conduct your due diligence. Coaching credentials are not your primary yardstick. Organizational development specialists and psychologists do not know business, so why would you hire one simply because they have some piece of paper?

Business experience and the ability to work with others one-on-one, or as group leader in CEO forums, is the skill-set that matters. Leaders who seek business coaching in fact need a business strategy consultant,  a seasoned professional who has been in the trenches and knows what it’s like to outwit, or get shot down, by competitors and the changing winds of business fortunes. Organization leaders are best served by a wise and savvy pro who has been to the mountain top and returned, to show us how to reach the summit.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Get Your Arms Around Content Marketing

Was it two or three years ago that the term  “Content Marketing ” entered the marketing lexicon?  I first addressed the subject in March 2013  https://freelancetheconsultantsdiary.wordpress.com/2013/03/05/content-marketing-is-the-new-ad-copy .  Back in the day,  advertising strategy focused on which publications would reach the most potential customers at a price the business could afford.  Depending on your business,  traditional advertising can still deliver the desired ROI,  but Content Marketing cannot be ignored.  It is the conduit to engaging with customers on a granular level.  Through it,  we are able to reveal our understanding of customer priorities and challenges,  build trust and credibility as a result of that understanding and demonstrate how and when they might benefit from using our products and services  (and in that order,  BTW).

KISSmetrics CEO Neil Patel defines Content Marketing as  “…the way for a business owner to educate your customers and potential customers about your products and services.  The goal is to offer tips,  help and education about anything that can be helpful to a customer.  This kind of information can be shared in the form of a blog, white paper, webinar, video or social post.  The opportunities are endless.”  Michael Brenner,  a Forbes Magazine Top 40 Social Media Marketer and head of strategy at NewsCred,  points out that  “Small businesses don’t have the luxury of massive ad budgets…they need to drive brand awareness and (sales) leads with limited resources.  Content Marketing is a great way for small businesses to do both.

Great.  Now let’s get you started on creating Content that’ll do some good.  First,  define the Content you should create,  i.e. the Content that your customers value,  presented in a way that will make them tune in to your message.  Think carefully and from the customer’s viewpoint about the reasons that they use your product or service: what are they trying to achieve and what information would they appreciate as they strive to examine and resolve that process?  Chatting with customers about their business goals and challenges and getting a better handle on where your products or services fit in will give you some guidance.

Shelly Kramer,  CEO and founder of V3 Integrated Marketing,  insists that you will benefit from applying what you learn from your research to your strategy and,  just as important,  commit it to writing.  “Write down your strategy.  The key is to tie your overall business goals and objectives into your Content Marketing strategy”,  she says.  Kramer is very astute as she reminds Freelancers and business owners to remember the big-picture marketing strategy for the enterprise and incorporate Content Marketing,  including social media,  in that picture.  “Social and Content have to work together in order for you to be successful….you can’t have success with Content without a robust presence in the social media space and….understanding the role that fresh,  relevant Content and social media channels play.  There is great Content being published on corporate blogs on a daily basis that no one ever sees.”

Next,  choose your delivery system.   Do customers visit your website often?  Then maybe posting a white paper once a month or writing a weekly blog will work for you.   Are customers part of your LinkedIn group,  Facebook fan page,  or do they follow your business on Twitter?  Add those icons to your email signature block and your website to make social media connections that alert customers to your Content an easy process.   A monthly newsletter is another great Content Marketing strategy.  It’s the savviest form of email marketing  (include an opt-out feature).

Fresh and relevant are your operative words,  as Kramer notes.  Volume,  value and variety are your other guideposts.  Brenner says “(Volume)….starts with this notion that you need to be present in our always-on,  always connected world.  The second thing is value.  Your Content has to be good.   I always recommend that brands identify what they want to talk about and then make every effort to produce as much valuable Content around those topics as often as possible.  The final tip is about variety.   People (and search engines)  reward those brands that deliver value in multiple ways,  so think about text-based articles,  videos,  SlideShare presentations,  research reports  (white papers) and all the different things we consume across the digital,  social and mobile web.”

How do you measure ROI and recognize success?  Patel offers 3 specific steps:

  • Track Content views
  • Use Google Analytics (free) to track which types of Content drives visits to your website
  • Measure your search traffic

Patel advises “You have to give it time.  Don’t expect great results in 3 months or 6 months,  but you will see traction.  Within the first 3 months you should see more traffic to your site.   Within a year you should start to see good results and an opportunity to monetize traffic on your site.”  Patel concludes  “Good Content Marketing builds trust.  If someone trusts you,  they are more likely to buy your products and services and more likely to tell their friends and family.”

Thanks for reading and Happy Thanksgiving,

Kim