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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

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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.

Before Any of the Tactics Matter Answer These 3 Questions

Most business owners think marketing and immediately think email, copy, Facebook and promotions – you know, tactics. Heck, most marketers do the same thing.

strategy before tactics

photo credit: Ed Yourdon via photopin cc

I’ve been working with business owners for over twenty five years now and I’m here today to once again affirm that none of the tactics matter until you are crystal clear about a handful of things. If you’ve heard me talk at a conference in the last ten years then you’ve heard me say repeatedly – strategy before tactics is the simple road to success.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all about systematically and consistently rolling out tactics, but only those that support a strategy that you can commit to. Once you nail the strategy part you can confidently go to work on strategy with tactics, but you can’t have one before the other.

I will go as far as to say, however, a simple, maybe even common set of tactics in support of a powerful strategy beats a brilliant set of tactics with no real strategy at all most every time.

So, how do you make strategy simple? Answer these three questions and get everyone on your team aligned around the answers.

1) Why do we do what we do?

This is the age old mission question. Until you can get very clear about the one, overarching purpose for your business, things will always seem a bit muddy. When you can grab onto your “why” you have the basis for every decision you make and a thread that can define your brand and a magnet for building a vibrant community around your business.

Ponder this question for a moment as it might help bring some clarity: What is joyful to you about the result your business brings a client? There are many variations on this one, but it might help your get started.

Perhaps the greatest challenge with purpose and mission is that it can’t be faked. You can’t copy it, it simply is what you stand for – so dig deep on this one!

2) Who do we do it for?

The tricky part about this one is that the answer should be as narrow as possible. If you nailed the first answer above, know that some percentage of the world out there won’t be attracted to your why – and that’s okay. Now your job is to go even narrower and start really understanding who you can help, who gets the most value from your unique approach.

Here’s a tip: Look to your most profitable customers that already refer business to you. Find the commonality in this group and you should be able to develop a very narrow ideal customer profile that entails both physical description and ideal behavior.

A secondary element of this answer applies to your staff. Who fits your why, your culture? Who can come to your business with the mindset to serve the mission you’ve so eloquently laid out above?

3) What do we do that’s both unique and remarkable?

The last piece of the puzzle is about what you do. But, it’s not simply about defining what business you are in. That’s important to understand, but more important is to find and communicate how your business is unique in a way that your ideal client finds remarkable. In a way that allows you to stand apart from everyone else that says they are in the same business as you.

This isn’t as simple as it might sound. Most business owners don’t fully understand what their customers truly value. It’s not good service, fair pricing and broad selection. Those fall under the category of expectation and everyone can and usually does claim them. The difference is in the details, the little things you do, the way you do it, how you treat people, how you make your customers feel. It’s in the surprises, the things that exceed their expectations.

Of course, this assumes you provide something that actually is unique and remarkably done, but I’m guessing you do, you just don’t know how magnificent it is and how you should make it the message you lead with.

Here’s my advice: Go talk to your customers, they know what you do that’s unique. Listen carefully and don’t be afraid to embrace the little things you do, that’s where you are different in a way that matters.

Spend time with the process of answering these three questions, get your entire team involved and make it a game. This is the essence of strategy. It doesn’t have to be an academic process, but it is perhaps the most important thing you can do for your business and certainly something you should do before you even consider your next great idea for how to use Pinterest.

Now, say it with me, Strategy Before Tactics!

Two Things Owners Must Delegate In Order to Be Free

There are many things that business owners must do. Certainly there’s the doing of the thing that the business does and, perhaps more importantly, the selling of the thing the business does.

delegate

photo credit: bradleypjohnson via photopin cc

But, business owners also routinely get bogged down in all the other stuff – creating web pages, collecting and paying bills, writing emails, tweeting, meeting, troubleshooting the network and, my favorite, taking out the trash.

Common sense suggests that in order to survive and grow you must delegate all the other stuff. That is indeed true, until you delegate all that other stuff, you can’t focus on the highest payoff activities.

Here’s the thing though – while getting all that other stuff off your plate might free up your mind, it won’t actually set your business free. It will allow you to expand the capacity of your business to that which you can keep your arms around, but it won’t actually allow you to grow.

In order to truly get free of your business in a way that will allow you to grow you must work to replace yourself in two key jobs – the doing of the actual work that makes money and the selling of the work that makes money.

If you’re a consulting company you must be able to find people who can do the consulting and you must be able to find people who can make it rain new consulting contracts. If  you’re a plumbing company you must be able to find people who can do the plumbing and you must be able to find people who can sell the plumbing.

If the business relies on you to do either of those functions you don’t really have a business, you have a job!

7 Most Popular Blog Posts of 2013

Like a lot of content producers I’m using the end of the year to look back and reflect on the body of work produced throughout the year.

chucksI’ve intentionally chosen to focus on the most “popular” posts as a way of illustrating a bit of what makes a piece of content popular.

Now, mind you, that’s not the same as saying the “best” posts of the year. Well, it might be, but it might not. In the world we live in today popular content is made so by your audience’s willingness to share it, comment on it, and otherwise voluntarily talk about it.

Factors such as a provocative headline, the tried and true list format and the particular and somewhat unpredictable nature of the crowd on a given day have a lot to do with making content spread.

The following seven posts were judged most popular through an analysis of Google Analytics, social and link data. It’s also worth noting that the more popular a post the better chance it stands to rank higher in subsequent related searches, which only serves to make it more popular.

1. 8 Alternatives to Google Keyword Tool – Keyword research is vital. It’s an essential tactic for developing a powerful content strategy, targeting pay per click advertising campaigns and improving search engine optimization. For many years Google offered what was undoubtedly the most used free tool . .

My most popular post of the year benefited greatly from search traffic over the last few months of the year.

2. The Best Books in the World on Writing – It’s entirely possible that the title of this post is completely off. I mean, what I’ve really compiled is a list of the books on writing that I love the best. But isn’t that the thing about great writing – it allows us, compels us perhaps . . .

This post benefited from a Listly list that took off in content networks and embeds on other sites.

3. 5 New Realities of SEO – Back in the day, SEO was more technical and less, well, semantic. Now I realize that for most a term like semantic query relevancy might as well be the name of computer programming language, but the fact is Google’s customers, the searcher . . .

A list, with the word new and about SEO – all ingredients for social sharing!

4. How to Create a Total Content System – As content becomes increasingly important in the marketing mix, it must take on an elevated place in your strategy and planning. The use of high quality, education based content . . .

Posts about content marketing were very popular in 2013 and this one benefited from the fact that it offered a “how to” system and had an audio explanation. (It was also one of my top podcasts of the year.)

5. How to Be Quiet and Why You Must – Business is noisy. A typical day might involve dozens of conversations, meetings, decisions, tasks and insights. Every thought, conscious or otherwise, roars through our heads like the intersection . . .

This may have been my favorite post of the year and I believe it benefited from a bit of a curiosity factor as well as the universal longing we all have for a little more peace.

6. 12 Month Total Online Presence Blueprint – I’ve been taking business owners through the beta of my Total Online Presence Program of late and the comprehensive nature of this mindset is certainly reinforcing the overwhelming amount of stuff there is to do online if you are to tap the full potential of building a Total Online Presence. . .

This post benefited from a Facebook ad campaign that drove people to a very popular webinar, which sold an online training program. This is a great example of using social to create awareness for content to create sign up for email to create customers!

7. 7 Marketing Metrics Worth Obsessing Over – Marketers need to measure a lot of things in order to get better. Not everyone does and those that do sometimes measure the wrong things. The obvious things like leads and sales revenue are important, but they’re quite often just a measure of what is and not . . .

This final post was about numbers and that usually spells boring, but this was a list with the word obsessing in the title that came during the first week of the year – my guess is people were finally obsessing over planning for the year. Most shared LinkedIn post of the year.

Stop Chasing Your Dreams

I know the title of this post may seem like the lead in to a pretty cynical, soul crushing, year end wrap up, but it’s just the opposite.

chasing dreams

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This time of year many people sit down and spend some time thinking about goals for the upcoming year. I used to do this as well until I learned, over time, that the practice was actually robbing me of joy.

I’ve been doing this a long time and over the years I’ve come to realize that attachment to outcomes – otherwise known as goals – may in fact get us to some predetermined destination, but at what cost?

Now, before you write this off as some rationalization for lack of proper ambition, understand that I’m not talking about simply drifting along either.

I have very clear intentions for what I would like to see my business become and how I would like to live my life inside of that, but I also try to do my best to let go of how that happens.

Instead of chasing dreams I try to let them come to me how and when they are meant to. I know this can get a little new age attraction sounding but I’ve experienced it time and time again.

When I stay open to change, embrace chaos and look for the beginning in every ending I experience the expression of meaning and purpose in my life and my intentions eventually unfold with joy.

When I struggle to fit a predetermined set of circumstances into every outcome and measure progress in daily successes and failures I experience stress and anxiety even as I achieve my stated goals.

So here’s my annual advice for every day business growth. Spend some time this coming week to create the picture of your business this coming year, record your intentions for your business and your life and (here’s the hard part) let go!

Then go out there and jump in the river and swim with the current instead of against it. Enjoy every minute of your day knowing that it’s all part of how your dreams come true.

What I Know for Sure About Leadership

I’ve learned a great deal about leadership in the process of trying to build a business.

leadership

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Only recently have I come to appreciate the important role that effective leadership plays in actually growing a business.

In small businesses we often look to more obvious areas of business for paths to growth, such as marketing and selling or even negotiating skills. The thing is, nothing really happens without true leadership.

That’s not to say someone can’t hatch a good idea, work their tail off and grow a business that looks pretty successful.

But, lacking vision, compassion, purpose and commitment, it’s pretty hard to build a place where people want to come and be their best self and that may actually be the hallmark of a successful business.

I’m not unlike a lot of entrepreneurs. I want to work on the stuff the business makes and sells today. Leadership is quite often more about the stuff of tomorrow and it’s messy and unruly and it gets in the way of things we’d rather do.

Oh, and it takes work, it doesn’t always come naturally to us, even those of us who are routinely thrust into roles that require us to lead in order for others to succeed.

So here are few things I’ve observed over the course of trying to learn to lead.

Grow yourself

Leadership is mostly about trying to help people grow and achieve potential. Of course the only way you can provide an environment where this can happen is if you charge headlong down that path yourself. Unless you are constantly experiencing your own growth you’ll cease to recognize the need for it in others.

Reading is probably my most effective tool for growth. I, of course, read most everything I can related my work, but I make it a point to read a great deal of fiction and other seemingly unrelated topics such as human growth, psychology, sociology, nature, ancient religious traditions and even architecture. I’m fascinated by the connections these subjects have to things like community building and system development.

Start asking for recommendations on books about leadership. Don’t be surprised if a few of them don’t mention the word leader in the title.

Create vision

People don’t give themselves to great companies or great products. They follow great stories and great causes and great ideas. Until your leadership ideas are steeped in a vision that’s bigger than simply going to work for you to get a paycheck, you’ll struggle to attract anyone interested in much more than that. Vision takes thinking bigger for yourself and your company first. Until you can do that you’ll find it hard to inspire yourself let alone others who might choose to join you. Do you have a big idea, are you headed somewhere really cool, do you do what you do because there’s a higher purpose? Share that and don’t be afraid to inspire others to think bigger in the process – that’s vision.

So here’s your question. What’s the picture of your business in three years and why is that a vision worth following?

Get alignment

Get people involved every step of the way by getting them to understand why they are doing what they are doing. Ask for their input and ideas and hold them accountable for improvement based on their input. Give them permission to disagree with you, even inviting conflict. Ask that surprises and bad news are delivered unvarnished. It’s the only way to get people as invested as you are in the outcome of their work and it’s how you eventually get everyone aligned.

Bring your entire organization together and ask them to identify, in their view, the three greatest priorities in your business right now.

Teach by example

This one is so obvious, but so hard to do consistently. If you sit around and complain about those darn customers, don’t be surprised if everyone else does as well. If you want people to be on time for meetings show them how important it is by arriving ten minutes early and starting on time. If you want your staff to go overboard showing clients appreciation, demonstrate it by writing hand written notes to clients each week. If you want people to be accountable for their health and wellness, well, hit the gym.

Identify three behaviors that you want to everyone to model and determine your place in leading them there by example.

Build a culture of winning

It’s a shame to see organizations where managers manage by retaining control and making sure that everyone need come to them for answers. Perhaps the most universal truth about leadership is that the best way to succeed as a leader is to put all of your energy into helping those you lead succeed. In Good to Great, Jim Collins noted that many of the best leaders built such a culture of winning that their departments could actually manage without them.

As your business stands today, ask yourself what would fall apart if you needed to leave for a few months and go to work on building leadership in those areas first.

Believe in people

I’ve found that people pretty much live up to our expectations. While it’s pretty easy to take credit when people succeed and place blame when they don’t, most of the time is comes down to what we expect. Expect more of people and you might be surprised. Believe in people and all of a sudden they do more than we expect, get more involved in the success of the company and rise to the level of our expectations.

Give everyone that you manage a thirty-minute meeting each week where they get to set the agenda. Ask them to think about what they need to be successful and engaged and assure them you want to go to work on that with them.

So you see this leadership stuff isn’t that complicated, it just takes work. It takes making it a priority and building into the culture of how your business functions.

Is it that important? Here’s my take – if your vision of success involves anything more than what you can wrap your arms around today, you need to understand how to become a better leader.

Do You Still Plan to Plan?

Help me out with a little poll here – one question – hit the comment tab below and choose 1, 2, or 3 – that’s all for today!