6 Business Sabotages to Avoid

dynamiteTime and time again I see professionals unconsciously sabotage their business. I doubt they realize what they’re doing. I’m guessing they seldom connect the effects that these actions have to their lack of business. It’s time for it all to STOP. It’s to call attention to actions that are off-putting to prospective (and existing) customers.

Stop using industry jargon in the majority of your marketing messages. When you use jargon that your customers don’t recognize you place yourself in a higher position than your customers. These trending non-descriptive words and phrases cause many to scratch their head or roll their eyes because few understand what you’re talking about or what the word/phrase truly means. Avoid making your customers search for an urban dictionary to understand your marketing message or sales correspondence. Speak in plain language and remember that the clearest marketer always wins. A confused mind will resist making a decision…every time.

Stop going into public places and announcing that you don’t know what you’re doing. Online public forums and social media sites are typically going to allow access to the search engines. Your conversations aren’t necessarily private between you and your peers. Take the more sensitive conversations and/or heated rants to private chat rooms, to emails, to your coach/mentor, or to your mastermind group. It may be quite embarrassing to have this appear in a Google search when someone searches your name/business name.

Stop telling all your secrets (personal and professional) in an effort to be transparent. There is a thing as too much information. It’s vital to know these boundary lines and keep those toes back away from the line so you don’t crossover. Whenever in doubt, don’t share it. If I’m to trust you with my projects it doesn’t build my confidence to know some of these over-sharing, almost bordering on confessional, types of things.

Stop putting the cart before the horse when it comes to accepting work you don’t know how to do. I want my tasks done by a competent business not someone scrambling in the background – learning on the fly. Unless you have the conversation ahead of time, and both sides agree, learning as-you-go isn’t the way to conduct business. After all, clients come to you as the knowledgeable skilled expert they are seeking. Be that expert.

Stop crying the blues about how you can’t afford the basic essentials needed and then promote your business as officially “Open.” If the basics aren’t in place please don’t announce you’re ready for customers. You’re fooling yourself…and them. Take the time to legalize your business – register it within your state, establish a business bank account, and obtain any licenses you may need to operate as well as having the basic software and programs required in your field of expertise. I prefer to take my needs to serious businesses who are in this for the long haul, not hobbyists who may close up shop on a whim. Take the time to determine your service offerings and pricing structures. Take the time to have a website created even if it’s a one-page website. A completed single page is better than a placeholder saying “under construction” or “coming soon.” Think about it, you ordinarily don’t shop at the “coming soon” clothing store at the mall until…it’s officially open, has fully stocked shelves, and trained staff ready to service you. Be prepared when you announce you’re open.

And lastly, stop expecting others to do your homework for you when it comes to answering a RFP and preparing a competitive quote. I don’t have issue with asking for help from time-to-time. It’s the repeated pleas for help in how to quote a project that is a red flag to a problem. Your colleagues perceive, correctly or incorrectly, that you don’t know what you’re doing. If you’re ever hoping to gain their business or be considered as one of their preferred subcontractors you aren’t presenting yourself well when you continually ask how to price something. Take a chance and price it. Afterwards, if you find you lost a bit on your profit margin then chalk this up to experience so you can improve on the next quote.

Consulting, Decisions, & Taking the Right Road

mapThe many faces and facets of people I work within a given month…or day keeps this line of work from getting stale. While consulting often comes with being a virtual assistant not all consulting that I do is structured into 30- or 60-minute paid sessions. Quite often a client or colleague will ask for a sounding board or suggestions and guidance about this or that or a how-do-I-proceed-with-this type of question. It’s part of the job. I’m humbled by the trust that is placed in my knowledge and experience.

The tricky part, and what can lead to frustration or disappointment or muddied confusion, is when multiple consultants give varying or conflicting guidance. What’s a person to do? Whose suggestions should be followed? The ultimate decision is always up to the client. Neither consultant is wrong nor has given poor advisement. The client needs to determine – of the numerous options presented around or through the issue – which path is the right path for them to follow. Plain and simple.

There are many roads on a map. Many ways to travel between point A and point B. Which road is followed is the choice of the person driving. In this case, the business owner is steering the direction of the business, setting their goals, determining who they serve with their services and products, and who they want to serve as their customers. When multiple consultants give differing ways to approach something this is merely two roads that hopefully lead to the same destination. One road may be an expressway. Another road may have some twists – hopefully minimal bumps or roadblocks.

Recently some what’s-the-best-way types of questions have come through my inbox. In most instances, I was able to reply with a short answer of we’d need to do this, this, and this. Or, that works with this program then add in this extra step. When something is outside of my wheelhouse or requires a program or service that isn’t part of my business offerings I have no problem in saying so. There are times I can recommend a trusted colleague who offers what is being sought or a trusted online service that can be used. Yes, that may mean the client won’t work with my company for this type of support so I don’t get the sale…and that’s okay. I’m sure the client will remember me for other services that my company does provide.

Here’s where the peculiar responses shape up that sometimes make me shake my head in the not good way. I thrill when I get an email reply like this one: “Thank you for thinking this through with me. You are a most knowledgeable, informed, and skillful gem!” And I usually sigh when the response is along these lines: “Now I’m not sure what to do because X says this and you say something in the opposite direction. I wish you both could agree. My coach says I should move forward with this, that I’ve been dragging this out for months but when everyone can’t agree what am I supposed to do?” Or another that I get from time to time is: “You have your favorite programs and service providers but I must work in what I have.” Okay. Chances are the service provider you’re using isn’t meeting your immediate needs which is why you are trying to solve the issue you asked me about therefore knowing how that program works and what another program offers it may be time to change programs because you’ve outgrown your existing program.

Someone who complains about the recommendation instead of expressing a simple thank you doesn’t get it…they probably won’t. Ever. They are seeking someone to make the decision for them instead of claiming that role rightly for themselves as the business owner, entrepreneur, or boss that they are.

As the consultant, I feel for the second person who is expressing frustration and indecision but making the final choice has never, ever been part of my responsibility. My responsibility and obligation in consulting is to give the person enough information to make an informed decision. Typically, I will include my reasoning for offering a particular road as their solution. I can’t make someone take a specific path towards what they say they want to do. I can only guide. Think of the guy who is lost but won’t stop and ask for directions or who does ask but then thinks he knows a shortcut. He was lost in the beginning and ignoring the directions probably won’t take him to his destination anytime soon.

If you’re the consultant trust that you did your part by giving sound and solid suggestions. If you’re the person asking choose asking someone you respect and trust and has experience and knowledge in the areas you don’t. Getting a second, or third, opinion is fine. What you do with those opinions is up to you to weigh the pros and cons of each. If something falls through or doesn’t work out then make another decision and continue to move on.

The Marketing Mindset Trap to Avoid

trapI’ve never understood when internet marketers get indignant about someone not implementing their freebie product “on the internet marketer’s timetable.” I opt in (or take training) because I saw the item and had interest. I may not act on it for a variety of reasons:

a. it wasn’t right for me,
b. the timing isn’t ideal for me now,
c. it doesn’t gel with my business model,
d. there is something related to the item that needs worked out to be fully doable in my business model.

Unless the marketer actually speaks with each person to understand their unique reasoning the marketer is guessing. I’m going to introduce you to Stella, an internet marketer who fell into the marketing trap and missed a prime opportunity to excel at customer service and potentially sell her services. Before sharing Stella’s marketing fumbles you need to know what led up to the missed opportunity.

The Idea

In the beginning, Stella was so excited when she created a course and began promoting it to her list and on social media. Sales started off a bit sluggish so Stella thought if she gifted the course for free to a few people they would give her a testimonial and those testimonials may help draw more people who would become buyers. But Stella gave very little thought to who would get the free gifts or if these gifts would hold any value or impact for this person’s business. Her goal was only to give away six courses to anyone who would take them and agree to give a testimonial. She gave no other thoughts about the benefactor is the free giveaway. [This was one of her mistakes. Failure to have any criteria for who received the free course.]

Fast Forward One Year Later

A year has passed and Stella’s sales for the course have been okay. She continues to work on her marketing and continues to do some tweaking to the course materials. One day while she was studying the analytics around her course clicks and downloads she realized that two of the people who were gifted the free course never completed all of the modules. One person stopped after the third module and hasn’t signed in to the course dashboard in more than 8 months. The other person signed in more frequently but stopped a module later and has no more activity in the dashboard.

Why? Stella doesn’t know so she decides to take her frustrations to Facebook to post how wronged she feels and vows to never give away one of her courses again if the ungrateful people who got it won’t use it. Surprisingly many of Stella’s internet marketing friends agree with her sentiments. They also feel she was wronged. They begin to share their own stories of how they each helped people who stopped mid-training or someone who completed the learning lessons but never implemented anything into their business.

The comments in the very lengthy thread are mostly “I” focused statements. Things like:

  • I gave this away and I put too much work into this course to have someone not appreciate it.
  • If I knew they wouldn’t complete it than I could have given it to someone else who would have used it.
  • I can’t believe they never did anything with all the materials I provided. My course included videos, audios, and PDF download. How could they not use it?
  • I stopped giving away free courses because too many people never applied the learning to their business.

The Missed Opportunities Were Plentiful

As someone reading the thread that had more than 70 comments and continued to grow, I was astounded that no asked these obvious questions of any of these internet marketers…

“Did you ever contact the person to ask why they stopped mid-course?”
“Did you ever ask them if something in the training was unclear or confusing?”
“Did you do ANY follow-up?”

[I didn’t post the questions because I wasn’t connected to Stella and couldn’t comment. One of my friends posted in the thread and on Facebook that means the conversation showed up in my newsfeed. See how a conversation she thought was among her friends suddenly extends to a wider circle of people who may be prospective customers who are reading Stella’s rantings.]

All questions that should be asked and the answers would have been pure gold to either help the person use the training to the fullest or used to enhance the training to make it better for others. Knowing why the course recipient stopped could have shed light on a gap in the training. It could have highlighted a hurdle that one of Stella’s other services could have filled and aided the recipient to continue moving forward. It could have been an opening for a paid consulting session to provide support for continuing or developing. It could have validated that the training was never a good fit for the recipient and Stella’s frustrations would have dramatically been reduced.

It was off-putting to read all of the “I” centered statements. It was disappointing to see these marketing experts who tied so much of their personal feelings about not being appreciated into their product (the course). This failure to look at the course as a product and not a direct reflection of the marketer as a person kept the marketer from seeing that someone may have stopped because they didn’t understand how to move forward with the fresh information at their fingertips. Also, because Stella gifted her course to anyone with no criteria to market to those who could most benefit from the training (remember she was solely focused on only gaining testimonials) that she may have given someone a course that wasn’t at the proper place in their business growth or business model to even apply anything from the training in how they work or serve their own customer-base.

From what I could gather none of the thread commenters ever followed up with their course participants once the course was sold. No one added this step to their follow up processes. No one ever asked them a month or two later how their product (aka the course) was working in their business and if they needed any additional assistance or may have had any questions about anything related to implementation. The marketers may have sent out a quickie survey shortly after granting access to the course but not after allowing enough time for the course materials to be learned and applied.

What a missed opportunity! Not only for data collection to use internally for development of future courses but as an opportunity to demonstrate outstanding customer service.

Don’t Be a Stella

I encourage you to add a few more follow-up steps to your processes for troubleshooting why someone stops accessing the dashboard mid-course. I encourage you to do some planned follow-ups a month or two after a course is completed. This can even be an opportunity to touch-base for up-sell of a consulting session to further expand on a lesson or sticking point with some one-on-one consulting.

If you’re reading this as someone’s virtual assistant than bring this up to your client so that appropriate follow-up steps can be added into your client’s system processes.

Quality customer service should not end when the course ends. This is only the beginning of building a lasting relationship with someone who bought your product and hopefully thought enough of it to continue being interested in other things you offer.

The Takeaway Lessons

When something seems amiss avoid falling into the marketing mindset trap of ranting on Facebook to get peer approval (or pats on the back) and take it directly the customer to ask the why questions that will benefit your business in the long term. You can’t fix something that may be broken, or offer added bonuses, if you don’t fully understand why someone stopped.

And if you do feel the need to talk it over with a colleague take the conversation off social media to a private phone call. Then readers to the thread won’t be influenced by the comments in the thread and read your frustrations which may not match your polished marketing messages.

Service Packages, Bundles & How It’s All Put Together

From time to time I’ll come across a social media group conversation with the question, “What are packages and how do I put them together?” I’ve also seen questions around bundling services. If you’ve ever wondered about packaging your services or bundling services, keep reading.

Understanding Service Packages

Packages are actually pretty simple. It’s a pre-selected grouping of services. Your business determines which services will make up the package so your customers can determine which package meets their needs. HINT: Keep the choices to three or four max. Too many choices gets confusing and a confused customer will not choose. A confused customer will shop elsewhere.

Packages are all around us in various industries. When it comes to creating a package in the services industry some people freeze and get stuck. Because services aren’t tangible it feels hard but it’s no different than the packages you can touch such as a container of snack food bags. At the grocery store you can purchase lunch bag size snacks pre-selected and grouped together such as chips, popcorn, and pretzels. Or, you may choose a package of Doritos, Cheetos, and SunChips. Each package has been pre-selected with the customer’s tastes and needs in mine.

When you assemble your services packages think about what makes sense together – think about natural add-ons and how your customer will be using the services. Remember which services your customers typically buy next and in which order so if someone wants a complete process your package will take them from start to finish.

Let’s look at social media as a package we can easily relate to. Social media services are generally focused on these four main areas: 1) strategy and planning, 2) copywriting of posts, 3) scheduling of posts, and 4) monitoring and/or interacting on the social media platform. While each of these areas can be a stand-alone service if you wanted to create a package you could combine several of these services into its own package.

One package could combine copywriting and scheduling posts. Another package could combine all four segments of social media. You determine what goes in the package based on your skills and expertise.

The benefit of a package for your customer is that they get everything they need for one price. The price stays the same month after month. There are no surprises.

The benefit for your business is if the customer purchases the package with all four segments of the social media services, your business can more fully support the customer as a whole. Your business will have an understanding via the strategy and planning to know what to write for the copywriting of the posts. The posts will focus around the direction, goals, and events the customer is working towards. The scheduling will take this strategy and planning in mind so the peak times and target audience interests are capitalized. And the monitoring of the platform permits your company to take advantage of interest and interaction momentums in the moment when the conversations and engagements are hot. Your customer will be thrilled when they see the analytics numbers climbing (and sales conversions taking place) compared to numbers before working with you.

As you consider your services and how to put together packages think about which services make sense to group together. Just as the example of copywriting and scheduling go hand-in-hand you will find relationships between other similar services. This reminds me of the blogging example: If you are adding a blog post to a WordPress website an add-on that can become part of a package is applying SEO to this blog post. Another add-on for the package can be boosting the post to social media.

Bundling Services

While some use the terms packages and bundles interchangeably I prefer to think of these as different. A package is grouped with services pre-determined by your own business to sell to your customers. A bundle is a grouping of services that a customer may select individually and request to be provided as a group. The bundling is customized to the customer’s specific wants and needs. The bundle may not be grouped in the same customized way for each of your customers. Individual needs are considered with a bundle grouping.

In my own business I do both packages and bundling of custom groupings to meet my clients needs. Someone inquiring about my services may know they need specific things in a package but may not need everything in the package and may wish to substitute a service. Let’s use this illustration as an example: The customer may have a copywriter on staff so a social media package that includes copywriting, scheduling, and monitoring on Facebook could be custom bundled to account for copywriting being provided. The customer may ask if my business could create graphic images for the text the copywriter has provided. And a new bundle grouping of services – graphic images creations, scheduling, and monitoring – could be custom created for this customer.

In the end whether you create a package or bundle your services for a customer these really aren’t hard to pull together. You know what your rates are for a single service so adding additional services is merely adding in the rates for each service in the grouping.

An Exercise in Assembling Your Package

Try this visual exercise to help with putting together packages. Draw a circle in the middle of a sheet of paper. Inside the circle name your core service. Extending out from that circle add spokes with each add on for that core service. You can have as many spokes as you want. I generally add in everything I can think of. The max.

This maximum becomes my top-level package. Once you know your maximum it is much easier to take things away to create a mid-level and an entry-level package.

Being Clear in Your Offerings

The most common mis-step I see others making when it comes to packages or bundling services is not being clear in what the customer is buying in the package. Be very specific in what is included…and what may not be inclusive. Leave no room for doubt.

When in doubt consider the packages of snack bags at the grocery store I mentioned. For each package option the customer knows exactly what they are getting. Outline your packages so that a customer will see fully what they get. If you’re open to customizations you can add this on your web page. You choose what’s best for your business offerings and if that may include only packages, only bundling, or both options. Some don’t want the hassle of assembling a bundle so that option doesn’t become part of their business model or offerings. And, that’s okay.

Have a niggling question about packages or bundle groupings? Add it to comments or send me a private message.

Serving Others by Looking Ahead

spaceRecently I went to see the movie Hidden Figures about three women mathematicians at NASA – a superb movie I highly recommend. Something Dorothy – a computering person – did emphasized the importance of looking ahead that I want to share with you. As a computer person, these women worked complex math calculations by hand. Later when NASA moved towards adding an IBM (the mainframe computers that would takeover performing these calculations at approximately 24,000 per second) Dorothy looked ahead to recognize both she and the other women in her department wouldn’t be needed unless they could provide value in another way. Dorothy realized programmers to program these IBM computers would be needed. She studied and learned the programming language then taught it to the others. This desire to serve their country, and save their jobs, provided value to NASA.

Part of being successful in business means providing value to your customers. It’s necessary to continually look ahead and keep abreast of what’s currently happening as well as what’s coming that will impact your customers and how they will want to work in their business serving their customers. Your customers look to your business a trusted authority and respect your guidance.

Recently, I’ve been doing an increase in copywriting services and search engine optimization (SEO) projects. These two very much go hand-in-hand. Copywriting covers anything from blog posts to web page content, from social media posts to newsletter content, from one sheets to bios, and all of these can (and should) be optimized. With the ever-changing algorithms of search engines what was working a year ago, may no longer bring identical results today. But, one thing that is constant and continues to drive good optimization is well-written high quality content. Yes, content is still king. It doesn’t matter that Google has moved through the algorithms of Panda to Penguin to Hummingbird or that algorithms now factor in such things as brain rank, knowledge base, and page layout.

If you are copywriting material that has some depth – thin blog posts are harmful to your SEO – to the information you’re sharing as well as some decent word count – aim for longer word counts, not under 500 words – than your content will be found worthy of ranking higher and being indexed well (and accurately). When someone searches for answers via a Google search it’s vital that what they find gives them the information they crave not a watered down, brief mention. In your own experiences, think about the search results you want to find when you’re searching for something. You want the answer in whole, never a light mention; even if that answer means buying a service or product or scheduling a consultation. Your time is precious and not meant to be spent searching multiple links for information.

In my own business, I recognize my value to my customers is in understanding and knowing how to apply search engine optimization to what I copywrite. I am sought out for this. As the search engine algorithms change, the content is still strong and holding its own because the content is of higher quality.

Like Dorothy at NASA, make it your priority in knowing what’s happening in your industry/in your niche specialty, what’s trending, and what is coming next. Share this information with your customers and your business becomes valuable for the services or products you provide.

Think ahead. Understand that there may not be a formula…yet, for what is coming. You can pave the way to the next frontier.

The Inspired Entrepreneur’s Guide Podcast Digs Deep Into a Discussion on Mentoring

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Ruth Martin of MaplewoodVA.com was honored to be asked back as a guest on The Inspired Entrepreneur’s Guide podcast with host Darlene Victoria. This time Darlene wanted to dig deep into mentoring and mentoring specifically geared towards virtual assistants and entrepreneurs that are working solo.

Darlene serves up a double dose of insights and information when she approaches this topic from two perspectives: 1) interviewing Doreen Astra of Astra Virtual Assistance who is a protege that Darlene, herself, has been mentoring, and 2) interviewing Ruth Martin of Maplewood Virtual Assistance who has served as a mentor for many, many years as well as volunteers in the Mentorship Program for a leading virtual assistant industry organization. Hearing from both sides of the mentoring topic brings added knowledge and depth to this episode as well as gives guidance for anyone seeking their own mentor or anyone interested in becoming a mentor.

Listen to Episode 20, All About Mentorship – Working with One or Becoming One here:
http://www.dvpodcasts.com/inspired/2016/8/12/episode-20-all-about-mentorship-working-with-a-mentor-or-becoming-one

Listen to the earlier interview with Ruth Martin, Episode 7, Inspired Interview with Ruth Martin
http://www.dvpodcasts.com/inspired/2015/8/21/episode-7-inspired-interview-with-ruth-martin