Business Planning Process for an Existing Business

Charting your course plays a major role in the luck you bring to your business. This week, I conducted my company’s annual business planning process and review sessions. It took about 3-4 hours each day over 2 days. The business planning process for an existing business, one that has products and services and customers, is usually different than one for a new enterprise. Existing businesses have to take into account the needs of current customers as well as figure out how to get new ones.business planning process for existing business

Here is the business planning process we use to hammer out our plan:

  1. Discuss last year’s accomplishments and shortcomings, including “small wins”
  2. Review our mission and values that shape what we tackle going forward
  3. Review current status of and new ideas for each component of the business
    • Infrastructure
    • Products and services
    • Customer Service
    • Marketing
    • Operations
  4. Rank the large list of activities we come up with based on estimated time involved to complete and impact to our customers and business
  5. Prioritize the activities we feel will result in the biggest bang for the buck

This exercise results in a one-page action list that we review a few times a year to 1) see if we are on track and 2) see what needs to change. It has been a very useful way to crystallize our collective thoughts and get everyone rowing in the same direction – and that leads to good luck. It is not a 15-20 page document, just a list – see the screenshot below. I’ve blurred out our actual tasks, but you get the idea (D=just about done, 1-5=priority order, WL=wait listed).

business plan action list example

You can take this action list and create a goal list for each team member involved. Short action lists like this are easy to pin on your wall so you are reminded of your key points of focus throughout the year. Mine hang right next to me and are filled with short notes I scratch in as the year goes by. The best feeling is checking one of those items off the list!

Forget New Year’s Resolutions, Use a 3-Word Plan for 2013

Toss your new year’s resolutions. You probably won’t stick with them.

top new years resolutions

I’ve been getting lots of email newsletters with tips on how to plan for 2013. I’ve found that Chris Brogan’s 3-word annual theme is by far the best approach. It’s simple. You just have to remember 3 words. And each of the words you pick will have meaning to you.

I expanded my list of 3 words to have one set for my personal life and one set for my business. Here are my personal growth words for 2013:

Declutter

My old boss used to say that gravity is the most powerful force in the universe. Over the years, everything gravitates to the storage room in the basement. My storage room has been cluttered for too long. During the holiday break, my wife and I got rid of the junk we collected. It appeared to be a daunting task when we started so we took it one section at a time, removing unwanted objects to haul off. By the end of the day – and it was a long day – our storage area was completely cleaned out. Everything was on shelves and fully organized. The best part: it decluttered our minds. I’ve got lots of other areas at my home and office that could use a clean-up so the term “declutter” to me in 2013 means to work on something every weekend until I’m satisfied. This week, the target was my email inbox, which is now fully decluttered. My goal is to be completely decluttered by March 31.

Run

I try to exercise regularly, but sometimes I allow myself to slip on my routine. I’ll then feel guilty about it so it’s a no-win situation – I might as well just do it. Between managing work and a family life with young kids, time can easily escape. Of all of the different types of workouts I’ve done, I’ve found running makes me feel the best. It also provides me with the best return for the time invested. Every time I jog, I feel like I cleaned my body from the inside. I breathe better, have a stronger focus and bubble with creative ideas. It makes me happy and productive. Run has a dual meaning. When I set my eyes on a goal, I want to make sure I don’t put obstacles in my own path or subconsciously slow down. So, “run” in 2013 to me means two things: 1) physically run every week, 2) keep pushing myself hard until I achieve a goal I set.

Read

I love reading. It’s the fastest way to building new skills. I read magazines and blogs all the time and pick up a lot of new ideas that help in growing my business. I find that I do most of my book reading over the summer. My weekends are slower then and I enjoy going out on my deck in warmer weather to relax with a tasty beverage and a good book. So I got to thinking: if I enjoy that feeling so much, why don’t I do more of it year-round instead of in the summer? It prompted me to put “read” to round out my top 3 words for 2013.

Here are some other words and possible meanings that you can use as you develop your own 3-word plan for 2013:

  • Start – stop just talking about starting a company, do it
  • Analyze – evaluate detailed metrics for my business so I make informed decisions
  • Content – write articles to share my knowledge with clients and have a long lasting impact that showcases my expertise
  • Publish – write a book and get it published on Kindle
  • Fund – pitch investors and get financing to grow my business
  • Mingle – join an online dating site to meet my match
  • Laugh – throw at least one party every quarter to enjoy a glass of wine with my friends
  • Hawaii – save for and plan a vacation to Hawaii
  • Participate – find out about openings on local boards or commissions in my county and apply to become a member; plan a strategy to run for a local political office

So forget your new year’s resolution. Create a theme instead. It’s only 3 words so it will be easy to remember. Paste your words on your bathroom mirror so you are reminded of your theme every morning and night. Want something a little longer? Read my big list of sample goals. You will have an amazing 2013!

The 5 Smartest Things You Can Offer a Prospect

Offer your prospects any of these 5 things and they will respond to your phone calls and emails much more quickly:what to offer prospects

  1. A live lead. Giving someone a lead is by far the fastest and most effective way to get someone’s attention. I’ve used this method with tremendous success and it works every time. When I hear about an opportunity for any kind of work through my network, I look to see who else in my network – and extended network– might be able to do the work. There are always a handful of companies. I send an email with this subject line: “Can you help with this lead for <type of service needed>?”  In the email, I say something like “Bob, I came across a business lead and thought of you. A colleague of mine is looking for <one-line description>. If this might be a fit for your business, please let me know and I’ll connect you. Otherwise, no worries – I’m happy to send other leads as they come up.” I also send another email to the person looking to have the work done, something like “Jody, I know a couple of companies that might be able to help with your requirement. Let me know if you would like me to connect you.” People always respond, regardless of how well I know (or don’t know) them. Nobody wants to turn down a lead for more business or to solve an issue they are facing. This entire process is very easy and does several things:
    • Shows both parties that I am looking out for their interests.
    • Gives me an opportunity to reconnect and spread goodwill.
    • Helps both parties – people usually remember who helps them.
  2. A way to make more money. If your product or service helps an organization raise brand awareness that brings in more business, you can help them scratch an itch. Every organization wants to grow – companies and non-profits both want to make more money. Show a direct path that correlates how your offer will result in increased business, more revenues and higher margins. Include examples of how similar organizations have gotten positive results by hiring you.
  3. A way to cut costs. Increasing your bottom line can be done in two ways: 1) more revenue and 2) reducing costs. Do some digging to pull together an educated guess on the types of expenses a prospect is incurring. Outline how your product or service can help them reduce waste, cut expenses or get something done cheaper without sacrificing quality.
  4. A way to save time and increase productivity. Paint a picture of how your product or service will save the organization money by taking over routine tasks, laborious processes and other time-consuming activities. Do you have a unique dashboard that shows metrics to identify bottlenecks so they can increase productivity? Tell a story about how your insight provided an executive with critical information to help their organizational machine run more smoothly.
  5. A way to achieve peace of mind. What would happen if a storm not only knocked out your power for a week, but caused physical damage to your office so you weren’t able to recover your data? That’s what happened to many New York and New Jersey businesses affected by Hurricane Sandy this October. “Peace of Mind” products like insurance, data backup and disaster recovery can help ease fears that keep business owners up at night. In your pitch, talk about a real-life example of how your product or service saved a client from a major catastrophe that other businesses suffered.

To reiterate, #1 is by far the most effective offer to get a prospect to call you back. I continue to use this technique with very high success. Share a qualified lead and I can almost guarantee that you will wake up a prospect into contacting you.

Limiting Beliefs: What Stops You?

Your limiting beliefs are holding you back. Even high achievers develop a hidden demon – a mental block that stops us from getting what we really want, from attaining what we would like realize, from naturally thinking we deserve better. This demon stops us before we can act. It’s the conversation that goes on in our heads, the negative self-talk that adds to our anxiety, the presumption that things always go an unlucky way. The demon is our limiting beliefs.

Everyone’s demons are different. They grew in our minds because of our experiences and what we were taught. Our beliefs can limit how we grow. There is a flip side to this. If we learn to expect that the normal path things take is positive and that we should just presume that we will get what we want, we would view the world in a completely different way. Imagine the mental freedom you would feel if your natural thought was “oh, I’ll get that client” or “it’ll work out – I’m confident about it.” You would be the luckiest person in the world. You would dispel the things that hold you back.

limiting beliefs

Knowing What Stops You

Knowing what stops you is the first step to overcoming your limiting beliefs. Here’s a technique I use to clarify my own limiting beliefs. It can help you figure what stops you from gaining ground toward a happier, luckier life.

  1. Write down something you want but don’t have. Some ideas:
    • Vacation to Hawaii
    • An advanced college degree
    • A new car
    • A better job
    • A house
  2. For each item, write down why you don’t have it now. Examples:
    • It’s no fun traveling alone
    • I can’t save enough money on my current salary and expenses
    • I probably wouldn’t get a loan for the amount I want
    • I don’t know how to start so I keep putting it off
    • It’s just a pipe dream anyway

There you have it. You now have a starter list of your limiting beliefs. These are the things that stop you from getting what you want and from being that lucky person you would like to be.

The Law of Attraction says that universe responds to you in kind with your thoughts. Thinking “I can’t buy a new car because I probably won’t get a loan” results in you achieving exactly what you expect: no loan, no car.

How to Get Lucky

There is an amazing opportunity here. Just knowing what to challenge about yourself gives you the power to redefine and reinvent. Take the next two steps:

  1. Think about – and write down – what you can do to remove each obstacle in your way. Start with “I can”:
    • I can join a singles travel club and meet people on the trip
    • I can explore student loans and scholarships; plus I can study hard to score really well on the admissions tests
    • I can find out about new opportunities within my current company, update my LinkedIn profile and check out job boards
    • I can learn how to start my own business by reading books and talking to others who have done it
  2. Create calendar entries to block off time and focus on what stops you. This one’s easy and very important (start with “I will”):
    • Next Monday after dinner, I will research singles travel clubs and sign up to attend their next meeting
    • Wednesday morning, I will call up all 5 of my local universities and find out the loan and scholarship requirements so I know what to shoot for
    • After work today, I will buy a book on writing a great resume and read it by Saturday; Sunday after breakfast I will create a new resume; Monday at 8:00 a.m. I will start my job hunt
    • This Saturday at noon, I will go to the library and check out books on starting a business; I will return to the library every 3 weeks when the books are due and check out more books so I know how to start
    • Friday morning at 9:00 a.m., I will identify 3 professional networking events to attend each month to grow my circle of contacts

Go ahead, do it. Overcome your limiting beliefs. What’s stopping you?

Using a Loss Leader to Get More Consulting Business

Retail companies use a loss leader all of the time to get more business. You’ve probably seen sales for $1 or even $0.01 products that are clearly priced below their cost. Retailers use this strategy to get you in the store in the hopes that you will buy much more than the loss leader product. Usually those loss leaders are scattered throughout the store so that you see many other products that you might want to buy along the way. It usually works. Web sites place loss leaders near related high-margin products to encourage more sales (and typically charge for shipping to discourage people who only want the loss leader at the heavily discounted price).

You can also use a loss leader for a consulting business, but in a different way. Since your “product” is consulting services, offering yourself for a $1 rate would sound ridiculous to a client and would devalue what you bring to the table. Never discount yourself like that! Instead, you can offer to do a small project for free. This would be something that takes you an hour or two, or a little more if you are comfortable with that.loss leader

Offering an initial consultation like this does two things: 1) gives the client a taste of the value you will bring to their organization and 2) gives you an opportunity to see what working with this client is really like.

Free “high value” consulting session

I had a client who was almost ready to engage, but was slow in pulling the trigger. During our conversations, I asked several questions that uncovered a laundry list of ways I could help. My consulting rates aren’t cheap. They seemed excited, but they were hesitant because they weren’t sure of the value they would get. So, I picked one of their most pressing topics as my loss leader and offered a free one-hour in-depth consulting session about it.

During our conversation, I didn’t keep track of time and we did run over an hour. I also did not sell my services during this free consultation because I wanted them to experience what it would be like to actually work with me. I only focused on their problem and asked probing questions that got deeper into the real issues. I was able to offer several on-point solutions that provided a direct benefit very quickly. They were able to see that I had their best interest at heart.

When they compared the value they received to the price of my rates, it was clear that they were getting a good deal. They made back more than they invested. After that dialog, they were ready to ask more questions about other issues they were facing. When you provide rock solid consulting services, people see the value.

Responding to Push Back

To ward off attempts to gain more of my consulting insight for free, I asked if they would like to tackle some of their other issues as well under a more formal agreement between our companies. That helped them understand that  I wasn’t prepared to give more away for free. You can use responses like these if a prospect keeps trying to get your advice for free:

“I appreciate your question and it is definitely something I can help with. Shall we go ahead with our formal agreement so that we can get started right away?”

“This question warrants a deeper discussion and I want to make sure that the time that both of us invest in solving these issues is spent efficiently. There’s no 5 or 10 minute solution to this topic so rather than start a dialog that we can’t finish, how about we move forward with an engagement letter? This way, I can make sure you’re on my calendar and that I can give the topic the full attention it deserves.”

“I hope the value you gained from our prior consultation illustrated how we can help go deep into solving problems. So rather than start a conversation that only touches the surface, let’s proceed with moving forward in a more formal way. Shall I send you our engagement letter?”

If you encounter a company that isn’t ready to engage you even after your initial consultation and after trying the responses above, watch for signs that they do not have the budget to hire you. The worst situation you can be in is engaging a consulting client that can’t pay you.

When Not to Use a Loss Leader

Not all consulting services lend themselves to a loss leader consultation in which you can provide in-depth advice. Often, consulting requires deeper, long-term commitments. In these cases, your initial consultations need to focus on problem discovery so your proposal addresses the client’s key questions and not something that you think they want.

For those times when you need to nudge a prospect to close a deal, give them a taste – just a morsel – of what you can do for free. Don’t discount your services because then your value will be the discount, not your knowledge.

Keeping Busy as Hurricane Sandy Approaches

It’s Monday afternoon, October 29, 2012. Hurricane Sandy is expected to hit the east coast within a few hours. The effects of the wind and rain are already being felt up and down the coast, with power outages and flooding hitting one neighborhood after another.

If you are in Sandy’s path, you might be working from home today and tomorrow to ride out the storm as recommended by the state. That’s what I am doing in Maryland. If you still have power, and maybe even an Internet connection, here are a four ideas for keeping busy as we wait for the situation to return to normal later in the week:

  • Stay connected via web meetings. We hold our weekly staff meeting on Monday mornings. Last night, I emailed everyone to let them know that they can work from home today if they would like. We still held our staff meeting, this time using a web meeting service we subscribe to. We accomplished everything we normally would do. And now, the staff who is working from home, has all of the information they needed from our meeting to make it a productive week.
  • Catch up on your business reading. There are probably a lot of magazines and books that you’ve been meaning to read. Time away from physical meetings and interruptions at the office opens up a wonderful opportunity to increase your knowledge. Read, take notes and outline ideas to help you at work – keeping busy this way is easy.
  • Write. If you have a blog, write a post. If you are tossing around some planning ideas for 2013, crystallize them now. I know that I often get sidetracked with too many other activities and wish that I could spend more time writing articles that will help our clients. Take a few hours to create a checklist, article, tip or some other resource to share with your clients. They will appreciate it and you will feel good about creating it.
  • Play. Yes, play. This might be a rare chance to have your kids home due to school closures, no weekend activities and very little to do outside. Instead of feeling confined, keeping busy by telling stories about your experiences, talking about ambitions, and sharing your time and love is a beautiful way to spend your time.

The heaviest part of the storm will arrive very soon. Be sure that you’ve taken precautions to keep yourself and your family safe.

The Biggest Mistake Your Appointment Setting Services Make

Appointment setting services can help to grow your business. To work well, you need to make sure you control every response they should make in their conversations with prospects. After all, they are representing your company, your brand.

First impression mistakes are very hard to overcome. You might do a great job in making a first impression. Perhaps you come across as helpful, informed, maybe even charismatic. When you hire appointment setting services, you aren’t the one making the first impression.appointment setting

The single biggest mistake that appointment setting services make that results in lost opportunities:

Inadequate training on what you offer

You hire appointment setters to make the initial contact with prospects and set up calls for demos or in-depth discussions. Think about it from the perspective of the recipient of one of these calls. What would you ask?

Whenever I get a call like this, I ask for details about the product or service being offered. If I can’t get enough clarity to see how it would make sense for my business, I decline any further follow up requests. This happens several times a month.

Just this week, I posed this question to a caller. The appointment setter on the phone couldn’t elaborate at all about the product or service, just that it would help my business. I dug deeper to find out specifically what the company does. She couldn’t answer so I simply replied “Sorry, if you’re unable to tell me what your product does, I won’t be able to get you on my calendar.” Her response stunned me: “Okay, thanks. Bye.” And that was it.

I could hardly believe it. The company who hired her could get access to so many opportunities, but their lack of adequately training their appointment setters is costing them business. They will probably decide that appointment setting services don’t work at all because they likely aren’t getting many responses from this untrained person. All she needed was enough understanding about the company’s products and services to answer some basic questions – like what it does and a few benefits that other clients are getting. She could have easily set up an appointment.

Instead, this company sent a poorly trained appointment setter to make their first impression. Major mistake! As you expand your marketing programs, look at every touch you make with prospects to ensure that you don’t have a gaping hole causing your marketing dollars to go down the drain. Your appointment setting services will only be as good as their ability to handle a prospect’s initial questions.

Not Enough Time? Here’s the Fix

If you ask average person to do an additional task, they say they are usually too busy to take on anything new. Their typical response: “not enough time.”

If you ask the same question to a busy person, someone who clearly has a packed schedule, sits on boards, volunteers their time for charitable causes, is an executive or on track to become one, they will think for a moment and then give you one of two replies: 1) “Sorry, I can’t take that on because …” (they tell you why) or 2) “Yes, I can do that. When do you need it by?”not enough time

Not enough time? Give a busy person something you need done and they will find enough time to get it done.  They work late, cut down on television, get into the office early, squeeze out time during lunch or on the weekend and get assistance when they can. They are busier than most, yet they know how to manage their time well enough to be able take on new tasks. It’s not that these people do anything extraordinary. Yet we see them as extraordinary because of the amount of things they are able to accomplish. How do they do it?  For starters, they don’t complain. It’s not in their nature to whine about problems. They don’t focus on “not enough time.”  They would much rather put their energies toward finding a solution.

Which one of those reactions best describes your behavior? Are you the “not enough time” person or the “sure, I’ll do it” person?  You can mold yourself  by asking these simple questions that adjust your frame of reference and have a big impact on your ability to manage your time:

  1. How much time will this task really take?
    1. Are you just being bothered because someone asked you to do something that wasn’t initially on your plate or does this task really require a major investment in time?
    2. Or are you disturbed because of the nature of the person who made the request?
    3. Will you meet new people and expand your network of contacts as a result of working on this task?
    4. Will this add to your resume?
    5. Will you be doing someone a favor (which is a good thing, by the way)?
  2. What are the ramifications if you personally don’t take on this task?
    1. Is someone using you as a crutch to avoid doing the work themselves? If so, then that’s a good reason to use the opportunity to encourage them to stand on their own feet.
    2. Would the task not get done at all if you didn’t agree to do it?
    3. What are the benefits to all involved if you did this task?

Dig deep and you will probably find that you have the time to do a lot more than you do now. Your actions will change your reputation so you are regarded as the highly prized person that people turn to when they want to get something done. There is always enough time.

Managing Too Many Ideas

Got an idea for a new product or business? At least 100 others have the exact same idea as you. Success boils down to execution. And execution can be very hard when you have too many ideas.

To really make an impact, you need to manage your ideas so that the ones that stand the best chance of success will bubble up to the top. Here are some tips on managing your time if you have too many ideas:too many ideas

  1. Get a voice recorder. Your cell phone probably already has this feature. It allows you to take verbal notes on the fly so you can capture your many ideas wherever you are.
  2. Elaborate on the details. If you have an idea for a new product, get into the nitty gritty. Draw how it will work, how people will interact with it and other details. Include size, color and other specs. The details require you to really think through every aspect of what you would build. I can recall many times when I dropped an idea after seeing that the implementation details were so complex that it wasn’t worth pursuing.
  3. Ask who needs to be involved to make your idea become reality. Rarely can your idea be executed without the help of others. You may need someone to make your product, create the  look, invest capital, acquire customers. Find out who you need to talk to. Start by identifying their role. Then, get onto LinkedIn, Twitter or other platform to get in touch.
  4. Determine the market size. The biggest mistake small business owners make when building new products and offering services is to target a market that doesn’t exist. If there aren’t enough buyers for what you will sell, don’t waste your time. The best way to find out is to identify a handful of prospects and talk to them about your idea. If they get excited, dig deeper on the specific features they want to see and how they would expect it to work. There is nothing better to build a product than an actual customer guiding you on what they would spend money on.
  5. Decide if the idea fits with your values. Your initial reaction might be “sure it does!” The reality is that not all ideas you have will be in harmony with your comfort level. When pushed, which of these ideas are more in line with who you are and what you believe in.
  6. Prioritize your idea list. Too many ideas for features, known as feature creep, has caused me numerous delays in getting products out of the door. There’s always one more bell or whistle that you want to put in. Resist the urge to do it or you’ll never meet your release deadlines. The most important thing you can do is to say “here’s the list of things we identified to be the most important based on customer feedback and this is all that will go into the next version.” If your idea is based on current trends, ask yourself whether the trend will still be in place when you launch and what kind of adjustments you need to account for as trends change.
  7. Put lower value ideas on the back burner. You don’t have to abandon your ideas. Put some on the back burner for review in 6 to 12 months. Things might have changed by then and there may be more reason to execute an old idea.

Face it: not every idea you come up with will be fantastic. And if you try to pursue every single idea that pops in your head, you will never get any one of them done. As you logically trim your ideas down to the ones that make the most business sense, you increase your chances of executing on the right idea at the right time.

Things on My Ignore List

You’re busy. You probably have a “to do” list to keep you on task. The tighter your focus is during the day, the more you can accomplish. That means you have to let some things go by the wayside. We rarely create a written list of things to ignore, but we store all of them in our minds.

My ignore list is shaped through the prism of knowing what is most important in growing my business: acquiring new customers. If something comes up that isn’t focused on business development, I tend to ignore it because it will not help me achieve my goal.

By ignore, I don’t really mean to completely ignore doing something that needs to be done, just delegate it or put it off for after-hours work. For example, I don’t enjoy doing bookkeeping work so I hired someone else to do that. Also, my company gets so many customer support calls each day that I need a team to manage the volume. I’m always available for special cases, but most calls are easily supported by others.

The things I don’t focus on during the day allow me time to concentrate on the things that I need to focus on, the things that will help my company grow, the things that need to be done during normal work hours.

Here is my ignore list. I usually do these tasks during off-hours:

  1. Bookkeeping review (I have a bookkeeping team who handles day to day tasks)
  2. Catching up on my blog reading
  3. Reviewing reports
  4. Tweeting (I often schedule posts to go out throughout the day)
  5. Facebook
  6. Budgeting
  7. Basic research for competitive analysis
  8. Administrative tasks that I can’t delegate to someone else

My role during work hours is to generate new business, form partnerships and figure out other ways to grow the company. Anything else gets put on my ignore list till later.