Think Big: Nobody Ever Got Very Successful by Thinking Small

The other day I was speaking with a small business owner who was tired of being an independent consultant. He wanted to grow his business.

think big

He was using all of the right words. “I know I can only make as much money as the hours I bill.  I need to hire more people so I can bill for their time, too,” he said with purpose.

It makes sense. If you provide a service, your product is the number of hours you work. The more hours you have, the more you can bill. He knew the only real way to scale a service business was to get more business so he could hire more people.

That’s when the conversation started to get little shaky.

Instinctively, he knew what he had to do to grow his business. He had to start spending more of his time on marketing and sales and leverage other people’s time for doing the actual service work. But he couldn’t get himself out of the “I have to do everything” mode. Nor was he open to the idea of digging into his wallet to invest in tools that would save him a tremendous amount of time so he could focus on the most important things.

There was a disconnect: he was talking big, but thinking small.

It’s going to be very difficult for him to grow his business until he outgrows the mentality of scarcity, both in terms of time and financial resources. He’ll stay a “do it yourselfer” till he starts to think big.

If you think that buying a Mercedes-Benz is too expensive, then it is. If you continue to think this way, then it always will be. But if you set a goal for yourself to buy a Mercedes-Benz by a certain date, and you really mean it, then you will figure out ways to earn the money you need. You are thinking big. When you think big, your actions are big. You aren’t scared of small investments of time and money because you see the payoff.

Stop thinking small thoughts. Think big and big things will happen.

Slideshow: Summertime IT Marketing an Hour a Week

Just did a webinar last week that you might find useful if you are responsible for growing your business. While the examples are IT related, the concepts span all forms of business-to-business marketing.

[slideshare id=23121640&doc=kaseya-presstacular-anhouraweek-20130611-ppshow-130617165744-phpapp02]

Pitching Mr. Know-It-All

Sometimes when you pitch your products or services, you will encounter Mr. Know-It-All. No matter what you ask about his company, he will say he already has it solved. You can tell you are dealing with a “know it all” by his demeanor, often arrogant and sometimes even belligerent – you can see his colleagues reluctant to go to battle with him. His subordinates stay quiet for fear of being ridiculed.mr know-it-all

In the early days of the Internet when I was building my first company, GovCon, a business development portal for government contractors, I was asked to present some technical options to the CEO of a 1,000-person firm. He brought my company in because we had a very strong reputation for helping government contractors like his. He had the reputation of being tough as nails and I wasn’t looking forward to the meeting.

As we started the dialog, I asked about their issues and was met very quickly with Mr. Know-It-All responses. He had a quip for every turn I took. So I finally asked him this:

  • I can see that you have a lot of these issues in good hands. So, what were you hoping to address by having me come here today?

This completely turned the tables. Instead of shooting down everything I said, this question gave him the opportunity to stop attacking and start opening up. At the same time, it acknowledged his need for showing off that he had most of his issues already under control.

Some people delude themselves into thinking that the solution they have implemented is the cat’s meow. If you know you can offer a better option, use this two-part question set to diffuse a Mr. Know-It-All encounter:

  • How is that working out for you?
  • Are you getting all of the results you want from that solution?

These questions usually force them to acknowledge their problem areas, giving you the chance to delve deeper into ways you can help. If you have several people in the meeting, you will see some of them bring up topics on their minds.

When you start asking the right questions, people will open up to you because quite often nobody has ever asked them before. This approach allows you to find opportunities and turn prospects into clients by offering ways to make their businesses better. You become a trusted partner, not just a vendor.

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.

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.

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.