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

5 Start-up Must-dos

Peter Russo, Director of the Entrepreneurial Management Institute at Boston University,  wisely points out that avoiding mistakes is not quite the same thing as doing the right thing.  Avoiding mistakes is being on the defensive,  the yin side of the equation.  Doing the right thing is proactive,  on the offensive,  the yang side of the equation.  Here is Peter Russo’s list of essential must-dos for those who plan to launch a business venture.

1.   Know your goals for the venture.  “A lot of people see an opportunity without ever asking themselves what they’re doing it for.  Are you trying to make a quick buck?  Create a legacy?  Afford a certain lifestyle?  It’s critical that you know from the beginning what your goals are,  because everything else is going to revolve around that.”  Launching a full-time venture that is expected to grow exponentially and generate for the owners ever-expanding  profits is not always a goal.   Some people start a business to generate some income by leveraging a creative ability.  For many years my father,  who had a day job,  worked in a landscaping venture that was started by my mother’s uncle after he retired.  The two worked evenings and Saturdays for about 15 years.  My father and great-uncle understood that it was not practical to attempt to expand the venture into a full-time endeavor,  for any number of reasons and so they didn’t.  But they made money and that was their goal.

2.   Recruit and hire the best people.  “It sounds almost like a cliché to say that I’d rather have an A team with a B idea than a B team with an A idea.  The right team can fix a lot of problems.  If you don’t have the right team,  you don’t have much of a chance.  Get the best available people at the time.”  Hiring friends and family who need a job is not the way to staff your start-up.  You need experience and talent,  creative and resourceful professionals possessed of an excellent work ethic and who are a good cultural fit for the organization.

3.   Develop a forgiving strategy.  “Things are going to go wrong.  They’re going to be harder,  take longer and cost more money than you think.  You have to have a strategy to survive.  A lot of people put together a plan that will work only if everything goes right.  It’s not going to.”

4.   Be honest with yourself.  “Acknowledge shortcomings,  weaknesses and problems immediately.  Do not ignore them or try to talk yourself out of them.  Address them head-on.”  So if you have production problems,  distribution or quality control problems,  fix your system.  If business is distressingly slow,  then re-think your business model—do you have a viable concept?  Or might you have been too optimistic about market potential,  or your ability to enter and win customers?  Should you step up your marketing efforts?

5.   Commit to the business.  “You can’t really do anything significant without fully committing yourself to it.  A lot of people try to dabble.  They think they’ll do it part-time and see how it works out.  If you plan to be successful,   you have to commit.”  Refer back to #1—what are your goals for the business?  Plenty of people operate successfully as part-time caterers,  musicians,  wedding photographers/videographers,  website designers,  etc.  They start a business to generate some money by leveraging a creative ability.  It takes a great deal of energy,  discipline and focus to launch and sustain a part-time business while simultaneously working a full or part-time job.  You must commit to the business if it is to succeed.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Sidestep Start-up Screw-ups

Presented for your edification are the final five elements of the start-up advice recommended by John Osher,  former CEO of Dr. John’s Products, Ltd. and an entrepreneur extraordinaire who started three businesses from the ground up and sold each at huge profit.

13.   SEEKING CONFIRMATION OF YOUR ACTIONS, RATHER THAN SEEKING THE TRUTH

“This often happens: you want to do something, so you talk about it with people who work for you.  You talk to family and friends.  But you’re only looking for confirmation.  You’re not looking for the truth.  You’re looking for somebody to tell you you’re right.  You have to learn to give more value to the truth than to people saying what you’re doing is right”.

14.   LACKING SIMPLICITY IN YOUR VISION

“Rather than focusing on doing everything right to sell to your biggest markets,  you divide your attention …trying to be too many things at one time.  Then your main product isn’t done properly because you’re doing so many different things”.   I have been guilty of this and maybe you have,  too.  I was trying to hook as many customer groups as possible using every skill set that I owned.  As a result,  when I would tell someone what I do,  they would sometimes get this confused look on their face.  Eventually,  a networking group colleague told me that he was having trouble trying to categorize me,  couldn’t figure how to remember me for referrals.  A couple of years ago,  I finally found the courage to pare down my offerings,  to simplify and sharpen the focus of my suite of services.   Referrals eventually increased and business got better.   This is a business model issue.  Sometimes,  less is more.

15.    LACKING CLARITY IN THE BUSINESS PURPOSE AND GOALS

“You should have an idea of what your long-term aim is.  It doesn’t mean that won’t change,  but when you aim an arrow,   you aim it at a target.  What are you trying to do?  If you want to create a billion dollar company with a certain product,  you may not have a chance.  But if you’re trying to create a million dollar company,  then maybe with that product,  you’ll have a chance.  Clarity of your business purpose is very important”.

16.    LACKING FOCUS AND IDENTITY

“This list was written from the viewpoint of building a company as a valuable entity.  Remember that the company itself has an identity,  a brand.  Do not go after too many things at once and end up with a potpourri of products and services,  rather than a focused business entity.  When you go into business,   it’s important to maintain a focus and an identity.  You must be focused on who you are and what you do and you build power and credibility from that”.

17.    LACKING AN EXIT STRATEGY

“Have an exit plan and create your business to satisfy that plan.   You may build a business that you feel will start fast and make a good deal of money and for that reason will attract a lucrative buy-out.   Maybe you figure that you can make lots of money for about two years but after that,  competitors will enter and you won’t be able to protect yourself from them.   So after the first year,  you watch the marketplace very carefully and keep a close eye on inventory.  Another exit strategy can be to hand the company to your kids someday.  The most important thing to do is build a company with value and profits so you have all the options open to you;  keep the company,   sell the company,   go public,  raise private money and so on.   A business can be a product, too”.

Next week,  we can examine five things to get right as you build your business.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

I, Consultant: Value-Added

Solopreneur consultants and other business owners are always selling,  sometimes overtly and other times discreetly.  To sell effectively,  we must understand and articulate the reasons that clients hire us.  We need selling points at our fingertips and as as always,  it is necessary to adopt the prospective client’s point-of-view.  Why would an organization leader hire me?  What is my value-added?

1. You provide expertise.

Convince prospective clients that you possess the know-how that organization staff members lack.  Let them know that you have the answers  (without revealing specific solutions before you sign a contract).  A high-ranking job title acquired in previous employment confers to you significant credibility.  Well-known clients confer significant credibility.  Speaking engagements at prestige venues,  especially if you met the prospective client there,  inspire confidence.  Blogs,  newsletters and social media serve to support one of the above,  but neither alone nor in aggregate will they convince an important client to hire you (unless you get enormously lucky).

2. You identify problems or gaps.

The ability to quickly and accurately grasp the big picture is essential.  Nevertheless,  be advised that the client may not appreciate hearing the truth.  Be diplomatic in how you bring problems to the client’s attention.

3. You supplement the company’s permanent staff’.

Downsized workforces became a fact of life in the early 1990s and nearly every for-profit and not-for-profit organization is under-staffed.  Big companies can often afford to hire and would be wise to hire,  but company leaders would rather keep payrolls light.  The loss of productivity that under-staffing causes does not show up in an income statement,  at least if acceptable top-line growth occurs.  All organizations have been hit hard by health insurance and other operating costs.  Consultants are hired to fill in the labor gaps because we do not receive benefits of any kind and when the project has been completed,  we leave.

4. You introduce change.

For political reasons,  it may be easier to call in a consultant to implement changes that management would like to make.  The consultant is better equipped to defuse or prevent any push-back or sabotage,  because he/she is a neutral party.

5. You provide training for staff.

Maybe you once ran a sales department and you will provide sales training,  or you ran the human resources department and you’re hired to conduct team-building or diversity workshops.

6. You assist with a turn-around.

This assignment could start with a request to facilitate a strategy planning session.  Vision-Mission-Values,  or Goals-Objectives-Strategies-Action Plans will drive the turn-around.  You ensure that there is follow-through,  enthusiasm and support for the plan and that achievement of milestones and other successes are communicated throughout the organization and celebrated.

7. You assist with a new product (or service) launch.

You may do market research and confirm the prospects for the product or service and discover or confirm key target markets and their expected dollar potential.  You may take an active role in the launch,  joining with the marketing team to define the primary marketing message,  timing of the product roll-out,  formulate the advertising strategy and approve the PR strategy.

Finally,  independent consultants must pay particular attention to how we will obtain clients.  That process forms the heart of our business model.  Speak with friends and colleagues who are highly placed within industries where you expect to work and figure out if projects can at least occasionally be awarded to you.  Further,  if you work with your employer’s clients,  inform your very best friends of your plan and discreetly recruit at least one or two to follow you.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Highlights of The Social Business Benchmark Study of 2013

Last year Leader Networks,  a Boston area consulting firm that specializes in B2B social media and the global not-for-profit think tank Society for New Communications Research,  teamed up to conduct a comprehensive and global study of the usage of social media for B2B interaction.  Fifty-five mostly for-profit organizations of various sizes participated.  The study examined the following topics:

  • How organizations are currently leveraging social business efforts
  • The use of social media tools,  internally and externally
  • The readiness of organizations to utilize social media tools
  • Intentions of social business strategy
  • Social media marketing strategy and the ability to leverage and operate same as social business initiatives

Companies studied were mostly present on LinkedIn,  Twitter,  YouTube,  Facebook,  Google+ and their company-sponsored blog,  in that order.  The study distinguished between social media marketing,  which it defined as the use of social media platforms for marketing and social business,  defined as using customer information gleaned from social media marketing to enable more efficient and effective decisions,  actions and outcomes within the organization.  The study also developed a continuum of social media use:

  • Socially Familiar- organization is present on at least one platform and has policy guidelines;  the organization is experimenting to learn what works
  • Socially Present- organization has minimal or limited social media staffing, strategies,  or policy guidelines;  brand advancement forms the core of information communicated
  • Socially Enabled- social media platforms form the basis of customer outreach;  moderate to significant levels of budget,  staffing,  policy guidelines and strategies are in place and utilized optimally
  • Socially Integrated- organization has significant use of the above indicators;  communication is two-way,  with much customer engagement;  information gleaned is incorporated across the organization

Companies usually approach social media involvement through a few Socially Familiar staff members who experiment with various platforms to figure out what works best for company objectives.  After about 3 – 6 months,  those staff members will present their findings to direct-report management and request approval to advance to the next level.   At the Socially Present stage,  selected social media platforms are used to broadcast brand awareness messages and marketing campaign information.  Communication is primarily one-way.   This period usually lasts 6 – 24 months.

At the Socially Enabled stage,  communication is primarily two-way and information is deemed actionable.  Social media staff gather and disseminate information from social media communications deep within the organization,  where it impacts R & D,  customer service,  technical support,  marketing campaign strategies,  sales distribution choices and other functions.   Social media may play a role in nurturing relationships with organizational partners and suppliers.  Tangible social media ROI is recognized.  The final stage,  Socially Integrated,  is only rarely achieved at this point.  In fact,  this stage may not fit the objectives of most businesses.

Insights brought forth from the study were what one would expect.  C-suites executives are rapidly accepting the inevitability of social media and budgets are being made available to support staffing,  which is based in marketing departments.  Social media strategies are being developed and social media guidelines are being drafted (by legal departments).  Brand reinforcement,  rather than customer engagement,  is the primary goal of B2B social media strategies at this time,  but lead generation (sales departments),  R & D and customer service (operations departments) are emerging as important players.  Linking the social media strategy to business needs and performance metrics to measure ROI is becoming more common.

Nevertheless,   in most cases,  funding for social media initiatives remains low.   More than 50%  of respondents reported that their companies spent 5%  or less of their IT budgets on enabling social media platform tools.  23%  reported that their organizations had no plans to spend on social media.

Thanks for reading,

Kim