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Improve Business Performance in ANY Economy

Improve Your Business Performance in ANY Economy.

How Entrepreneurs, Start-ups and Business Owners Can Achieve Business Success.

If you are an entrepreneur, start-up, or small business owner, chances are these last 4 years have hit you hard. Are you struggling to improve your business performance? Have clients stopped buying your products and services, or they are cutting back drastically on the business they used to give you. You might be struggling to find qualified leads that you can close to generate new business, or you are having a tough time converting repeat customers into raving fans.
Are you struggling to find creative ways to engage your employees? Do you ask yourself how you are going to motivate your people to find creative solutions to your business challenges? Perhaps you have lost suppliers, or vendors you relied on have gone out of business? Do you feel like every networking event you go to is a room full of financial advisers and sales reps from that legal services MLM? Most likely, it’s been a combination of “all the above” as you grapple with strategies to turn your business around and improve your business performance.

Fear not! Following are proactive steps you can take to improve your business performance, unstick your business and get on the fast track to renewed progress heading into the fourth quarter of 2012
Take a fresh NEW look at your client list: Identify those clients that are your most profitable. Come up with a “Best Customer Profile” and write down in as much detail as you can all of the qualities, features, and attributes of your ideal, most valuable customer. Where are they located, why do they buy from you, why do they stay with you, what if anything special do you do to service and maintain their account (and keep their loyalty?) This ideal customer profile will serve as your target / “bulls-eye” for identifying highly qualified SIMILAR contacts at organizations for you to aggressively target. Be as specific as possible to build a complete picture of your most profitable client.
Identify your most valuable (profitable) clients: Chances are, they are your most loyal customers. They always refer new business your way, speak well about the service you provide, have given you testimonials. They are your “Apostles.” Make an apostle appreciation tour, take these clients out to lunch and let them know you’re here for them. DON’T ask for referrals. It’s a “Thank you for your support” lunch, not a shakedown.
Change your approach…if it ‘aint broke…BREAK it!: There is a word for doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. It’s called INSANITY. Re-evaluate ALL of our systems, processes, and procedures. Why do you continue to do things the way you used to? If your answer is laziness, sheer habit, or that’s how it’s always been done then it’s time to find a new approach. There are no SACRED cows in today’s 21st century global contract workplace. When organizations with 100,000 employees can go out of business seemingly overnight and entire industries implode, the old ways of doing things are not a safeguard but a recipe for disaster.
Create a networking plan: When you created a profile of your most profitable client you should also capture information on where these individuals meet, through their professional Associations, business clubs, organizations. You must identify these key annual trade shows, conferences, and events. Make a point of attending as many as you can.
Become a subject matter expert: Write! Write! Write! Become an authority of any and all subjects that are near and dear to the hearts of your target profiles. You want to author blogs, articles, white papers, anything you can to get your name in front of your ideal client profiles. While you’re at it…SHAKE THINGS UP! If you spend a lot of time in your office, GET OUT! Schedule as many meetings out of the (home) office as you possibly can. While you’re out, spoil yourself. Buy yourself something nice. Go to an afternoon matinee. Do something you wouldn’t normally do, as a way to say “thank you” to YOU!
Revisit your partner strategy: Identify the organizations in your professional network with complementary products and services that fit nicely with your offerings. If you already have partners and there is no synergy then cut those relationships loose. While we on the subject of products and services. Now is a great time to rethink your product and service offerings. Is there something you can offer that you aren’t? Ask your apostles on your appreciation tour. Take an END-OF-YEAR look back NOW. Don’t wait for the holidays. You’ll be drowning in eggnog, Depression, and holiday distractions. Volunteer what little spare time you have to charitable organizations, not-for-profits, your local church, synagogue, homeless shelter, senior citizen center. Go back to school! Take a class, learn a new skill, attend a Webinar. You should always find time to develop new skills.
Re-engage your industry: Pursue the trade Associations that serve your industry with renewed vigor. If you haven’t already done so, consider renewing your membership in your local Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis Club, Toastmasters, Rotary Club, whatever! Become active on a Committee, help plan their end-of-year gala. Now is NOT the time to stick your head in the sand, and hope that things will get better. Stay focused, re-evaluate your business, keep active but working aggressively. Channel your efforts towards re-discovering your clients and the reasons you started your business.
Here’s to your continued success.

How to Achieve Business Success

How to Achieve Business Success.

How Entrepreneurs, Start-ups, and Small Business Owners Can Achieve Business Success.

Recently, I have been receiving a lot of inquiries from business owners, start-ups and entrepreneurs about the best practices they can use to launch a successful business. Following is a list of my favorite recommendations and strategies that my clients use to plan, launch and grow a successful start-up business. Happy reading.
Launch your business where you were born/grew up: Chances are you will be more successful if you launch your business win your home town or the place where you have lived most of your life. Given that home is where you made most of your contacts, conducted most of your past business dealings, and feel most comfortable as your base of operations this makes perfect sense. Of course, if you receive funding from a Venture Capital firm and they ask you to relocate, you will follow the money to go where they ask you.
Dare to fail greatly: I have found that a universal trait shared by all successful entrepreneurs is an innate willingness (actually a desire) to take tremendous risks. all the most successful entrepreneurs embrace the creed of failing greatly. They understand that taking risks is a win-win proposition. Either they achieve phenomenal results OR…even by falling short they achieve results fr beyond what most people unwilling to risk failure can ever hope to achieve. This does assume that people actually learn from their mistakes, which is a true pattern of behavior for most successful serial entrepreneurs.
Pursue and combine what you love doing and are best at: Spend considerable time in self-assessment to determine the things that you are MOST passionate about, and are best at. The intersection of these two will tell you where you should focus on starting a business. It simply is NOT enough to be passionate about something if you lack expertise, nor is it enough to be technically competent but lack passion for something. Only when you are most engaged, feel the greatest passion about something you are really good at will you ensure that you will be successful.
Have a (written) plan: Your business plan is your road map, and an effectively written one will serve as your blue print for business venture success. You do NOT have to have an overly detailed and complex plan. A concise, sharply focused business plan can and should be approximately 20 pages, and you can always have a more detailed version which is significantly longer.
Prepare to work harder than you EVER have before: Entrepreneurs that I provide business coaching to are always amazed just how hard it is to launch a business. Well, the fact is you never will work as hard in your life as you do when you launch a business. BUT…you will never be happier, feel more engaged or happy when you succeed, as when you go into business for yourself.
Here is a GREAT article from Forbes…Start Up Success: Is Hard Work Enough
Surround yourself with nurturers: Since you will be working harder than you ever have before and invest all of your time, effort, resources and savings into this life calling, the LAST thing you need is for relatives and/or friends who try to convince you to give up. People in your social circle will tell you you are making a mistake. You need to tell those people they have to support you or, you must distance yourself from them as you plan and launch your business. Starting a business is hard enough. It is a huge monster of a roller-coaster ride of emotional highs and lows. It is going to be hard enough for you to maintain your positive mindset as you go through the process of starting your own business, without having nay-sayers doubting you at every turn and warning you to quit.
Maximize your investment through self-funding: After you have thoroughly research your proposed business and completed your 20 page business plan, you should have a clear understanding of the total capital required to launch your business and support your business venture for the first year of operation. To the extent possible you will have to contribute as much up front investment yourself, with business partners, and family & friends, then pursue other traditional sources such as local/community banks. also consider non-traditional lending sources such as advertising agencies, business incubators, and micro-lenders.
Ask tough questions, be BRUTALLY honest: Two of the hardest questions that any entrepreneur can ask her/himself as they plan to start a business are:
1. Why am I choosing to launch this specific business; and
2. What makes me uniquely qualified to be successful starting this business.
The answers that you provide to these two critical questions will enable you to effectively articulate your vision statement, mission statement, and your unique selling proposition. your answers will also help craft your personal brand as a business owner, and scope the promotional copy you will use to market/sell your business.
Following are some very useful and inspirational resources for your business start up pursuits:
* Top 10 list of why some business ventures succeed (and why many more fail) from BusinessInsider.
* An article on failing gracefully: “Failing Gracefully: The Secret to Start Up Success.”
What do you think? What additional characteristics do you think make for business start up success?

Increase Worker Productivity With a Human Capital Audit

Unleash the Untapped Talents of Your Employees.

Increase Worker Productivity With a Human Capital Audit For Competitive Advantage.

Imagine if every single one of your employees, from front-line staff to senior management, was 100% engaged.   What would that look like?

Your people would all be doing work that enabled them to be true to their values and beliefs.  Each employee would be able to contribute to the success of your organization, by focusing on their core competencies.  Can you envision the collective power you would unleash?  No laggards…just a company filled with rising stars.  Absenteeism would drop instantly, worker defections to your competitors would cease entirely.  Entire Departments would start exceeding quotas.
You would become a preferred employer that people would bang down your door to work at.   Employee recruitment would be so easy, because you could hand pick the most talented people you wanted.
What if I told you this CAN be achieved and WITHOUT the tremendous cost and resource drain of investing in hard-to-measure training and professional development programs?  That long sought after seat at the Management Table would suddenly materialize for you, Human Resources executive.
Does this sound too good to be true?  Well, it’s not.  There is a beautifully simple tool called a human capital development audit that you can implement immediately to achieve these results.

Here’s how it works…for each employee in your organization, you match the roles and responsibilities of the job they are employed in with their skills, core competencies, and experience.  Be as expansive and broad as possible in identifying their skills.  Consider their academic training, software skills, certifications, professional development, leadership, cultural diversity…everything!
Imagine that we would need to create a human capital audit for our fictitious customer service representative, Jessica Rivera.   After identifying all the roles and responsibilities she is tasked with accomplishing, you then detail her skills.  Use a spreadsheet and simply line up the roles and skills along one another in facing columns.

These should be obtained through interviews with Jessica, her current (and any past) managers, her coaches/mentors, peers she has worked with, etc.

After that is accomplished you drill down to identify which skill sets that she possesses are NOT being utilized.  In order to maximize the positive impact to your organization from an ROI perspective, you should prioritize those skills that she is NOT currently using, based on her ability to generate revenues, reduce costs, improve your organization’s processes, etc.
Next, you must develop an action plan for all of the highest priority non-leveraged skills that Jessica possesses.  For each untapped skill, set a time-frame for completion and any contingencies, or potential barriers that would prevent her (and her Manager) from making those untapped skills part of her newly redesigned job description.

In Jessica’s case, she is adept at using her persuasive, outgoing personality to suggest complimentary products to cross-up sell to her company’s existing clients.  It’s her nature to take care of her clients, and she naturally knows how to ask probing questions. She also has an uncanny knack for being a leader on her Team.  She’s the one that other customer service reps in her unit turn to for advice, even before they engage their own line managers. These are powerful skills to have in a customer care manager and yet, they are not being leveraged in this scenario.
For this human capital audit to work, it has to be embraced by your senior management, owned by Human Resources, and conducted for ALL departments and levels of your organization, to maximize your firm’s labor productivity.  It should be reviewed quarterly, and merit-based compensation plans should be developed for employees that integrate untapped core competencies into their new roles and responsibilities.
In these challenging economic times, even if you only achieve a 50% increase in each employee’s productivity the positive potential impact to your company would be great.
I guarantee that a 50% increase in your entire organization’s productivity will force Senior Management to take notice of Human Resource’s role as a strategic partner in driving value through the organization.

Creative Problem Solving for Small Business Owner Success

Critical thinking and creative problem-solving for entrepreneur, startup and small business owner success.
Entrepreneurs and small business owners always ask me what they and their employees can do, to achieve maximum success in their
business planning and business strategy.  While having a well developed business plan is a head start and using social media,
interactive marketing, and traditional marketing all help, I encourage them to apply critical thinking and creative problem-
solving which begins by asking “What?” and “What if?”
Business owners have got to get used to giving  up control to their employees by listening more and talking less.  The best performing organizations see their employees as a goldmine of resources to give them lasting competitive advantage,. Unsuccessful failing business owners see staff as head count, a cost to be managed, manipulated, and down-right controlled.
Instead, unleash your people’s talents. Solicit their ideas constantly.  I read an article recently about a small business that gave their employees a month of paid leave to come up with ideas (on their own or in teams) to present to the company as a competition.  The best ideas were implemented immediately and everyone participated, even the owners and everyone had equal voting power.
How do you encourage your employees to constantly think what they can do to better service your clients, care for your partners,vendors, suppliers?
How do you address problems that don’t even exist?  Do you have employees train in various functional departments using job rotations?
Do you send your employees out to spend a day with your top customers to better understand their challenges? Do you take your top employees to breakfast,
ask your people what they like most/least about your company?  Rather than brainstorming, a way to solicit employee feedback is brain writing.
you present a challenge to your people in a closed door setting, they are write down their proposed solutions, then you take their papers back,
shuffle and redistribute. Give their ideas to others who comment on the proposed solution, and you do this 3-4 times then as a whole discuss
each stream of ideas and comments and agree to the best ideas to pursue/implement.
There is one approach to problem solving called the “DO IT approach:
D Define the problem you and your team are facing
O Open your mind & apply creative techniques to come up with as many implementable solutions as possible
I Identify the best/most practical solution(s)
T Transform: implement the solution using an action plan and transform your business
The Four (4) P approach is another good process your business can go through for team-based creative problem-solving.
Product/Service Perspective: your team assesses your products and services with by concentrating on whether or not something’s WRONG with your product
Planning Perspective: Are our business plans faulty?
Potential Perspective: If we increase our workload, projects, service offerings, how would we achieve this?
People Perspective: Do we have the right people in the right jobs to be successful?
Another creative approach to problem solving is called the star-bursting method or the 5W & H approach that journalists apply:
Start out with your central business problem/challenge then have your team go through a complex process of answering: Who, what, where, when,
why and how…do we resolve this key business challenge.
Have your team apply metaphorical thinking. Metaphorical thinking is an approach where your team comes up with seemingly divergent unrelated
business practices, process, ideas, or concepts.  For example, you’ve heard the phrase “time” is “money.” But is it…really? Of course not.
The synergistic connection is something you have to make a formal connection on by equating the value of your staff’s time, effort, and resource investment as well as the potential monetary or business impact of accomplishing solutions.
Dare your people to be great. Just allowing your employees to be good enough leads to failure due to poor business performance.  That is what Jim Collins wrote about in his book: “Good to Great.”
Top performing organizations that dare to be great embrace a culture highlighted by owners, managers, and staff that as a whole:
* Take Calculated Risks: Reach for the stars, if you fall short you still reach the moon.
*  Set STRETCH Goals: Every employee goal should be a stretch. Meaning if they work as hard as they can, challenge themselves
constantly then they MAY achieve their goal. Even if they “fail” they still will exceed your wildest expectations on what each
employee and your business as a whole can and will achieve.
* Embrace Change: Whether you like it or not change is constant in today’s global transformational workplace and business climate.
Technology changes at unheralded speed and competition can come from anywhere.
* Run Towards Challenges: The best businesses and leaders lead their people into challenges not running away to hide from them.
Case in point, managers who fail always react to economic hardship by laying off employees and cutting back spending on marketing and advertising.
Best run businesses see challenging times as a chance to steal their competit5iors’ best talent and expand their promotional programs to achieve maximum
results because their competitors are all cutting back.  Buck conventional wisdom. If it ‘aint broke, break it!
* Lean Into Discomfort: It’s easy to be a business owner that seeks stability. Unfortunately we simply cannot run our business by going back to what used to work.
Pursuing the status quo is a surefire recipe for failure. you can tell the worst business owners who, in response to being asked why they practiced certain business
processes, procedures, and practices their response is: “that’s how things have always been done around here.”
* Take on New responsibilities: Top performers are always looking for new roles and responsibilities. Top performers are inner directed, and they
seek out opportunities to develop new skills, acquire additional talents, certifications, and training.
* Find GREAT Allies: The best businesses and visionary leaders are small business owners who are always looking for successful partnerships.  They see
every relationship as a chance to strengthen their own organization. These leaders are philosophically committed to the value of relationship-building
and serving others. their strong corporate culture is based on giving back to the community, doing good, and encouraging all their employees to make a difference in the world.
According to Steve Jobs: “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. . .”

Create Your Personal Mission Statement for Career Success

Create Your Personal Mission Statement for Career Success

A critical step in your journey of career exploration is to be able to define what values and beliefs you hold most dear.  The development of a personal mission statement is an absolute necessity for you to adequately prepare for a career in the highly volatile twenty-first century global workplace.

The personal mission statement is an elegantly powerful resource.  It is simply a two to three sentence declarative statement about the ideals, values and beliefs you hold true.  It defines your goals in your personal and professional career.  Best of all, you can leverage it in order to match your ideals and what you are seeking in a career with the appropriate culture of an organization that matches your beliefs and values.  It is succinctly, your elevator pitch, a summarized sales pitch of the product called YOU.
Thomas Moore said: “It isn’t enough that we have meaningful work. What is also required is work that satisfies the soul.”  You can begin the process of writing a personal mission statement with a technique called “visualization”, a technique that world-class athletes use.  Ask yourself what your ideal dream job would like.  Where is the office located, what type of people would you be working with?  What are you doing every day, what does your workplace look like. Will you be working alone or with a diverse group of people? Are you traveling? Working abroad?
After you have given this considerable thought, you must write it ALL down.  A plan that is not written down is a…dream.  Once you write it down it takes on a life of its own, a permanence that you can match your progress against.  Next, identify your likes and dislikes, the things you are most passionate about.  Have you been involved with any social causes?  Think back on  any volunteer work you’ve done.   Be sure to write this all down, as well.
Your goal is to develop a mission statement that enables you to define your DREAM job.  A dream job constitutes good work that will enable you to combine the following attributes: the ability to achieve excellent performance, the ability for you to express your ethics, and a pleasing sense of engagement (as defined by Howard Gardner, psychologist at Harvard University.)

Next, you will need to evaluate your goals. Start with your classes, and academic focus.  Then slowly expand that by thinking about all the jobs you’ve had, and times when you were working and you felt the most energized, fulfilled, and rewarded for the work you did.   You will need to identify your strengths and areas for improvement, new career opportunities, the ideal industries for you to work in and the companies you want to work for, as well as your preferred working style.
Ask yourself what values and beliefs do you hold most dear.  What principles do you choose as the foundation for the rest of your life, and your career by extension? What would I like to accomplish and contribute?  What would I like to be?  How do I fit into my family and community?  What are my strengths?
Steven Covey defined the process of crafting one’s mission statement as: “connecting with your own unique purpose and the profound satisfaction that comes in fulfilling it.”

After you have done all of the above, you are ready to apply this to the following four-step process:
1. Identify Your Past Successes
2. Identify Your Core Values
3. Identify Your Contributions to Society
4. Identify Your (Short & Long-Term) Goals
Complete this process and you will have developed your very own personal mission statement.  An example:
My personal mission is to live completely, honestly, and compassionately, with a healthy dose of realism mixed with the imagination and dreams that all things are possible if one sets their mind to finding an answer.”
Your personal mission statement gives you a concise, effective elevator pitch summarizing what you define as your key life’s goals, values, and beliefs.  This is a powerful summary of what you hold dear, that forms the foundation (along with your core competencies and success stories) of how you will sell yourself during interviews, in a confident and assertive manner.
Here are three excellent resources to help you on your way to crafting your personal mission statement:


Here is to your continued career success.

Convert Clients to Apostles for Sales Success

The Art of Selling to Grow Your Business – Part II:

Sales Best Practices to Convert Prospects to Clients and clients to Apostles

As you acquire clients it is critical to do everything you can to identify the most profitable ones, and achieve client conversion to your most rabid raving fans, also known as “Apostles” for your sales success.  Apostle (raving fan) clients make up 3% of your client roster. 73% of all clients are pure mercenaries. They have no allegiance to you, are not loyal and will leave you for a better price, special promotional offer or promise. 17% of your clients are called loyalists. They are generally happy with you, tend to want to keep purchasing from you, but can be convinced to leave you.

You need to create an Action Plan to cultivate and retain your apostles. Conduct a needs assessment to identify what your apostles require that you deliver. Then you need to develop a comprehensive set of CUSTOMIZED solutions to solve all the problems they face. Convince these clients to implement your recommendations and check on them constantly to see how they are doing. You review this approach annually and make any changes as need.

Three steps to gain these apostles for client conversion:
1.) Write down the names of all your existing apostles;
2.) Write down what it takes to keep them; and
3.) Keep developing an active list of your loyal clients that you plan on converting to apostles.
Your goal should be to find twice the number of your current apostles, since research shows most people convert loyalists into apostles at approximately a 50% conversion rate. Follow the three steps listed above.
Adhere to the Pareto Principle to guide you in gaining loyal customers.
Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian economist who created a mathematical formula in 1906 to explain the significant uneven income distribution in Switzerland. In analyzing the distribution of wealth he found that nearly all the wealth in the population was contained in a relatively small percent of the populace (sound familiar?) After WWII an American named Dr. Joseph Juran took Pareto’s work further by proving that in nearly all cases, a few (20 percent) of any data set are vital and many (80 percent) are trivial.
The beauty of Juron’s work was he found universal applicability in Pareto’s principle when he studies many different industries, sizes of organization, and markets. Juron’s work has been found to be applied in ANY endeavor (business, academia, AND careers!)
So what does all this matter, you ask? As a business owner, start-up and entrepreneur it’s critical to understand that 20% of Your clients contribute 80% of your total business! 20% of your clients place 80% of your orders, 20% of your clients purchase 80% of your stuff. Today, Pareto and Juron’s work are defined collectively as “the 80/20 rule.”

The Pareto Principle as your sales strategy
Your focus in achieving true sales success must always be identifying, studying and placing the needs of your “Top 20” above other clients. Not all clients are the same. Create a profile of your Top 20% client type with as many details as you can. Do you have a method for ranking your clients using quantifiable metrics to find your Top 20% most profitable customers? If not…you better. A great tool/approach to quantify the value each of your clients contributes to your business performance is called the “RFVP Profile.” RFVP stands for:
* Recency: When was the last time that they did business with you?
* Frequency: How frequently do they purchase from you?
* Volume: What is the volume or amount / size of their average order with you.
* Profit: What profit do they contribute to your business?  Profit can be measured as the amount of revenue they generate minus all costs incurred to service their account.

Following are some time-tested actions your firm can pursue in order to generate new business, keep existing clients loyal, and convert repeat customers into apostles.
* Learn your prospect/client’s top pain points – when you know the business challenges your top 20% face you are positioned much more strategically to deliver solutions to the problems that keep your clients up at night.
* Deliver value at EVERY stage of the 4-Step Sales Process – most salespeople foolishly think that being valuable only counts when the prospect is getting ready to sign the contract. Being valuable at every stage of the client engagement process will quickly convert 1st time buyers to repeat customers then loyalists to apostles.
* Exceed their WILDEST expectations – your top clients will stay with you much longer if you keep delivering results above and beyond what they ever hoped for.
* Empower every employee to do the same – your entire culture vision, mission and values) should be predicated on enabling all your people to serve your clients well. Unfortunately most business owners hoard over direct control and authority in serving clients and limit employee autonomous decision-making as a control measure.
* Account Penetration Strategy – do you have a plan for engaging your larger clients across business units, at multiple locations by developing a formal approach to find, contact, serve all the influencers,decision-makers, end users for your products and servers. How much business are you leaving behind at each client?
* Create Policy of “Standards of Care” – do you have a written program with standards for how you serve clients?  Recall not all customers are the same and should be treated differently.  You treat mercenaries, loyalists and apostles differently, and need to have a written policy with standards for serving all three types of customer.
* Seven step process for creating standards for exceptional customer care:
1. Identify Best Practices
2. Codify Best Practices
3. Train the Process
4. Coach the Process
5. Measure the Process
6. Compensate the Process
7. Constantly Improve the Process
So, what are sales “best practices” anyway?
* Follow your customer conversations online to see how you convert prospects to qualified leads to first time customers.
* Align your sales, marketing, & product management so they work together.
* Touch clients several Ways by communicating with them over the phone, by email, in writing, through your advertising.
* Focus your sales presentations on their problems.
* Become more visible, by attending their industry events, annual trade shows and conferences, their alumni organization meetings, etc.
* Get published! Become a subject matter expert in the industries you serve to by getting published, be interviewed, serve on industry panel discussions, write case white papers.
Here’s to your continued success in 2012!