Avoid Killer Clients

Ideal Customers

Do you ever dread answering the phone and discovering it’s one of those clients that’s always getting you down? Complaining or demanding more for less with unrealistic expectations? Asking you to do work you hate doing, at times you don’t want to, for prices that are too low? Then it’s time to fire the dud clients and hire the ideal ones!

I really like all my clients. I look forward to spending time with them on the phone or in person, and I really want them to do well. And I’d like to think think the feeling is mutual. I’m careful to work only with clients who I believe I can help, and with whom I feel aligned.

Many business owners I meet tell me that some of their clients are great, but others are a complete nightmare! It’s easy to understand that in any business there’s a pressure to find more customers. This leads people to literally work with anyone that can pay.

If you operate a retail business it can be hard to choose your customers, but they don’t tend to hang around long either. The real issue is in a business where you’re dealing personally with the same client over and over. These are typically service businesses such as accountants, financial advisors, lawyers, coaches, and many others. To enjoy our work we need to like the people we’re helping. Merely tolerating them or worse, loathing them, is no good and makes for a miserable working life.

I was lucky to have a colleague recommend a book called “Book Yourself Solid” by author Michael Port (Google it and download a few chapters free). The part that really struck me was what he called his “Red Velvet Rope Policy”. It’s like when you go to an event and there’s an entrance with a red velvet rope stretched across the door - only selected people are allowed through. Michael Port says we should all have a red velvet rope policy for the clients we work with. Further, they should be people who “inspire and energise” you. It’s some of the best advice I’ve had in my business and it means I enjoy what I do, every day.

What would be your “red velvet rope policy” for your business? What would be the attributes of your ideal customers? Probably they would appreciate what you do, value the service and not quibble about price, pay on time, show up on time, make reasonable requests and refer you to lots of other great clients. You might include attributes about the size and type of their business, their location, and more. Think about this carefully and get really clear on your ideal customer - then go looking for them and target your sales and marketing efforts toward them.

Remember that there’s not necessarily anything wrong with customers that don’t fit your ideal; Chances are they’re ideal for someone else’s business, but not yours. Be gracious and helpful and rather than just turning them away, be honest that “We’re not the best choice for you to work with” and consider recommending they try someone else who they would be better suited to.

The more you work with ideal clients, the more you’ll enjoy your work and the better the business will perform. In turn it will lead to you attracting more of the right clients.

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By: Rob Pickering

Are You Smart Enough to Succeed?

In everyday life we need knowledge in order to do what we need to do. Many of the basics like how to cook, how to drive, DIY, cleaning, washing, organising the household bills - they all require us to put in some time and effort to gain the necessary knowledge. And if we don’t have the appropriate knowledge, or don’t want to do it, then we have to pay someone else. They gained the knowledge, so we pay them for the value that they can provide.

To succeed in business you also need to invest the time and effort to gain appropriate knowledge. Exactly what’s appropriate will depend upon your areas of need. Running a small business is more demanding than running a large one in many ways because you need to have a very wide range of skills; You need at least a basic knowledge of finance, marketing, sales, plus knowledge about the products or services you’re offering.

As a business grows and you employ staff you need to focus more on leadership, delegation, planning, communication skills, HR and people skills. Then as the company becomes even larger the Leadership and communication become even more important, while things like sales and marketing and finance are handed off to specialists in those areas.

The speed at which a business can grow is very often limited by the speed at which the business owner learns and gains skills in the various areas and changing the focus over time. In this situation it’s easy to get busy, buried in the day to day work and neglecting the learning and skills required to move the business to the next level.

So what should you do?

“You must either modify your dreams or magnify your skills.” - Jim Rohn

Identify your knowledge and skills gaps. Avoid focusing on the areas you’re already comfortable in, select the areas you really are NOT comfortable in because they’re likely to be the ones where you’ll benefit from learning! If you’ve never written a marketing plan you probably need to learn some marketing. If you’ve never created or studied your management accounts (or know what they are), you need to improve your financial knowledge.

Create a Personal Learning Log

A learning log is just a simple list. Keep it in a spreadsheet or written in the back page of your diary - whatever works for you. Make a list of topics you and your business would benefit from you learning about. Ask for recommendations of specific books and of training courses that would help you progress in each area. Then get specific about which books you’ll read and courses you’ll attend, and attach some dates.

Each time you complete a learning task - finish a book, attend a course, watch a training video… write the date, title, and key thing you gained into your learning log. You might want to add an estimate of the time you invested. Each year it’s good to invest 10-20% of your working hours in learning, so about 10-25 days per year. Some professional associations require their members to undertake a specific number of days of CPD (Continuing Professional Development) every year.

Think about it: if you were about to go for major surgery, would you rather be operated on by the surgeon who learnt enough back in medical school ten years ago, or the one who spends twenty days every year attending courses and reading journals to learn the latest theories and techniques? Would your clients prefer to have your business as their provider, or one that invests in continuing professional development? If you’re not gaining new knowledge, your existing knowledge is getting stale and dated. And if your suppliers aren’t investing this way, you might want to consider changing supplier! Ask them the question.

When you have employees, ensure that they maintain and show you a learning log. Set them goals for the areas they could improve to benefit themselves and your business. It’s not all about going on courses, employees can learn a lot from reading books, from each other and from you. The key is to identify those areas of need - the knowledge and skills gaps - and work on them.

“Don’t wish it were easier, wish you were better.” - Jim Rohn

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By: Rob Pickering

Dealing With Problem People

A key to success is to surround yourself with people who are excellent - positive, supportive, intelligent, motivated, diligent - helping you achieve success. With these type of people it’s still a challenge to run a successful business, but without them it’s really tough.

So why is it that whenever I meet a business owner and ask about the people around them, they’re quick to talk about the ‘problem people’? The phase that often springs to mind is “Better the devil you know… than the devil you don’t know!”, meaning that this person’s bad, but a replacement could be even worse! Stop! With thinking like that, you’re destined to be surrounded by walking disasters.

In other blogs I’ve discussed two related topics - “You get what you tolerate” - highlighting that you really mustn’t tolerate bad behaviour or you’ll get more of it. And “Do your team really know what you want?” - stressing the need to give absolute clarity about what you want from your team, in terms of both actions and attitudes. If you’ve arrived here for advice on dealing with problem people, I suggest you read those two first. They’re all about taking responsibility and understanding if maybe part of the problem is actually you and your management?

If you can’t change your team, you’ll need to change your team! Confused? The starting point with problem people should always be an attempt to retrain them to think and act the way you need them to. I honestly believe that anyone can change IF they want to, and if you’re willing to invest the time, energy and money. But unless the answer to both of those is a clear “yes”, then you need to go the other route to change them… meaning replace them with someone who does have the right attitude and behaviour.

I regularly see job descriptions that describe a team member’s responsibilities and even the required standards of work, but rarely do they include requirements about behaviour. I highly recommend including points such as:

"You will have a positive and supportive attitude toward the company, staff, customers and suppliers at all times"

Hold staff to this, don’t tolerate anything less. If someone has a bad attitude, take them aside and ask them what their job description says about attitude? If they don’t know, give them another copy and ask them to read the sentence. Ask them what that would mean in practice? Ask them if they feel they’ve been demonstrating this? Keep asking questions, getting into specific examples if necessary, and ultimately make it clear that this IS the requirement to work in your business.

After a clear discussion like that, they should be in no doubt about what’s expected. If they walk away muttering and go and tell their co-workers what an idiot you are, take them aside again and address their attitude once again and, this time, you need to go down the disciplinary route. Yes, seriously, you need to ensure team members have the right attitude and if they can’t or won’t adapt, they need to go. Keep them and the bad attitude will spread, morale will be low, performance will be lower than it should be, your profits will be low, and you’ll probably hate going to work! The costs of tolerating poor attitude are high.

You do of course need to operate fairly and within the bounds of employment law. If you don’t have a qualified HR person to guide you, I highly recommend using an outsourced HR expert on a monthly retainer. They can help you get documentation in place. However, ensure that the wording is friendly, helpful, and includes attitude - not just legalistic jargon. Ensure there are “Rules of the game” for all the team members and put them on the wall.

If you can’t change your team, change your team.

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By: Rob Pickering

How To Have Great Testimonials

No matter how good we are at telling people about our products and services, it’s always heard with a degree of scepticism; After all, we would say we’re good, wouldn’t we! But if your current and past customers say you’re good... it’s a lot more believable. What I most often see businesses using are unattributable one-liners: “Excellent service at a great price! - Mrs. Smith of nowhere”. These kind of things could be made up, and often are. They have little if any value. Far better to proactively create some great testimonials and case studies.

A testimonial basically says you’re good, and can be anything from a few lines to a page. A case study is designed to help potential customers understand some examples of things you did for happy customers, so that they can understand how you could help them too. I’ll cover both here as if they’re the same... but keep the difference in mind when you come to create them. Let’s overview this in two parts, content and creation. Content:

  • What content would appeal to your target audience?
  • Which product or service do you want to highlight (be specific)
  • Ensure it’s representative of what you do, and believable
  • Don’t scare prospects away! Include points to encourage them
  • What would they be afraid of? Make points to reduce their fears
  • Include good images, especially pictures of customers

Creation:

  • Write a list of questions to get answers matching the content you need
  • Don’t send a list of questions and ask customers to write their answers
  • Get a professional to interview clients and make it a fun, positive experience
  • Edit so it reads well, but don’t fundamentally change what they say
  • Ensure it also makes you customer look good too
  • Send the draft to them, then call to go through any edits they require
  • Omit anything that dates it, so you can use it for a long period
  • Have printed versions, not just online

If you follow the above guidelines you’ll have some excellent testimonials or case studies that significantly help your marketing effort to gain more good customers. But let me highlight a few places people often go wrong!

Don’t get lazy and send your customer a document with some boring questions and ask them to complete it themselves. A few things happen when you do. Firstly, few of them complete it, or they hate doing it and what they write comes across with zero enthusiasm. And when they write “It was mostly OK on the whole” you’ll be on thin ice if you edit it to sound better, but you really don’t want that kind of phrase in your testimonial. You need to speak to the customer over the phone or in person, then write the resulting document well. If that’s beyond your skills - pay someone who will do it well and ensure they do!

Recommendations on LinkedIn can also be great, but this is a situation where it’s up to your customer to write it. You get the opportunity to publish or not, and you can (and should) ask for changes if necessary. If you ask for a referral you can guide the response by saying “it’s up to you, but it would be great if you could highlight your experience over xyz and why you’d recommend others to use us”. The great thing about LinkedIn referrals is that they link to the person recommending you, so readers know they’re true. Ask for one per month!

If you’d like to see some examples or get some help, pick up the phone or send me a message, but either way... take action! 

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By: Rob Pickering

Do You Have Results or Excuses?

Do you have all the results you want? Or are you substituting results with excuses?

The problem with excuses - or ‘reasons why not’ - is that they prevent us from taking exactly the action that would be needed to achieve the results.

Think about some aspect of your business that you would like to have better results with. It could be having more customers or more leads or more profit for example. First of all, what exactly is the result you want and when? Lack of specific goals is the first barrier - you have to have or invent a specific goal before you can find a solution for it. “More profit” sounds like a goal, but it isn’t, it’s just a vague wish. A goal would be a specific number by a specific date. Ideally such a goal would be one that you’d be happy with, not one you’d settle for.

Once you have the specific goal clear, think of the excuses you have for why it isn’t possible or why it isn’t happening and write them down. Write at least 10. You’ll probably find it hard to get past three or four, but keep going.

Now for each one, write down three or more reasons why it’s not actually true, and what you could do to counteract it. For example you might have as excuse that there’s an economic downturn and customers aren’t buying. So in response to that you could ask yourself why that’s not true and what you can do to counteract it? Actually are there some customers buying, but just not as many or not from you?

What are they buying and from whom? What could you do to get more of them buying and from you? The whole point is to challenge the excuses. There is always something you can do - usually lots of things - but you only really start to see them when you challenge the limiting beliefs and ask instead “what could we do?”. If you still find you’re stuck, or if you’re so fixed in believing your own excuses, you need to enlist the help of an unreasonable person who won’t accept your excuses. We all know someone like that, any kind of Coach makes it their focus to ask challenging and unreasonable things of people.

As you go through the process it’s OK to identify further excuses why something won’t work or isn’t possible - but then you have to work on those new ones too - “What could we do to counteract it?”. Once you’ve made some progress and have some ideas of what you could do, write them down as a series of potential actions. You’ve then got the beginnings of a plan. Then go through each action and ask “if we do this, is it likely to achieve the result we want?”. You then either change it so that the answer becomes yes, or dump it and move on to the next. The aim is to have enough actions that you can step back and honestly say that taking all those actions is likely to achieve the specific goal.

Keep challenging the barriers until you have that. When you create this attitude as your normal way of being, and create it as a culture in your business, you’ll find that you can overcome any hurdle. Don’t accept excuses. 

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By: Rob Pickering

Gratitude is Good

Gratitude and celebration are severely lacking in our lives and business, but it’s a choice - and you can change it.

When someone says “Well done!” or “Thank you so much!” do you think or say “It was nothing” or “I was just doing my job”? Worse, when your staff do something well do you think or say “they were just doing their job, it’s what I pay them for”? Think about it - what does it cost to say “Thank you”?

Business owners often ask me about linking bonuses and other financial rewards to employee performance, along with questions about how to get staff to do what’s important. Ask someone if they want more money and they’ll say “yes”. Ask someone what would motivate them and many will say “more money!”. But repeated studies have shown that beyond a level necessary to get the basics in life, more money does not actually provide much motivation. In fact it can leave people feeling confused and dissatisfied - they thought they wanted more money, they get it, but don’t feel happier. 

When it comes to rewarding staff I strongly recommend starting with “Thank you”. But as the old saying goes, it’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it. If you frequently say “thanks” and sound like you neither mean it nor care, you severely devalue your gratitude currency. I find a lot of people are extremely challenged by the idea that they should really give genuine praise for someone who is “just doing their job”. And typically those same people are even harder on themselves, refusing to recognise their own successes, ignoring the 90% successes and focusing instead on the 10% need for improvement.

When we show gratitude to others, and to ourselves, the game changes. When the gratitude is genuinely felt, and generously given, it’s far more valuable than money. And curiously when we give gratitude to others, we feel better ourselves, because the very act of recognising good in someone else has that effect. This may all seem a bit soft in relation to business, but while we use human beings to achieve our business goals it’s important to recognise that treating them like machines is unlikely to gain the best results.

So please allow me to pass along three suggestions:

1) Count how many times in a day you say a genuine “thank you” in some form to those around you. And keep count of the number of times you criticise or nitpick, whether in words or just a certain look that conveys your lack of approval. You might be shocked at how the latter outweighs the former. Aim to set the balance so that you’re grateful twice as often as critical. If you can do it, you’ll be surprised that the result is that you have less and less reason to be critical.

2) When you see a job done satisfactorily, even with some room for improvement, focus on highlighting the positive aspect and say nothing about the imperfection. There’s a time and a place to train people into improving, and when that time arrives, ask THEM what they think they could improve rather than you saying it. It achieves better results and doesn’t feel to the other person like you’re criticising.

3) When someone does something particularly poorly, you probably take them aside to say how disappointed you are and highlight what they did wrong. Be sure to do the opposite as well. Rather than just saying “thanks”, take them aside and highlight what they did well and tell them how pleased you are.

Let me know how it goes. I’ll be grateful to hear of your successes! 

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By: Rob Pickering

Are You Trustworthy?

Would you choose to work with someone who you don’t trust? Would you buy from someone who you don’t trust? Would you spend more with someone who you trust more? How much do your customers trust you? Trust is one of those concepts that we all have in the back of our mind, but it’s hard to focus on deliberately doing anything about it. We tend to think that either people trust us, or they don’t. It’s not something like profit that we can measure and put in a bank account. Or is it?

Actually there’s a lot you can do to establish and build trust. I break it down into the following: HONESTY x CREDIBILITY x RELIABILITY x LIKEABILITY

If you can demonstrate all of these, you’re a long way toward having a very high level of trust with those around you. To gain new customers, you really need to establish this kind of trust very rapidly - when you meet them or when they look at your website, for example. You could put yourself in the shoes of your prospects or existing customers and score yourself on each of the measures. Try it with different people and see how your scores vary, and see which measures score lowest, then work on improving them. Or have someone else look at your website and score it on these measures. Let me give you a few examples to improve your scores.

HONESTY: Admit you’re not perfect. Mention occasions when you made mistakes. Speak honestly about things that others know to be true.

CREDIBILITY: Provide customer testimonials. Market based on referrals. Talk about past successes. List trade organisations. Gain industry awards.

RELIABILITY: Under-promise and over-deliver. Be specific about times, prices, and expectations. Remind people what you said you would do, and that you did it.

LIKEABILITY: Take an interest in the other person. Smile. Speak well of others. Look for positives and highlight them. Demonstrate belief in others. Be human - show images of customers and your team on your website.

What actually matters is people’s perception of the above, and past history can influence that. Ideally you need to demonstrate all of the above consistently for a number of occasions and with consistency to increase the level of trust.

All of these positive measures can be undermined by one key thing:

SELF INTEREST: If people get the impression that the reason you’re saying something or helping them is all about your own self interest, it completely undermines the trust. If a salesman is only recommending something because they’ll make a better commission, we don’t trust what they say. If a friend recommends something because they’ll get a free gift for introducing you, we lose trust in them. By focusing consistently on establishing Honesty, Credibility, Reliability and Likeability, and ensuring we focus on the others, you will establish and build trust with those around you, and your business - and life - will grow. 

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By: Rob Pickering

What's Your Guarantee?

Every business provides a guarantee - your business provides a guarantee! But do you know what your guarantee is? And do you promote it overtly to increase your sales?

Let me explain what I mean by a guarantee, because most people immediately think of it like the warrantee you turn to when your new toaster breaks down. And that’s a form of guarantee  “your new toaster will work for 12 months or we’ll replace it or give you your money back.”. However, guarantees don’t have to be about buying electrical goods.

I once asked a florist who was attending one of my seminars if he offered a guarantee to his customers and he said “no”. I asked him what would happen if I bought some flowers from him today... and tomorrow they were dead? He said “Well, that wouldn’t happen with our flowers, but if it did we would obviously replace them immediately.”. That sounded like a guarantee to me, and to everyone else, and to the florist himself - yet he wasn’t telling his customers. I asked what would happen if the other florist in the town put a sign in their window saying “Guarantee - our flowers will last at least 5 days or we’ll replace them free of charge”. He didn’t much like that... because it might imply to customers that their flowers were better than his. 

What’s the purpose of a guarantee?

If you think about it, a guarantee is really just something to help your customers get over the fear of making a purchase. They won’t tell you, and they’re probably not even conscious of their fears, but they’re worried “what if I buy and then I don’t like it?”. Or “What if I buy here and find it cheaper down the road?”. Or “What if I buy it and when I get it home, I realise it’s the wrong size?”. And so on... The purpose of a guarantee is to remove or reduce the fear so that a customer will buy now. We don’t want them to go away and think about it, or see if it’s cheaper elsewhere, we want them to buy now!

I’ll bet that if you think about it, there’s an implied guarantee that you offer in your business - so what is it? What would happen if you boldly put it in writing on your website or on your shop window or your company vehicle? The main reason we don’t overtly offer a guarantee is our own fear! We worry that if we made a truly generous, no-strings guarantee, then lots of people would claim and it would cost us a fortune! But would it really? Actually very few people claim on guarantees that are offered in good faith and with a few obvious and reasonable exceptions.

When I first started running training workshops I offered a guarantee that if you applied what you learnt for at least three months and didn’t earn back more than the amount you’d paid - I’d give you your money back. Several people asked if I was crazy, because surely people would simply lie and ask for their money back! After a few months of no one claiming, someone asked “If you’re that confident, why do you even have the clauses?”. Ever since then, that’s exactly what I’ve done: “If you’re not completely satisfied, I’ll refund your money in full”. Sure enough, no one has ever claimed. I expect that one day someone will ask for their money back, and I’ll give it willingly. Even so, it will have cost a lot less than the sales I’ll have gained by offering the guarantee.

So here’s the question again - what guarantee do you implicitly give in your business, but don’t actually tell anyone? Turn it into a benefit by telling your prospective customers. Put it on your website. By all means add safety clauses to protect yourself, but after a while, you might want to remove some of those. If you’re confident of your offering, couldn’t you offer “Satisfaction or your money back?”. 

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By: Rob Pickering

Reinvent Your Business

No business is immune to change. It’s often said that the only constant is change. For long-term survival it’s absolutely vital to take a step back and re-evaluate the products or services that you offer and the way they’re provided, which are separate aspects.

At the heart of every successful business is the product or service. You’ll be solving a commonly perceived ‘need’ or ‘desire’. Whichever it is, needs and desires change and you’ll be out of business if you don’t keep up with the changes or, better still, anticipate and be just ahead of the change. History is filled with lessons from the companies that manufactured mechanical calculating machines, typewriters, and more recent examples like photographic film, let alone examples from the world of fashion where today’s biggest hit is next year’s recycling.

Alternatively it could be the way that a product or service is delivered that changes dramatically. Electronic mail and cloud-based document storage has decimated letter writing and will undoubtedly remove the need for physical document mailing in time. e-commerce has adversely changed our high streets and the need for bricks and mortar shops (or perhaps not the need, but the commercial viability!).

Businesses that traditionally change most slowly are probably the ones most at risk because they’re not used to rapid change and probably don’t review their services and methods of provision until too late. Accountancy changed relatively little until the introduction of computer technology, and now it’s likely to all change again as we adopt cloud-based finance systems. Embrace change or die is the underlying lesson.

Planning for change

The first step is to recognise the need, ideally before you feel the pain. Every year set aside at least a few hours to analyse your business and the potential and likelihood for change. One of the oldest and most established tools for doing this is a SWOT analysis. For those who aren’t familiar, you basically write down a list of your business Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Ideally involve a range of people across your business and not just senior managers. Look at what your customers are probably thinking, saying and doing.

Look at what your competitors are doing - even if you think they’re crazy. Ask your suppliers for input, because often they’re aware of changes sooner than you will be because they probably supply your competitors. These days you can search the internet and find what people are saying about the products and services in the categories in which you specialise. Consider technological advances and implications on costs, margins, and workforce. If your staff need to have different knowledge it can take a long time to recruit or train so it’s vital to identify needs and start early. Look at international trends too.

All of this information and opinion, once collected, presents the challenge of what to do in response. You might decide to take action in response to threats, or you might be eagerly anticipating opportunities to get ahead of your competitors or to add new products and services. Either way, a good approach is to sift through all the findings and identify the 5-10 points that are worthy of further investigation, then appoint small teams and team leaders to pursue them with a clear brief and deadline.

Once you have a few specific ideas, involve the appropriate people - often those closer to the day to day business rather than senior managers - and create a next level plan with financial values and resource implications. Once you know exactly what each point is likely to add or threaten to lose, the cost to address it and the resource implications (including people), you can create a plan of action.

Remember that people rarely like the the idea of change, so there will be a lot of pressure to keep things as they are and hope for the best! However, while change might appear a little scary, staying the same and not changing is likely to have much worse consequences. Your business is either growing or dying - choose wisely and proactively. 

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By: Rob Pickering

Who’s Stealing Your Time?

It’s not about having enough time, it’s about how you use the time you have. Most “time management” tips will tell you how to save some time. My view is different - when you know clearly what you should be doing and feel motivated by it... you’ll do it. Rather than trying to save time, focus on USING time in the most effective way and they greatly reduces the chances of you misusing minutes and hours on things. So here are my top 5 tips to use your time most effectively.

1. Have a plan Create a plan for the next five years, then for the coming year as part of it, and then for the next 90-days. If you don’t think you have time for this you should seriously question your commitment to running a successful business. This is a non-negotiable - you MUST have a plan. Everything else flows from the plan. 

2.  Schedule the goals for the next 90 days In your 90-day plan you need to identify a few goals that will be completed. For a sole-trader this might be one or two big goals and for a company with lots of staff it might be five or ten goals, but I recommend having one main theme per quarter (eg lead generation, training, sales, cost reduction, recruitment, or whatever). Allocate ownership of each goal to ONE person. Have that person create a calendarised plan containing a “what, when, who” breakdown of the tasks necessary to complete the goal. Agree milestones and review dates. Now here’s the most important point - put all the review dates and key actions into each person’s diary so that time to work on the projects is reserved ahead of time. Do this and you’ll be massively productive, fail to schedule the time and the goals will not be achieved and everyone will tell you “we didn’t have enough time”.

3. Follow-up and manage - top priority! As the business owner or manager, recognise that your most valuable time will be spent following-up with everyone assigned to achieve goals. Schedule meetings early in each goal and then part way through and before the end. A common mistake is to say “do this in a month’s time” and then leave them to it. After a month you find they haven’t started or they went down the wrong track! Don’t leave it so long that you catch them failing - it’s your job to ensure they succeed.

4. Productivity = Knowledge x Skill x Motivation Check that each of your assigned goal owners have the necessary knowledge. And also check that they’ve had the necessary practice and guidance to develop the right skills. Let me explain - you could read a book about brain surgery and work at understanding it, but the skill to actually perform it comes with guided practice. In the workplace, just because you’ve told someone what to do or even how to do it does not mean they will be able to do it! Then comes motivation. If someone is assigned a task that they lack motivation to complete, or lose their motivation, there’s little chance it will be completed to deadline or with quality. Check at the outset and continually check on the motivation of the team leader and team. If you think you’re not very good at motivation... a vital business skill... there’s a great goal for next quarter - get good at it! Give yourself the role of CMO (Chief Motivation Officer).

5. Show Gratitude Too many business owners and managers believe that their employees should be grateful that they have a job and almost never say thank you, let alone demonstrate gratitude in more imaginative ways. On the contrary - if they’re good team members you should consider yourself lucky to have them in your team and constantly show your gratitude. And if they’re not good team members - you either need to be better at recruiting or at training. Thank team members for arriving on time. Thank them for attending meetings on time. Thank them for completing projects even if they’re late (in which case you need to apologise for letting them down - no team will deliver late if you managed them well). When you show genuine gratitude, you’ll definitely have a lot more to be genuinely grateful for.

So who’s stealing your time? In case you hadn’t guessed, the uncomfortable answer to the question I posed at the start is that no one is stealing your time. The reality is that you’re giving it away. Focus on the important goals and let everything else be squeezed out.

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By: Rob Pickering

Train Your Team to Maximise Your Profit

After you’ve recruited a really good new team member, you need to ensure that they perform well and stay in your business. There are a few things that you should ensure are in place for every employee:

  • - A clear job description and list of responsibilities
  • - Performance measures
  • - Measurable goals for the quarter and year
  • - A Personal Development Plan (PDP)
  • - Regular appraisals - Annual review

A Clear job description and list of responsibilities Every employee needs to have a written job description and a list of things for which they’re responsible. I would also include in this, or provide separately, a list of expected attitudes and behaviours, such as an attitude of teamwork - cover for people when they’re absent, work in proactive cooperation, etc. It’s important that ‘obvious’ things like this are stated clearly in writing.

Performance measures It’s often surprising how few employees know what they need to do, in measurable ways, to be doing a good job. Ask your team members “what do you think you’d have to be doing, consistently, for me to say you were performing really well?”. Or you could ask “What would you have to do for me to WANT to give you a per rise?”. If anyone hesitates on either answer, they don’t know and are therefore not focused on performing well. Be specific on all their responsibilities. How quickly do you want the phone answered, how early do you want them in the office, how should they speak to customers, and so on. Make it clear and encourage them to perform well.

Measurable goals for the quarter and year Most jobs break down into things that have to be done on-going - like answering the phone perhaps - and things which are shorter term objectives - like “get ten new clients this month” or “reduce delivery errors to under 1% by year end”. Everyone should have about one to five specific objectives to work on in a quarter, in addition to their regular work. Set agreed goals with measures and dates to report progress and a completion date, then review completion afterwards. Everyone responds to this kind of clarity and it provides more job satisfaction than just doing the regular job.

A Personal Development Plan (PDP) Make it clear right from the start that you expect every team member to me working on developing their own knowledge and skills all the time. Be clear it’s their responsibility, although you will support them. Personally I wouldn’t even consider giving an annual pay rise to someone who can’t demonstrate any significant personal growth from year to year. Remember that it’s actually really difficult for a company to grow much faster than it’s team’s knowledge and ability. A PDP is a written document that usually identifies areas of improvement for a team member, lists actions to be taken and target dates, and records what development actually takes place.

Regular appraisals This is one of the greatest failures of managers - they don’t hold reliable regular appraisals with their team members. As a result everyone plods along doing ‘stuff’ but the company and the team progress in an uncoordinated way with unclear goals and the company profits suffer. Be sure to hold appraisals with each team member on a weekly basis. Initially it could take an hour each, but after a few months it should be possible to achieve everything necessary within 15-30 minutes and skipping a week every now and again is fine. The things to be discussed are all the list above: Attitude and behaviour, measurable performance, progress on goals, and personal development.

Annual review Every team member deserves a personal review once a year to let them know how they’re doing - ideally versus the goals they were set a year before - and to set new goals for the coming year. Most companies do an annual review and annual pay review at the same time. I recommend splitting these so that the appraisal is all about performance and goal setting. If a salary review is combined - all they want to hear is “how much”. By all means hold an annual pay review a month or two after and link it to performance, but keep them separate.

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By: Rob Pickering

Attract the best employees

I was recently asked “How can I ensure I build a great team?”. After a bit of thought I summed it up as the following: Recruit great people, train them well, set clear goals, motivate and lead them. A great team with great leadership will achieve great things. No company with a poor team of people will achieve as much as one with a high performance team. In the next article I’ll focus on how to maximise the performance of your team, but first let’s look at recruiting them in the first place. However, the two are very much linked - new employees look at what it’s like to work in your business. 

Your ideal employee should have a great attitude, be eager to learn, eager to impress, tenacious, and competent. They also need to be reasonably confident in themselves, so that they’re willing to stretch and learn and improve without having to be pushed. Read “Recruit Based on Attitude and Behaviour” for a more detailed description.

Now put yourselves in the mind of your ideal employee. Where are they, what do they want, why do they want it, and how can you reach them. I’d suggest that few of them will be unemployed because the best people don’t stay unemployed for long, but it’s possible. Chances are they’re employed and being paid rather well - because they’re good. So first of all it stands to reason that they’re not looking for a pay cut - if you offer a job that looks as if it pays a lower salary, you won’t hear from them and you’ll think no one’s out there. But money isn’t everything. A great employee probably wants to work for a great company. Does your job advert, website, twitter, facebook page and LinkedIn page look like a great company? If not, why would they consider even getting in contact if their current company is pretty good?

I’d suggest that your ideal employee will also want to be treated well, to have a decent set of benefits on offer, a nice work environment, interesting people in your team and an interesting charismatic leader. They might check LinkedIn and read about you, look at your company page, look at who else works for you, and see how motivated they appear to be. They’ll definitely look at your company website. Do you have a section about what a wonderful team you have, with pictures of everyone and profiles of the key players? If you looked at your website and LinkedIn and any other sources - would you want to work for your company? If not, start fixing the image (and the reality!).

Probably your ideal employee wants to work for a business that provides a good and meaningful service. They want to be part of a company that is growing and going places and talks about their successes and ambitions. Face it, no one leaves a decent job to join a company that looks boring, complacent, pointless or even desperate! Actually that’s not true - you’d attract the employees who are even more desperate! To attract the best people, you need to look like an exciting place to work with good career prospects, and that means growth ambition. It’s great if you have an ambitious five year plan, but it needs to be visible - prospective employees need to see some evidence. So as you’re advertising for your ideal employee, or better still using a great recruitment company to find them, be sure to make it clear why your ideal employee should want to work for you.

Time to Take Action:

Are your team fully committed to you and the business? With a great attitude?  These things of course, don't just happen, YOU have to create the right culture and build the best team possible. Join us at one of our next complimentary workshops and let us show you how: 
 
 
So if you employ a team of 5 or more staff or manage a team within an organisation - then this is for you.   Oh, and there is such a thing as a free lunch!

 

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By: Rob Pickering

 

Grow Your Team with Virtual Employees

One of the biggest hurdles in a start-up business is recruiting a team, especially the first team member. Often it starts with one person doing everything and responsible at the same time for generating all the income. Once their weeks are full, they need to build their capacity to handle the finance, marketing and perhaps sales. Once those foundations are in place, it’s time to add people who generate income for the business. 

Often it goes wrong with recruitment of the first team member, usually to handle admin. The Business owner knows they spend too much time on invoicing, chasing payments, placing orders, paying suppliers, doing marketing, handling enquiries and so on. But it’s hard to give up hard-earned cash to start paying someone, so they go cheap! They get someone who lacks experience or accuracy or motivation, and the owner ends up spending so much time managing that they might as well not have the employee. Added to that, frustration levels go sky high, as does the stress level, and sometimes that results in upset clients.

There are two other, better, alternatives. One is to employ someone who’s really good. Whatever the going rate for the job - look for someone who is earning at least 20% more and recruit them with 25% more, or the same money but a better opportunity. Think about why someone really good would work for you. If you offer minimum wage to work in a broom cupboard and motivation from the school of shouting loud... you won’t attract a good team. But economics do come into it, and if the best admin person can’t save enough of your time that you can pay their salary, it’s probably the wrong solution.

A good solution that is low-risk, low-cost, and can generate high results is to outsource or to use virtual employees. Just to be clear, what I mean by virtual employees is basically someone who can provide the skill and capability you need while working remotely as an occasional service. They aren’t on your payroll and they don’t need your office space, desk, computer, NI contribution, and so on. When you need a bit of what they do... you pay them to do just as much as you need. Sometimes as I’m telling someone this they now ask “Do such people exist?” - yes. And most of them are really good. Many are people who are top quality, but don’t want to work full-time in an office for one employer. They charge more per hour than they would get as an employee, but it’s still cheaper for you to pay for a few hours of someone brilliant than pay for all the hours of an employee that you don’t need full-time.

Whether your business is one person or a team of 20, you could probably benefit from using an external expert. We often employ the first virtual staff without even realising it. No start-up business needs a full-time accountant, so we appoint one who does an occasional hour’s work and a few hours at the end of the year. They’re a virtual accountant - they provide a valuable skill and they’re mostly available as and when we need them. It may be a little controversial, but I include bank managers in this same bracket - provided you have a good one. I often refer to them as the ‘extended team’, because they can help you best if they also know your common goal and buy in to your success.

As a Business Coach, I recommend you look at which important tasks you can outsource to a virtual team. Not only does it free-up your time to do what you are most valuable doing, it also stops you feeling dragged down by tasks you don’t enjoy or do poorly in comparison to an expert. The kind of things I’d look at outsourcing would be bookkeeping, marketing - especially social media, annual accounts, business development (eg telemarketing), IT support, and more obvious things like cleaning. Financially these should all be profitable decisions for all but the lowest value businesses. In the majority of cases you can earn more from selling the time you save than it costs to get an expert doing the job.

Even if you think you charge less per hour than a person you’d outsource to, you’ll very likely find that it takes them less time! When I outsourced most of my marketing to an excellent Virtual Assistant, I was thinking I was swapping an hour of my time for a paid hour of her time. But despite my years of marketing experience, she was actually considerably quicker than me - so what took me an hour of procrastination and fiddling only took her half an hour! Choose well, have very clear and measurable objectives and standards, then outsource whatever you can. Monitor the return on investment (ROI) and as long as it costs less or generates more than doing it personally or in-house - keep going! If it doesn’t give the right ROI, change to a better virtual provider. It’s a fast way to reduce inefficiency and grow your business. 

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By: Rob Pickering

Self-diagnose and Increase Sales

As a Business Coach I regularly meet with business owners to see what actions they could take to increase profits. Someone recently asked “How do you go about it?”. It’s not easy to explain, there are too many variations and it’s one of those things that I just know how to do after years of experience and training. However, let’s see if I can cover some of the fundamentals so that you can diagnose and improve your own business.

The first question to ask is what are your goals? See the earlier article “Where will you be in 5 years?” for advice on setting goals. You need to have clear goals!

Assuming the goal is “more sales” - which is what most people initially tell me - then the diagnosis can get more precise. So here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. How many leads are we receiving per month?
  2. What percentage of the leads are we converting to sales after 1 month and after 6 months?

If you know the answers I’ll be impressed, because as fundamental as this knowledge is to your business, most people have never tracked their results.

Do you need more leads?

Imagine that you found out you were getting 100 leads per month and after 6 months you’d converted just 5 of them into sales. That would be a 5% conversion rate and could indicate one of two main possibilities:

a) The quality of leads is relatively poor
b) Your ability to convert the leads into sales is relatively poor

Either way, I wouldn’t be advising a doubling of the marketing effort to get 200 leads per month, because that would probably be very expensive and hard to do, compared with the alternatives. The main alternatives would be to refocus the marketing so that you get better quality leads, or to focus on the sales process and the sales skills to close more of leads. And remember that if you can improve from 5% to 10% you’ll double your sales and most likely more than double your net profit!

Another common scenario is that, for example, the number of leads is 10 per month and after 6 months all 10 have converted to sales. This would suggest a choice of two actions: either the price should be increased, or that you do need to generate more leads. If you’re converting more than 80% of the leads I would always look at when the prices were last increased and would expect to increase them. And assuming that the business has capacity to handle more than the current level of sales, I’d be looking at how to generate more leads. And there are lots of ways to generate more leads - about 90 ways actually - so I’d start looking at which ways have been tried and which are likely to work for your kind of business. Once you know how many leads you’re generating and what your conversion rate is, you will start knowing the important questions for your business. You might now need to ask “How do I improve my conversion rate?”, or “How do I improve the quality of leads we generate?”, or “How do I generate more leads?”. You’ll be a significant step forward at this point, but if you don’t know the answer to your question... ask me?

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By: Rob Pickering

 

Create a Leveraged Business Model

Create a Leveraged Business Model

Some businesses have a fundamental model that means they end up working hard all the time, often for relatively little money. This typically involves getting paid by the hour: No matter how hard they work, they can’t earn any more because they don’t have any more hours in the day.

The concept of leverage is about multiplying the effort you put in, to get a greater amount out. For example, if you spent a hundred hours writing an e-book and publishing it, the number of times you get paid for those hours could be many thousand. If you invent something and then keep selling it, again you get paid many times over for the original time and effort. But businesses can’t see how to leverage in that way, so the alternative is to create leverage through a team.

Many self-employed businesses grow by taking on more clients then increase their prices. They start out charging £20 per hour for their service and eventually they’re booked solid every month. So they put up their prices and lose some of the customers that aren’t prepared to pay the higher price, but quickly replace them with some who want the quality and reliability. So they increase their prices again and that cycle can continue successfully until the price is at a level where others offer the same quality for less, and growth stagnates.

Once a business owner is charging as much as they can for their own time, leverage starts by employing people. Often they employ someone to handle admin and free up more of their own hours to sell. (A Virtual Assistant is usually a better solution, but that’s another story!). There’s less profit because the employee is now an added overhead. Eventually they employ someone to do what they’re doing, but pay them less than clients are charged for the service - that’s the gross profit. If this stage is left too long, the business owner is already so busy servicing clients that they don’t have time to train and manage the employee(s) and the business performance is poor. Or more often they just haven’t developed the knowledge and practiced the skills of leading and managing staff, so much of their time and the employee’s time is wasted.

In a business where the leverage is about people, the profitability depends upon good leadership and management. Suddenly the self-employed person doing the work has taken on the role of leader and manager, but often fail to realise how different their role should now be. They feel frustrated with their staff and with the business they created. They need to get some training and support, in planning, leadership, delegation and general management.

The purpose is all about leveraging their own time through their employees: Training a team and then getting paid over and over again for the work that the team does. The successful business owner recognises that the way to grow is through their team. It’s about recruiting the right people, training them (and continuing to train them regularly), and putting in place the systems and structures.

They understand that if they have an hour to spare, it’s better to use that hour to motivate and manage an employee and send them off to generate ten hours of valuable work - not to do an hour’s work themselves. Leverage through a team means making that team better and better so that they continue to multiply the business owner’s input. As a business owner, the job should increasingly be about setting the direction, setting clear goals, hiring and training good people, and motivating them to achieve the goals. The more effectively this is done, the more successful and profitable the business.

In fact once this is working well enough it can actually work without the business owner having to be there. That’s when they’ve successfully created a leveraged business through a team. And that’s what a Business Coach guides a business owner to do.  

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By: Rob Pickering

The Danger of Being Reasonable

The danger of being reasonable

We’re brought up to have an understanding of what is or is not “reasonable”. Is it reasonable to expect someone to help you for no financial reward? Is it reasonable to ask someone to complete something in half the usual time? Is it reasonable to request loyalty from employees or even customers? All such questions are a matter of opinion. But is it really good to be reasonable? My point here is that ‘being reasonable’ is often the route to mediocrity. Little is ever accomplished or changed in this world by being reasonable. Perhaps what we consider to be reasonable is actually a measure of what we are prepared to accept without pushing the boundaries?

Years ago my wife and I signed up to attend a personal development course that involved attending an evening every two weeks in London.

We lived about 40 miles outside London and had three young children. So when we were asked if we would commit to being there on-time, every time, and no excuses... we said what any reasonable person would say - “We’ll certainly try!”. We were challenged on this and asked why we wouldn’t simply say “Yes.”? Our reason (and for ‘reason’ you can substitute the word ‘excuse’) was quite obvious - we live outside London and traffic is unpredictable and we might have trouble finding babysitters and they might be late and sometimes I might be needed at work late and... and... and... The course leader smiled politely and said something like “You certainly are good at finding excuses, but what I’m asking for is commitment - for you to be here on-time, every time, not merely to try.”.

This was probably the first time I experienced someone calling me out on true commitment and, to be honest, I wasn’t sure what to say, because what we were being asked seemed so completely unreasonable.

After some further probing in which we were asked things like “Do you have any family?” and “Do you have any friends?” we were working through a series of excuses based upon it being unreasonable to ask family and friends to go out of their way to help us, simply because we would ask! Then the killer question - “If you asked family, friends or neighbours in a way that designed to result in them saying ‘yes’, what would happen?”. And further “If you told them that attending this course for the next twelve weeks is really important to you and you’d really appreciate their help and support... what would they say?”.

We were forced to agree that, if we put it like that, just about all of them would say “yes”. Of course I still felt obliged to say “But that would be unreasonable!”. If you wonder what the outcome was, members of our family left work early and travelled an hour to our house to look after our kids on each occasion we couldn’t get a local babysitter, and they were fine about it. In fact they were delighted to have the chance to do something for us, and to spend time with our kids too. And yes, the course was worth it - for teaching me the dangers of being reasonable if nothing else! I’ve learnt to be unreasonable with myself and with others. To ask the unreasonable questions and to gain extraordinary results. In business when a client has achieved a respectable 10% year on year growth for several years, I’ll ask an unreasonable question “Why aren’t you achieving 25% year on year growth?”. Or if that’s not unreasonable enough, how about 200%? And when they’re the last people in the office at 9pm and all the staff went home at 5pm, I’ll ask why they aren’t asking their staff to be there late?

Next time you catch yourself being reasonable, stop, and ask the unreasonable, especially of yourself.

"Reasonable men adapt to the world around them; unreasonable men make the world adapt to them. The world is changed by unreasonable men."- Edwin Louis Cole

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By: Rob Pickering

 

Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn

Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn

After hearing this from a client last week I’ve found myself repeating it to people all week. “Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn”. There are a lot of people and a lot of organisations that make the same mistakes over and over again. In fact many of the mistakes are repeated because no one that could change anything is even aware. And when they are aware, it’s put down to “just the way it is”. A great organisation embeds learning and continuous improvement at the heart of its business and its culture. But how would you do that? 

It starts with setting goals and creating a culture that expects continuous improvement. I have a conversations with staff that go something like this: “Whatever you are earning today, how much would you expect or want to be earning in one year’s time?”. Invariably they stare back blankly. Some might say “a bit more” and the pushy guy would say “double!”. I would then suggest that maybe they’d like to be earning 10% more next year? So then I ask “What do you think you would need to over the next year so that I would be saying “I want to give you a 10% pay rise because you’re worth at least that much more!”?

If your team know what they need to do to be genuinely worth more - they might try and do it. But if they don’t know, and if you don’t ask them, they probably won’t even be trying.

The key is to help them understand that we can all do our jobs better, and that in turn creates greater job satisfaction, and higher profitability. Applied well it can also create better products and services, and happier, loyal, customers.

How could you achieve all that? By continuously testing and measuring, recognising potential for improvement, creatively implementing better ways of working - innovating continuously. It’s all about learning and applying the learning to be better.

Anyone in the organisation that is perfectly happy with the status quo is at best going to keep the business steady, and at worst hold it back. If you recruit people like that, you won’t have a great business. And if you tolerate people like that - including yourself - you won’t have a great business. In case I gave the wrong message above mentioning 10% pay increases, it’s not about money, it’s about taking pride in doing and being better.

Steve Jobs was a great example, never settling for just emulating the competition. And then when he had a great product, he and his team would assume they could do better, and look for innovative ways to improve - even when no one was asking for improvement.

Along the way you don’t always win every time. The harder you try, the more you can expect to make some mistakes. But a winning team will pick themselves up, dust themselves down, look at what can be learnt, apply the lessons and give it another go with enthusiasm. Be that leader to your team. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and either way, you learn.  

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By: Rob Pickering

The 90-Day Planning cycle

Planning a full year ahead can be tortuous if you get too detailed. I remember when I worked in a large company in the 90’s and held responsibility for a lot of the planning. I dreaded the end of the financial year when it had to be done. It was so detailed that by the time everyone had their say, it was usually 6 weeks into the year that the plan covered! You’d think that after all that time and effort it would be a great plan. And generally it was... but about 4-6 months into the year we might, for example, have gained a couple of key customers, lost a major supplier, the market had changed in some way, and we knew the plan needed rewriting. 

As I started working across a number of different companies it was easier to spot patterns and see the bigger picture. I was fortunate to meet Verne Harnish when he presented at our annual conference and I read his book “The Rockefeller Habits”. This now forms the basis of how we work with all our clients in a cycle of 90-day plans, and it works!

So here’s the secret:
You need to know what you want to achieve in the longer term (3-5 years ideally, but 1 year will do), but planning a whole year in detail is a waste of time. Too much changes during a year, and it takes too long to plan a whole year in detail anyway. So armed with long-term goals, take one day each quarter to work on a plan for the next quarter.

In your planning day, remind yourself of the 12 month goals and think which parts you could work on in the coming quarter. Shortlist about ten possible goals, then narrow it down to five. When choosing five goals, ensure that at least half of the goals focus on making money. The goals like staff training or developing systems are necessary, but make sure every quarter you keep some focus on increasing profit! Once you have the five goals, make sure each one of them is SMART (basically - specific and measurable with definite time scales). Then break down each goal into a series of the steps that will be needed to implement them.

For each step assign one person who will be responsible and a completion date. The goals should be for the whole organisation to work on during the coming quarter, not just what the senior team focus on. So you’ll need to roll them out to all levels of management/staff. Cascade the goals and their achievement down the organisation. And if that organisation is one person... this process still works, but the cascading process is pretty simple! Be sure that the whole company is focused on the 90 day goals.

Repeat this process - setting aside a day to plan prior to the start of a quarter - and by the end of one year doing that you’ll see that your business has gone further and faster than ever before! Failing to set aside a full day is where most businesses go wrong before they even start. If they plan at all, they cram it into a couple of hours or avoid involving everyone that needs to be there. This is why every 90 days we run a workshop.

We get about 50+ business owners and senior staff in a room then lock the door and don’t let them out until they have a 90-day plan! (I’m exaggerating, but you get the idea). Put YOUR full day of planning in your calendar now and get into the quarterly habit. To book your place at our next 90 day GrowthCLUB session - click here!  

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By: Rob Pickering

 

What’s Your Call To Action?

Whatever marketing you’re working on - website, advert, networking - ensure you have a clear call to action. I always advise when creating a marketing communication to consider:

  • What do you want the prospective customer to think?
  • What do you want them to do?

The first part is all about getting your message across in a way that leaves your prospect thinking that they want to buy or at least to know more. But it’s pointless unless you give them the next step, ie your call to action (CTA). It could be very blunt like “Buy Now!” or it could be very passive such as “Read more...”. Think carefully about your choice, it’s critical. 

Generally speaking your CTA should be a directive statement, which basically means you should tell them what to do. Some people don’t like being told what to do, and you’ll put them off if they feel you’re being too pushy. However, most people shy away from looking too pushy and consequently they go too far the other way and become too passive or have no call to action at all.

Take a look at a few websites or pick up the local paper to see what others are doing in their marketing. See what you think they want prospective customers to do? If you can’t see what you’re supposed to do next to buy or to get more information... chances are they would benefit from a clearer call to action.

Now look at your own website or adverts or brochures. Will your prospects see your call to action? Will they take the action you want? In a website a call to action is best enhanced graphically and made into a button that’s a colour and design that stands out and entices the prospect to click. Whereas in an advert or on a brochure the call to action is necessarily a little more complex because the action may be more complex too. Either way, you might want to bridge between getting your message across to the call to action with an enticing statement.

For example, you might say something like “These business owners increased their sales by an average of 300% by using our service. If you’d like to significantly increase your business, find out how by calling 012 345 678 now. The use of exclamation marks or capitalised words can create a sense of importance or urgency, but they can also put people off or make the message seem rather cheap. Consider what fits with your style, but don’t be too passive - people usually need a push! On a website the use of a button to select the next action can make a significant difference to the number of people who click and therefore the number of leads you gain. The colour, shape, size and position of the button can make a huge difference. And a button is almost always more effective than just a text link. The button wording needs to be short and directive, for example:

  • Buy Now
  • Add to Basket
  • Start here
  • Click for more
  • Try free
  • Get Started

Remember that as with everything about your website - it’s not about what you like, it’s about what will appeal and be effective for your prospective customers. If you’re not sure, try one option for a week, then another option for a second week, and compare the number of clicks. Monitor the number of clicks you get at all times and see if there’s a difference between the number of clicks and the number of completed requests you receive. If you have a lot more clicks then you may be making it too hard or putting people off, perhaps presenting them with a form that has too many questions? Make it easy. Make your call to action generate the maximum number of good quality leads by continually testing different approaches and measuring the results. And remember it’s not just about quantity - you need quality to maximise sales and reduce wasted time.

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By: Rob Pickering

  

Six keys to a Winning team

As a business owner you have to wear many hats in the course of running a successful business: Sales, Marketing, Finance, HR, ...and so on. But particularly in smaller businesses the most important one gets forgotten - you have to be a leader. It’s not just about what you do, it’s not just about logical steps, it’s about the person you choose to BE from moment to moment and day to day. Are you the kind of leader that YOU would be inspired to follow? To help you get into good leadership habits, follow the six keys to a winning team. 

  1. Strong Leadership
  2. Common Goal
  3. Rules of The Game
  4. Action Plan
  5. Support Risk-Taking
  6. 100% Involvement and Inclusion

1. Strong Leadership
Definitions of strong leadership are many and varied, but I’d start by asking a question: Would people follow you if you weren’t paying them? In fact, would people pay to follow you as their leader? Maybe not, but it’s an interesting test. As a strong leader you need to know where you’re going, be able to articulate it clearly and with a passion so that others are enrolled into the idea and inspired. You need to be seen to have confidence and determination and to hold firm to strong principles even when the going gets tough.

2. Common Goal
You can’t lead people anywhere unless you know where you’re going. There needs to be a clear goal or vision that everyone knows. If they have to go and look it up in the company handbook - it may as well not exist. Everyone has to relate to it, to know how it will benefit them? Imagine everyone is hearing you tell them the goal and silently asking “What’s In It For Me?”. And everyone needs to know what their role is - their contribution - in achieving the common goal. If I came into your office and asked everyone to tell me the common goal, and to each tell me what they are responsible for doing toward it - would they all be able to tell me without hesitation?

3. Rules of The Game
In any organisation there needs to be a widely understood set of rules and they need to be in writing so that there’s no scope for misunderstandings. I recommend these exist in every business, not necessarily as a poster on the walls (though it can be), but neither should it be buried in a 50-page employee handbook that no one’s opened since it was handed to them. Perhaps 10-30 rules that every employee agrees to abide by. It could include the attitudes to customers and other staff, a promise to be on time, and perhaps a commitment to the common goal.

4. Action Plan
As the saying goes “Positive thought without positive ACTION leads to positively nothing!”. There needs to be a series of cohesive plans that cover the long-term (3-5 years), the current year, the current quarter, and the current week. At the detailed individual level it’s good for people to now what the plan is for today! Needless to say - today’s plan might be very brief and expressed verbally while the long-term plan must be in writing.

5. Support Risk-Taking
It can be tough to let people take risks, but the alternative where you micro-manage every decision and every action is a far worse alternative. It’s important to encourage and support your team in taking considered risks. And when something goes wrong - and it will - you need to say well done for trying! Yes, I know that can be hard. Ensure that the lesson is learnt and that next time the right actions will be taken. But if you want to move quickly and grow, there are going to be a few mistakes along the way. 100% Involvement and Inclusion

6. 100% Involvement and Inclusion
Involving people on a ‘need to know’ basis doesn't work. You can’t keep people continuously inspired and motivated by telling them the minimum. Let everyone know WHY things need to be done, and what the benefits are, not just WHAT. Get everyone feeling involved and ensure that there’s a culture where they feel valued, feel listened to, and feel they can make a difference.  

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By: Rob Pickering

Are You Easy To Do Business With?

Have you ever thought about how easy it is to do business with you? Are you driving people to your website, only to drive them away again? Are you sending existing customers to your competitors by annoying them? And would you know if you were? Sometimes I visit a website that leaves me feeling so confused or frustrated that after a while I just click the close button. If you get 100 people interested enough to make contact by viewing your website, phoning, emailing or speaking face to face, how many buy? It’s unlikely to be 100%, but is it even close? Let me give you some examples. 

I recently wanted to book a restaurant for lunch in an hour’s time. I searched for their website and there was no obvious online system to check availability or book online. So I phoned the number and it rang and went to voicemail. I didn’t want to leave a message and stand around waiting, hoping they’d call me back. I left it five minutes and called again, got voicemail again, so hung up and booked at a different restaurant.

I understand that staff at a restaurant will be busy at lunchtime, but there are alternatives. A simple message on the site saying “we have vacancies for lunch today” would have been enough for me to risk going. A twitter message saying “5 tables left for lunch today” gives a clue.

I frequently run events and book conference rooms. One of my favourites recently imposed a rule of a £150 deposit 30 days prior to the event, and a surcharge for any change to the attendee numbers in the final 7 days. I explained this wasn’t convenient, and wasn’t necessary since I’d spent a lot with them over the past two years and always paid fully on-time. They told me it was clearly stated in the terms and conditions. Woah! If you want to annoy customers, just mention terms and conditions!

I turn into an unpleasant customer in a situation like this and said that either they ignore those rules or I simply won’t go there again. It was only when I told a friend about this, who happened to know the venue manager, that we got a phone call saying sorry and those rules won’t apply. Great, I’ll be making lots more bookings throughout the year. Do you have rules that you’re enforcing to drive customers away? I know people sometimes let you down and behave badly, but if you treat every prospect as if they’re a criminal waiting to rip you off... don’t expect to have many repeat customers. Your customers need to feel that you are there for them, not that they are lucky to do business with you and have to fit in with your convenience. Your attitude in person and in writing on all your communications needs to be friendly, welcoming and accommodating. If you need to be firm - about payment terms for example - be firm in a friendly way. The words we use have an effect on people in a subliminal way, beyond any logic.

For example, you could reasonably state “Bookings MUST be confirmed in writing 14 days prior.”. That’s a hassle for the customer and entirely for the supplier’s convenience. And I for one don’t like being told what I MUST do. How about phoning the customer and saying you’d just like to make a final confirmation so that the customer (not you), can be confident of the firm booking. Then send an email or postal confirmation of the conversation and firm booking. If that’s not sufficient, you’re saying you don’t trust the customer.

Most customers will go along with whatever crazy barriers you create, but you’re demonstrating zero trust and in the back of their mind... they know! We do business with people that we know, like and trust. Trust is a two-way concept. Beware when you design your business such that customers won’t like and trust you. This destroys any loyalty that might have existed and if a competitor happens to reach them, they’ll switch in the blink of an eye. When you create a high level of both, not only will they return, they’ll probably recommend you to others.

Action: Write a list of things that might currently reduce the amount that new and existing customers like and trust you and your company. Prioritise and identify ways to reduce these issues. Make another list of strategies you could introduce or do more consistently to increase how much customers like and trust you - so much so that they will want to go and tell everyone how brilliant you are should buy from you. Then introduce one of those ideas each month, and enjoy the results.

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By: Rob Pickering

 

Blogger’s Block - Regular Blogging

Many of my colleagues and readers of my weekly blogs ask me how on earth I manage to write something every week? If you have a blog and struggle to write regularly, or haven’t even started for fear of not keeping it up... this one’s for you! Top Tips

  • Only write when you feel inspired - you are in control of your mood
  • Have a list of potential topics, choose one that inspires you
  • Remove distractions, sit somewhere nice, get started
  • Start by writing an outline - bullet points of what you’ll include
  • If it isn’t going well, break the pattern. Change topic, call someone, …
  • At the end, leave it half an hour then re-read it, make small improvements
  • You’re done, focus on how much you’ve enjoyed it!

My first tip to anyone doing regular writing is to understand yourself, your moods and your motivation. If you have to force yourself to sit down and write, and then you struggle and feel bad... you are training yourself that writing is something you hate. What are the chances you’ll want to do something you hate? So only write when you are in the right mood to enjoy it. What if you’re never in the right mood? 

You’re in control This may come as a surprise to you, and you may not even want to accept it, but you are in control of your own mood. Get a pen and paper ready and then ask yourself this question: “What are 20 things that put me in a good mood?” and start writing them down. Among them you might include listening to uplifting music, watching a movie, sitting on the beach on holiday, and so on. Actually it’s not just experiencing those things that will put you in a good mood - it’s also thinking about them. Putting yourself in a good mood and feeling inspired is potentially the most valuable lesson you can learn to achieve more and enjoy life more. But for blogging, here are a few ‘inspiration’ tips that you might put on your list:

  • Find other blogs that you like, agree with, and find inspiring. Read them when you need inspiration
  • Create a playlist of uplifting music without words (words distract more)
  • If you have customer testimonials or LinkedIn recommendations, read a few
  • Surround yourself with awards and trophies you’ve received
  • Sit somewhere you feel inspired - walk to the top of a hill if that’s what it takes
  • Remove distractions, turn off the phone, have an empty desk
  • Call someone who inspires you, then start writing immediately after

Inspiring topics
When we’re genuinely interested and feel passionate about a topic, we tend to write far more easily, enjoy it more, and create a better result. It’s therefore key to pick a topic that we find inspiring at the moment we sit down to write. I recommend developing a list of potential subjects to blog about. You can trawl through your own website and websites of similar interests but, to be honest, such lists tend to leave me a bit cold and I rarely feel inspired by them. What works for me is to write about something that I felt inspired by during each week. When someone asks me “How do I motivate my team?” or “Should I get a new website?” or whatever it is, I end up having a discussion. Somehow the same topics seem to appear several times in a week. If I found the conversation particularly interesting - and the other people I spoke to liked what I had to say - I write it down as a potential topic. At the end of a week when I sit down to write a blog I look down the list and usually feel inspired to write about it. Naturally, that’s where this topic came from. When you realise that you’re being asked for advice on the same topic over and over again, whatever your area of interest/expertise, you can be pretty certain that your target readers are going to be interested in the blog when you’ve written it!

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By: Rob Pickering

Cash is King - Getting Paid

One of the main reasons that businesses fail is poor or inconsistent cash flow. It’s also frequently the cause of sleepless nights for business owners. It’s important to operate a cash flow forecast so that you know, in advance, how much money is likely to come into your bank account and how much needs to go out, ideally on a daily basis looking weeks ahead.

Getting paid is the first issue and the one we’ll focus on here. It’s really important to establish clear payment terms at or before the point when you start working with a new customer. Put it in writing, along with a few other helpful points such as contact details, working days/hours, and your terms or a link to them. Send or give this to your new customer and make sure it’s friendly or it might be a very short relationship! If possible, have a conversation about payments and use a phrase like “No one likes chasing or being chased for payment, so can I just confirm that our terms are 30 days from invoice date; Can I rely on you to pay promptly without chasing?”. By saying this at the outset, they’re likely to pay on time, and if they don’t, it’s easier to say with a smile “remember at the outset I explained our terms and you agreed to pay me on time without chasing? Well now I’m having to chase.”. Keep it friendly but firm - remember - you get what you tolerate!

Many companies automatically provide 30-day payment terms, but in my view credit is not a right and can be given or taken away. It’s reasonable in most situations to insist on immediate payment for new customers while establishing their creditworthiness. Consider offering 7 or 14 day terms and then extending that if necessary and if the customer proves they can pay reliably.

If a customer deliberately pays late, consider reducing their credit terms and remove credit if they fail to pay reliably again. If you’re able to be lenient with customers that need more flexibility, you might agree to extended terms if you’re sure they will pay, but be sure to make it clear that it’s a temporary favour. When clients pay on-time it’s worth making an effort to thank them. If you were to say “Thank you for paying on time, I just wanted you to know that we appreciate it.” most businesses will feel a closer connection and want to pay you on time. If you don’t acknowledge or thank them for payment, it’s much easier for them to treat you as just another supplier and put you at the back of the queue. Show appreciation and be at the front of the queue. If you struggle to get paid by a large business, one thing worth a try is to phone and ask to speak to the person that pays. Wait until after the first time they’ve paid, then thank them and say how you appreciate it because as a small business you rely on prompt payment. Do this even if they paid late - be remembered by the person that is paying you. I’ve known some people to send flowers or chocolates... but that’s probably going too far. If someone pays you late then it’s probably for one of just a few reasons:

1) They don’t have the money to pay

2) They’re mean and don’t pay on-time on principle (I call these ‘ex-customers’)

3) They’re disorganised

4) They really didn’t receive your invoice!

I believe in having open, honest conversations and if someone pays late I would actually ask which of these reasons applies? It’s amazing how many businesses are just plain disorganised and there’s no bad intent to their late payment. It’s worth organising your own processes to counter this.

For example, I use www.clearbooks.co.uk software for my invoicing and accounts and it allows me to have the system send an automatic reminder to clients a chosen number of days ahead of when their payment is due. The wording basically says that the payment is due in three days, just wanted to ensure that you have the invoice and that they have everything needed to process the payment on time. Sometimes they haven’t and appreciate the reminder. You can also suggest they set up a standing order so they can’t forget. If you collect cash promptly but still run short, consider offering a discount for advance payments, eg pay for 3 months in advance to get a 5% discount. It’s a good discount for the client but you’ll probably think it worthwhile if you need the cash - just make sure you’re not spending cash you haven’t yet earned!

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By: Rob Pickering

Create a ‘Stop-Doing’ List

As you identify more and more things you need to do, you soon run out of time. At some point you need to stop doing some things so that you can do other things instead. What would you add to your ‘stop-doing’ list? We’re continually have ideas that we want to accomplish and our normal reaction is the add them to our list of things to do. I regularly hear the remark “I seem to finish the day with more things on my list to do than I had at the start!”. Read my blog entitled “The 3D Rule” for more help on this, but there’s another practice that helps create more time. 

Once a month or once a quarter sit down and spend 30 minutes writing a Stop-Doing list. You can’t just keep adding more and more things to the list of what you need to do every month. Start by analysing what you do. If you struggle with that, focus on working out what you do by studying a few of your days with a time-tracking sheet. Contact me if you’d like a free template, but basically it’s just a sheet listing the hours of your day broken down into 15 or 30 minute intervals.

Print it and put it on your desk. Set a reminder on your computer or phone to beep hourly and record what you’ve worked on (or been interrupted by!). But be warned - you’re very likely to feel disappointed and annoyed with the result! But don’t worry, it’s all part of the learning process. As an aside, one thing often amuses me when I ask clients to do this exercise: They cheat! Yes, they omit things and change the duration of activities. A phone call that turned into an hour’s chat gets written down as 15 minutes. The hour and a quarter for lunch is written down as an hour. Then time on more virtuous things like planning or calling prospects is extended.

If you wonder how I can know this... it’s because I’ve found myself doing all of these when I was first asked to complete one! When I ask clients, they admit it. None of us really likes admitting that at times we can be rubbish with our time. It’s probably worthy of a blog on its own. Anyway, make an honest time log when you do this, because otherwise there’s not much point. It can also help to keep a sheet handy for one week or one month - without time divisions - to record all the main activities that you do regularly.

Most people start out telling me this is pointless because they know what they do, but then they’re surprised by the length of the list. You need to do this to create your Stop-Doing list. Once you have a list of what you’re doing on a regular basis, you should go through it and identify some of them that you’re going to stop doing. Be ruthless! You might be able to delegate some things, but on the whole it’s better to completely stop doing a few things. Think about each task in terms of how much you’re earning by doing it, or how much you’re saving, and think too about how much you enjoy it? Dump the ones that score the lowest. Because you know what? You wouldn’t be getting everything done anyway, so it’s better to choose the least worthy tasks to drop.

Be proactive about your Stop-Doing list. Every time you identify something new to do, add another item to your Stop-Doing list to make room for it.  

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By: Rob Pickering

You Get What You Tolerate

At times we all slip into Blame, Excuses and Denial. But in reality we can change just about anything if we start by taking Ownership, Accountability and Responsibility. WE GET WHAT WE TOLERATE, in business and in life generally. If that thought doesn’t make you uncomfortable enough, here’s another one: YOU”VE GOT THE BUSINESS THAT YOU DESERVE. Or if you’re an employee, you’ve got the job you deserve. Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t change it and deserve something better. What it means is that our business is a reflection of our own attitude and behaviour. If we want different results, we need to take ownership and take some different actions.

Back to getting what we tolerate - take a few moments to think about something or someone that you continually complain about. The complaining could be when talking to other people or it could be in your own head - eg “I wish they wouldn’t keep doing that!”. This is a sure sign that you’re tolerating something. Tolerating undesirable behaviour is bad for business, and it’s bad for us on a personal level. The first time we see undesirable behaviour is ideally the time to address it. You ask someone to arrive at 8:50am. They turn up at 9:05am saying traffic was bad and you think “they should have set off earlier, but it’s not worth the hassle to make a big deal out of it”, so you leave it. A few days later they arrive at 9:06am and this time the car wouldn’t start or there had been an accident - not their fault so not worth a confrontation.

A few months down the line and you’ve lost control. Trying to fix this unreliable person is now an annoyance that crosses your mind on a daily basis, but never quite serious enough that it’s worth dealing with today. What happened in the above scenario? If you choose Blame, Excuses and Denial - this person has poor self-discipline, they should be able to organise themselves and it’s not your job to chase them (that’s all three: blame, excuse and denial in case you didn’t notice). And I could agree with that analysis. The trouble is... it isn’t very useful, it doesn’t achieve anything other than a feeling of self-righteousness. But it is what I would class as the ‘normal’ response. If instead you’re prepared to look at things in a different way, as a business coach I might ask if you have trained this person to be unreliable? If you had addressed the issue - in the right way - on the first occasion, would it have developed into an ongoing problem? Is addressing something like this an area where you lack the training and skill and need to develop personally? After all, that would be understandable if you’ve never had any training - how could you expect to know? Yet most business owners or managers have this nagging thought in the back of their minds that they ought to be able to manage staff effectively.

Actually like the vast majority of business skills they need to be learnt and practiced. If you run your business on the basis that everyone and everything around you should be perfect, you’re going to be disappointed and frustrated. You’ll end up tolerating bad behaviour and get the results that naturally follow. Instead, my suggestion to you is to stop tolerating unacceptable attitudes and behaviours and take ownership. Be very clear about the attitudes and behaviours you expect. State it verbally and state it in writing if and when it helps. But congratulate in public and criticise in private - don’t make casual remarks - deal with people confidently, head-on. State what is unacceptable and what you require. State consequences, but in a suitably pleasant manner. “In order to work here I require staff to arrive no later than 8:50am” is better than saying “If you arrive after 8:50am I’m going to fire you!”. State the behaviours and attitudes you want, and do everything possible to reinforce them. Don’t let it slip, discuss issues in private and straight away. You’ll soon discover that an environment where everyone knows what is expected of them and nothing else is tolerated is a good one. It creates success - for you and for your team.

What are you tolerating that you shouldn’t be? What action do you need to take? And what skills do you need to develop to take responsibility and be the best leader and manager that your team has ever worked for? Would this be an area that a Business Coach could help?

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By: Rob Pickering

Time to Play Big

If you run a small business with just one or two staff you might be wondering how to get to the next level of growth? The vast majority never make it to another level and get caught in the trap of owning a job instead of owning a business. It’s a trap because you’re probably already so busy that you don’t feel you have time to grow the business and can’t handle more than you already do. Your job as a business owner is not to grow a successful business. If you try to do that you’ll end up feeling burnt out. Actually your job is to recruit the people that will grow your business. Then you need to provide leadership, set goals, train and motivate. 

Often when I ask a business owner what their goal is for five years or even one year they don’t have a clear answer. Do you know the answer? Can you articulate it clearly to an employee or someone that could help you achieve it? Do you have it written down? Few small businesses have a business plan or even a marketing plan. The reason I’m often told is that it’s not necessary, especially when there are no staff, “why would I write a plan just to read myself, I already know it”. I don’t mean to be unkind but that’s just an excuse and one that will definitely hold back the business! So here’s my advice that, if you follow it, will set you free on the path to growth:

  • Set yourself a big goal for 3-5 years that scares you and at the same time excites you!

Don’t play small. Don’t forecast where you think you’ll be in 3-5 years if you keep doing what you’re doing and everything continues as it as. That’s not a plan, it’s a forecast and frankly it’s boring. Did you take a risk and start your own business just to be bored and to get by? Probably not, otherwise you’d have stuck with the safe route of being an employee, letting the business owner take all the risks... and all the rewards! What goal for your business, if you achieved it in 3-5 years, would make you smile and feel really proud? £1 Million turnover? £10 Million? 25 good employees? A thousand delighted customers? Four long holidays per year (and the business still there when you got back!)? Contributing significantly to a charity that matters to you? Winning a prestigious industry award? An award given in your name? What life do you want to lead, what legacy will you leave? These might seem like very lofty goals, but those are the ones that are inspiring and make running a business feel worthwhile - why would you aim lower? One more thing to consider when it comes to employing great people - Why would a really great employee work for you? Assuming they can take their pick of companies to work for, is your goal inspiring enough that they want to help achieve it? Great employees don’t work for companies that forecast based on ‘all things being even’, they choose companies and leaders that inspire them. That’s who you need to be. If this all sounds interesting but you can’t get started - give me a call and we’ll get you moving and achieving the goal too!

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By: Rob Pickering

Marketing to existing customers

If you value your customers - ensure you stay in regular contact. Businesses often spend a lot of money on marketing to gain a new customer, then do nothing to stay in touch with them. But actually it’s easier and more cost-effective to gain repeat business than to find completely new customers - this is what makes the difference between good business and a great one! Let me be clear why this is important. There is a right time for the right product or service for the right person. We all forget suppliers after a while and end up buying from whoever we happen to think of. You need to stay in regular contact with your customers (monthly or quarterly) so that when they’re in the market for your product or service - they do think of you! 

The first step is to know your customers. This can start with their name, but you can only make contact if you also know some contact details. An email address is ideal, a telephone number is important, and an address is sometimes useful. Most of the time people don’t like form-filling so the more information you request in one go, the less likely they complete it accurately if at all. So start start with an email address or phone number and then add to it over time. Invest in a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system - a database - to hold the details and associated information. You’ll want to store more than just name and contact information, but we’ll come back to this point below. So what will you do to stay in touch with you existing and past customers? How about using any of the following or a mixture:

  • Newsletters
  • Hints & Tips
  • Short articles like this one, relevant to your customers
  • Relevant event notifications
  • Annual service reminders
  • Special offers (genuine offers, especially exclusive to existing customers)
  • Training and ‘how-to’ information
  • Customer surveys
  • Fact sheets, eg “10 things you should know when choosing car insurance”
  • Customer testimonials, success stories and case studies
  • Free samples, trial versions, etc

There’s a long list of things that you can communicate to your customers and my advice is to think about the value in it for them, not just what’s in it for you. Next it’s worth thinking about the methods of communication that are appropriate, but this is separate and should come after the choice of what you want to communicate. Email is about the cheapest form of communication, but cost can be misleading - focus on ROI. For example, if you send out 1000 emails and get zero response... it wasn’t a cheap exercise. Yet you could spend a lot of money sending a printed brochure and get a massive return in sales. What matters is the ROI, not just the up-front investment. Choose based on what you honestly expect to work. These days people jump too quickly to using email or web-based marketing when actually printed material often still gains a better result in some cases. Methods of communicating can include:

  • Events - face to face - training, demonstrations, etc
  • email - newsletters, offers, etc
  • Print - high-quality brochures, etc
  • Poster - placed where your target market will see them
  • Stickers - on products, on windows, on vehicles
  • Direct mail - eg sending a booklet to key customers
  • Websites - for news and latest offers
  • Blogs - for adding value with knowledge
  • Twitter - brief messages to point at blogs and web pages
  • Facebook - an interactive alternative to your website

Be creative when choosing methods of communication, but once again think about what your customers will appreciate. By all means stand out, but don’t irritate them. Communicating too frequently can be a problem. Most people will be OK with one email per month, but send three in one week and the chances are they’ll unsubscribe. This is where it helps to know more about your customers. By gathering relevant additional information about your customers you can use it to send selective communications. Over time ask your customers questions and observe their behaviour and retain the information in your CRM system. Then instead of sending one message to everyone, send selectively to just those who are likely to be interested. Targeting messages means people are far more likely to read what you send. Remember that if you store customer information, you need to register with the UK Data Protection Agency. And always respect customers’ wishes and make it easy to unsubscribe.

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By: Rob Pickering

Seven Steps to Gain New Customers

Marketing can be divided into two main aims - attracting new customers and then keeping them. We’ll be focusing here on getting new customers and dealing with keeping them in the next article. Before you spend the first penny on marketing it’s vital to get a few things clear. Follow this 7-step process and your marketing will be effective. 

1. What’s the problem that you’re solving?
Be sure that you can state this clearly, and in the same language as your ideal customer would naturally use. Ask yourself honestly whether people really are looking for the solution you’re offering? There’s a danger you’re too knowledgeable to see things the way your prospects will - what would they say they are looking for?

2. What’s your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)?
Why should someone buy from you rather than someone else? In many instances people already know a supplier, so what will you say to convince them they should switch to you? It might not be about your actual product or service – it might be about how you provide it. Avoid cliches like “we care about our customers” or “We’re the experts” because, let’s face it, your competitors would say the same thing. What really makes you different? If you’re not sure – ask a few of your best existing customers!

3. Who’s your ideal customer?
You’re about to start communicating specifically with your prospective customers, so you’d better know who they are! Are they adults or children? Men or women? Old or young? Wealthy or cost-conscious? What are their attitudes, beliefs and behaviours? Get clear on this and remain aware of who you’re speaking to when you write anything as marketing communication.

4. Where do your ideal customers hang out?
I use the term ‘hang out’ very loosely, but this is absolutely key. When you think of the ideal customer you’ve chosen, what do they read, where do they visit, to which groups do they belong? You need to know where you’re likely to find them.

5. How could you best communicate with your ideal customer?
When you know the problem you’re solving, and who is your ideal customer, and where they hang out – you’ll have a better understanding of the best ways to communicate with them. For example, if your product is aimed at children, you might want to target parents, so schools, school magazines, toy shops, children’s clubs and the like are potential routes to consider. But if you were offering products or services for the wealthy singles market... none of those would be a great target! Write a list of the best ways you could communicate with your ideal customers.

6. Learn from competitors
Your established competitors are a great source of knowledge. What are they doing, what would you do differently or better? Don’t just copy them, but learn from them. What are five things they do well, and what are five things you’d do differently? Remember, you want to be better than them.

7. Create your marketing communication
Start writing a few headlines that would stop your ideal customer in their tracks and make them think “I need this, it’s exactly what I’ve been looking for”. This is the first step - get their attention. Then state your understanding of their problem, so that they’re left feeling that you understand their need. Then tell them why you and your solution is exactly what they need. And finally - tell them what to do to take action, eg call now, complete a form, click here, give me your credit card... whatever’s appropriate. The last option wasn’t entirely serious... in reality, unless you’re in retail, people won’t buy unless you’re offering an impulse purchase. Most of the time you just want them to take a first step - to give you their contact details. Be sure to record where each prospect comes from, ie which of your marketing generated each lead. Once you know you have a prospect that might be your ideal customer and is interested in what you’re offering, you can move into multi-touch marketing: drip-feed relevant information that will build genuine trust in you and your offering and move them closer to making a purchase decision. Be aware that it could take 3-10 such ‘touches’, often over a long period of time, before your prospect makes the purchase. Once your prospect has made their first purchase, your next stage is to stay in touch and get repeat business in future – which is what we’ll be doing next time.

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By: Rob Pickering

Market to New and Existing Customers

Are you focusing all your marketing on attracting new customers, or are you remembering to value the ones you already have? If you think you value existing customers, check how much you spent in the past 12 months on marketing to get new customers compared with marketing to existing ones - you might be surprised! When I look at most small and medium businesses I regularly find that the budget for marketing to existing customers is zero. That’s odd when you consider how much was spent to get each customer to start with, and that you know your existing/past customers are willing to buy from you.

When I look at a business, either an established one or a new startup, one of the first things I look at is the potential for repeat sales. A company that is well suited to repeatedly selling to the same customers is likely to be much more profitable than one that doesn’t. Even better is when sales are on a regular recurring basis, especially if it’s set up on Direct Debit and is just going to keep the money rolling in.

Think about it - the major cost in dealing with a customer is typically getting the new customer in the first place. You might need to get ten or even a hundred leads, ie identified prospects, to get one new customer that you sell to. For example, imagine you placed an advert at a cost of £500 and got 10 sales leads from it. You respond to all of those ten and make a sale worth £100 to half of them. That’s £500 revenue from a marketing investment of £500. But if your profit margin is 50% you’ve actually spent £500 to make £250 back, which doesn’t seem very good! In the case where a customer is buying every month, you’d be getting £500 revenue and £250 profit from those five new customers every month. And let’s assume that on average they keep buying for 12 months... that’s actually 12 x £250 = £3,000 gross profit over the course of the year from the initial £500 investment.

Of course, not all businesses are able to sell the same thing every month to the same customer. But if that’s the case for you, the question is whether you could sell them different things every month, or the same things every few months, or add a new service you could sell them time and time again. If you can find a way to do that, your business will be much more profitable and stable. You can look at this perspective of marketing to get a customer as ‘buying’ a customer. In the case above it cost £500 to buy five customers, so each customer cost £100 each to buy. If you only sell to them once, you need to be certain you’re making more than £100 profit on the sale! And your marketing spend will need to be enormous.

The key is to make repeat sales. In the next two articles I’ll talk first about marketing to win new customers, then separately about marketing to retain existing customers and make repeat sales.

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By: Rob Pickering

Authentic Sales & Marketing

So much of what is taught about sales and marketing is manipulation. Yet ask any prospective purchaser if they would choose to buy from someone who they think is deliberately manipulating them and I’m sure the answer would be “no”. As buyers become increasingly aware if the trickery that passes as sales and marketing, there’s a danger of being ‘found out’. I steer clear of get rich quick methods like bombarding people with emails filled with ‘click here to buy’ and ‘this isn’t for everyone’. The ‘half price sale’ that never ends is a way to destroy trust and make it harder for customers to believe what they’re told. Do these manipulations work? Yes, sometimes, but they’re very short-term.

A stable and valuable business will always have customer loyalty and repeat business at its core. For a business and a customer to continue in a long-term relationship there needs to exist a level of trust and a fair basis of trade: An exchange of goods or services at a fair price for BOTH parties. Charge too much and customers will go elsewhere, charge too little and the business suffers and can’t provide the right level of service and innovation. Sometimes customers are their own worst enemy - they drive down the prices in a market so far that the suppliers can’t offer a decent service - and that in turn backfires on the customers. This tends to happen in commodity markets when one supplier appears to break ranks and lower prices, but in most cases they’re cutting something. Usually that something is what customers do need in the long-term - like the business still to exist when they make a warranty claim! So what can you do in business to offer and maintain a fair trade and retain loyal customers for repeat business?

  • Be a step ahead of knowing what customers want and provide it
  • Establish trust, value loyalty, demonstrate that you care
  • Communicate with honesty and authenticity
  • Operate consistently with the company values
  • Recruit, train and retain staff that live your values and love your customers
  • Provide goods and services at a fair price

You probably agree with this list, but do you actually have strategies in place to achieve and maintain them? Are these true in your business today? If not, what specific actions do you need to take to achieve them? And if they are true today, what do you need to do to ensure they are maintained for many years ahead? One strategy to embed these into your business is to have a quarterly focus on one or more of them so that you revisit them all regularly - it doesn’t need to be daily or weekly. Find ways to involve staff and customers - BUT be aware that they don’t necessarily know the answers - you have to interpret their needs and wants to plot the course for your business and maintain the balance. Don’t get caught up in short-term schemes and manipulative offers - focus on your customers and deal with them with honesty and authenticity.

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By: Rob Pickering