Times are tough, success is hard to come by, even for businesses that have been around for a long time, well and truly beating the hoodoo that stalks new businesses, 9/10 failing in the first few years.
Somebody I have known for a long time, who has run a small businesses delivering a range of very good products to consumers via FMCG retailers is about to go to the wall. 25 years of effort and commitment about to slide down the dunney leaving him with nothing, not even his house, left to him by his parents.
Worse than sad. Tragic.
Many things factor in the eventual failure of this business, but one stands out starkly.
Poor management of his cash.
There are two sides to the challenge of managing cash.
The first is the cash itself.
In this case, from week to week even day to day, he knew how much was in the bank, but when the big bills came in, it has been a real struggle to pay them, because he was not adequately forecasting the flow of cash, giving him the opportunity to adjust activity as necessary. His bank has been unsympathetic, creditors demanding, and debtors increasingly reluctant to part with their cash, even in this current super low interest rate environment. Meanwhile costs have increased inexorably, way out of line with his ability to extract a corresponding increase in the prices he can charge in the marketplace.
Not pretty, and all too common.
The second is how the cash you have is used, the level of productivity you extract from it. Cash by itself is worthless, its value is in what you do with it. Purchase inventory, pay staff, provide a factory and all the other stuff we call the costs of being in business. After all that is done, most want some reward for the long hours and stress of being in a small business, and then to have some left over to go towards that world trip on retirement.
The productivity of the cash is not measured by the amount you spend, but by what you get for it, and small businesses rarely spend enough time considering ways to increase the productivity of their cash, concentrating on the absolute amounts coming in and going out. Challenge is that there is no explicit measure for cash productivity, and it is not a notion recognised in the accounting packages everyone uses, the accounting standards, or most peoples mindsets. Best we usually seem to do is have a few ratios like the “Quick” ratio which measures current assets over current liabilities, which are not regularly tracked performance measures, and have room for interpretation and thus manipulation.
Stock turn, debtors days Vs creditors days, Sales or Gross margin/employee, product value produced/realisable value of a piece of machinery, production value/production employee, time taken/task, and many others. There are thousands of ways to measure the productivity of the cash tied up in any business, and every business will be different. However, there will be a few measures for each that capture the essential nature of the business, where an improvement will deliver measurable financial results.
You should be seeking and using these key measures of cash productivity in your business.
Back to the case of my acquaintance.
He did not manage his cash flow well enough. Failure to adequately forecast and thus manage the ebbs and flows of cash into and out of his business, and as a result having to put in place very expensive short term funding in one way or another meant he was always chasing his cash-tail. He also did not measure, almost at all, the productivity of his cash, allowing the ” hidden” costs of poor cash productivity to kill him. Despite his Income statement, often called the Profit and Loss statement, telling him he was making a modest profit, he has hit the wall.
A sad but unfortunately common story, one I hope you are not seeing first hand.
Today, February 24, 2015 would have been Steve Jobs 60th birthday.
All lives are valuable, few add as much to others as did that of Jobs. I can only guess he is currently hanging off his icloud lecturing St Pete on the shortcomings of the design.
There are thousands better qualified than me to comment on his achievements, but the lessons for those running small businesses are clear:
The value of innovation
Focus, focus and more focus.
The inestimable value of being different, bucking convention, and connecting the dots where others see no connection.
The great 1997 “Crazy ones” ad positioned Apple so powerfully in peoples minds that it remains today as perhaps the greatest pieces of positioning communication ever.
Apple under Jobs disrupted markets and created new ones. The music and telephony markets of 2015 bear almost no resemblance to those of 2001. Consumers globally behave differently as a result of Jobs insights.
Few companies or certainly individuals can claim to have had so much impact on the world as Jobs, and paradoxically, as he jealously guarded the proprietary nature of Apples digital ecosystem, he shared his insights and experiences widely, such as in the terrific Stanford commencement address, and captured on his death in these quotes and cartoons .
Seth Godin called Jobs a “ruckusmaker” in his post, but I think he made more than a ruckus, he made a hole in the universe.
Vale Steve Jobs.
8 factors to build a great site
First thing you need to do is decide what you want the site to deliver. Once you have that, you can build the site around the objective. A website has really only two possible purposes: first, it may be commercial, second, it may be a hobby. If you decide that the latter is your sites purpose, save yourself some time, and stop reading now.
However, should it be a commercial objective, the following will have some value for you.
- A headline with a hook. You may get a couple of seconds at best or catch a visitors attention, you must do it with the headline. There are plenty of posts around that tell you how to write a killer headline, but however you do it, you need to be able to hook and engage a casual reader. A great headline focuses on a problem that the reader needs solved. It can be a list, question, or many other forms, but is must be about them, not you.
- Visual and text alignment. The image on the page must reflect what the page, and site are about. Humans are visual animals, we impute a lot of information from visual cues, make sure they are all aligned.
- Logical progression. Being visual we run from headline to sub head, to sub-sub head, and expect there to be a logical progression if information. In the event we do not find it, our minds meander off somewhere, and a visitor will “bounce”.
- Uncluttered clarity. Unclear, disorganised content is death to a casual visitor. They want to find what they are looking for with a minimum of fuss, trouble, and clicks. Make it hard to navigate and they are gone before you know it, probably never to return. In many ways this is similar to the point above, but clarity is more than a logical progression of headlines, it is also the layout, and visitor centric journey through the levels of information.
- Visitor centric page names and headers. A site should be all about the reader, not the site owner. “About us” is perhaps the most common, as well as the worst page name on the web. A visitor does not care about you, they care about them, and what you can do for them. For heavens sake call them “how we can help” or “problems we solve” or something, anything other than “About us”. (perhaps you can hear a hobby horse)
- Relevance and clarity. Irrelevant material must be banned. Just having a video for the sale of having a video, because somebody told you humans were visual animals, or because the bloke down the road has one is stupid.
- Clear, easy to use, call to action. Does not matter what it is, click here for info, download the research, even like us, it has to be clear what you want a visitor to do.
- Mobile editing. More than just “mobile friendly” you site needs to be “mobile edited”, Mobile sites play a different role to desktops. Mobile fills a more short term role satisfying an immediate information need, rather than being a tool for research. Therefore much of the information and links that are usually on a website are superfluous to a mobile, just serving to slow down delivery and extend the “finger-flicking” necessary to get the answer.
None of this is easy, a website that delivers commercial value rarely happens by accident, particularly now when there are over a billion sites plus the social media platforms vying for the limited attention of your audience.
There are many opportunities to vote for the worst website of all time, this is mine as it combines unsurpassed zealotry with a psychedelic “sicko” design that is a stomach churner.
Build your brand on solid foundations if you want it to last.
This is the fourth on the series focusing on how to beat the supermarket gorillas at their own game, by building a brand that has a loyal and evangelistic group of customers . The original summary post, here, followed up by the expanded first post on the supermarket business model, the third advising to be savvy with data, and the most recent suggesting some ideas to leverage category management for the benefit of small businesses.
Reaching consumers via supermarket retailers remains a tough game, one in which the supermarkets set all the rules, own the referee, and choose who can play with them. In other words, they are holding all the cards, so to remain in the game, you have to be smart, focused and innovative.
Building a brand is not something that happens overnight, rather it happens over an extended time, and requires vision, patience, and investment. However, the fantastic opportunities for small businesses to play with the big league opened up by digital technology has bent the rules a little.
So, following are the key considerations in your brand building challenge:
- Know your starting point. As with any journey, knowing where you are now, where you want to be, and having some idea of the road in between those points is vital to success. Therefore the logical starting point is a review of your current competitive and strategic environment, along with a critical review of your own capabilities, distinctive or otherwise, and the points that differentiates you from your competitors. A part of your starting point is a clear understanding of what drives success in your business, what drives costs and revenues, how the business model works, and reacts to stress. Being self aware is as important in business as it is in personal relationships.
- Have a clear picture of your customer in mind. “Customer profiling” is for small businesses one of the opportunities they have that can differentiate them from their bigger competitors, but it takes the will to be able to say “No”, to define who you want to attract, and build your brand offering and communications to appeal to those people specifically. It makes little difference if you are B2B or B2C, the same rules apply. The closer you come to being able to define your ideal customer as a person you know, the better. A real part of this exercise is to be able to think like a customer. Some large companies now employ anthropologists to spend time in the homes of their target customers to see how they operate in the context that they are seeing as an opportunity to offer a branded product to deliver value of some sort
- Have a clear view of your brand as a person. Similarly, defining your brand with human traits is of vital importance. People relate to people not brands, therefore to build empathy, a consumer has to be able to impute behavioral characteristics, beliefs, and personality to your brand.
- Build a brand differentiated from competitors in some ways of vital importance to customers. There is little point in being the same, or very similar to everyone else when dealing with supermarkets. Negotiations then just becomes an auction between suppliers for shelf space, and once you have succeeded there, you face a reverse auction for the consumers dollars. Neither are winning strategies. Small businesses by their nature do not have the scale to serve everyone, so having a clear offer to a small group, sufficiently powerful that they are not prepared to accept a substitute is the desired outcome. If you can sit in front of one of the gorillas, knowing you only want distribution in one, and knowing that at least some of your customers will be prepared to either change their store choice to get your product, or build a bit of loyalty to their current store because it stocks your product, you have some leverage in the discussions. It is all about negotiation leverage, and differentiation that delivers value to consumers gives leverage.
- Aim for the long term. ‘Lifetime customer value” has become a bit of a cliché in recent times, but that does not mean it is of less value as an idea. Building in the triggers that will bring our existing customers back time and time again is a far better way of building a brand and a business than to be constantly out fishing for new customers. The digital tools now available have given us a wide array of tools that assist in the calculation of the cost of acquisition and retention of customers. Marketing expenditure can be now absolutely accountable for results, and sensitive to even very small changes in tactics, and this is a potent tool small business can use against their bigger rivals, and to build brand loyalty. Knowing what sorts of marketing activity engages existing customers is of way more value than going fishing for new ones.
- Consistency and predictability. These two words are factors that always come up in consumer research seeking to identify the foundations of good brands. Consumers know what they stand for, know they will have those things delivered with no surprises. However, the notion of consistency goes further, to the way the brand is packaged, advertised, an positioned, they are all consistent over along period of time, change coming as evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Consumers also want to be entertained, intrigued, and engaged with their brands, and that will not happen if they are boring, so the communications have to walk that fine line of being consistent, while being constantly fresh and interesting. Few succeed, but those that do become significant players in their niche, weather that niche be a global market, like Apple, or a local market.
- Differentiation. Whatever else you develop your brand to be, and to do, make it different to everything else out there that could fill the same customer need. Without your own distinctive identity, you will be simply one of the forgotten brands that fight for shelf space on the basis of price, and then all you do is deliver profits to the supermarkets. However, differentiation does not mean a different pack size, or colour scheme, it means genuinely solving the consumers problem or addressing the “job to be done” in a different way, one that adds value by reflecting the job. You must however be very focused about what value you add to who, and why they should buy your brand over the other guy. The final implication here is that you know your competitor well, well enough to counter their obvious and logical competitive responses in the manner in which you build your brand.
- Communications must be in the customer language. Brands that communicate in the language customers use in the context in which the product is used have a chance of success, as the customers relate to the context and language. Many years ago I was a part of the team, an observer really as I was just a young graduate, that created the “you ought to be congratulated” advertising that gave Meadow Lea margarine a stranglehold on the Australian market for 30 years. In a market with many heavily advertised brands, Meadow Lea held a share of more than three times its closest rival for many years. The line, and the ads themselves spoke in the language of the primary customer, busy, smart women with families who were juggling multiple roles and responsibilities.
- Plan and integrate your marketing activity across platforms. In the “old days” the scope of available marketing activity was limited to the paid media, paid public relations, sales promotions and a few others. Now, that has changed, and the menu of available marketing tools has exploded. This huge array of options also makes life for the marketers complicated and dangerous, so great care must be taken to be consistent in your message and positioning across the whole array of marketing tools that are employed, and you need to be employing a range of them, rather than a few, depending on the behavior of your customers. These days, social media platforms play a huge role in the development of an opportunity to sell, but in fact they do not yet do much in the way of brand-building. The core of much brand building activity is your website, to which you drive potential customers so they can check you out, and existing customers to reinforce the value of your brand in more “long form” ways like recipes, hints, detailed information, whatever is relevant to the consumers relationship with the product category and your brand. However, the most common problem with websites is that people “set and forget”. They need to be living creatures, fed and nurtured like the family pet if they are to deliver a return.
Two final thoughts.
- Even if you do all the above right, better than anyone else, but your product sucks, you will have wasted all that effort , time and money. The consumer is not a fool, they will not mistake good marketing for a good product, at least, not more than once.
- If you want your brand to last, to stand the test of time and competition, build it on solid foundations, but make it flexible enough to adjust to consumers as they evolve.
Being different is fundamental to being profitable, as if you are the same as everyone else in everything you do, then the discriminator becomes price, and being the cheapest is rarely a profitable strategy.
Often this notion is written about as a ‘Unique Selling Proposition”, useful, but in this connected world, you have to be able to demonstrate your value before you have a chance at a sale, therefore it helps to have the value proposition at the forefront of your thinking.
If consumers think value is what you have to offer, they will buy it.
First, a definition.
A UVP is something that clearly differentiates you from your opposition, it creates a point around which your target market can choose you simply because the others do not have what you do, and therefore cannot offer the same value. This does not mean you have to be the “best”, few would argue that a Hyundai is a better car than a Mercedes, but amongst its peers, it offers more electronic “bling” than the others, for the same money. If the bling is what you want, buy a Hyundai.
Second, make your UVP as clear as crystal. There is little point making the investment in identifying and creating the supporting infrastructure of a UVP, and then not clearly telling people what it is. This also acts as a focal point to attract the sorts of customers you specifically want, as they will be attracted by the UVP, others less so, so perhaps they go elsewhere. This creating of a “choice” mechanism is a powerful marketing tool.
Third, how do you identify and develop a UVP?
There are a lot of tools, and tricks, but no substitute for thoughtful, creative and extensive market and customer research and feedback. There is however, a relatively simple series of questions you can ask yourself to uncover the UVP.
- Identify clearly the offers of your major competitors. What they do well, what they do poorly, any guarantees they have in place, what they can do that you cannot, and vice versa, and any other factors relevant to a sale in your category, like geography, parking availability, speed of service, and so on.
- Understand the trends in your industry, in order to try and anticipate where it may be heading. Things such as the impact of technology, regulation, industry imposed standards, and the general levels of quality, service, and delivery that apply.
- Focus on your target market. Every market has characteristics of product, customer, business model, distribution channels and common cost and revenue drivers. Understand as completely as you can what these all are, looking for the typical distribution of characteristics for each parameter of importance. For example, if you are selling men’s suits, the target market is men, identify the typical or average customer, he may be 40 years old, a middle ranking executive, with two kids a wife who works, mortgage and 2 cars. However, that doesn’t not mean that single 25 year olds may not buy, it is just that there are less of them currently, they are less likely to buy, and almost certainly, they do not buy multiple suits.
- Identify your specific ideal customer. The better you can identify the specific person you are targeting the better you will be able to craft a UVP of value to them, and communicate it. To continue the analogy above, 25 year old single men may not need as many suits as their 40 year old counterpart, but the one they want is not for every day wear, so they may be prepared to pay much more for the quality and styling you can offer. It may also be that your target customer is that 25 year olds partner?
When you think that an old head that has done this sort of exercise many times may be able to help, give me a call.
Social media is usually lumped in with digital marketing, as if it is all the same stuff, part of the same marketing toolbox.
There is some overlap, significantly around the advertising that occurs on social platforms, but not as much as most just assume.
Think about being at a party, the bloke in the corner holding forth to a small group of people, arguing a point of view, taking questions, and debating the foundations of his views. The person on the right is not talking, not asking questions, but they are listening.
Are they engaged in the conversation??
Of course they are.
Do they want to be sold to?
Probably not, they are just listening, at some point of they want some clarification, to actively instead of passively engage in the conversation, or to be sold to, they will ask a question, make a comment, or otherwise change their engagement from passive to active.
Social media is the same, a few people are engaging overtly, liking, retweeting, commenting, sharing, and so on, but those “listening” can also be passively engaging, absorbing the flow of the conversation, and they matter.
By contrast to social media platforms, email or digital marketing takes a message, information, or a sales pitch and sends it to you, expecting an outcome, one of which can be that you ignore it and perhaps unsubscribe.
The response rates to email marketing are way better than stuffing letterboxes as we did in the old days, which delivered 1% if you were really lucky, had a great offer and a good copywriter, simply because it was almost random. The best you could do to profile the potential customers was broad brush demographics of the location of the letterboxes to be stuffed.
Email or digital marketing however can be hugely more effective, as you market to a list, people who have expressed some interest in hearing what you have to say, and which you can slice and die in all sorts of ways to have a highly targeted and personalised communication that offers the option to becoming a conversation, at the initiation of the receiver.
The other point to remember is that everyone influences someone.
Gaining some sort of commitment is the first stage of any commercial process, and repeats continuously up till, and after a transaction takes place. Sufficient commitment to click an opt in button, allocate the time to a webinar, look at your product demonstration, conduct a trial, or commit to a purchase, all require that in a variety of ways, the seller has in some way engaged with you, and built your commitment to them.
It does not matter if you are BHP, a local tradesman or the suburban lawyer, addressing these four pillars will bring you business.
- Demonstrate you care. People will be attracted to those who care about what they care about, and who care about them. Showing interest by asking questions and genuinely listening to the answers and responding appropriately demonstrates you care. Next time you phone someone and you get a recorded message telling you that your call is important to them, and then wait 10 minutes to be connected to a call centre in Bangalore, you know they do not really care.
- Demonstrate you can be trusted. Nobody wants to have anything to do with those they do not trust. It follows that demonstrating you can be trusted, that you do what you say you will do becomes a fundamental foundation of a relationship, even a passing one. pretty important. Trust is the foundation of any relationship, and in a commercial one, a money back guarantee usually goes a long way.
- Demonstrate your influence. Being able to get things done, to cut through the complication and hubris that exists in most situations builds confidence in your capacity to deliver on your undertakings. This is sometimes a bit challenging, particularly in the early stages of a relationship, but there are usually ways. Some time ago, I had some work done on my house, and the architect as part of his service took on the task of dealing with the notoriously pedantic and difficult local council. No big deal, no fuss, just part of the service. Clearly he knew who to talk to get things done, and as it turned out, he did.
- Demonstrate your authority. In the past your title used to be a demonstration of authority, but no longer. Just being a lawyer of accountant, or the CEO used to be enough, but we now know that these titles just assure us that there is still a pulse. In these transparent times, authority is usually earned rather than bestowed. Finding ways to demonstrate the authority of your knowledge, leadership and position is a marker to those who may be in a position to seek out your services or products. Social proof is rapidly becoming the marker of authority, the number of comments and shares of a post, speaking at industry gatherings, published material, all point to some level of authority. Of course organisational authority is still important, but significantly less so than yesterday, and tomorrow, it will become just a label.
Your marketing challenge is tangled up in these four parameters of relationship building, and working on them all, tiny piece by tiny piece will improve your outcomes measurably in a relatively short time.
Call me when you need help, or trawl through the years of accumulated knowledge demonstrated in these 1400 odd posts.
9/10 small businesses fail in the first 3 years, leaving behind a pile of financial and emotional debt that generally weighs heavily on the “owner”.
Often, the failure comes as a surprise to the owner, full of optimism and the sense of freedom and commitment that usually goes with a start-up, irrespective of the nature of the start-up, globally targeted tech innovation, or a sandwich shop in the local mall. However, the signs are usually pretty obvious to an observer who knows the symptoms.
- Mistaking sales for profitability
- Having the wrong customers
- Not managing their cash
- Not knowing the difference between cash flow and net profit on the P&L
- Losing sight of the reason they are in business
- Poor allocation of limited resources, particularly time
- Outsourcing tasks to the cheapest available resource, rather than the most appropriate
- Not understanding the detail of their cost drivers
- Thinking that the competition thinks and acts like them
- Mistaking speed for efficiency and productivity
- Not treating existing customers like gold
- Not recognising when the horse is dead
- Poor hiring decisions under pressure to fill a seat
- Not leveraging the digital productivity tools now available
- Not understanding their primary customers sufficiently well
- Failing to leverage obvious collaborative opportunities to engage and serve customers
- Chasing the next customer rather than obsessing about the current.
- Taking the money of anything that walks through the door
- Not being able to say “No”
- Missing some of the regulatory stuff, particularly in relation to staff
- Not understanding and leveraging the digital tools available
- Failure to plan
- Failure to recognise when an existing plan is leading to a dead end
- Unclear business model
- Inconsistent application of the business model
- Price increase “phobia”
The list can go on and on, I am sure you can add some, but people still keep trying. Being prepared to work 18 hours a day,(or often just being sucked in) be the worst paid in the place, risking the house after writing a 100 page business plan for the bank against a template you got from the web that you know they will never read, and being patronised by employees of some institution whose riskiest act today will be to have chicken instead of ham on their sandwich.
Who would not want to work for themselves?
In 20 years of being such a dumb-arse, I have seen all the above, and more, while usually making less than I did as a corporate operator, but reveling in the personal and intellectual freedom. If that experience could help you to avoid that “oh shit why didn’t I see that “step, give me a call.
For years I have followed Seth Godin’s musings, ideas and presentations, a remarkable collection of original thoughts, metaphors, instruction, and repackaging of the complicated into the simple, shared with enormous generosity.
This post that came out this morning, his productivity pyramid, is such a simple idea, bits of which most of us have considered in one way or another, but it takes a deeply inventive mind to articulate it in such a simple way.
I think it was Michelangelo who said something like “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”, may have been Mark Twain, perhaps you can correct me, but irrespective, simplicity is really hard, and this is really simple.
I just added the visual.
The purpose of a website is either commercial, or it is a hobby.
Assuming in most cases it is the former, the usual commercial rules apply, just because you have a website does not mean everyone apart perhaps from your mother will be excited.
So, to have a successful web presence the same 5 basic rules of marketing that have always applied, still apply:
- Understand the drivers of behaviour of those in your market
- Have a clear objective.
- Have a plan that lays out the “roadmap” to achieve the objective.
- Execute against the plan, but enabling learning from experience to occur whilst you do.
- Have a few key metrics to track performance towards the objective.
You can make this as complicated as you like, but it will generally not help, just confuse. Nowadays however, navigating through the digital tools and options available has become a job for a specialist, and that does not mean the pimply teenager down the road who is a Facebook maven.
A website is just another tool of commerce, the starting place that enables small businesses to communicate and compete in ways unimaginable 20 years ago. The digital revolution has also spawned a host of further tools to enable relationships and transactions, but the basics of finding a customer, engaging with them and moving towards a transaction have not changed one bit.
For small businesses too compete, they need to do a few things well:
- Have a really detailed customer profile. Demographic, geographic and behavioural knowledge and insights are what enables them to target messages specifically, as if to one person.
- Create and/or curate information of interest to this specific audience. Information that alerts, informs, and demonstrates your knowledge, has the opportunity to at some point in the targets future, to give them a reason to engage. There are myriads of tools to do this, from those that scrape social media platforms for key words, to following thought leaders and repackaging their ideas, to creating interest focussed newsletters automatically. However, don’t believe that any of this is easy, as you will be sorely disappointed.
- Open the chance of engagement. By simply making the target aware of the content, and giving them a reason to stay on your site or platform, you open the opportunity for engagement. This is where the tools really come in, to sort, organise, and direct the appropriate content automatically once set up. The reach of social media into most segments is now extremely deep, but increasingly the platforms are seeking to be paid for the provision of that reach to you. Advertising, but once you have someone’s attention, by whatever means, you need to make sure you do something useful with it, as you may not get a second chance.
- Engage the targets with the content, by demonstrating that you are the one who can and will deliver value at the time of a transaction.
- Enable the transaction. Often this doe not mean buying over the web, it is much broader, and encompasses all the elements of the sales as well as the logistics channels and after sales service.
- Retain the faith of the customer for future sales, and turn them into a source of referrals for you to their networks.
Again I say, none of this is easy, but the point is that none of it was available to small business just 20 years ago. There has been an immense democratisation of opportunity, make sure you use it, and when you need assistance, call me.
Time to think
Those who run small businesses have some very common challenges.
Significant amongst them is insufficient time to get everything done that needs to be done, and no time left over for “self”
The old cliché working “in the business and not on the business” is a cliché because it is appallingly true.
Most, if not all have also heard about the “urgent but not important to Important but not urgent” continuum, certainly I have written about it in the past.
However, taking some concrete action to free up the time is harder than the easy clichés of business coaches and consultants, so here are a few added steps to take along the path. They come from the “Lean” thinking movement that has so profoundly altered the way we manufacture things over the last 25 years.
First: distinguish between policies and procedures.
Policies are the things that deliver a framework for activities an decision making. Think about it as Google earth focussed on a large region. You can see the shape and limits, but not the detail of the roads, railways and suburban areas. Procedures by contrast are a step by step expression of the sequence of activities that together contribute to the outcome. To continue the analogy, they are the GPS, giving you street by street instructions on how to get from point A to point B.
Second: Make a list of all the things that are recurrent activities, and priorities them against a list of questions you ask yourself:
- Is it required for the business to function efficiently?
- Are there repeatable steps with specific start and end points and efficiency/productivity metrics?
- Does the task have to be done by me, or could someone else do it
- Is it the best use of my time?
Third: Be ruthless about eliminating those tasks that do not add value that make no contribution to your ability to serve customers, and by delegating to others.
Fourth: write the procedures to make the tasks that remain routine, repeatable, and robust. You generally have two options in writing procedures.
- Have a roundtable with all those involved in the task, and map it out on a whiteboard, or butcher paper, capturing all the interactions that occur.
- Take a bit of time, and keep a record for a couple of times the job gets done, then whiteboard it to standardise, and eliminate the unnecessary loops and rework that almost inevitably you will uncover. Think about it like building a house. Start with the foundations, then progressively fill in the external walls, internals walls, followed by the details of the fittings and fixtures.
Once documented, test the procedure a couple of time to “stress test” it, then delegate.
Fifth: Outsource where possible those tasks that take a capability not readily available in your business, or where there is a specialist available who can do it better and quicker, and therefor in the long run cheaper, than you.
Voila! For most small business owners, 4 hours a day.
Australia day 2015
On Australia day for the last few years, I have made a point of reflecting on the place we live.
The post on January 26 2012, called for a mature debate on the challenges we face as a nation, the real, long term issues, rather than the diet of puffery and bullshit we normally are asked to digest. Quaint idea that, asking for a national debate on real issues.
In 2013, I asked what it was we wanted the place to look like in another generation, and I guess some degree of pessimism came through the words, again nothing.
Last year, 2014, I focussed on what I thought would be the defining trend that would drive our decision making, individually and for the nation, Data, and the essential truths that data can convey. This turned out to be absolutely wrong, about as wrong as anyone can be, and is again a salient lesson to those with a crystal ball hidden somewhere. Small businesses have not embraced data, Governments continue to hide it, and politicians use it to distort, mislead, and often fabricate, and we still take it on the snout, in relatively good humour.
So much for the transparency to be delivered by the internet.
This year, 2015, I will not be so grandiose or presumptuous.
Nick Kyrgios has just fought his way into the Aussie Open semi-final comprehensively replacing Tomic the tank as our favourite tennis player, the Canberra shuffle is back in full swing, educating our kids seems to be on the hands of kids, the boom of the last few years is comprehensively over and the lack if intelligent and bi-partisan comment and policy development that would enable the economy to weather the coming storm is supplanted by another call from the opposition leader for a debate on the coming republic.
For heavens sake, can we be adult about this?
Australia is the greatest country in the world, our economy is for reasons of luck and good management 20 years ago in pretty good shape relatively, but we are still failing to recognise that the piper needs to be paid now if the prosperity we have enjoyed will be handed to our children, some farsighted decisions need to be made irrespective of the political cycle.
I guess I am asking too much, pass the bottle, please.
Courtesy Geoff Roberts http://tinyurl.com/o2mcd4p
Over the years working with B2B clients, it has become evident that the sales personnel are often tied up doing other stuff, things that have nothing to do with selling.
Following up unpaid invoices, checking inventory, trying to shuffle production schedules to accommodate something that has already been stuffed up, doing forecasts, filling in annual budget forms, chasing slow paying debtors, the list goes on.
Sales people are employed to sell, and a large percentage of this other stuff is not customer facing, but just admin that somebody thinks may be necessary, and often is, but is not contributing to the next sale.
My answer is to rename the sales function “Revenue Generation” and to ensure that every activity that is not directly related to “RG” is moved elsewhere, automated, or best yet, eliminated. Sales has become just a generic functional term, it no longer carries the urgency and importance so necessary to keep everyone in jobs, and customers coming back. Revenue generation by contrast, seems to communicate that necessary urgency and importance.
When you have done all that, you will have freed up typically 30-50% of a sales persons time, and logically, that enables them to sell more (or perhaps you need less of them).
However, there are 3 further steps to be taken:
- Only have revenue generators who genuinely love what they do, and understand and can articulate the value they and your products can deliver for their customers.
- Only have revenue generators who are committed to doing what they say that will do
- Have everyone in the organisation recognising that irrespective of their role and function on a chart, their real job is to contribute to the process by which revenue is generated, and who will not let any superficial, political or shiny new thing, get in the way.
This is all pretty easy to say, but hard to do in the face of a culture that dictates the way things are done, but clarifying ‘Why” things are done always helps.
Need help? Drop me a line.
Interactive content adds greater value
The mantra “Content is King” is now about three years old, geriatric in web years.
Now almost everybody is doing it, certainly almost everyone small businesses need to compete successfully against to survive.
Content is rapidly becoming a commodity, something to be “sourced” as you would a new printer cartridge, or replacement part for a bit of machinery, the only real challenges left are to know where to look, how to sort through the options, and how much to pay.
Given this is the case, how should forward thinking marketers, particularly those on small budgets set about differentiating themselves amongst the welter of competing attention grabbing options available?
The answer is pretty easy to say, but not so easy to execute.
Find ways to actively engage the individuals in your market with your content . Just getting them to read a post, or even download a white paper is no longer good enough, you have to find the means to put their brains into gear, rather than just letting them operate on autopilot.
Turn a white paper into an interactive performance measurement tool,
Build a quizzes and games into your infographics,
Create questionnaires to complement your best practise databases,
Throw out the product brochure, and let customers design their own product and add the extras.
There are a few services evolving to assist the process, several tailored for specific social media platforms, but the hardest bit is to find the creativity, imagination, and market insight that will allow you to understand the interactions with your product and its competitors sufficiently well to know what sort of activity will engage them.
Get it right, and you will also get to gather an extraordinary array of customer behavioural data that can be leveraged, delivering value to your business and your customers.
Great communication is a two way street!
Working with a colleague over Christmas to assist in the development of a presentation that was a really important opportunity to build her personal brand with the audience. Creating presentations that work is a process, and hard work, so to start, we broke the task of building the presentation down into three components.
- Twitter Pitch. Twitter has its detractors, but the huge unintended benefit for those communicating ideas as distinct from the minutiae of their lives is that it forcse us to distill ideas into 140 characters, what I call the” twitter pitch“. Applying this discipline to the preparation of a presentation is usually the same sort of challenge as presented by developing the elevator pitch for your business. In this case, the challenge was to articulate in one sentence the central idea that was to be conveyed. Not easy.
- Know what you want to happen. Clarifying this really has three parts:
- Define what it is that you want the audience to know as a result of the presentation
- Know what you want the audience to feel during and after the presentation
- Know exactly what it is you want them to do with the information you provide, and deliver them the means to do it. A “call to action” if you like.
- Create a structure for the presentation that delivers on the points above. Again, there are three factors at work:
- Have a logical, sequential structure of some sort for the presentation.
- Gain the trust of the audience, listening but not believing is a waste of everyone’s time.
- Do it with feeling. People rarely remember facts, but they do clearly remember the emotions they felt while the facts were being recited. I do not remember the date of the assassination of JFK, but I do remember (yes, I am that bloody old) exactly what I was doing at the time, and how I and those around me reacted to the news.
Delivering a presentation is a difficult to obtain opportunity to sell. An idea, a product, your skills, the reason your business exists, it varies, but the common point is that those in the room have given you their time and attention, their most valuable resource, don’t waste it for them, and miss the opportunity for you.
On a final note, you may also notice that all of the above is in “threes”. For some reason I do not understand, the human brain is very efficient at remembering things in threes. If you organise your presentation into blocks of threes, you will be better able to manage the flow, remember the sequences and words, and deliver.
None of this is easy, and rarely is a great presentation prepared alone, and it is never done at the last moment and without practise and a critical eye.
Need a critical eye, and sounding board? I can help.
Most would acknowledge that word of mouth is the most effective marketing channel there is, then promptly forget that fact as they set about preparing and implementing their programs.
Discounts, bundles, making ads, facebook likes, social media mentions, retweets and shares, and many other activities all get a guernsey, but when was the last time you explicitly set about creating word of mouth, real life endorsements, Margie from Marrickville telling her neighbor over the fence that your product is the best thing since sliced bread?
How much of your marketing budget has as its specific aim to create personal endorsements?
We all know that “WOM” is the original marketing channel, so I was surprised to see this research that reflected that only 28% of small businesses when asked to identify their best marketing channel noted Word of mouth in its proper place.
Have we just forgotten the basics, been seduced by the the welter of choices available?
Perhaps it is just the sample, choices, or that it is from the US, but I asked a small group last week a similar question, albeit open-ended, and word of mouth came in at about the same level.
We can now target messages to specific behaviors practiced by very discrete subgroups, why would we not seek to ensure we deliver outstanding value to them, then encourage them to spread the word amongst those they know who are similarly interested?
Word of mouth, the original and still the best social media platform.
Writing a blog is hard work, great to do as it forces you to think critically, read widely, seek to question your own preconceptions, and expand your own expertise, so it can be intellectually rewarding. It is nevertheless time consuming hard work.
As such, it can be seen either as a hobby, or an investment, and if it is the latter, there should be a return on the time and energy expended.
For most small businesses, it can easily become a chore, which is why so many fall back on some formulaic way, just to pump out words and fill a schedule, and end up doing nobody, themselves particularly, any good.
There have been many posts about the “10 smart ways to write more blog posts” lots of advice that suggest a process is the way to make blogging both easy and commercially productive, this one from GrooveHQ being one of the better ones (and I borrowed their header photo) but like most others, misses the essential point.
Blogging is now so common, has become such a generic activity that most material out there is “average”. The task of filtering the really good stuff out for comment and further consideration is becoming increasingly automated, adding to the “average” tendency, as the really good stuff always happens on the fringes, and it usually elusive and challenging, just like any other sort of useful innovation.
To me there is really only three ways to be genuinely useful, to attract and keep readers.
- Display really deep domain knowledge, and be generous with it. Mitch Joel, Mark Schaefer, Avanish Kaushik and Ian Cleary are a few that spring to mind that do this consistently and well, and GrooveHQ is rapidly becoming one of my core reading list, listed down the side.
- Be genuinely interested, concerned curious, and yes, passionate, in your domain, and have that communicated simply by demonstrating an independence of mind, generosity of ideas, willingness to kick the sacred cows, and make the elephants visible.
- Be original, prepared to be challenging, and persistent.
My clients, small businesses in the most part, are being increasingly left behind as is the case in most arenas of competitive activity, they lack a depth of resources, so they just have to be smarter, more agile, and personally committed than their larger competitors.
Those that do it well will flourish.
“Content Marketing” is the new buzzword, something I consider to be a tarted-up label stuck on a set of activities we have always done, in the hope of adding a few more mirrors to the disappearing hall, so quick talkers can extract a premium for what they are supposed to be doing anyway.
Cynical perhaps, but what is copy in a newspaper column if not content, what about the promotion run by the local car dealer, or the ad on TV?
Leaving that grumble aside, the huge change that has occurred is that content no longer lasts as long as it used to, but has the chance of resurrection, for the real thing!
There is some great stuff being produced, truly inspirational material, but as usual there is a lot of crap, and the volume of crap is increasing as the appetite of the new e-mediums increases, and everyone becomes a publisher.
There has always been a 1/2 life for content, but the nature of it has changed radically.
The half life of a daily newspaper used to be a day, after which it became rubbish, of a women’s magazine, it was a bit longer, a week or two as the articles were read (are they really?) and as the copy got handed around a bit, a radio ad was about 30 seconds at best.
Material published digitally has a much longer half life, but much less chance of being seen on being published. The volumes of publishing on Social media platforms limit both the opportunity to be seen on publishing, and usually the reach of a post (facebook is now less than 5% organic reach) but do offer the opportunity for a second, and third chance, as it does not become fish wrapper tonight.
The most viewed post on this blog was written several years ago, and just keeps on attracting readers, but on the day it was published, well, suffice to say I did not need to take my shoes off to count the numbers. In addition, good posts can be linked, shared, republished with ease, again increasing the 1/2 life, and occasionally there is the remote possibility of a digital lottery win, the viral post.
Digital phenomena like the video condemning Kony, the African nut job laying waste to swathes of central Africa using children as soldiers swept the world, breaking all records, and Psi, that whacky Korean “singer” who became an internet sensation for reasons I simply do not understand, can happen. The 1/2 life of those two may be short, but the reach was huge, and there is always the chance of a rebirth.
Particularly for small businesses with limited resources, considering the nature of their content, and crafting it to extend and expand the 1/2 life, offers great opportunities for marketing and communication leverage they never had before.
Small business is at a crossroads as we move into 2015.
Either they embrace the opportunities and tools presented by the disruption of the “old ways” by digital technology, or they slowly, and in some cases, quickly, become irrelevant, obsolete and broke as customers move elsewhere.
Your choice, as much of the technology can now be relatively easily outsourced, and at a very reasonable cost, certainly less than most would expect. The two major challenges in outsourcing, snake oil salesmen and not knowing what you want and need, are little different to any other category of purchased service.
So, to the trends that will influence your business in 2015 that you need to be at the very least aware of, and in most cases take some sort of pre-emptive action.
- Marketing technology will continue its rise and rise. The thousands of small marketing technology players who are currently emerging will be forcibly integrated, as the big guys buy “Martec” real estate. Adobe, Microsoft, et al will spend money, and the little guys will be swallowed as the gorillas fill the holes in their offerings, and new segments emerge. At the other end of the scale, there will remain plenty of options for smaller businesses to step into the automated marketing space. The current rash of innovations to make life easier for small businesses will continue and as those smaller single purpose tools gain traction, and more are launched to fill the niches that exist to service small businesses.
- Peer to peer marketing will continue to grow at “Moores law” type rates. Jerry Owyangs honeycomb diagram and data tells it all. Almost any service I can think of has the potential too be disrupted in some way by the peer to peer capabilities being delivered by technology.
- Content creation as a process. The next evolution in marketing, the move that I think “content” will start to make from being individual pieces of information produced in an ad hoc manner to being a process that is highly individualised, responsive to the specific context, and informed by the behaviour of the individual recipient scraped from the digital ecosystem. It means that content creation needs to be come an integrated process, more than a “campaign” . The term “content” will become redundant, it is just “marketing”, focussing on the individual customer.
- Marketing will evolve even more strongly as the path to the top corporate job. Functional expertise is becoming less important, what is important is the ability to connect the dots in flattened organisations that work on collaborative projects rather than to a functional tune. This trend is as true for small businesses as it is for major corporations. There will still be challenges as many marketers are really just mothers of clichés, but those relying on the cliché and appearances for credibility are becoming more obvious as the marketing expertise in the boardroom increases, and the availability of analytics quickly uncovers the charlatans. This will make the marketing landscape increasingly competitive on bases other than price.
- Recognition that marketing is the driving force of any successful enterprise will become accepted, even by the “beanies”. Seth Godin has been banging on for years about the end of the industrial/advertising model, the old school of interruption, but many enterprises have continued to deploy the old model, but I sense that the time has come. 2015 will be the year that sees marketing finally takes over.
- Video will become bigger part of marketing, particularly advantaging the small businesses that have the drive to deploy it and the capability to manage the outsourcing of the bits that they either cannot do, or cannot do economically. The old adage of a picture telling a thousand words is coming to life in twitter streams, instagram shares, and all social media platforms. The video trend will be supported by increasing use of graphics in all forms, but particularly data visualisations as a means to communicate meaning from the mountains of data that we can now generate. The density of data on the web is now such that new ways to cut though, communicate and engage need to be found, and I suspect those will all employ visuals in some form, perhaps interactive?
- Pay to go ad free is a trend that will evolve suddenly, to some degree it is an evolution of subscription marketing. Free to date platforms will charge to be ad free, whilst new platforms and models such as the Dollar Shave Club will probably evolve.
- The death of mass and the power of triibes will become more evident. The “cat pictures ” nature of content of social media platforms will reduce as marketers discover smart ways to package and deliver messages that resonate and motivate action. The agility of digitally capable small businesses will open up opportunities for them their bigger rivals will not see, or not be compatible with their existing business models.
- Local, provenance, and “real”. Marketing is about stories, so here is a trend made for marketers, and you do not have too be a multinational, just have a good story, rooted in truth and humanity. ‘Hyper-local” will become a significant force. Marketing aimed at small geographies, such as is possible by estate agents, and “local” produce, such as the increasing success of “Hawkesbury Harvest” in Sydney, and the “Sydney Harvest” value chain initiative.
- Paid social media will evolve more quickly than any of us anticipate, or would be forecast by a simple extrapolation. Twitter will go paid, travelling the route Facebook took to commercialize their vast reach. Some will hate it as it filters their feeds, others will welcome the reduction of the stream coming at them from which they try and drink. Anyway, twitter et al will set out to make money by caitalising on their reach.
- Social will grab more of the market in 2015 than it has had, even though the growth has been huge over the last few years. Small businesses will either embrace social and content marketing, in which case their agility and flexibility will put them in a competitively strong position, or if they fail to do so, they will fall further behind, and become casualties.
- The customer should always be the focal point of any organisation, but often they fail to get a mention. It is becoming more important than ever that you have a “360 degree” view of your customers, as the rapid evolution of social media and data generation and mining is enabling an ever more detailed understanding of the behaviour drivers of consumers. The density of highly targeted marketing, both organic and paid is increasing almost exponentially, so if you do not have this 360 degree view, your marketing will miss the mark.
- Treat with caution all the predictions you read, keep an absolutely open mind, as the only thing we know for sure about them is that they will be wrong, as with this ripper from Bloomberg who predicted the failure of the iphone. However, as with statistical models, quoting George E.P. Box who said “Essentially, all models are wrong, it is just that some are useful” perhaps some of the predictions you find around this time of the year will be useful, by adding perspective and an alternative view to your deliberations for 2015.
As a final thought, if you think your kid may be good at marketing, be sure they learn maths and statistics. “Maths & Stats” will increasingly be the basis of marketing, and the source of highly paid jobs and service business start-ups.
Have a great 2015.
happy new year
It’s been the Christmas and new year period, and over the break some introspection occurred, along with the pud, family connections and some nice wine.
One of the insights that emerged was the application of Clayton Christianson’s “job to be done” idea to marketing, and specifically the manner in which I approach the task of developing, selling and delivering Intellectual Capital.
As I thought about what is was going to take to be successful in 2015, I needed to ask, and answer three pretty basic questions:
- What is it that I do every day?
- Why would people hire me?
- How can I help them do their job better?
When I worked my way through those, the answer was pretty simple.
The job of a marketer is to discover, develop, and tell interesting and engaging stories to people who care, who may receive value from the experience an wisdom contained in the stories, and who may take an action as a result that delivers them some benefit.
The job is not to make ads, or create blog posts or posters, it is to identify the ways that as marketers we can bridge the divide between what people are looking for, the challenges and opportunities they face, and how we can help them with the task of “finding.”
I trust 2015 will be a good year for us all, at least better than 2014.
Our families, friends, colleagues, and those who are in great need around this shrinking world need some simple wisdom, helping hand and quiet counsel, and it is up to us collectively to give that to them as we can, in the best way we can.
Happy new year.