Archive for October, 2009

Avoid Business Growing Pains

We all know people who’ve lost or nearly lost their business.

We hear how they’ve been “stitched up” by rogues or, at the very least, let down by incompetents whom they’ve charged with responsibility for sales, marketing, financial, legal or IT issues and it’s all gone horribly wrong.

So how did they allow this to happen? Well, in hindsight they’ve obviously made the wrong choice(s). Brilliant. We know that in hindsight we all have 20:20 vision. So how do we get the 20:20 before we get to the potential disaster?

The two obvious ways are:

  • You buy in the expertise you need from somebody proven to actually be able to do the job well (outsourced or employed)
  • You learn how to do it yourself from a reputable source

Yet there are two potential flaws in this (somewhat flippant) answer.

The first assumes that you know at the very least what questions to ask and what answers to expect in order to ascertain whether an individual claiming expertise in any of the essential areas is actually any good at what he/ she does and whether you would be getting value for money in the service you’re paying for.

The second presumes you know where to go, whom to go to, have the time and can make the commitment to learn how to perform these functions to the best of your ability and to the credit and success of your company.

Once again good old common sense has an often sadly ignored role in this. What about a middle ground where you could pool teaching and learning skills, gradually building mutual trust and without anybody spending huge amounts of money :)?

Networking groups abound yet they seem to be set up with the prime reason (if not sole purpose) to introduce and refer business rather than trading skills and services.

You may have tried networking and love or hate your experiences of it. It doesn’t really matter for our purposes here because, regardless, you will know at least some people whom you trust and who can either help you directly or put you in contact with someone who can.

  • Start inviting people who are each as good in their field as you are in yours to come and talk to each other
  • Ask how willing they are to help each other
  • Find out what additional help they in turn need and build a group that ultimately can fulfil all, or at least most of your collective business skills needs

It’s a good idea to agree a unit value for each function – an hourly, daily or part-day rate is usually favourite. Then barter time where possible either to perform the function for each other or use that time (where practical) to teach/ show how to do it. I prefer the latter for reasons I’ll go into further down the line.

Introduce members gradually and monitor the value of their contributions. Some may turn out to be mainly “takers”: They’ll pay for the services on offer that they need rather than really enter into the spirit of the group. And that may be perfectly acceptable until somebody else comes along and wants to join who does what they do but wants to give, too. You just have to decide as you go along what’s in the best interests of the group.

Try it out and let me know how you get on :).

How effective are your business meetings?

This post was prompted by a company selling a webinar about meetings; more specifically, how to have effective meetings.

It reminded me of one of a series of training videos that were used a generation ago that often used humour to put the main points across. This particular one was “Meetings Bl****y Meetings!” and reading the webinar promotional blurb this morning made me think that maybe not much has changed if managers and bosses are still making the same mistakes (I guess they’re a different set of people now).

There are statistics from surveys quoting the number of hours per week spent in meetings, percentages on how many are ineffective and even a claim that the level of meeting effectiveness is the single most powerful factor in job satisfaction (?)!

It seems to provide reasonable content, though a bit basic but, in my opinion it shoots itself in the foot in two ways:

  1. Though it goes on at length about people resenting their time being wasted in ineffective meetings, it assumes there is a valid purpose to each of them in the first place and doesn’t once say we should ask why we’re planning a meeting – is it necessary?
  2. Neither does it tackle the question of who should attend and why (maybe that’s because it goes on to suggest you get everyone in your office – whether they set-up or attend meetings – to join in because as many as you like can attend for the one price…)

To me these two issues are key before any meeting is arranged. The skills we bring to making our meetings effective should be addressed, yes, but only after we’ve satisfactorily answered these two questions.

Control Costs, Win And Keep Customers

More than 40% of small firms want more support to survive the recession, according to research by Lloyds TSB Commercial.

  • Two thirds of firms put advice on controlling cost top of the agenda
  • 60% want advice on attracting customers
  • 44% want help on how to keep them

So we had a quick look around the guides on website and watched the customer video.
And it’s the Lloyds TSB customer (business owner) input that’s really down to earth:

  • Keep your name out there
  • Bring the customers in
  • Look at your sales figures weekly not monthly or quarterly
  • Keep in close contact with everyone to avoid nasty surprises: Bank Manager, Accountant, Suppliers, Customers
  • Provide value for money: Maintain quality and standards
  • Don’t be too inward looking
  • Keep a keen eye on budgeting, planning and cash flow
  • Tighten credit management – it’s often not necessarily bad debt but too slow payers
  • When you get your customers look after them: Understand their problems

We’ve picked up on the final point we’ve listed from the video and the fact that many small firms want help on how to keep customers.

Lloyds TSB has a Guide on Market Research. They’re right to have it up there yet we believe they’re wrong not to put it into perspective as, in our experience, small firms tend to see this is as questionable expenditure in good times, let alone in a recession.

Focus groups need an experienced facilitator and should probably be outsourced to a company that knows its stuff – once you’ve decided on what the purpose is and that focus groups are the best way to achieve it.

On the other hand, telephone market research is something many small businesses can do themselves with a little thought and preparation. And the good news is, if you provide good products or services, you should find that your customers are happy to help you.

Is your business booming?

We’ve said before that your business isn’t your life. Yet if it’s taking up a large part of your waking (and maybe even sleeping) time in this crazy economy, it ought to be contributing to you leading the best life you can.

If you wake up every day raring to go about your business that’s great – maybe you’d like to share some tips here!

If you’re more often dragging yourself out of bed, dreading the day ahead, ‘shoving the reasons under the carpet’ won’t help. Here’s your chance to be honest with yourself and give them an airing:

False bravado won’t get a business through this recession and if what used to work doesn’t anymore it’s time to get creative!

  • What one, two or three things would you change about your business if you could?
  • What one, two or three things would bring back your enjoyment and help make your business soar?

Don’t worry for now about whether or how you think you could bring these about – that’s likely to stop you in your tracks – just concentrate on the ‘whats’ for now.

The ‘hows’ come later and are for us to work towards together – if you want to.

What we’re aiming for here are the biggest issues and blocks that are holding businesses back.

Once we’ve identified them we can set about systematically removing them.

Put your responses up here in the comments or, if you prefer, send me an email privately.

What’s in a name?

Quite a lot, it would appear!

Our Selling For Business sales and marketing communications skills course is well established. Yet it has always been a Big Thing for the owners of micro and small businesses (that it’s aimed at helping) to take on board and commit to somebody in the company doing.

So we thought long and hard, talked to customers, business associates and fellow networkers to get their input.

As soon as one of them pointed out the fact that our training is always designed to be within the comfort zone of any delegate, it was as though a veil had lifted. The working title for that course was originally Comfort Zone Selling. We only changed it because we were transfixed back then (as was almost everyone doing any amount of their business via the Internet) with having a dot com address, which we couldn’t get. We still kept the comfort zone approach and our company name, CoZo, came directly from that

We also finally accepted that there are some people who will never be comfortable with the idea of selling, no matter how simple and pain-free we know we can make the activity.

What’s more, we now knew that those people could make huge leaps forward in their business profitability without ever overtly selling. People who take the Selling For Business course have told us they have done so even before they reached the modules on the more traditional sales communication skills.

As the result of practising what we preach, (listening to the market needs and wants and responding to them) admittedly somewhat belatedly, we now have two new courses:

Comfort Zone Soft Skills Training and Comfort Zone Selling

And guess what? People relate to them easily, see immediately what each is about and can choose which one is more relevant to their situation, their market and their needs.

Our company name now also makes a lot more sense…

If you’re having a problem with any obstacles that are making it difficult to gain acceptance from your market of something you know will help, don’t keep trying to push a snowball uphill, instead learn from our mistakes, talk to your market and sort it out sooner rather than later!

All the best

Just do it!

… is a line that appears in our Build Firm Foundations course because we think Nike have got it right.

Yet it applies to anything in your life or business that you know isn’t right and needs fixing.

You’ll always be able to think of a thousand reasons (excuses) why it’s not quite the right time for you to improve your sales and marketing skills:

  • You’re too busy servicing (sometimes unprofitable) existing customers
  • You have more quotes to get out to potential customers
  • The payroll needs to be done
  • The VAT needs to be done

The list is potentially endless. Then you wonder, six months or a year down the line, why you’re in much the same position as you were, yet your competition, whom you believe in truth to be no better than you, is charging ahead.

Well maybe your competition just got smart and decided to invest a little time learning how to better position itself so that it demostrates its understanding of the target market’s problems and pains and has the best solutions for them.

Unlike my partner’s son’s line of business, this (and other areas of sales and marketing) isn’t rocket science. And you don’t need a high priced consultant to show you how to do it. Do you remember Portia Nelson?

You are the only impediment in your progress, not the demands of your customers, the quotes for potential customers, the payroll or the VAT man. If you’re not completely happy with your company’s performance isn’t it time you figured out how to fix it?

Once you start and see how it all fits neatly into place, you’ll wonder what on earth took you so long!

Why you should reward referrals

Forgot to mention this in the previous post, yet it’s important:

You should always know how a new customer came to you as you will either have been making contact with him or her or you will have asked how they heard about you.

So, when a customer refers a potential client to you, you’ll know who should be thanked and can do so straight away.

(If you neglect to do this don’t be surprised if that’s the first and last referral you get from that quarter. The customer may not mention anything to you but he or she may well to others.)

If you convert that introduction to business you may decide that more tangible appreciation in the form of a gift is appropriate.

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"I was very impressed by Linda's determination to help and the constructive, but persistent, manner in which she identified issues and then tried to resolve them. After recent progress I was again reaching a stage where I seemed to be spinning my wheels, and she has given me fresh impetus to start moving forward again."