Don’t Over Analyze Your Marketing Before You Act

If Apple designed the iPhone with the mentality of “if it works 80% of the time, then that’s good enough,” they wouldn’t have gotten very far.  They spend a lot of time analyzing, testing and tweaking before their final release  (How Apple Works).

Engineers and designers are taught to make sure they account for all sorts of situations in their products. As a result, a technical trained individual who is running a company may view marketing with the same mindset: if it’s not perfect, we’re not releasing it. The thing is, seeking a 99% solution is not as important for some fields as it is for others.

analysis paralysis

There is no way to know whether your marketing material will work until you try it. And if you don’t see traction, you massage your material till you start seeing some progress. And even then, you are never finished. You can always improve it, just like you would improve a technical product.

Continuously making improvements is a key element of any process, technical or business. But often, technically trained individuals – and as an engineer, I put myself into this category – have a tendency to over analyze before taking action. This mentality makes a lot of sense when you’re building a product. But there is a chance that over analyzing your marketing material is costing you business.

Many of my clients fall into this trap. They are engineers who have started a company and can’t make a decision on marketing. This drags out the release of any new marketing material or strategy. In the meantime, competitors who are quick to try different tactics, even if they flop, are speeding by with new sales and faster growth. Their mindset is completely different: “hey, let’s try this… it seems like it makes sense. If it doesn’t work, then let’s change it.”

Just the fact that they are taking action, and willing to make mistakes in their marketing, gets them farther ahead than those who wait. Marketing is not a 100% science. There is a lot of trial and error till you refine the messages that resonate most with your prospects. Large companies with big budgets have the resources to do all sorts of market testing before they launch their campaigns nationwide. As a small business owner, you probably don’t have that kind of budget or time.

If you find that you haven’t made a new marketing-related decision in the last 12 months or if it is taking you more than a few weeks to roll out campaign tweaks, you may have fallen into the trap of analysis paralysis. Sit back and think: what really happens if my marketing gets 80% close to the mark? Answer: you tweak it – after you’ve launched your campaign.

How I wrote my first book and got it to #1 on Amazon

Many of us want to write our first book, but never get started. Getting your book ranked highly on Amazon is an even greater challenge. There’s good news: writing your first book has gotten much easier in the last 5 years. In case you have book idea in your head and want to get it in print, here’s the tale of how I wrote my first book and got it to #1 on Amazon. I hope the story inspires you to write yours.

I’ve always enjoyed writing. I write for my company’s blog, MailerMailer, my personal blog, Creating Luck, and guest posts on other blogs. I write white papers, ebooks, and marketing material. Like many people, perhaps you, I’ve always wanted to write a book. The project seemed so overwhelming that I never got around to it. Last summer, I decided that I would finally do it.

Here’s what I did and my timeline:

Getting Started

itmarketingbook-ipad-pc

1. July-September 2012: Created an outline based on the book’s target market: small technology companies. I researched Amazon thoroughly to see if there are other books of this type and found none, which really surprised me. Most marketing books are very general in nature. There was nothing for such a focused niche market. My goal wasn’t to sell tens of thousands of books. It was to educate small IT companies on how to grow their business. I remember when I started my first company I had no idea what I was doing and a book like this would have given me a solid foundation and numerous strategies to implement. I wanted to share what I learned over the last 20 years in building businesses.

Creating a book outline was the hardest part, especially keeping it focused. My outline was fairly detailed. I included bullet points of the specific topics I wanted to cover in each chapter. I rewrote the outline repeatedly, even as I wrote the chapters. I would always find something to add or remove to keep it tight. One of my pet peeves is books that could have been condensed into an article, where the author deliberately goes on and on with fluff that doesn’t add any value. I didn’t want my book to be like that so I spent a lot of time up front crystallizing my thoughts so that each chapter had valuable insights.

I revised the title at least 25 times before finally settling on The IT Marketing Crash Course: How to Get Clients for Your Technology Business.

2. September-October 2012: Started writing the chapters. I put appointments with myself on my calendar to block off time. That was the only way I was able to set aside the time to do this. Otherwise, my calendar would fill up with, well, life. Hit a snag: this was taking WAY too long. I was reminded of the famous Red Smith quote about how easy writing is: “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins and bleed.”

Moving Forward

3. November-December 2012: Hired a transcriber to help speed up the process. After I wrote the first 3 chapters, which took 3 months, I figured it would take me another year before I finished at my current pace. To speed things up, I would record an audio file of my thoughts for each remaining chapter. My helper was also a writer so if some of my sentences weren’t clear, she could fix them as she put my spoken words in print form. She sent me text versions of my recorded thoughts for each chapter, which I then edited (very heavily) to create the final drafts. Writing the book this way was significantly easier since I could articulate my thoughts verbally by looking at my outline’s notes. This was a more natural way for me to communicate so doing this step sped up the writing process quite a bit. I was able to get the first full draft of the book (14 chapters total) done in another 2 months.

I included an action-item checklist at the end of each chapter and a master checklist at the end of the book so readers had specific steps to take to grow their business. I also added a sample budget of what the marketing investment should be in a small IT company, itemizing each tactic and its estimated monthly and yearly cost.

4. October 2012-January 2013: Interviewed lots of companies. I didn’t want the book to just be a write up of my knowledge. I wanted to include real-life examples of companies using the concepts I presented. I also didn’t want it to be a list of my clients – that would have been too self-serving. So, I interviewed people in my close and extended networks. I reached out to colleagues on LinkedIn and through discussion groups I participate in. Many people volunteered.

My questions during the interviews centered on the book’s topics since I was looking for examples to enhance each chapter. Adding stories made the book come to life. It made it much more enjoyable and easier to read. More so, the interviews made the book much easier to write! Since the questions I posed related to my outline, I was able to tell stories about real experiences from real companies. Much of the text was right there in my interview notes. I simply had to massage it to fit smoothly in each chapter.

5. February 2013: Hired an editor to review the final draft. She found many typos and other issues.

Preparing to Go Live

6. February-March 2013: Prepared the book’s layout in Word. Saved it as a PDF to send as review copy (added security: text in PDF file could not be copied from the review copy).

7. February 2013: Hired a designer to create the cover and the book’s website, www.itmarketingbook.com. She did an amazing job. I included a QR code on the back cover that goes to the book’s website where people can sign up for “extras” like templates, spreadsheets, checklists and other usable files that I couldn’t include in the book itself.

8. Early March 2013: Sent it to my inner circle for comments and quotes for the back cover. Then, sent it to others outside my close circle. Over 40 people reviewed the book and I got plenty of useful comments. I made so many edits that it increased the book’s length by 20 pages. I also got quite a few wonderful quotes to use on the back cover and on the IT Marketing book’s website.

Coordinating Publicity

9. Early March 2013: Read through Amazon’s publishing pages: CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing. I decided to go the self-publishing route after reading about how so many famous authors are now abandoning their publishing houses because they can do so much more on their own – and do it faster. Crush It with Kindle is a low-priced Kindle book that does a wonderful job explaining what to do. I used it as my guide. I finally got the book online on Amazon in Kindle and print formats and ordered the proof of the print edition. Loved it! I finally had my book in my hand, no longer just in my mind. Had a sangria to celebrate!

10. Early March 2013: Sent an email to 21 bloggers that cover the business aspects of IT requesting that they review the book since it is a good fit with their audience. Of the 21 I contacted, 7 replied and reviewed the book, posting their review on the launch date which I had set as March 18, 2013. I had concentrated the effort to focus on one day, my arbitrary “launch date,” after reading about how bestseller lists work: all bestseller lists are ranked based on volume over time. If you sell 1,000 books over 1 year, your book is ranked much lower than if you sell 1,000 in a week. The rankings change based on units sold each week, or in Amazon’s case, every day.

11. March 18, 2013: Posted a press release through PRWeb announcing the book and notified a handful of other publications, sending them a copy of the press release. Reminded my reviewers about the book’s launch and provided them with a sample tweet they could share – many of them posted news of the book in their blogs, tweets and LinkedIn and Facebook status updates. I also mentioned the book in a few relevant discussion groups I am actively involved in.

12. Week of March 18, 2013: The book hit #1 on Amazon in 3 business categories due to this publicity effort. Amazon allowed me to make the book available for free on the launch date, which spurred a download frenzy – over 500 in one day for a niche market book! Even after the free download day was over and people had to buy it, sales were strong and kept it at #1.

I couldn’t have done it without the help of several people – including those I interviewed – who provided the support to get it off the ground. The people I hired were staff members that work with me. If you don’t have an existing team that can help, you can find freelancers who can pitch in. Just advertise on guru.com, elance.com or CraigsList under “writing gigs”. If I hadn’t solicited help, the book would still be a dream and I would probably still be writing chapter 4.

So, what do you say? Ready to write your book? It’s actually easier than you might think. Just schedule a little time on your calendar and get started. You could be a #1 Amazon bestselling author before you make your next New Year’s resolution!

New Book – The IT Marketing Crash Course: How to Get Clients for Your Technology Business

I just released a new book, The IT Marketing Crash Course: How to Get Clients for Your Technology Business. If you provide any type of technology consulting services, this book will show you how to get more leads and close more sales. It’s filled with tips from technology company owners and executives who are generating hundreds of new, qualified leads.

IT Marketing Crash Course

It is available on Amazon in Kindle and print formats.  At the time of this writing, the book was ranked #1 on Amazon in 3 business categories and #16 overall for all business books on Kindle.

The 138-page book includes strategies, checklists, examples and action plans that lead to new customers. It is filled with stories from technology business owners and executives who describe how they are generating hundreds of qualified leads through clever marketing tactics. Topics include:

  • The best non-sales questions that lead to more sales
  • Honing your marketing message so it resonates with prospects
  • Pricing strategies that make it easy for clients to buy your services
  • The most powerful ways to build and leverage your network
  • What to put in your emails, blogs and website to hook new clients

Some sales strategies only talk about going after the lowest hanging fruit – the people who are ready to buy and are just trying to pick a vendor. But that leaves out a much larger block of the market – people  who could be your customers, but just need a little nurturing… so as you get them to be sales-ready, they think of you first.

Learn what you need to know and do to get prospects to find you, like you and buy from you.

You will grow your business.

Download it now!

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.

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.

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.

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.

The 4 Worst Investment Decisions I Made for My Company

When you build a company, you have to make investment decisions on where to put your money to achieve the highest growth. Here are the 4 worst investments I’ve made and my lessons learned:

  1. B and C quality staff members. An average performer costs twice as much as a top performer. A below average performer costs you many times that. This is hands down one of the worst investment decisions I have ever made. I used to think that some people were too expensive for me to hire and so I would hire a lesser qualified person whose salary was more within my self-allocated budget. Bad move. Hiring anything but an A player for your team spells trouble. A players may appear to cost more initially, but their productivity level far exceeds anything a B or C player can do. A players spot opportunities, B and C players just get by or look for the status quo. To infuse innovation in your company that will fuel your growth, invest in the top performers. A really good A player will do more for your company than hiring two B and C players.
  2. Products we built without sufficient market research. Ugh, the money I lost not thinking through our products and feature sets gives me a twitch. We built some of our products based on instinct thinking “of course people would love this, we’ll save them so much money and it’s faster, too.” Had we just asked potential clients whether they would buy such a product, we could have saved an immense amount of time, money and lost opportunity costs. The worst investment decisions ignore basic market research.
  3. Print advertising. I’ve had a lot of sales people from publications call on me and several of them were so polished that I succumbed to their pitch and bought print advertising. While this type of advertising might work for some companies, I have never seen it work for any of mine. Maybe it’s my price points which require a lower cost for customer acquisition. I just don’t think as many people respond to print advertising these days. It is certainly not an easy metric to measure compared to online advertising. Whatever the reason, I have found print advertising to be one of the worst investment decisions for my businesses. I should have put that money into public relations.
  4. Consultants hired without setting extremely concrete goals and expectations. Consultants are valuable. We finally got the hang of hiring them – after losing a lot of money to ones who were better at selling their services than doing the work. When we analyzed what went wrong with previous contracts, we found that we never really set extremely clear expectations. It was our fault. Had we outlined in detail what we wanted out of the project, we would have had a much better chance of success. We goofed up like this with technical consultants, marketing consultants and even business advisers. Lesson learned. We now list out specific goals with absolute clarity on the results we expect. If a consultant isn’t on track, we terminate the contract quickly to cut our losses.
In the end, each one of these so called investments turned into an expense and, in some cases, a burden. This list doesn’t include the investment opportunities I missed – there are plenty of those, too. In terms of allocating existing dollars with the intent of earning more dollars, these are by far the worst investment decisions I have ever made. What are some of yours?

The Fastest Way to Build Business Relationships

To succeed in your career, you have to build business relationships. There is one thing you can give your business acquaintances that they will value immediately, positioning you in their minds as a source to watch.

What your prospects and clients value most of all, more than your sage consulting advice, has to do with them, not you. It goes right to the heart of their success. You likely encounter this relationship-building element all the time, but since you are not tuned into it you may not notice.

Give Prospects What They Really Want

What is this magical element? Business leads.build business relationships

Every company needs new and repeat business to grow. Finding leads and converting them into sales is always the top thought of the CEO — always.

You might be thinking, “I’ve got enough trouble finding leads for myself, how am I going to find them for my prospects and clients, too?”  The reason you don’t see those “other” leads is because you are not looking for them. Yet sources of leads are all around you and you can use them to build business relationships quickly.

Example: I subscribe to a weekly email alert from my local government. They send out solicitation notices for projects set aside for local small businesses. They buy just about every type of product or service you can imagine: janitorial services, printing, paper clips, advertising, computer services, everything.

I saw an announcement for web design services. My company doesn’t provide this service so usually I would delete that message. But some of my target market does web design. So, I forwarded that announcement along with a simple note that read “Hi Steve, I thought you might be interested in this lead.”

Tune In To What They Need

The amount of goodwill I created from that simple message, one that I would have otherwise deleted, went a long way in building a business relationship. People might not reply to other messages you send to them, but they never ignore a business lead. They will always appreciate your gesture.

There are sources of leads all around you. The next time you are at a networking event and talk to someone who might be a good fit for another person in your network – or even someone else you just met – let them know. Build business relationships by connecting two people who may have synergies. You will create goodwill for everyone.

Every time I share a business lead, I receive a reply thanking me even if the lead isn’t a good fit. My message shows that I am looking out for them, not trying to sell my services. And that builds business relationships faster than anything else.

Business Threats and How Leaders Adapt

Business threats are everywhere. At the beginning of the dot com bust years ago, an acquaintance, I’ll call him Sheldon, asked me about a business problem he was facing. His company specialized in consulting services for a large-scale e-commerce product that had just gone belly up. Many organizations had deployed this product so there were maintenance contracts that Sheldon’s company could take over.

We met for lunch to talk about his woes. He opened the conversation with this statement:

“So, if you know any companies that are looking for maintenance or consulting work related to this product, let me know.”

I didn’t know of any. So, we discussed ways he could find organizations that had invested in this expensive product and ask to take over their maintenance efforts. That would sustain his company – at least for for a little while.

The Perils of Ignoring Business Threats

To me, the writing was clearly on the wall. He was encountering a major business threat. The fact that the product company was going out of existence meant that the organizations who had invested in it would eventually switch to something new. Any support contracts that Sheldon could get would be short-lived. Adapting to change had to become top priority.

We spent a lot of time talking about ways to adapt his business. If he didn’t adapt, his business would become extinct. He had one really big thing going for him: several smart people on his staff.

When you provide consulting services, you need to stay on top of the latest trends, tools and so on. The product they specialized in was on its way out, but his team could learn about newer products and offer consulting services for those. Adapting to this business threat was going to be critical if he wanted to survive.

Sheldon appeared to be absorbing a lot of the dialog. We outlined his next steps and I felt good about his prospects.

Just as we were getting ready to leave, he closed with this comment:

“So, if you know any companies that are looking for maintenance or consulting work related to this product, let me know.”

I was floored. What did he just say? He was still focused on the dying product. Didn’t he listen to everything we talked about?

Soon after that lunch, Sheldon and I lost touch. The product he serviced is a distant memory to those who bought it. He is now working for another company, no longer running his own.

Sheldon ignored all of the warning signs. He wasn’t committed to adapting his business so the markets ate him up with his head still buried in the sand. His inability, or unwillingness, to react to imminent business threats also cost his staff their jobs.

Get Help to Spot the Warning Signs

Reacting to business threats is the difference between a thriving business and one that will die. Sometimes, we aren’t the best ones to see threats to our businesses – or careers.

Stay in touch with colleagues you trust and ask them these three questions periodically:

  • What threats do you see to my business?
  • What changes do you think I need to make to stay competitive?
  • Where do you see my industry going in the next 2-3 years?

Don’t ignore their comments. They could be sharing red flags just in time. Be sure you acquire the skills you need fast so you can adapt to the market before you become a casualty to changing tides.