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5 Simple Acts to Take Right Now

Summer

photo credit: UGArdener via photopin cc

The months of July and August can be slower ones for many small businesses in the U.S. While we’ve got a thing or two to learn from some other cultures about taking a “real” holiday, many business owners and their clients take vacations and spend less time thinking about business during the summer months.

You may still feel just as busy doing busy kind of things, but the key to making this mini breather pay is to look at the summer months as a launching pad for growth and improvement into next year. Many times we keep our head down doing the work and can’t seem to find the right amount of time to dedicate to the needs of the business.

Below are five things that I try to do each summer as a way to make the rest of the year more fruitful.

1) Find some new inspiration It’s pretty easy to get in the habit of reading the same blogs, following the same people, and picking up the same magazines. You may have developed your go to list and that’s great, but in doing so, it’s easy to miss fresh new voices with lots to say unless you get outside of your bubble.

Take one hour and reshuffle your RSS Reader. Think about some new categories of information you should be consuming and search around and find some lists of “who to read” in that category or industry. Clean out those newsletter subscriptions you never seem to read and make room for some new inspiration.

2) Start planning 2015 now Sometimes it feels like it’s hard to plan the week ahead much less dream about the vision for the future. The problem with this trap, however, is that where you want to go in 2015 and beyond should inform how you plan next week and maybe even tomorrow.

Take a day, or half of a day, and think about the big picture for 2015. Don’t wait until December to do it or you’ll find that it’s March before you actually start to think it’s 2015. (And then March Madness starts and you’re really in trouble.) Break the rest of this year into 90-day blocks and map the big projects you need to accomplish to make the big vision for next year happen right now!

3) Deepen a relationship When’s the last time your reached out to someone you hadn’t spoken with for a while just to say “hey let’s get coffee this week.” It’s probably been a while, right? We’re all so darn busy “building relationships” we don’t have the time to do what it actually takes to build relationships.

Whether you’ve slowed down a bit or not during this time of year, it’s a perfect time to identify a handful of relationships you’ve neglected and put some very mindful energy into renewing them. You pick – a couple of key customers, a strategic partner, a college friend, your brother, or maybe, even your spouse!

4) Learn a new skill I like to use the summer months each year to tackle something hard and confusing and valuable as a way to remain relevant and useful to my clients and my business. This year I’m diving deeper into analytics. It’s a bit like math to me, but may be the single most important gap I have in my ability to apply both experience and process to help make sense of marketing for my clients and readers.

I’ve subscribed to relevant blogs, picked up some books and tracked down an online course or two to create my curriculum. Of course, then I’ll immediately apply what I can in the real world.

5) Create a new habit Good habits are awesome because they do two things. If chosen wisely they can bring the benefit of doing something good for you on a consistent basis and they can help push another, not so good, habit out of the way. In fact, it’s been proven that the best way to break a bad habit is to replace it with a better one.

This summer I’m getting back into yoga. I’ve been a long time practicer but somewhere in the stress and chaos created from my last book I lost it. My knees and my blood pressure tell me it’s time to get back to it.

There you have it – an entire plan for how to wisely use your August this year. Of course taking a little time off wouldn’t kill you either!

And finally – this sounds so ridiculous to say, but I’m just going to say it anyway – I’ve started turning my phone off for extended periods and I can’t believe how much less stress I feel. Give it a try!

The Secret to Getting Much More Done

Manage EnergyMostly I write about marketing and running a business, but I’ve sometimes strayed into writing about the fact that running a business takes figuring out how to get lots done every single day. Time seems to be the most precious resource of all when it comes to get things done, but I contend it’s managing energy is more important that trying to manage time.

See, the thing about time is that you can’t control it any way really – you can’t make stop it and you can’t make more. Energy, on the other hand, is something much more dynamic and much more in your control. Manage your physical and mental energy each day and you can get a lot more done.

Realizing this fact has led me to invest a great deal of “time” and “energy” in finding ways to develop more physical and mental stamina in an effort to get more done.

I’ve written about many of these ideas over the years, but decided to compile them in a handy eBook I’ve called Manage Energy Not Time: The Secret to Getting Much More Done.

In this compilation I talk about:

  • How thoughts influence your actions
  • The importance of intentional breathing
  • The role of exercise and nutrition
  • The myth of goal setting
  • How to unplug to gain energy
  • And my personal favorite – naps

You can grab your free copy here

This is a fun project and hope you gain some valuable new ideas from reading it.

Please share some of your personal favorite tips for getting more out of each day.

 

Can Accounting Reports Really Be Beautiful?

It’s guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest post is from Tyler Nay – Enjoy!

AccountingAs a small business owner, what is more rewarding than focusing on the area of your business that you are most passionate about?  To invest your uninterrupted attention in doing the things that pushed you to start your own business in the first place?  Closing a big sale, writing a book, designing a new product, understanding expenses . . .

Did I lose you with the last one?

What about controlling cash flow or understanding which products generate the most profit? Accounting is frequently an overlooked area in small business as it does not hold the flash and appeal that some other areas of owning a business hold.

The good news is that the days of simply relying on old, stuffy, boring spreadsheets with confusing terms and data have come to end. Software app makers have given accounting reporting and analytics a whole new face making understanding the numbers that drive your business a powerful competitive advantage. (Oh, and they keep the accounting, payables, receivables, banking and tax folks happy too!)

Below are examples of 4 tools that any small business can employ to help stay on top of its bookkeeping and better understand its financial position.

Xero

Billed as the company that makes “Beautiful Accounting Software”, Xero is standing at the forefront of the cloud based accounting software revolution. After playing around with the software, it’s easy to understand why people refer to it as “beautiful”. The easy-to-navigate user interface removes a lot of the pain out of finding different tools, booking entries, and negotiating through the site. In fact, its overall design has been credited by some with making accounting “fun”. Another major benefit is the ability to sync your business bank accounts and credit cards with Xero. It saves loads of time, removes some of the redundant data entry from the accounting process, and reduces the likelihood of key strike error.

Zoho Invoice

The speed at which a small business gets paid for services rendered is vital to health of that company. Zoho Invoice strives to improve cash flow by making invoicing easy and payment receipt faster. I really enjoy the entire invoice conversion feature offered by Zoho. You can issue an estimate to a customer and once approved, turn that estimate into an invoice and email it directly to them. The invoice design is also highly customizable which allows you to add company logos and your own unique style to the layout.

QuickBooks for PC

A mainstay in small business accounting software, QuickBooks still offers a PC version of its small business accounting solution that is ideal for a small business that wants an on-premise accounting solution with few users who need access to it. The array of features offered by this product and how it can conform to almost any small business is an important element. As a past QuickBooks user, I would recommend purchasing additional reading material to help navigate all the features. The software offers a lot of reporting capabilities that can be difficult to navigate.

Square

Producer of the little white reader box that sits atop your Apple or Android device to complete credit card transactions, Square’s point of sales system allows users to complete payment for service transaction anywhere, anytime. Square allows users the ability to integrate with their small business accounting software programs like Xero or QuickBooks – a highly attractive feature.  Through this integration, your accounting software automatically creates the accounting entries necessary to record your daily Square sales, in turn, leaving a small business owner more time to focus on the more enjoyable aspects of his or her business.

By implementing any of these four products, small business owners will see immediate dividends paid in their accounting and bookkeeping department. I personally enjoy the direction in which Xero is moving. Its cloud-based accounting software seems to be the direction that small business accounting is moving and the simple, easy-t0-use interface is attractive for users who may not have a lot of accounting experience.

Tyler NayTyler Nay is presently a senior operations accountant at Watco Companies, LLC, a transportation company based in Pittsburg, Kansas. Over the course of his career, he has spent time in both the public and private accounting sector, where he developed the passion for streamlining accounting information systems for any business, regardless of size. If you would like to connect with Tyler, please do so on LinkedIn.

 

3 Ways to Lose Money with Marketing Automation

It’s guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest post is from Mark Cerminaro – Enjoy!

ways to lose moneyA recent survey conducted by marketing technology expert David Raab and VentureBeat revealed that nearly a third of companies using marketing automation software are not seeing the return on investment that they expected. When asked whether the benefits received were worth the money and time spent on the software, 66% of companies responded positively, while 30% said that they could have achieved the same results “more cheaply.” An additional 3% felt like they had actually wasted efforts with little to no results.

Clearly, this is a problem. While marketing automation has the potential to produce big results (another survey reported that some companies are seeing a more-than-150% increase in revenue since implementation), the initial investment is costly both in terms of direct expenses and employee time. You need to be sure that the investment will produce gains.

With that in mind, here’s a look at some common marketing automation failures and tips for how to get past them:

Not knowing your customers

One of the strengths of a marketing automation system is its ability to help you engage with and nurture customers at every stage of the buying cycle and beyond. To do that, you need to have a deep understanding of you audience. What do they want? What information do they need to make purchasing decisions? How do they react to different types of content? What are the opportunities for recycling leads? When’s the right time to follow up? Without this data, you’ll likely be disappointed in the results of your implementation.

To make sure you have the right insights to succeed in this area, you’ll need your marketing and sales teams to work closely with each other to share insights and align messaging. You’ll also need to be willing to invest the time needed to do in-depth analysis and trials to determine what works, and be flexible enough to implement changes where needed.

Not using the right metrics and not acting on acting on them when you are

What are your marketing goals? For your campaign to be successful, you need to focus on metrics that are actually meaningful. Click through rates and email opens are great, but how many of those potential customers are taking the next steps toward becoming customers?

When you look at the right goals, you need to adapt your messaging to reflect that. Let’s say you set up a goal to gain a certain number or a certain percentage of social media followers from every email that you send out. Instead of simply optimizing the subject line for the click (which is still important), you’ll probably need to spend a little more time crafting a social call to action.

As another example, consider where your display ad dollars are going. Are you so focused on getting new visitors that you ignore the ones who may have already been to your site? Are there things you can do to beef up your re-targeting efforts?

Think about your real marketing objectives and how you’re measuring them, and then decide what actions you need to take to improve those numbers.

Not developing an active campaign

You can expect to lose about 20% of your email leads annually through attrition (changed addresses, unsubscribes) alone. To get more sales, you need to be continually replenishing your leads funnel. Marketing automation does not allow you to sit back and relax—you have to remain active in harvesting contacts and reaching out to potential customers.

With that in mind, you need to determine what types of content visitors respond to (and are willing to give contact information to get) and create it. You need to think both broad and deep in asset creation, and don’t be afraid to get into new content areas (videos, ebooks, interviews, contests).

Have you implemented marketing automation? What’s been your experience so far?

 

MarkCerminaro100x100Mark Cerminaro is the chief revenue officer at RapidAdvance, a leader in alternative financing. Mark has spent his career advising business owners on investments and helping them access the capital they need to grow. Check out RapidAdvance’s small business funding solutions to help grow your small business.

 

When Does a Customer Actually Become a Customer?

For most businesses a customer becomes a customer when they buy a product, sign a contract or agree to terms of a deal. But I wonder if that view of the journey to convert leads to sales misses the bigger reality.whencustomer

What if, just for conversation sake, you began to view someone looking into your services as a customer. Or, better still, someone  just beginning to talk about what they learned at your free workshop as a customer?

Now, it’s true, neither of the above “customers” has paid you a dime, but what if you began to run your entire business as though your job was not one of selling someone, but one of doing everything you could to build trust in those who expressed interest.

What if that group became customers in your mind at that point and you created tools and processes to start serving them right then and there?

What if instead of telling prospects how great you are, you demonstrated just what’s like to be a customer?

What if one of your primary marketing strategies was to make it very easy for people to try what you do?

What if you made your free content, workshops and evaluations more valuable than the paid offerings from most organizations?

Do you think that might create an environment where customers would sell themselves?

For example, my company sells marketing consulting services. By its very nature, it’s hard to explain, hard to buy and even harder at times to convince someone they need.

Due to that, we spend a great deal of time creating content and processes that simplify the service, package it in ways that are practical and explain exactly how to do everything we propose to do.

This focus on education is what builds community, enables sharing and initiates the process of trust building.

Once someone begins to consume the content to the point where they start asking if and how this might work for them, we focus on showing them.

Depending upon the need of the “customer” we offer an evaluation process guaranteed to provide them with solid, actionable steps, at no charge. Or, we offer to conduct a full fledged “Discovery” session with their entire Executive Team. We treat both of these offerings as though we are serving a customer and know that no matter the outcome, the customer will feel as though they received tremendous value.

This is an investment we are willing to make because it offers proof that we deliver and it keeps us focused on creating the most remarkable experience possible.

It’s worth noting that when we switched to providing a service over pitching a service our rate of conversion went from about 10% to 50%. While some of this can also be attributed to better education that led to more narrowly targeted prospects, a great deal is do to the significant mindset shift of when we view a customer a customer.

I’ve written often about this concept I call The Marketing Hourglass and the viewpoint described in this post is really just a manifestation of taking an end to end view of the customer journey that is the essence of the Hourglass concept. Obviously, the job is not over at this juncture, this is simply one of the stops on the path to creating a community of customer champions.

 

7 Guiding Questions for Business Success

If I were starting a business today there are just seven questions I would want answers to. Funny thing is, even after twenty-five years in business, I still need the answers to these questions.

vision

photo credit: ajsmith227 via photopin cc

Now, it’s not that I can’t find these all-important answers, it’s that they change constantly and to some degree that’s how I know I’m growing and evolving.

Visiting these seven, what I call, Guiding Questions, is what keeps me sane or at least moving down a path that’s heading towards something worth doing.

These questions inform strategy, purpose, priorities, culture, marketing, projects, process and simple day-to-day tasks.

Hang these questions on a big poster somewhere prominent so that everyone in your organization is constantly pondering answers. Pull your entire team together every 90 days or so and go on a search for the current state of these answers. Hole up in a cabin in the woods once a year long enough to get all the voices in your head to quiet down enough to ponder truly meaningful answers to following seven questions.

1. Where are we?

This is the baseline question that must always be first and foremost on the mind or any business owner. The only way to solve an equation about reaching your goals and objective is to factor in somewhat accurately where you are right now. This can involve any set of metrics as long as you have a picture of where that puts you on the map as you see it in the future.

2. Where are we going?

This is the vision question that every business must keep visiting. Vision is a lot like the horizon on that two-lane highway that snakes through the plains – you think you can see the destination off in the distance – but with each passing milepost the destination moves farther away. It’s the essence of growth – you’re never done, you just keep expanding your horizons.

3. Why are we going there?

Every truly successful business that I’ve ever worked with seemed to fully understand why they did what they did, who, in very specific terms that wanted to serve with that purpose and how, in opposition to everyone else who said they were in that same business, they were uniquely suited to provide that service in a remarkable manner. So, how is your why connected to your vision?

4. What values will guide us?

Values and beliefs are like filters for making decisions and if you don’t understand them, connect to them deeply and use them as a tool to recruit others who believe, you will make decisions that take you off you path. It’s a lot like having steering that’s out of balance. You know where you want to go but it’s a fight to go in the obvious direction. Make a list of the values you hold deeply and use these to guide you.

5. How are we going to get there?

Now it’s time to define the strategy that will move you in the direction of your vision. How will you innovate? What will you create? What about your business will attract customers and partners? How will you use the resources you have to efficiently build a highly profitable business? What will differentiate your business in the minds of your ideal customer?

6. Who needs to do what?

How can you focus on doing the highest payoff work? How can you delegate everything else? What resources do you need to hire, acquire or source? How can you elevate the staff you currently have in ways that empowers them to own your vision?

7. What will we measure?

Finally, how will you know you are making progress? For that matter how will you know you’re stuck, moving backwards or far off course unless you determine a set of metrics that map back to your ultimate vision. These metrics will likely include things like revenue growth, profit, leads and customers, but don’t forget to consider metrics that keep focus on other signs of health – things like referrals, testimonials and staff praise.

Only a couple of these questions, things like values and perhaps even your vision for the next few years, will remain somewhat static. Visiting the rest every ninety days or so should take you on the dynamic ride of a lifetime and that’s what makes doing this business owning thing such a thrill.

Customer Loyalty Is Mostly About Choosing the Right Customers

I know the title of this post might raise some eyebrows, but it’s true – most businesses have the exact clients they’ve chosen.

photo credit: LexnGer via photopin cc

photo credit: LexnGer via photopin cc

Now, you may not exactly love the clients you’ve attracted, but that’s because you don’t realize the power you wield when it comes to “choosing” your clients. Far too many business owners feel powerless in this regard and subject themselves to serving “anyone with money” or worse “anyone they hope will pay.”

I recently asked a group of business owners to tell me some of the attributes of their ideal clients. After we got through the requisite “they have money” and “they aren’t a pain to work with,” we wandered into some much deeper and meaningful territory.

This was a group of dance and music studio owners and for many the most important attributes had to do with mindset and behavior – “They ask lots of detailed questions” and “they see art, music and dance as ways to support healthy children.”

Wow, all of a sudden we had stumbled upon something extremely valuable. See, while all agreed that the real benefits of their service were self-esteem, wellness and better study habits, few did anything to promote and amplify those messages.

Eventually, they discovered that in their ideal clients, this was the common thread and yet, they feared that if they led primarily with the mantra of “healthy children through art,” they would turn away the “let’s put Sally in every possible competition” people.

And, of course, I had to remind them, that’s precisely the point.

While the “let’s put Sally in every possible competition” people did indeed have the money, they were hard on the staff, frequently disruptive and gone as fast as they came.

The real message here is that in order to build a business that truly can thrive you must understand who you are equipped to serve best and you must do everything in your power to attract, serve and choose them over all else.

5 Things You Know But Don’t Do Enough

I travel all around this world and speak to thousands and thousands of small business owners about the challenges of growing a business.

get more done

photo credit: magro_kr via photopin cc

If I had to sum all the problems and questions I hear into just two common threads I would say it is this – “I don’t make enough money” and “I don’t have enough time.”

Oh sure, stated other ways it might come out like, “how do I use social media?” or “what should I do about that pain in the rear customer?” but in the end, it’s mostly two things that business owners desire – more money and more control of their lives.

On a flight from Tampa to Tulsa (not really but I’m listening to a song from the Jayhawks by that title) I pondered the things that keep me from moving my business in the right direction, making more money and having more control and I was able to find a pattern that involved a handful of simple things that I know no one does enough.

Of course, none of the things on this list are going to shock you, but the reminder just might help you think about your own habits and routines and traps and, in doing so, rethink a few of the things you already know, but don’t do enough.

Say No enough

This is a tough one for me because I’m a people pleaser. Over the years, I’ve gotten talked into doing things I knew I shouldn’t or, worse still, couldn’t, because I feared saying no would shut off other opportunities. You know what shuts off future opportunities? – saying yes and doing a lousy or unfinished job.

People will respect you when you say no in the right way. Bob Burg’s latest work, Adversaries into Allies, has some great practical advice for this.

The key to saying no is to have a clear picture of what and why you do what you do. Understanding your true value and letting go of constantly considering what others think about you. I think that last point is why saying no causes so much stress for some. I read a great Wayne Dyer quote recently that is such a great reminder of this idea, “what others think about you is none of your business.

Say Yes enough

Okay, I know, I know, now I’m just being mean, but saying yes is not simply the flip side of saying no. Most of what we need to say yes to more often is the stuff that scares us.

In fact, think about that thing in your business right now that you don’t want to do, you fear could be too hard, too risky, too big – that’s what you need to say yes to. That resistance, as Stephen Pressfield calls it in the War of Art, is a big fat call to say yes and you need to charge in eyes wide open, like now!

Ask enough

This is something I struggled with early on as a business owner and I know it to be one of the greatest traps for most business owners – charging too little for what you do or remaining in the vise grip of hourly thinking.

Hourly thinking is rampant in pretty much any service business and it’s a bit like quicksand as it will suck you under faster than any other business dynamic. You can’t make more time, so you’re only option is to fill every minute and charge more by the hour.

As a business owner the value of what you are capable of delivering goes up with each passing day. As you build more experience, more audience, more wins and more results to draw from, your fifteen minutes of brilliance on behalf of a client is worth thousands – so why are you’re still giving it away like it’s oxygen?

Here are some of the things your mind is telling you – I’m not worth that much or if I don’t ask much, they won’t expect much or the worst, worst, worst of all – that’s all they will pay.

My friends at Freshbooks created a wonderful little free eBook on this topic called – Breaking the Time Barrier.

Here’s my advice – double your prices. Now, what would have to do, who would you have to become, what would you have to create and who would you need to start hanging out with to make that move work? That’s all there is to it.

Follow up enough

Back when I started my business, back before we officially had something we called social media, (yes, we somehow managed to have thriving businesses back then) I had a Friday habit that always paid off in a variety of ways.

Each Friday I would go through my Roledex (this is an 80’s reference) and pick out at least five people I had not spoken with or heard from in a few months. Then I would pick up the phone (when I still had one of those in my office) and try to connect. Even if I got voice mail I would leave a message stating I was just checking to see what was up. I continued this practice for years via email as well.

The thing that was always amazing was about 25% of those “reach outs” turned into a “I was just thinking about calling you, I need . . .” Now, I may have gotten that call sometime later, but I wonder.

Today I have a list of close relationships in Nimble CRM and settings that let me know when 30 days have passed since my last contact. We have to stay in touch with and nurture our networks with intention. It’s where the greatest opportunities lie.

Say thank you enough

I don’t think that it’s possible to say thank you enough, but it’s worth a try. (Click to Tweet)

My wife is such a great asset in my life (okay, for many, many reasons) as she holds me accountable for things like gratitude. It’s not that I ever mean to be ungrateful, but sometimes when you build things and do things that work in business you can fall into the trap of thinking you did it all yourself.

I know that I’ve worked my butt off the last few decades, but I owe whatever measure of success I’ve had to people who have both outwardly aided me and those many, many more whom I’ve never met that subscribe, share and promote my efforts.

You know this to be true as well, so make thank you a habit. Take gifts wherever you go. Publicly acknowledge the help you receive. And always remember what it felt like in the beginning before you were one of the cool kids.