Marketing

What Keeps Business Owners Up at Night?

Aside from worrying about everything, there are really just a few timeless concerns of most business owners. If you don’t have at least one of these concerns then that is probably a concern. Here they are with a few solutions:

Employees: No matter how well you run your business, it will always be a challenge to manage employees. Common problems are: finding good employees, keeping good employees, and making sure that they are productive. There are several ways to address these concerns that are simple, but no way full-proof. The first step is to take your time hiring and to hire the right people from the beginning. Next, treat your employees well and fair. Lastly, spend the time to train your employees properly so they are productive. It sounds so simple, but maybe that is why it is so difficult.

Taxes: Who wants to overpay their taxes? Not only paying taxes, but staying compliant with all of the numerous tax filings can be a huge burden. Having a good accountant can help to alleviate this concern.

Growing: If you are not growing then your expenses will soon eat up a good portion of your profits. Growing sales is a major concern, however, the focus should be to grow your sales profitably. Aside from smart marketing, each new dollar of sales should be profitable to you, otherwise something is wrong.

Cash flow: Either not knowing where your cash is going or not having enough are both problems. Your accountant should help to explain where your cash is going and why there is a shortage. Common solutions are to improve your accounting systems and procedures, increase sales, implement better collection processes, increase your profit margins, and obtain a line of credit.

Too many hours: I don’t think that you are allowed to stop thinking about your business so technically you work 24 hours a day. How can you work less hours? There are dozens of ways, but a few easy to implement solutions are: better scheduling, delegation, and a commitment to work smarter, not harder.

There are a few other closely-related concerns, such as health insurance for employees, feeling burnt out, and the economy. Unfortunately, we cannot control the economy.

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Follow Your Emotions and Go Broke

According to dictionary.com, one definition of emotion is “an affective state of consciousness in which joy, sorrow, fear, hate, or the like, is experienced, as distinguished from cognitive and volitional states of consciousness.” Emotions can be complex and if you make business and financial decisions based solely on how you feel at the moment without considering facts then this can be a disaster. Here are a few examples and ways to prevent you from making decisions based upon emotions:

Investment decisions: When the stock market tanks and the economy is in a recession, you may be strongly tempted to sell all of your investments, which is most likely the worst decision ever. If you have a good financial advisor then hopefully they can temper your emotions.

Too excited over expected results: A perfect example is when a sales person tells you how much money you will make by placing an ad in their publication because thousands of people will see your ad. It may be true that thousands of people will see your ad, but if they aren’t your target market then your results will be dismal.

Conflicts with customers and employees: If you have a performance issue with an employee, first determine if this is a recurring problem before you pounce on them. Maybe the issue just needs a gentle correction versus more severe actions. What about a customer complaint? Even if you are right, try not to reactive emotionally so as not to let the situation escalate out of control.

There are several techniques that you can use to prevent poor, emotionally-based decisions:

Wait: Don’t be reactive to another person or situation. If the situation requires you to speak or deal with it immediately, then pause, even if just for a moment, before speaking. For other decisions, take a day or more to make a decision. The time spent making a decision should coincide with its importance.

Look at the facts: What you think is true based upon how you feel and what actually is the truth are two different things. Separate feelings from facts.

Seek advice: Speak to a trusted professional, friend, or colleague about your decision. Sometimes just speaking to a third party before making a decision can put things into perspective.

Don’t let your emotions get in the way of your decision making.

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5 Traps to Avoid When Growing Your Business Rapidly

Growing your business, especially growing rapidly, can be a really great accomplishment, but there are dangers when growing too quickly. Here are several traps to avoid to ensure successful growth:

Cash flow: Quite often, a small business will have cash flow issues when growing too rapidly. This is due to a delay of getting paid, while expenses need to be paid for upfront or before getting paid. There are 3 solutions that can help depending upon your situation. The first is to see if you can obtain terms with your suppliers to delay expenditures, second is to obtain a line of credit to support your receivables, and third, which tends to be the hardest, is to build up a cash cushion first.

Finances: As you grow your business, the financial aspect becomes even more crucial to your success. This entails a focus on investing in more robust accounting software, accounting staff and/or accounting services, streamlined processes and procedures, and internal controls, to name a few.

Employees and management structure: Unless you enjoy working 24/7, you need capable managers to manage your employees (you have been hiring more employees, right?). It is easier to have a few people reporting directly to you then several dozen. Also, make sure to acknowledge and reward the loyal employees that helped you to obtain your success.

Personal time and wellness: It is very easy to put in excessive hours to handle the massive growth of your business. There will be times when you need to work extra, but if this becomes the norm then it is easy for your personal relationships to suffer, along with a decline of healthy habits.

Infrastructure and organization: This applies not only to the physical nature of your business, but especially your operations. Have you outgrown the physical space that you occupy? Are you using equipment, technology, or IT that is not keeping up? Are your vendors and advisors able to handle the growth of your business? What about marketing and marketing staff? These are all areas to consider; otherwise, they will act as barriers to your growth.

Growth needs to be profitable, stable, and smart; otherwise, your results can easily go in the opposite direction that you intended. Think long-term, strategically, and surround yourself with the appropriate advisors to help you along your journey.

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Old School Marketing that Still Works

Google AdWords, Facebook ads, Instagram, and email marketing, are just some of the modern ways to market your business. We are told by social media experts that traditional, old-school marketing does not work anymore. Let’s take a closer look, especially as some digital marketing methods have become overly saturated.

Some traditional marketing methods work better than others, which is the case for any type of marketing techniques. Methods, such as phone book advertising, may be dead because no one receives phone books anymore, but here are 4 old school methods that are still alive:

Networking: Developing a network of referral sources by going to networking events, lunches, dinners, etc. and developing strong, trusted, relationships, still works. People always like to do business with and refer their customers to someone they know, like, and trust. It may take some time though.

Pounding the pavement: If you are selling a service or product to restaurants, as an example, then make an effort to visit them. Make sure to know when it is a convenient time to stop by plus it is beneficial to have information to provide to the business owner.

Direct mail: I’ve heard it being said that direct mail is dead. It’s not true. If you are going to commit to direct mail, which can be very costly, make sure that your efforts are very focused and get noticed.

Speaking engagements: What better way to come into contact with people who actually want to hear and know more about your expertise? Even a small group of attendees can produce a significant return on your time and investment, especially if you make it easy to get in touch with you and obtain contact information from those willing to share this information.

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Instead of Taking out More Debt, Do This Instead

One of the first ways most people try to cover a financial shortfall is to incur more debt. Whether this is to support a struggling business or even on a personal level. This may be a solution in some cases or may be used in conjunction with other financial methods. However, there is another solution that may work to solve your shortfall.

Reason for shortfall: Simply put, there will be a shortfall when your income is less than your expenses. Sometimes this is temporary or seasonal and you may be able to predict a shortfall based on business patterns.

The debt solution: Usually, most businesses turn to debt to smooth out the shortfalls. While this may be a viable solution, it should be well though-out and other options should be explored.

Alternative solutions: Aside from needing funds to support a large purchase, if your income is not enough to cover your expenses then instead of first choosing debt, here are a few other options:

Sales: Focus on increasing your sales. An increase in sales will help to increase your bottom line results. Will your expenses increase as a result? Most likely yes, but so should your profit. Aside from industries that have a poor cash conversion cycle, which is a topic all by itself, the additional business activity should help to offset your financial shortfalls.

Expenses: Small businesses should always be conscious of what they are spending their money on. Based on observation, small businesses do not usually spend their money excessively, but they may spend allocate it to areas of their business that do not generate a benefit, such as poorly spent advertising dollars.

Profitability by service/product/client: It may come as a surprise, but most likely there are several aspects of your business that are really not that profitable or may not be profitable at all. If that is the case, then by eliminating these activities your profits will increase as you can focus on increasing sales of higher profit services.

Don’t always go for the “easy” solution, but perhaps a simple, more sweat-producing, long-term solution to help the finances of your business.

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Use the Snowball Effect to Get Better Financial Results

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a snowball effect is a situation in which something increases in size or importance at a faster and faster rate. It sounds too simple and general, but it is a useful principle that can be used to achieve significant results over time. Practical examples of this are as follows, along with how the opposite can also be true:

Savings/Investments: Do you find it hard to save or invest? Start with saving just the smallest amount possible and then build upon there. For example, if you start with a small percentage, such as 2% and increase it by 2% each year, then within 5 years you will be investing 10% of your income. If you are unable to save at all, then you need to either increase your income, decrease your expenses, or possibly do both.

Paying off debt: Want to pay off your personal and business debts quickly? Allocate a small percentage of your income towards paying off your balances, starting with the smallest balance first. Once you have paid off the smallest balance, then use those payments towards the next largest balance. If you start with the largest balance then you will lose the moment due to a lack of sense of achievement.

Increasing your income:  If you increase your income by 10% per year, then it will double in about 7 years and in approximately 5 years if you increase it by 15% per year. Even more modest increases can make an impact over time. Small actions, such as allocating a consistent amount of your time and resources to increase your business volume will add up significantly over time. For example, that one extra phone call (made or received), blog post, additional employee hired, etc. matters. For a multitude of tips, search prior blog posts.

Avoid this approach: Most people want instant results and because of this they either stop too soon or start too strong in an unsustainable manner. There is nothing wrong with strong approaches, but it must be sustainable over the long-term. All you have to do is apply this approach to weight loss and fitness and see how many of your friends and family start an exercise program and eat extremely healthy and then stop after a few months. It is hard to go from no exercise to spending an hour and a half 5 days a week exercising.

Over time your results will get better and better, but give it time to be productive. Think of your actions as planting a fruit tree, as it will take time to bear fruit.

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Business Lessons from a Paperboy

I was a paperboy when I was a kid and I also mowed some of my neighbors’ lawns. These are two activities that have become extinct in modern times. I was fortunate to learn some good business lessons from these entrepreneurial endeavors.

The value of money : If I worked not only hard, but did a good job then I made more money. I learned the value of money, how to save up for larger purchases, spending money wisely, and also saving for the future. Unfortunately, kids and adults nowadays tend to ignore these basic financial principals and choose impulsive, debt-incurring decisions.

Customers are interesting: Each customer is unique and interesting. Some more than others, but if you take the time to learn about your customers then you will find out about their lives, families, interests, personalities, and unique characteristics. Positive interactions create a wonderful experience and help to make your job or business responsibilities easier to handle, especially on a rainy day.

Responsibility: Take responsibility for your actions. There are many things that are out of your control, but many things that are. Be accountable to yourself and others even when it is the hard thing to do.

Sometimes bad stuff just happens: The owners of the newspaper I delivered newspaper for decided to replace us all with adults. I believe we had some notice of the transition, but we had no control. It was just like a corporate layoff or having your largest customer go bankrupt.

I could probably list another dozen or two lessons from my experience as a paperboy, which have stayed with me through all these years.

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Should You Market to Existing Customers or Search for New Ones?

Much of the marketing advice today focuses on marketing to obtain new customers, which is full of excitement and challenges. While you should always be seeking new customers, what about your existing ones? What is most effective?

New customers: It is especially important to market to new customers when you are just starting up and also when trying to grow your business. The benefits are new customers to develop and grow your customer base, to replace ex-customers (there is always natural attrition that is not your fault), and increase cash flows.

There are also several downsides to marketing to new customers. The first downside is that it is much more expensive and time-consuming to obtain new customers. Some studies show that it is about five times more expensive to obtain a new customer than to retain an existing customer. Additionally, depending upon your business, a new customer may be less profitable than an existing customer, which means that your profits will not keep up with your sales growth.

Existing: There are two types of marketing that should be performed for your existing customers. The first should be to develop stronger relationships, loyalty, and ultimately higher customer retention. Unfortunately, many small businesses and professionals greatly lack a plan to keep in touch with their customers and wait until they are contacted by their customers for an urgent need. The second type of marketing should be to increase sales of existing products or services, and also to provide additional products and services to their existing customer base. Studies also show that existing customers are much more likely to purchase from you vs. new customers.

When I was in high school I learned this lesson from my dad after finding out that I needed to sell magazines as a fundraiser. He told me to go see the customers from my old paper route that I had several years back, which I reluctantly did even though I thought that he was wrong. It turns out that I was the one who was wrong and met the sales quota with very little effort.

Hybrid: The older and greyer I become I realize that most things in life are not either or, but are a combination of both. The wisest approach is to market to new customers, make efforts to retain your existing customers, and to offer new products or services to your existing customers.

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When Should Your Parents Stop Being Involved in Your Financial Affairs?

Our parents raised us and shaped who we are today, and there is probably nothing that we can do in comparison to what our parents did for us, except for perhaps raise our own children well. But, when should our parents stop taking charge of our finances, career and/or business?

It is a good for us to always seek counsel from our parents, especially on matters that they may have more experience with or needed expertise. Even when we are in our fifties it is wise to communicate financial issues with a knowledgeable parent. However, make sure to separate having trust in someone versus their ability to competently advise you.

Once you are in the workforce and are an adult, then you need to deal with your employer directly. Several examples have been shared with me regarding parents contacting their adult child’s previous employer over payroll issues. Even worse is that in those situations the adult child was a professional that advises others! Again, feel free to seek the advice of your parents, but do not have them act as your “proxy.” I can just picture this now, “This is Mr. Smith, and I am calling to let you know that Timmy will not be at work today because he is under the weather. Please cancel his meetings with the executive vice-presidents of Fortune 500 Co.”

Sometimes you may own and operate a business and employ one of your parents, which does happen occasionally. Your parent may be able to give you insight that you are not seeing regarding employees, customers, or finances. However, unless you hired your parent as a strategic advisor because they have developed successful companies in the past, or the CEO, which small business owners actually are, then your parent should not be actively deciding the direction of the company or connections with key people.

Anecdotally, it seems that adults who enforce boundaries with their parents make better financial decisions, are more successful, and have more confidence.  I’ll let the psychologists further elaborate on this topic.

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Want a Better Business? Focus on Recurring Revenues!

There are more ways to make money in business that can be listed. However, one mostly overlooked business model by a majority of small businesses is the recurring revenue model. Larger businesses already know this and are taking advantage of the benefits. Here are some pros and cons and how to implement the recurring business model:

Pros: Recurring revenues, specifically monthly recurring revenues, provide a steady stream of predictable cash flow. Since you can easily predict your income you can plan ahead for the amount of expenses needed to support your revenues, such as employees, technology, supplies, inventory, etc. This will in turn significantly lower your expenses and help to increase your profit margin. Additionally, a business with recurring revenues has a much higher value than one-shot deals. Think homebuilder (one-shot) vs. a subscription service like Netflix (monthly revenues).

Cons: Many small business owners love the large payments that they receive when they land a one-time or short-term project, which do not exist with the recurring revenue model for the most part. It can take time to build a recurring revenue business, but an existing business should realistically be able to see a massive change with a one year period.

How to Implement: Take a look at the services and/or products that you provide, and determine which ones can be modified to fit the recurring revenue model. For example, a marketing company that helps clients with social media can develop a package to perform certain tasks each month in exchange for a recurring monthly fee.  Virtually any business can turn at least a portion of their business into recurring revenues

The recurring business model is not costly or difficult to implement, but rather a low-risk, high-reward activity. It takes courage and openness to change your business, but it will be worth it.

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