Archive for the ‘Best Biz Practices’ Category

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.

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.

Wait! Know Why Before Discounting

special“He asked me if I discounted so I figured I had to.”

“We talked about everything they needed. They chose several packages and a lot of support services with promises of needing more as they grew. Then they expected a sizable discount.”

“I felt it I didn’t discount, I couldn’t land the client.”

“I told her I didn’t want to drop my prices but she said everyone was doing it.”

“They said they were starting out and really needed my help. They wouldn’t be able to accomplish their goals if they didn’t get a discount.”

I’m guessing one, if not more, of these sound familiar. Even if you were not a part of one of these conversations you probably know of someone who was.

Wait! Before you discount your prices know why you are doing it.

  • Because someone asked isn’t enough reason. Laziness at the prospect of what seems to be an easy one-time sale can be finessed to build into repeat long-term sales – giving your business sustained income to build and grow.
  • Because you’re not confident in what you’re selling isn’t enough reason. Lack of confidence in your product/service or your ability to sell at full price can be learned, improved, and fixed.
  • Because you think price is the only thing between choosing to buy from your business and another business isn’t enough reason. Not understanding the value of the product/service or not knowing how to articulate the differences between value and benefits can be honed and learned.

Giving a discount because you are an emerging business is foolishness. These businesses will not be around for years and years. They undermine themselves every step of the way and later scratch their heads to why they struggle. Too frequently a discount is given without much thought about why it’s being given.

During the Christmas holidays I shopped a well known box store for a Star Wars Yoda plush figure that was on a family member’s wish list. The plush figure retailed for $49.99 and was on sale for $39.99 – saving $10. When I got to the checkout counter the salesperson commented that she thought the price for Yoda was excessive. I didn’t say anything because it was on sale, in my shopping budget, and the only thing this person requested for their Christmas gift. Then the salesperson said she would give me a 25% discount because paying that much was ridiculous for such an item – lowering the price to $29.99. Now, what happened?

The salesperson didn’t see the value in the product the store she worked for was selling. The salesperson cost the store profit when a customer was satisfied with the sale price and an additional reduction wasn’t necessary to gain my sale. The salesperson based her decision on her value system and applied a price that held meaning to her if she were the customer. [In misjudgments like this, it is reason enough for only supervisors to override the system to add additional discounts to an already marked down item but I’m letting my retail store manager experience speak. It also speaks to why clerks need training to be better frontend salespeople.]

Buyers are wise. While some may get excited about a sale price and expect discounts the vast majority recognize that sales are statements of what you should actually be paying. Here’s an example that is seen online frequently: sales pages with a regular price and that price is crossed out replaced with a lower special price. The lower price could be hundreds of dollars lower such as regular price $397 but reduced to a special of $197. Or another common one is: $97 reduced to $27.

I caution you to avoid selling based on price. It is a slippery slope and one hard to recover from once you get the customer in the door and later want to increase the prices to be more inline with fair market rates. Always, always, always sell on value. Value is where you differentiate your products and services from other businesses.

There are three basic reasons that a business should discount:

  1. Prepay discounts – Giving a discount when the customer pays all the cash upfront is a motivating reason to give a price break. You’ll see this in terms such as 5% 10 Net 30. This translates to take a 5% discount if the invoice is paid in 10 days otherwise the full invoice amount is due in 30 days. The incentive is to pay early and pay less.
  2. Bundled deals – An increased transaction size can be a valid reason to discount.
  3. Seasonal sales – Discounts to phase out inventory is business smart. This is inventory that needs to be taken off the books and gaining some compensation for it is better than writing it off totally.

The next time the conversation shifts and a discount is requested pause to consider why the person asking for the discount has earned the reduction before agreeing. A discount may not be in the best interest of your business.

Getting Out of Your Own Way

DetourIn the past few months I’ve met numerous professionals who seem to have one thing in common. They are the block they are trying to move around. Their similar theme is expressing frustration about a project or their whole business not moving forward. When we delve deeper to discuss which roadblocks are in their way the same answer is repeated, “I want to do X but Y isn’t in place yet. I can’t do anything until Y is in place and that needs Z and Q to be in place.” The professional doesn’t know which way to move forward so remains frozen in place often throwing their hands up in frustration – sometimes for months or years.

When this happens, the best solution is forward movement with something…anything. Pick something and go! The momentum in one area is often enough to get other areas rolling along.

The first step to getting out of your own way is to regain your focus. Determine what is important. Notice I’m not saying what needs to happen first but what is important. Those can often be very different things.

Meet Jo – She has several UFOs (unfinished objects) in her business.

Jo (the frustrated business professional) is in the process of revamping her website. Jo wants to attend a trade conference for networking and meeting potential clients that is date specific. Jo wants to upgrade her membership program for her existing clients and for inducting new clients.  In talking with Jo, she wants to promote the new membership offerings and increased membership plan levels to get some increased revenue flowing into her business but feels she can’t because the website isn’t completed. Jo also wants to participate in the trade show and network but feels that she has no place to send potential clients so they can schedule a discovery consultation with her. She wants to have her website done but continues to add new things and make changes while the redesign is in progress. Because she can’t see the finish line for any of these things she remains frozen as the trade show dates get closer and months, instead of weeks, of working on the website redesign march on.

What Jo doesn’t understand is these are self-imposed roadblocks. None of these things should keep her from meeting new clients, from exchanging information with new contacts (aka networking), from directing traffic to her old exiting website which is visible at her familiar website URL, or discussing and marketing the new membership plan levels to those in her program.

Let’s help Jo plow through some roadblocks.

By importance I’m going to call this order: 1) the trade show because it is date specific, 2) the membership plans because this generates revenue, and 3) working around the new website.

The trade show: It’s crucial that Jo make these connections and exchange information to (hopefully) attract new clients (aka revenue) into her business rather than allow a year to pass before the next show. While Jo feels she needs a website to do this she actually needs a designated single web page. While her web designer puts her new website together a single web page can be used as the point of contact for show attendees and connections. As she directs traffic to this web page she should be certain the page includes an opt-in box with a freebie enticer to get the person on her mailing list for future communication and news from her business plus social media icon links to encourage connections. She can include a show special program, services package, or other product/services offering that is created specifically with this trade show person in mind. If the goal is to schedule a discovery consultation with her to further discuss their needs than the link to schedule an appointment should be on this web page. If no consultation is needed but the product or service can be purchased straight out, a Buy Now button needs to be on the page. If Jo feels it’s vital that her bio be part of the page to position her as a person of authority on this product or service that can certainly be added. See how Jo is now being proactive about getting the information together that she needs to be available and ready for the trade show traffic she hopes to attract. Where there is a will, there is a way. Sometimes the road in business dealings comes with what appears to be a roadblock so put your thinking cap on and think “detour.” If this path “seems” to be blocked than which other ways can be used get you to the outcome you want? There is frequently more than one way to reach an outcome. Knowing how to navigate past something is a skill that will open detour routes around your obstacles.

Increasing revenue via the new membership plans: One option is setting up a single web page to point members to which outlines the various plans and membership fees that can be locked in now – via Buy Now buttons. Another option is an announcement via an email blast with a link to Pay Now and reap a month’s savings while they wait until the launch date.  And thirdly, to phase in these members immediately – giving members accesses and privileges found in the new membership plans pre-launch of what the general public will get. Being a prior member in good standing does come with membership perks, right?

Working around the new website: Jo’s biggest mistake has been that she went to the website designer prematurely. Jo didn’t have a clear plan for what she wanted on the new site. She didn’t know the total pages she wanted. She didn’t have her page copy ready. While the designer has been helpful in working through these areas the projections for completion have been extended more than once. What could have been different? More discussion around pages and having everything together beforehand would have helped. If Jo didn’t know what she needed then having consultation calls prior to beginning would have been wise.

While Jo wants to wait for the website debut with all the changes completed she actually does have a website presence now. This fact shouldn’t be ignored. She does have a website. It may not match her new branding but she can have solo web pages set up with the new branding that will be a page of the updated website later on. It takes some compromise and knowing that sometimes things may not be perfect but are often acceptable. When the choice is between imperfect or nothing. Never choose nothing because your business will suffer.

If you see a bit of Jo in you and the roadblocks you encounter than I encourage you to get out of your own way. Determine what’s important. Focus on that and the outcome you’re striving to achieve then get moving. Know that imperfect is better than nothing. If you need some nudging, reach out. Together we’ll get things moving in the right direction.

The Ice Cream & Services Niche Experiment

ice-creamNeapolitan ice cream is traditionally made of vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream flavors. Each are tried-and-true primary flavors recognized by the masses. Specialty ice cream flavors such as Peach, Black Raspberry, Mint Chocolate Chip, Moose Tracks, Cherry Garcia, Dreamsicle, Salted Caramel, and even Tiger Tail (a Canadian orange and licorice specialty) feel sophisticated and premium in comparison. Ice cream makers of the specialty flavors frequently turn to one of the flavors in a Neapolitan as a base for their recipe and then add in their own twists and ingredients to bring out the essence of each flavor they strive to specialize in making. Consider Fudge Ripple, the base is vanilla with with tons of velvety-smooth chocolate fudge swirls.

Recently I asked friends to tell me their favorite flavor of ice cream. I suspected the answer would be very similar to what I see happening in the virtual assistant business world. Without knowing I would be drawing some parallels more than 40 participants shared their favorites with me. While I wasn’t as concerned about which flavor came out on top – it was a combination of mint chocolate chip and chocolate mint chip coming in at 20%, by the way, the overwhelmingly strong response was that friends preferred a specialty flavor compared to one of the traditional primary flavors of vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry found in a classic Neapolitan. They wanted more than a general flavor.

Let’s compare how tastes in ice cream parallel offerings in business

While you could offer general services such as general administrative support, the cravings (and demand) of the masses shifts to specializing or being an expert in a specific area.  When you look around at how many virtual assistants and virtual professionals (some refer to themselves by their specialty name) assemble their offerings to their customers the large majority hone in on less than five core services and specialize. They may specialize in specific services as copywriting, web design, bookkeeping, newsletters, transcription, or inbound marketing to name a few or they may focus on working within a certain industry where they know the ins-and-outs of that industry – supporting attorneys, real estate agents, or coaches. (More about industry-driven compared to services-driven niches in this blog post.)

The thing to remember is this: if the masses are specializing and have been in business a number of years they must be on to something. Follow the supply-and-demand because all of those people can’t be wrong. If you look at the copywriting on these veteran websites you’ll notice the writing speaks directly to their own audience, using the words and phrases that are easily recognizable to those they serve best. People recognize their own people.

It’s not to say that generalizing won’t bring in the dollars. In the ice cream survey 1% chose vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry. People are buying. Most anyone who chose a specialty flavor given the choice of only vanilla or chocolate could probably make a choice…but would they be as happy choosing between vanilla and say, Moose Tracks? Probably not. Chances are that if you ask the virtual bookkeeper if she ever does admin work for any of her clients she will answer she does on occasion or she subcontracts out to a trusted colleague. The overwhelming bulk of her work happens in her field of specialty.

The starting point may be generalizing while you explore what it means to be a business or while you struggle to determine who you are marketing to (marketing woes can be fixed) and what your services mean to others.

The breakthrough point happens when you notice that certain services are in higher demand and realize that your specialty is shining brightly. It’s like a beacon calling more repeat work in this service and getting referrals for this service. Upon your discovery your marketing generally shifts to talk with these customers and you become their preferred provider. Psst – that specialty may be that you rock at working with Excel spreadsheets, formulas, and pivot tables. If this is the case then tailor your website’s copywriting to speak directly to those who need outstanding Excel support.

Rather than say, “My ideal client is any small business owner that needs help with administrative tasks that are draining them and taking time away from revenue-generating activities.” Be more specific. And if you are someone who favors one of those primary flavors – for example, vanilla – know that even inside being vanilla you can specialize so your people will recognize themselves in your marketing, your conversational language, and in your website copy. When I get a choice between vanilla, French vanilla, and vanilla bean I will lean towards vanilla bean. My palate distinguishes flavor nuisances between vanilla bean and plain vanilla. Your clients can also pick out the differences. (Yes, I’m talking about your UVP – unique value position).

Take a second look at your marketing, your copywriting, and your overall business presence. Does it speak to your people? Will they recognize themselves and know that you truly get them and all the things that are important to them? You know what you must do if it doesn’t.