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Growing Your Business? January is Get Real Month

January 21st, 2015

It’s claimed as Hot Tea month, Hobby month, and even Divorce month. I think of January as Get Real month. It’s time for reviewing your business behaviors. What’s moving you forward? What’s holding you back? Here are three behaviors that top the list:

I’m Not Wired to Sit at a Desk: Some business owners will do anything to evade think time. They’re great at networking and generating ideas. When it comes to thinking through the implementation, they are equally adept at evasion tactics.

I Put Out Fires: I once worked for a boss who felt most productive when putting out fires. When his company was operating smoothly, he would create a crisis that he could step in and resolve. Constantly dealing with crises prevents you from thinking about your business.

I Have to Do It Myself: These business owners are overwhelmed with daily decisions and tasks that others should be doing. Every business owner must eventually face the operational consequences of growth: you can’t continue to make decisions or execute on every detail of your business.

If you recognize these behaviors in yourself, maybe it’s time to get real.

First, make and keep a recurring weekly appointment with yourself to think about what’s happening in your business and prioritize your activities. Figure out which day and time of day you feel most focused and open to stepping away from the daily details and claim that time as your own. Consider choosing a non-office location for your appointment if interruptions or distractions are an issue. Make certain that you’re not substituting office interruptions for distractions in another location.

During your appointment, keep your business goals, opportunities and issues visible. Reviewing a standard list of questions at each meeting can help you to focus.

Business Changes

What needs to change in my business?

Who or what resources do I have to make this change/who are my best change agents?

Whom do I know who can help with this?

Which of m y current activities need to change?

Opportunities and Issues

What can be done right now to help to resolve this issue/leverage this opportunity?

Who can take this action?

What is the most productive use of my time?

What were the top three things I did last week?

How do these things contribute to my business goals and opportunities?

Priorities and Productivity

What percentage of my time did I spend on those things?

What were the least important things I did in the last week?

How could I have deferred or delegated those things?

Then ask yourself the same questions for the coming week.

The most important appointment you can keep is the one you make with yourself. Get Real in January, and you’ll see results in 2015.

Got Goals? Five Ways to Stay on Track in 2015

January 5th, 2015

Several years ago, I visited a friend in London. On New Year’s Eve, we had dinner at a local bistro, and then did something I had never done: we sipped champagne and set goals for the coming year. Not resolutions, but career and business goals. It’s a tradition I continue to observe.

Setting goals is challenging enough – but the real work is keeping your goals from unravelling as the year unfolds. Here are a few tips for keeping your 2015 goals on track.

  1. Document your Goals

The often-cited “Harvard Goals Study” suggests that people with clear written goals achieve more and earn more than those who don’t. Putting your goals into a form that you can review and revise is key to staying on track. Not a writer? Consider developing a visual infographic or mood board to capture the intent of your goals. You can also use goal-setting software tools, such as the ones listed here.

  1. Set Interim Outcomes

Let’s say your business revenue was $5 million in 2014 and your goal is to increase revenue by 30% in 2015. What might that look like on a monthly or quarterly basis? For example, you might set a monthly revenue goal for the first quarter of 2015 that is less than a 30% increase. Chances are you’ll need the first quarter to put processes in place and manage your learning curve as you work towards your goals.

  1. Review Your Goals Weekly

Whether you’ve written your goals down, developed an infographic or loaded them into software, set a weekly appointment review them, assess the past week’s activities and define actions you can take during the coming week.  

  1. Take Daily Action

What can I do – right here, right now – that supports the goals I’ve set? Asking yourself this simple question on a daily basis is a powerful way to keep yourself on track. For example, re-engaging with a lapsed prospect instead of having lunch with a friend you see regularly might be a better use of your goal-focused time.

  1. Benchmark Opportunities to Your Goals

It’s called Bright Shiny Object Syndrome. You’ve set your goals, and then you get distracted by a new idea, or a shot-in-the-dark possibility. When an idea or opportunity surfaces, test it against your goals with the following questions:

  • Does this idea or opportunity bring me closer to achieving my goals?
  • How do I know this?
  • Is pursuing this idea/opportunity the best use of my time, compared to what I could be doing?
  • How will pursing this idea/opportunity affect current projects or initiatives that support my goals?

An update on New Year’s Eve in London: my friend wanted to launch a business in a warm climate near the ocean, and her goal that year was to relocate to a beachfront community. She now runs a successful real estate company in Florida.

Are You Defying Gravity? Newton’s Law for Salespeople

November 4th, 2014

“Gravity. It Isn’t Just a Good Idea. It’s the Law.”

Gerry Mooney coined this tagline in 1977 and immortalized it on his cult-classic poster of an apple bouncing off Sir Isaac Newton’s head.

The law of gravity applies to sales just as much as it does to apples falling from a tree. Like gravity, an effective sales approach is a force of attraction – it draws prospects to your product or service. Unless you defy the law. Here’s an example from a mail piece I received recently.

The letter was from a financial advisor I don’t know. Inside the envelope was an informational piece about asset allocation in a financial portfolio. The advisor’s photo and contact information were printed on the piece, and next to his photo the advisor had written: “Congratulations on your award. I thought this article might interest you. I will follow up next week.”

This advisor deserves credit for proactively seeking out prospects, but his approach failed. In sales, as in physics, you can’t defy gravity: it’s the law. Here are three simple adjustments to turn a gravity-defying attempt at prospecting into a force of attraction.

Have a Clear Purpose: A handwritten note of congratulations is a considerate touch and an effective opener. The advisor’s note just didn’t have any connection to the asset allocation piece, and the piece had no connection to me. The communication lost its force of attraction. A simple card or separate note of congratulations would have been more effective as an initial approach.

Be Helpful: The advisor doesn’t know me or anything about my interests. What made him think the asset allocation piece would interest me? Do your homework and find out about the prospect and his/her company, and don’t push too much information too soon. A relationship-building approach might be, “As you explore financial options as a business owner, I’d be happy to be an information resource for you.”

Communicate a Meaningful Follow-up Plan: The advisor’s note said, “I will follow up next week.” Follow up on what? Open the door to getting acquainted with a local prospect by requesting a time to introduce yourself informally and in person. If your prospect is involved in a local chamber of commerce, professional association or civic group, suggest meeting and introducing yourself to your prospect at an upcoming meeting. It’s a low-key way to establish a connection.

Gravity always pulls; it never pushes. If your sales approach is pushy, you’re defying gravity. Use the law to your advantage, then watch the impact it has on your sales.

Find a Way to Win: Focus on the Preferences that Matter

October 15th, 2014

Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas made two stellar catches in game three of the American League Championship Series, including a deep dive into the dugout suite. In a post-game interview, Moustakas was asked about the team’s strategy for game four. “Just find a way to win,” he simply said.

His “find a way” attitude reminded me of a business owner who did. A few years ago, I frequented a Vietnamese restaurant near a client’s office. My client and I met there so often that we had a regular table, a standing order and Tuan, the owner, greeted us by name.

The restaurant had opened about a year earlier and I came to see it as a midday haven from multitasking. No adrenaline rush here. We and the handful of other regular diners found ourselves speaking almost in whispers, not wanting to disrupt the peaceful environment. 

My client and I left Tuan’s place after each lunch with the same reflections: how much we liked the restaurant and Tuan, how worried we were that if his business didn’t pick up we might be looking for a new lunch spot, what a shame that would be. 

One day during lunch at Tuan’s, I noticed that the restaurant’s vibe seemed different. The décor and food were unchanged but the dining areas were buzzing.

Nearly every booth and table was occupied. The clientele was a mix of hip young professionals, students and seasoned business types engaged in audible, animated conversation.

I noticed that Tuan had made two changes in his operation. He had installed a fixed-price noodle bar which was constantly ringed with diners. Gone was the Vietnamese background music, replaced with Anglo rock. Those relatively minor changes had clearly made a big difference in his results.

I was happy for Tuan that business was good although part of me missed the way things used to be. When he stopped at our table to thank us for coming in, I congratulated him. He didn’t seem like the rock music type and so I asked him if he missed his Vietnamese music. Palms up, he shrugged and smiled his gracious smile. “Same one, same the other,” he said. “People like it, so I changed.”

Spoken like a true entrepreneur. Determined to thrive, Tuan took his cues from his customers and made two plays that increased his lunch business. The original restaurant culture he had created was familiar and comfortable for him, but when it didn’t work for his customers, he took the dive and adapted.

Being humble and open are attributes of both successful sports teams and successful businesses. Business owners can become so focused on their personal preferences that they overlook their customer’s preferences. Tuan found a way to win: be flexible and focus on the preferences that matter – your customer’s.

Would You Hire This Person?

October 2nd, 2014

I recently led a whiteboard session at Summit Technology Academy. This forward-thinking high school accelerator is a national model for providing pre-professional, college-level coursework for students interested in science and technology-related careers.

The session was like many productive whiteboard sessions – a sometimes messy, muddy, process. Getting to clear outcomes requires asking crystal-clear questions – and answering those questions with honesty.

During a break in the session, I took a walk through the hallways to incubate my questions. As I turned around a corner, I came face to face with myself.

A full-length mirror was mounted on the wall. Above it was the question: Would you hire this person?

Well, there’s a crystal-clear question. Most of us have thought about that question when it pertains to someone else. The students that call the Academy home pass by that mirror on a daily basis, and are challenged to answer it for themselves. How would you look at yourself from an external point of view and answer that question from an internal point of view?

It’s about more than just what you’re wearing. It’s the intangibles that the mirror challenges you to confront. Do you project the confidence and determination to do what it takes? Does that show in your expression? Your demeanor?  Can you look yourself in the eye and honestly answer, “Yes, I would hire myself?”  If you honestly answer no, what could you change? How could you develop those intangibles? 

Beyond the job interview, every business interaction is an opportunity to be hired. Lunch with a colleague, a sales presentation, informal networking over coffee or a department meeting – all of these interactions give everyone you meet a full view of what you bring to the table. If you take an honest, full- view look at yourself and challenge yourself to answer “yes,” you just might bring more to the table and get better results.

Take a look in your mirror today and ask yourself: “Would you hire this person?

 

Strategy: What the Greeks Knew

September 19th, 2014

The Greeks knew it. The Trojans learned the hard way. From its political and military origins thousands of years ago through the current business climate, strategy – how to develop it, execute it, out-position your competition with it, achieve results with it – is essential to business success. Results matter more than ever to business owners and company leaders, who expect more from the strategy development process than a plan in a binder.

Ask yourself or your team about strategy, and you’re likely to uncover long-held assumptions about the process. Here are two of them:

Assumption #1:  Strategic planning is a logical, intellectual exercise. True, the strategy development process is partly logic-driven, and it’s also very much colored by emotions. Strategic planning involves people – individuals and teams who have a stake in the outcomes. Some may initially see the process in terms of an evaluation of their performance, as a challenge to the ways they’ve become accustomed to working, or as a change that alters how their value to the company is perceived.

The variations on these perceptions are as numerous as the people who hold them. When emotion-based perceptions are not acknowledged, the collaborative benefits and outcomes of strategic planning suffer. Participants can become defensive and competitive. The process can be compromised by hidden agenda, or take on a tone of risk management. These unintended consequences are avoidable. Leaders that recognize and accept strategic planning as a non-linear, often emotional process can make a significant difference in the outcomes.

Assumption #2:  Classic strategic planning is the only valid approach. Classic strategic planning emerged in the 1950’s. Assessment and analytical tools such as SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) evolved during the 1960’s and 1970’s. The classic approach can be effective. It’s also one of many approaches. I sat down recently with a company president to discuss his company’s upcoming planning retreat.  When I suggested that the company could consider a range of options in addition to a classic approach, he visibly relaxed and commented, “I didn’t realize we could do this in other ways.” 

The optimal approach and tools for your company depend upon a range of factors – your current business situation and market position, the personalities involved and your expected outcomes from the process. Exploring a range of approaches to strategy development can be energizing, especially if you aren’t aware that you have options. You do.

Strategic planning is big thinking about the big picture. And it’s only part of the story. Developing and implementing strategy also takes continual refocusing on the intended outcomes. Refocusing doesn’t end with the retreat, the whiteboard diagrams and the carefully bound document. It’s an ongoing and constantly evolving process. As the Greeks knew.

Going Portfolio

July 1st, 2014

Reinvent your work and career before someone else does

In his book “Great Work, Great Career,” Stephen Covey describes Charles Handy, the Irish oil executive-turned-academic-turned-social and organizational philosopher and author, waking  up one morning and deciding to Go Portfolio. That pivotal morning marked the moment when Handy’s full-time professional attention was no longer devoted to one prescribed job using one defined set of skills in one organization. That day, Handy himself became the professional he describes in his books and lectures: the portfolio careerist.

Consultants are arguably the ultimate portfolio professionals. The best adapt broad experience and deep skills to a wide range of companies, business situations and buyer communities. They are not alone. From consultants and entrepreneurs to corporate managers and functional specialists, all professionals are part of an increasingly portfolio-based business environment. Going Portfolio is not a luxury or an option. It’s a requirement for thriving in any business, whether it’s a business of one or a global corporation of one million.

Deciding to Go Portfolio is only the first step. The greatest gains come from managing your portfolio once you’ve gone there. When a business unit identifies a previously undefined niche market, it’s on the path to Going Portfolio. The sales team who understands that they need to reinvent their business development strategy and their sales skills is beginning to manage its portfolio. When you take a chance to develop new skills or apply your skills in new situations, you are Going Portfolio. When you learn to adapt your skills and experience in response to your business environment, you are actively managing your portfolio for both business results and personal satisfaction.

Intentionally or not, we are all going portfolio because our world demands it. The companies, customers and communities we serve with them are constantly fluctuating, and so it the value they seek from each of us. You have to be willing to continually adapt the skills you use and the experience you rely on to add value, right here and right now.

That’s Going Portfolio.  What’s in yours?

Elizabeth Usovicz is principal of WhiteSpace Consulting®, specializing in top-line revenue and business strategies for high-growth companies, new ventures and business units within established companies; keynote speaking and strategy session facilitation. She can be reached at elizabeth@whitespacerevenue.com or (913) 638-8693.

 

Working Hard on The Smart Stuff

June 20th, 2014

Work smarter, not harder.

We’ve all heard the mantra. And when you read it or hear it after a long day, you may wonder if there’s a shortcut or workaround you’ve missed. Is there a cadre of smart people out there that manage to do in three hours what others need eight, or ten, or twelve hours to complete? Is there a silver bullet that they know about?

Working smart or working hard is more than simply working long hours. The smartest business professionals are those who take the time to figure out what their smart work is, and then work hard at the smart work. 

One of the best “smart workers” I’ve ever known was a former boss who had laser focus on his goals. All of Tom’s activity was centered on two things:  Producing results that grew the company, and building positive relationships with the people he interacted with while producing those results.

Tom taught me and everyone else in our business unit to ask ourselves questions. How will this activity produce results for the company? With whom do I need to collaborate or communicate? What effect will this activity have on our customers? My colleagues? Our partners and stakeholders?  Is this the best use of my time right now?

I worked hard during those years I spent in Tom’s business unit – and I’m grateful for all that hard work. I learned to work smarter because I learned to benchmark the value of my activity.

Smarter, harder. It’s not a question of being busy or working less. The return you get on your time is measured in results and relationships. It’s working hard on the smart stuff.

“Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.”

– Carl Sandburg

Good Advice I Never Followed

April 28th, 2014

Good or bad, you own the outcomes of the service you provide

Early in my career a boss told me, “Never apologize. It’s a sign of weakness.” Good advice I never followed.

Many people do follow that advice, like the presenter of a webinar I attended that became the webinar that wasn’t. Shortly after his introduction, the presenter’s comments were out of sync with his slides. He didn’t seem to realize that there was a problem. I sent a polite comment through the chat function but the problem persisted. A few minutes later, the slides stopped advancing entirely, and for the remainder of the webinar I sat eyeball to eyeball with a photo of Bill Gates staring back at me.

The webinar support technician eventually told the presenter that no one could see the slides he was referencing. So the presenter tried describing the unseen slides – an unsatisfying process for everyone. Finally, he gave up and moved to Q&A, only to be informed that all of the questions submitted by attendees had been lost.

I felt for the presenter. Like every business professional, I’ve been in situations where the best of plans for service delivery don’t unfold as intended. For a few days after the webinar, I expected to receive a follow-up email from the presenter acknowledging the issues, or at least an apologetic reference on his blog. Like the webinar, that didn’t happen.

Two weeks later, I received a broadcast email announcing the same webinar. I didn’t click through to register, and not because of the glitches in the first webinar. The presenter lost my participation because he didn’t own his outcomes.

Technology, logistics, information or preparation – regardless of the source of success or disruption, we own the outcomes of the service we provide. Ignoring the outcomes doesn’t change that. Disruption can be an opportunity to demonstrate your integrity and willingness to see the situation from the customer’s point of view.  All it takes is a simple apology and a good-faith effort to make it right. That’s not a sign of weakness; it’s good business.

Stuff happens, and everyone makes mistakes. The webinar that wasn’t is a vivid reminder of how your customers feel when you don’t deliver and don’t own it. A sincere apology may not be the most innovative customer service effort, but it’s often one of the most effective.

Watch Your Language

April 1st, 2014

Three Signs that Your Sales Process Needs a Rethink

“Watch your thoughts,” wrote Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu, “for they become words.  Watch your words, for they become actions.” 

It’s good advice if your sales have plateaued. If you hear yourself or others making statements like these, it’s time to refine your sales process.

Who’s our target?  Any company that/ anyone who…

A few years ago I met the owner of multiple small businesses. He gave me his business card, printed with a deer’s head and the initials A.F.A.B. I asked what the initials stood for, and he answered with a smile, “Anything for a Buck.” I don’t remember his name or the services he provided. All I remember is his card, and that it did not inspire a business dialogue between us.

The A.F.A.B. approach won’t build brand awareness, your pipeline or a sustainable reputation for your company. It doesn’t allow you to play to your strengths and worse, prospects sense your lack of focus and interpret it as desperation. If your description of your target customer begins with “any,” take the time to review your best customers and frame your target profile.

Where’s the low hanging fruit?

A variation on this question is, “What can we do in the next 30 days?” If you’re looking for low-hanging fruit, you’re looking for an easy, short-term fix.  In most cases the results are scattershot execution and wasted efforts. The sales you close are often are not a good fit; your new customers have skewed expectations of your product, service and brand. Your time is better spent examining and refining your prospect qualification process.  

That prospect is still in process – it’s about 50% toward close.

Are the majority of your sales activities estimated at 50-65% toward close? It’s a sign that you need to take a closer look at defining the steps in the purchase process.

Percentage-to-close can be a helpful metric for projecting the likelihood of future sales and gauging their financial impact on your company. Whether you use sales management software to track lead-to-close progress or have an internal system, make sure that you are tying specific prospect activities to a spcific stage in the buying process. It’s easy to approximate percentage-to-close based on sales activities, such as sending a proposal or meeting with a prospect. Fifty percent toward close is only meaningful based on the behaviors of your prospect, and their answers to specific, probing questions that move the purchase process forward.

By the way, Lao Tsu didn’t stop with a caution about thoughts becoming words and words becoming actions. Here’s the rest of his advice: “Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”

Take control of your business destiny and your sales process.  It starts with watching your language.