Increase Your Competitiveness

December 8, 2022

The competition for your customers has never been higher. Your competitor is not limited to fellow small businesses; large global brands and mid-size businesses are in the mix. As a small business leader, you can avoid being overshadowed by these antagonists. Small businesses have many advantages over their larger competitors in both the physical and digital arena.

Let’s take just one trust in small businesses (86%) versus large companies (55%) is an advantage. Plus, a considerable level of competition is necessary for a small business to achieve greater success.  

First, let’s look briefly at why competition is good.

Prevents Complacency – competition pushes business owners out of their comfort zone, and they are driven to take a closer look at their offerings, customer service, marketing, business structure, and more. 

Stimulates Innovation – competition encourages business owners to find new ways to deliver their products and/or services; also, be creative with marketing, customer interactions, and other areas.

Avoid Committing Mistakes – competition enables a small business owner to try new ones that work for your company rather than using the faulty strategies and tactics of others;  

Realize on the Right Path – competition ensures the direction taken is good and provides something people/businesses need.

Think Like Customers – competition forces business owners to reflect on his/her customer experiences and understand what areas of the business model customers love and what parts need improvement.

A small business can grow with the right amount of competition, focus, strategy, perspective, and Innovation. Hence, competition plays a significant role in the evolution of any small business.

Let’s look at how your small business can stand out and succeed in today’s competitive environment.

Know Your Business – What are its strengths? How do its customers perceive it? In today’s world, comments can be found online; consider the sentiments most often expressed about your business. Amplify the favorable. Address negative comments immediately and determine ways to minimize or prevent them from reoccurring.

Define its Value – What is unique about your offerings? What makes it different from others in your niche? Determine your business’s unique value proposition and share it with prospective and existing customers.

Know Your Customer (KYC) – Be aware of the customers your business attracts and additional customers you might want to do business with. Consider why they buy from your company: customer service, price, value, uniqueness, location, easiness, and/or something else.

Solve Customer Problems or Fill Wants – Offer solutions to problems that your potential and existing customers have. Research of the marketplace, your competitors, and your customers will surface gaps your business can fill. Then provide an offering that solves the problem (or fills the want), and your business should generate revenue and garner market share.

Identify Big Markets – If possible, find a large market for your business, then focus on dominating a subset before expanding into niche markets around your initial sub-niche. You will begin strong and growing steadily.

Focus on Innovation – Make changes to existing offerings by introducing new methods, ideas, or products. Compare your products and services with competitors and then outdo them; be better to draw customers.

Make Decisions Faster – Being small has the advantage of a quick turnaround for decision-making or product innovation; your business can be agile, adapt and change with the market.

Offer Great Products and/or Services – If you provide outstanding offerings, encouraging word will get around about your business. You will gain repeat and loyal customers as well as new ones. 

Keep your offering(s) great, and your business will be competitive.

Define Your Brand – What is your business’s customer experience(s)? You want to stay memorable. Think about what differentiates you from others, unique, better. Branding takes time to build into a potential customer’s mind, so your messages need to reiterate and be consistent from your logo to your social media/over the phone/in-person to your company culture.

Select an Appealing Name and Great Logo – A memorable name and an eye-catching logo can strengthen your business. It should be easy to recognize and appeal to your target audience. Further, it should reflect your brand’s personality, the products or services it offers, and the overall character of your business.

Build a Website Experience – Your web presence should be mobile-friendly, as most people checking out your website today do so from their mobile phones. 

You want a user-friendly design that cultivates trust and provides the information your target customers seek.  

Market to Specific Groups – Target people with a specific want or a problem you can solve. Understand who is attracted to or benefits from your products or service. Then position your business as the go-to source. 

As a specialist, you may be perceived as an expert or purveyor of better quality.

Become the Expert – Demonstrate this by providing great content; it will inform your target audiences and give them a reason to reach out to your business and purchase your offerings. Types of content to position you as the expert include: publishing thought leadership on your website, guest blogs on reputable websites where your target audiences are, and providing interesting or valuable data that your audiences seek. Consider creating a desirable free offer demonstrating your understanding of the target audience’s want/need and how you can fulfill them.

Empower/Develop your Team – A strong internal team that feels valued makes all the difference for business operations. Make sure that employees have a say in the direction of the company and leadership is accessible to employees so that their concerns and questions are addressed fully. Also, set aside time to discuss and track professional development goals with each team member. 

Make Your Store (if you have one) Enticing – Your first and repeat impressions are essential. 

Create a great in-store experience that will make people come to your place of business to explore and buy. 

Here is how:

  • start with your target customer in mind;
  • appeal to as many of the five senses as possible;
  • show your customers about your offerings, don’t tell them;
  • use light to capture attention;
  • keep your store fresh and inviting; and
  • organize and decorate, if you need it.

Be an Advocate – If you are passionate about your business, your sincerity for the brand will shine through when you share it with others. Communicate your business’ mission, stories behind the offerings, customer examples (with permission), etc., to bring life to your company and distinguish it from others. Perhaps others will become excited about your business too.

Communicate with Customers – Get customers’ feedback on your offering (sales process, product, service, etc.). This information will enhance your business and develop strong customer relationships. A few ways to get customer feedback include surveys, feedbox boxes, usability testing online and in physical locations, and direct contact. 

Build Solid Personalized Relationships – Make an effort to stay in touch with targets, prospects, and customers. Provide insightful tips, unique data/knowledge, discounts or favorable pricing, and more so they get to know your business better. Perhaps they will follow your business on social media and open and respond to your emails.

Provide Excellent Customer Service – Great service matters to your customers. A customer is four times more likely to buy from a competitor if the problem is service-related rather than what is the asking price or product-related, according to Bain & Co. Figure out how to service your customers well and do it consistently to build their loyalty.

Be Present – Find a way to be the face of the business with your employees and customers. Be actively engaged inside your business and within the community.

Build a Community – It takes time and dedication, but if you build a passionate online community, you may gain the trust and respect of current and future customers. Social media platforms can effectively build community; consider which ones your target audiences utilize. Support local fundraisers and events and/or help out in community projects; it shows your customers that you care about them and where you live. Being involved at the local level creates those authentic and long-lasting relationships with customers.

Offer a Trial or Guarantee – Consider a free trial or even a money-back guarantee on your offering; it will reassure customers that what they buy is worth their money. If you are the only business in your niche providing this incentive, it will help your business stand out and pull more sales than competitors.

Technology – Select the best software for your employees and customers. Small companies have a considerable advantage in changing and adopting new software quickly and efficiently. This flexibility can save your business time and money and allow you to provide a better overall customer experience to your customers.

Summary

Achieving greater success is often helped by the company facing a considerable level of competition. Some ways of turning a competitive landscape into one where your company is successful include:

  • know your strengths and your customers;  
  • identify ways to distinguish your business; and 
  • then, deliver consistently.

There needs to be more than just knowing your company’s strengths and best strategies, you need to put them to work to see positive results.

End Of Year Checklist

November 2, 2022

As year-end approaches, most small businesses are busy with the holiday season, so time is precious.  Nevertheless, it is critical for small business owners and managers to set aside time to handle year-end activities.  Like prior years, we are putting forth a checklist of tasks to take care of so your business finishes the year well and is set-up for a good start in 2023.

Revenue – Check to see how you are doing against your 2022 target.  If you are ahead, excellent; keep going to finish strong.  If you are behind, now is the time to plan a year-end push: plan a promotion, holiday(s) sales, or another effort to generate additional sales.

Marketing – Review your brand.  Does your website reflect what your business does/sells?  Update its information, images, headlines, and content to keep customers informed and engaged.  Also, tweak your inbound (highlighted in last month’s blog) and outbound marketing materials to maximize their effectiveness.

Financial Reports – While you have to wait until all the figures are in, you can pull your records together and do a pre-close (P&L, Balance Sheet, and Cash Flow) with 10 months of data plus an estimate to see where your business may end up.  Then make adjustments to your spending and other financial activities to help reach your business goals.  Speak with your financial advisor or accountant about any questions you might have.  Plus, with having done a pre-close, finalizing the financial reports in early January should be a snap.

Employees – Review your employees: do you have the right people in the right positions?  Do evaluations.  Also, verify their information for contact (telephone number, email, mailing address), payroll, benefits, compliance, etc.  Consider their access to physical assets, computer systems, financial information, and other proprietary assets.  Make necessary hirings or layoffs for the holidays and next year; consider temporary and part-time help as well.

Inventory and Assets – Now is a good time to check your inventory; physically count it.  Do you have what is needed to make your business grow?  Note missing things and include them in financials, and institute loss prevention.  Note and make adjustments for what products are selling and which are not.  For the latter, contact your suppliers and see if they are willing to exchange slow-moving for something you can sell faster or put the older inventory on sale to raise cash and make room for a new product.

Suppliers – Do a refresh, not only on their contact information but also on payment terms, and enhance the relationships.  Consider expanding business with those who are supporting you and replacing those who are not.

Technology – Being up-to-date, protected, and compliant can be advantageous for your business and minimize risks.  Make the time to back-up systems (computers and mobile devices); this is critical, and lost information is hard or impossible to replace.  Plus, information is sensitive, whether it be your business’ and/or customers’ information.  Protecting customer information is essential; consider who has access to it and how to prevent it from getting into the wrong hands.  There are laws protecting information, and you want your business to be compliant.

Achievements – Create a list of your business accomplishments.  Reflect on all the good that has happened, and learn from any shortfalls.

2023 – As you want to start the year off positively, plan ahead.  Set goals.  Make a budget.  Plan employee training and development.  Expand your partnerships.

Here is to your success in finishing 2022, as well as beginning afresh and being well-prepared for 2023.

Business Essentials

October 1, 2022

Preparing your business for what lies ahead, adapting to changes, handling challenges, and seizing opportunities is the mark of a good leader.

Over the years of working with small businesses, as an owner and advisor, I have keyed in on a few essentials that can make a difference in business success. I want to share with you what I have learned.

People 

First, it is all about the people involved in your business: employees, customers, partners, and suppliers. 

As the business leader, you must ensure connection, communication, and clarity, especially during change and disruption. Nurture relationships to create bonds; they can withstand periods of change. 

Communicate in the form other people are most comfortable with (face-to-face, over the telephone, via text or email, etc.). Be accessible for others to reach you and make the time to answer their questions. 

Be clear about expectations and plans for today and the future, individually and for the business. 

Managing interpersonal relationships is one of the most critical responsibilities of a business leader and human being. 

Focus

While economic conditions change, focus on your business purpose and fundamentals.

Look at why you are in business and what you are trying to achieve. Always be cognizant of and share the business’ purpose and goals. Then examine how you are doing it; think of values and execution. Lead with good character; your integrity and positively affecting the communities your business serves matters. 

Also, look at how you run your business; stay focused on the fundamentals. Strive for continuous improvement of processes, financial rigor (which we will in part address in the next point), and accountability of those involved in making it a success.

Your leadership focus is on how and why, and what you do.

Cash Flow

Cash management is critical whether your business is scaling fast or going through rough times.

Collecting receivables as soon as possible is essential. Review your customer payment terms closely to ensure prompt payment.

For business expenses, always be frugal; hopefully, there will be enough cash to endure or flourish; observe where monies are spent and the return on investment the business receives. When in a cash crunch, cut all discretionary expenses. Limit payments to what is critical to keeping the business going, such as payroll and electrical, and pay those first. Pay for other items over time; talk to your suppliers about extending payment terms. 

Always seek the best collection and payment terms for your business; cash is its lifeblood and needs careful management.

Technology

Technology is available in all business areas; when leveraged appropriately, it can be advantageous to your business, saving money and making it more competitive.

People, cash flow, and other factors drive your business needs. Consider whether technology helps you communicate better with people and/or perform tasks more efficiently and at lower cost.

Look at the return on investment for technology. Always examine rent versus buy scenarios, and remember to factor in any costs for training as well as privacy and protection of data.

Technology is rapidly changing; it can enable business processes and help scale or hinder and add risk. Technology is an essential part of business today and in the future, use it wisely.

Steps

Finally, a business can be complicated and perhaps overwhelming at times; but steps can make a difference. 

As a business leader, you must stay optimistic about the future, address near-term challenges, and seize opportunities to innovate, change, and grow. 

Be creative when you consider alternatives. Also, play to your business’s strengths, such as customer service or the highest quality offering. Then decide what you want to do and break it down into steps to get there. Then take one manageable step at a time, and you will progress.

There may be hurdles and changes along the way, but pivot and move forward step-by-step to achieve a better future.

Nothing is certain in business with many outside influencing factors. But experience has taught me that if a business leader focuses on what can be controlled, the people who can make it happen, manage the business’ cash well, leverages technology, and moves forwards in steps, there will be better outcomes.

Please feel free to share any other business essentials you have learned.

Value of Inbound Marketing

September 4, 2022

Inbound marketing can provide the best return on business development monies spent. Learn why.

Inbound marketing uses tailored messages to attract the right type of customer – the kind actively looking for answers or solutions.

[Compared to outbound marketing, which involves sending the same message to a large group of people.]

More and more small businesses (and larger ones, too) are moving from traditional marketing to inbound strategies and tactics because it solves their most significant challenges: small marketing teams and limited internal resources. Moreover, the inbound methodology boosts lead generation, costs less than outbound leads, and increases sales.

[Unlike outbound marketing, inbound marketing does not compete for customer attention.]

Inbound marketing involves creating content (written, audio, video) about your offerings that potential and existing customers can easily find in blogs, via SEO, on social media, and across multiple channels. Your content needs to appeal to your audience’s needs or wants: answer their questions, solve their problems, engage, educate, and/or inspire each potential or existing customer. Your ‘advertising’ is no longer viewed as disruptive when it becomes relevant, perhaps helpful, to your viewers.

Your business needs an inbound strategy; it involves understanding and providing the content your potential and existing customers seek in each stage of their buyer’s journey. When the viewer is interested, they will engage more, click on a call to action and receive offers from your business; audiences qualify themselves as a lead. As a result, your business will generate better (actual) leads, increase sales, and retain customers longer.

[More than 9 out of 10 companies using inbound marketing increase their lead generation, and most companies increase their leads by +50%.]

Let’s delve more into the buyer’s journey, as it is the backbone of an inbound marketing strategy.

There are three stages of the buyer’s journey:

  • Awareness (learning about your business and its offerings).
  • Consideration (looking at your offering vis-à-vis their needs and those offered by your competitors).
  • Decision (being one click away from purchase).

With great content marketing, people find the right message at the right time; its message moves the prospect further along the buying journey.

Similarly, using the same methodology, your content can convert initial contact into a more highly desirable sales-qualified lead. When you close your sales-qualified lead, the prospect becomes a customer. After that, you must delight your customers with great content that makes them more frequent, loyal, and/or more significant buyers.

You can segment potential customers into buyer personas. Separating types of customers into specific target groups allows you to learn which audience sector is most interested in content marketing and which buyer persona most often converts to becoming a customer. Then you will better understand where to direct your content marketing.

[Inbound marketing is less expensive; inbound leads cost about 60% less than outbound leads.]

As you know, most people do not want to be prospected, nor sold to. Yet, they still have questions and want answers in a personalized, engaging way. All the great content you create is findable at any time when a potential customer searches for it. Also, interested potential customers are willing to exchange personal information if they get something in return, such as a free brochure, white paper, or a free trial estimate.

Once a potential customer has gotten enough information (downloaded, read, and/or listened to it), they should be ready to take the next step in the buyer’s journey as a marketing-qualified lead and be directed to a landing page to learn your sales offer.

[Nearly 50% of companies using inbound marketing increase sales within seven months.]

This approach focuses on providing the right information at the right time, wherever the potential customer is in the sales funnel.

Inbound salespeople can focus on attracting new leads to grow the sales pipeline, engage with prospects ready for sales conversion, and delight them with specific solutions to their challenges or fill their wants.

A bonus is smaller sales and marketing teams can manage inbound marketing. Most prospective customers have the same questions: they want to know why they should trust your company and what makes you different and/or better than your competitors. Your business’ inbound teams can focus on evergreen content that answers those questions.

Marketing your business well is essential to your success. If you have the in-house talent, use it. But, if you do not have the expertise then look outside and choose wisely.  Consider your needs and budget, then review possible firms, and utilize key performance metrics to measure your ROI.

A Strong Brand Can Grow Business Value

August 4, 2022

Having a strong brand is a path to growth.  Yet, many small businesses do not take advantage of the vast amount of opportunities a strong brand offers.

You may think that branding is only relevant for large corporations with an international customer base, but that is not true. Branding for small businesses is just as important. Any business can benefit from a strong brand.

Your brand is the way your customers (as well as suppliers and partners) perceive you.  And how your company perceives itself. 

Let’s explore both externally and internally why branding is important to your business.

Externally

Your brand represents you and your promise to your customer.

It is important to remember that your brand represents you…you are the brand, your staff is the brand, your marketing materials are the brand.

What do they say about you, and what do they say about what you’re going to deliver (promise based on your business’ mission) to the customer?

Shapes how people think of your company.

You’re in charge of creating the story, why not write it the way you want? Identify a clear, concise message (this is your mission statement) so others can quickly and easily understand who you are, what your values are, and why you do what you do.

Your mission statement is a personal promise to each and every prospect that comes across your business. Use your mission statement to set yourself apart from your competition! Give your target audience a reason to choose your small business.

Differentiates you from the competition.

In today’s global market, it is critical to stand apart from the crowd.  You are no longer competing on a local stage, your business now competes in the global economy and competition is fiercer than ever. Technology allows customers to easily compare all of their options. Brands must compete with more than other businesses; they have to compete with an exponentially increasing amount of noise just to get the customers’ attention.

Buying decisions often occur in split seconds instead of long, drawn-out processes, and are based on memories, images, and feelings. Telling them what makes your company different saves time in the sales cycle, so don’t make your customers dig around to figure it out. Have your brand be quickly and easily understood. Every great brand should be easily explained with a few solid descriptors. 

Increases brand recognition; becomes memorable.

Gaining the attention of today’s customers is no easy feat. You can’t just “buy” customer attention anymore, you have to earn it. To earn it, your brand has to be loveable. Customers don’t fall in love with names; they fall in love with the entire brand experience.

Customers enjoying a positive experience with your product or service is great, but this has to be married with recognizable branding. If your branding does not effectively differentiate your business from the competition, highlight what makes your business amazing and capture the minds of the audience, then your hard work delivering an experience can be undone. You need to be memorable and for all the right reasons.

Branding creates and builds trust; customers know what to expect.

Trust from your audience is one of the most important things you can have as a business. Therefore, it is critical to have strong branding in order to establish a level of trust in your business from the get-go.

As customers get to know your business they will begin to trust you. Trust in your branding works two-fold. Not only does a trustworthy brand put first-time customers at ease, also, customers who go on to have a positive experience with your brand will be far more likely to repeat business and become regular customers. A brand is effectively a promise to customers that they can know what to expect every time. Exceptional customer service, experience with the product/services and positive online communication on social networks will keep them coming back for more.

Improves customer loyalty to your brand.

Branding allows you to build relationships with your audience, which can eventually turn them into loyal customers. You can create a brand that people actually care about and puts your business ahead of other businesses that are not using branding to their advantage.

Good branding will create customer loyalty. Loyal customers will continue to support you in good and bad times. They will spread a positive message to people they know. Their influence will introduce new people to your company. And, a humanistic connection that makes it harder for customers to leave. It’s a lot easier (and less expensive) to keep a current customer than it is to acquire one.

Enhances Pricing.

If a small business can establish and grow a brand that customers believe in, then this increased trust and loyalty can be reflected in higher pricing.

Strong branding can add a huge amount of value to your product or service. This should provide the motivation to focus on branding, get it right, and maintain consistency.

Drives positive word-of-mouth marketing and referrals.

People wear, eat, listen to, and use brands; and they love to tell others about the brands they like. Customers who believe in your brand and are emotionally invested are far more likely to recommend your business. 9 out of 10 people trust suggestions from their friends and family over any advertising. Word of mouth can be an excellent, cost-effective marketing tool for small businesses to create buzz about their businesses.

But on the flip side, if the business customer can’t remember or have a less than favorable experience then that doesn’t help the business; so ensure the brand experience is favorable.

Word of mouth recommendations and referrals are only possible if your branding is clear, strong, positive, and memorable to accompany their great experiences.

Facilitates effective marketing and higher advertising effectiveness on customers.

A strong brand has to be consistent. This goes back to the “promise” and “trust” we mentioned earlier. Consistent brands are far more trustworthy to customers. If a brand is inconsistent with its messaging then this will confuse the audience, leaving them uncertain of your offering.

So, when putting together a marketing campaign you must ask yourself, “Does this convey what we want to represent as a brand?”

Giving time and attention to maintaining your business’s brand will allow you to connect with your audience and promote your brand message, helping to achieve marketing goals. Crucial for a small business. Without a strong and consistent brand, it is highly likely that your marketing will fail.

When you are advertising your business, you want everything to be cohesive and represent your business’s identity and values. Incorporating branding into your advertising will help increase recognition of your brand when it’s all tied together.

Your brand helps you connect with your customers emotionally.

Branding helps create an emotional connection in that a brand reflects your company’s deepest values and guidelines. If a person connects with these values on a deeper level, your brand will serve as a constant reminder of this connection. 

With a good emotional brand connection, people feel good when they buy the brand. Purchasing is an emotional experience and having a strong brand helps people feel good at an emotional level when they engage with the company.

Customers can get attached to brands and become huge advocates for them throughout their lives.

Branding gives your company social influence.

If you remain unknown, customers may not pay you any attention. That will spell doom for any business. But with a brand name backing you up, your business can become a force in any field. All it takes is some gritty, day-to-day effort to build your brand.

Internally

Your brand helps you create clarity and stay focused.

It’s very easy to wander around from idea to idea with nothing to guide you; it doesn’t take long to be a long way from your original goals or plans.

Whatever your brand may be, make sure there are goals and meaning behind it.

A clear brand strategy helps you stay focused on your mission and vision as an organization.

Your brand can help you be strategic and will guide your marketing efforts saving time and money.

It’s very easy to wander around from idea to idea with nothing to guide you; it doesn’t take long to be a long way from your original goals or plans.

Whatever your brand may be, make sure there are goals and meaning behind it.

A clear brand strategy helps you stay focused on your mission and vision as an organization.

Your brand can help you be strategic and will guide your marketing efforts saving time and money.

More applicants that want to work for your brand (and business).

Top candidates want to work for known companies. Having a brand attracts highly skilled workers. Branding creates an impression of financial stability. This attribute attracts mostly security-minded, highly skilled workers. You would want them on your side because they can generate even greater value for your business. When you make an effort to build your brand, you will also attract many people willing to support you along the way.

Creates culture, builds teams, and engages employees who are proud to work at your company.

Branding provides value inside of your company as well. Of course, you want your employees to love working for your company and feel like they’re a part of a team. A company with great branding will have an easier time getting employees to feel like they’re involved with something more than just a job.

A clear brand strategy provides motivation and direction for your staff to be successful.

It tells them how to act, how to win, and how to meet the organization’s goals.

When employees understand the mission of a business and its reason for being, it creates a focal point for emotional investment and something staff can really get behind and believe in.

Organizational culture is an extension of the brand which has been created.

Adds value to your company.

A strong brand will provide value to your organization well beyond your physical assets. A strong brand increases your business’ shareholder value. 

Products and services have life cycles, but your brand will be around forever. By creating a strong foundation, you’ll be setting your company up for success for years to come. A strong brand allows you to have the flexibility to expand the offering or make it easier and less risky to diversify, often guarantees future business.

Whether a company is in the position to borrow funds for expansion or roll out to an IPO, being perceived as more valuable will make the process advantageous for the owner. The greater a company’s devotion to building its brand value, the better the financial return from its efforts. A unified, consistent brand means your business is well-positioned for any future expansion it wants to make.

When you invest in your brand, you invest in your company’s future. The earlier you do it, the better it will go for your business and the people who depend on it.

In conclusion

Your brand has the potential to generate a lot of power and attract new prospects, connections, and growth to your small business. Think about what a powerful brand can do for you and how to start creating one right now to add value to your business.

Remember, the best branding is built on a strong idea, an idea that you and your staff can hold on to, can commit to, and can deliver upon.

Your brand represents all that you stand for as a business, it makes a promise to the consumer, celebrating what makes you different from and better than your competition.

Your brand needs to permeate your entire organization. When your organization is clear on the brand and can deliver on the promise of the brand, you will see tremendous fruit while building brand loyalty among your customer base. 

It can add a huge amount of value to your product or service which vastly affects profitability. So, any business owner concerned about their bottom line (which in reality is probably everyone) should without a doubt be thinking about investing in their brand.  Investing in your brand is investing in your future.   

A solid brand guarantees client loyalty, repeat business, public trust, and an important place in society. You must, therefore, invest early and consistently in your brand as it provides value to your business.

P.S. Your brand is a valuable asset that needs protection.

One way is to trademark it. A trademark is a legal protection that prevents others from using your brand name or logo without your permission. Without a trademark, anyone could start using your brand name or logo, and you would have no legal recourse. So, if you’re serious about protecting your brand, make sure to trademark it as soon as possible. The best part of this process is that you can write it off as a business expense. Also, you can charge whatever fees you want if anyone wants a franchise.

Selecting Additional Revenue Streams

July 4, 2022

Generating revenue is essential for your business. 

Revenue streams are varied, and choosing the best one(s) is critical to your business’s success. 

Having multiple revenue streams gives you the ability that if one source is suffering, others are stronger, and you will not run short of cash.

Let’s explore the different revenue streams and consider which ones you should select to diversify your revenue sources.

Product Sales – Customers buy your offering outright and own it. Some examples are a carton of milk, a toothbrush, and a folding mattress. Brick-and-mortar retail companies and/or e-commerce companies use this revenue stream.

Plusses include: lower ticket items are easier to sell; higher ticket items provide excellent revenue all at once.

Minuses include: every product demands that it be produced, stored, and shipped; products often have lower profit margins; and there are limits on how inexpensively you can produce it, even with higher volumes.

Services and Consulting – Talent and expertise are saleable. Examples range from computer geeks that help you with your technology needs to hair salons that improve their customers’ appearance. 

Businesses can provide various services, each providing revenue to the company. Services are a great way to add revenues without creating new assets, but as the billable hours mount, you need to add people. Survey your customers on their needs and wants to identify what services to add, then use your existing in-house expertise to deliver the service(s).

Benefits: you can charge more as the services are personalized, and you need fewer customers to reach your revenue goals.

Drawbacks: services are not easily scalable, and you may pay for talent not being used as services are based on billable hours; customer service has a more significant role; and finally, you are more responsible for the outcomes your customers get.

Subscriptions – Customers pay a recurring fee regularly (monthly, quarterly, yearly) to access a product or service. Some examples of subscriptions are Amazon Prime and gym membership, enabling customers to have access as long as they pay their subscription fee.

Pros include: if you can accurately estimate your customer churn rate, new customers, and monthly recurring revenue, you can calculate how much revenue your business will generate next month; if your marketing and sales efforts slow or stop, you can still generate revenue from existing subscribers; and it is often easier to close subscription sales as customers perceive the upfront cost and risk is low.

Cons include: if your customer acquisition cost payback period is more extended than you retain your customer, you will lose money; you may need to invest resources in customer service and other areas to avoid high cancellation rates, and revenue can be uncertain during the start-up phase.

Advertising – You can sell advertising space via your customer channels, especially if you have a large and loyal customer base or audience. For example, you can generate advertising revenue if you have a podcast or Twitter handle that millions of people regularly follow and engage with you, especially if they retweet.

If you have a sizable email list, you can partner and charge other brands seeking your target audience to advertise. It does not have to be online; high-traffic areas like buildings and event venues charge for advertising to be placed for people passing by or in attendance to see.

In your favor: ads can be highly lucrative if you have a large customer base or following, and this revenue stream is easy and inexpensive to start and maintain.

Potential disfavor: if your audience is small, the revenue will be small; ads can distract from your offerings, and you will be associated with the brands you advertise, so choose carefully.

Usage fees (based on consumption) – How much a company charges for using its service. The customer pays you based on the amount they use the service. Some examples: a phone company charges customers for a certain number of minutes and per month of data; a car rental company charges the customer based on miles traveled; and a postal carrier charges you to deliver a parcel from one location to another.

Essentially, with usage fees, the more customers use a service, the more they pay. 

+ +: pay for what you use appeals to many customers; a low barrier to entry; provides the agility and flexibility to respond to changing business and customer needs quickly; enables businesses to grow faster with price points that are attractive to a more extensive customer base; eliminates or shortens purchasing cycles; higher net dollar retention that a more traditional subscription-based model.

– -: sticker shock can cause customer dissatisfaction or churn; low switching costs; creates revenue (and cash flow) insecurity; and the metric used for scaling is not always well understood by customers. 

Licensing – Income generated through customers’ approved usage of your company’s products, services, or intellectual property. An example is software licensing, such as for Microsoft Word. You can also grant a customer to use your company’s copyrighted material (such as images, characters, songs) or trademark.

Some advantages: licenses run for the longer term, so there is less churn, and your business gets more money upfront from purchases of its license(s) products.

Some disadvantages: customers usually buy once unless you create or improve the product, such as movie characters or software releases; and if you do not make sales, your revenue will be nothing.

Renting and Leasing – When you rent or lease assets as a revenue stream, you give exclusive usage rights to the buyer for a specific length. Some examples of rental companies are designer clothing company Rent the Runway, moving truck company U-Haul, and vacation rental company Vrbo, as well as real estate leasing companies. You could rent it out to freelancers and/or other businesses if you have unused office space. Renting and leasing businesses often have other revenue streams such as subscription fees and product sales.  

On the positive side, you can generate significant revenue from a single in-demand asset over time, and customers do not need to justify long-term purchases, so making sales easier.

On the flip side: it can take a while to make back your money after investing in your asset, especially if it is not in demand (think rental cars during the early days of COVID); you will need to account for the depreciation of your asset, and over time wear and tear will happen, so maintenance is essential.

Brokerage Fees – Involves a business that connects buyers with sellers and collects a commission on the resultant transaction. Advances in eCommerce allow this brokerage business model to thrive since virtually any product or service can now be ordered online, and Amazon brings buyers and sellers together and collects a fee from sellers. Companies like Fiverr and Upwork make money (a percentage of the fee) from matching freelancers with clients who need their help; in this case, as the matchmaker, it collects a fee from the buyer who gains access to a multitude of qualified professionals and the freelancers matched with clients.

Upsides include: once you can match parties together, it becomes a relatively low-effort revenue stream since you do not have to deliver products or services, and there can be less friction for sales as customers do not have to pay upfront, you take a cut from their transactions.

Downsides are: setting up matching can be expensive and time-consuming, you have to be willing to put forth the resources to make it work and then get buyers and sellers to use the matching service, and brokerage fees are currently only used in a few industries.

When selecting revenue streams for your business, a few factors to consider: your revenue stream should connect with your value proposition, and the value that your product or service delivers should align with your revenue streams; and analyze how your competition generates revenue, study their strategies, mistakes, and wins to help you determine your revenue streams. 

Further, you want to consider who your customers are, what your assets are, and how you can and want to make money.  

Think about your customer and market fit; consider how you interact with them and their preferences. Is another revenue stream additive to what you are already providing? Survey your existing assets and judge the most effective way to add income; the best revenue streams add the least complexity to your current business structure.  

Also, consider if you want to expand your assets to bring in revenue; but make sure it will provide what your customers want/need. 

Finally, think about whether the revenue stream is something you can and want to provide. Ensure the revenue stream(s) are in sync with your business purpose.

Consider new revenue streams for your business today to add income and make your business more resilient to tough economic times.

P.S. Sponsorship: If you are a non-profit, sponsorships can benefit organizations of all types and sizes. Advantages include: additional revenue in the form of contributions; in-kind donations of items and/or services; partnership with a company whose brand and values align with your organization’s; both parties get exposed to each other’s audiences; and partnering with a well-known company can add credibility to your organization. When identifying and securing potential sponsors, do the following:

  • Look for companies who serve a similar demographic as your organization.
  • Identify who has sponsored similar organizations or events in the past. 
  • Ask your staff, volunteers, members, donors, and board members if they can think of any potential sponsors. 
  • Examine your significant donors – do any of them own a business or work for a company that would be a good match. 

Before approaching a company about a potential partnership, think about what you can offer them in return, such as increased awareness and exposure to members of your community or public recognition as a socially responsible, purpose-driven company that supports a worthy cause.

Return to Work Hurdles

June 1, 2022

Identifying the reasons workers do not want to come back to the workplace is challenging.

Often the reasons your employees and staff tell you are not the underlying cause(s) for their reluctance.  As owner, manager, and/or leader it is your responsibility to identify and address the hurdles your workers have.

We have identified some reasons for their resistance, but there may be others.

From around the nation, employers reported on some of their workers’ responses to directives bringing them back to the workplace, they include the following.

In big cities, long commutes have surfaced as a major impediment to giving up working from home.  As a most given reason, it was followed by added food costs for lunches and snacks plus finally, unsureness of office wear mores.

An added factor is many workers have changed body shape due to the long idleness. Ironically, many workers have actually trimmed weight and find office wear too big rather than too small.

The emotional cost of renewing relationships on a personal basis after months of zoom-like meetings is sometimes a hindrance to workplace returns.

The savings in child-care costs along with the time to bond with children have led many parents to question the sacrifices they are making in leaving their offspring with others.  Many parents report renewed closeness they are reluctant to loosen.  Plus, some had other caregiver responsibilities.

Better work-life balance was also reported by many employees.  Workers spend more time with family but also believe they provide improved performance to their company by concentrating on the job needs rather than workplace distraction.

Being away from the workplace enabled them to better sort out their goals within the company.  They also indicate their life goals have changed, making them less desirous of career advancement over personal achievements.

Other employees say they have better communications with senior management through direct contact required by dispersed workers.  They report improved understanding of company goals with improved communications with senior leaders.

Perhaps you can add to this list.  The important task is to listen to what workers reply when asked to return to the workplace.  Then ask follow-up questions to understand each individual’s hurdles for returning and think about how you can help them soar over them.

The Power of Words

May 1, 2022

Words matter.  Your customers also think words matter.

So be cognizant of how your staff speaks internally as well as externally, the words and pictures on your website, the phases found in your promotional material, and even what’s printed on product wrappings.

Since words color all our perceptions, it is important to listen and hear closely what words are used when anything referring to your company is brought up.  Your current and future success depend on the repetition of favorable words and the silencing or careful handling of negative phrases.

You as a business owner and/or leader set the tone.  Consider how you refer to your business.  Is it positioned as a place you would want to be and/or do business with?  Are you clear and positive about your priorities?

Next, listen and look at how your employees refer to your business.  What words are used in their conversations and posted online in reference to your business?  Often their actions back up their words; do you have tenure employees or a revolving door?

Then consider partners, stakeholders and investors, you want to hear positive words from all; preferably similar words to how you refer to your business.  If significantly different words are used, find out why.  Then take steps to address where you are and where you want your business to be.

Finally, consider your customers, present and former.  What do they say about your business?  Customer opinions are significant, and you want favorable thoughts and endorsements both word-of-mouth and online.

What words or phrases should you consider using to have a favorable for your business?  An accurate description of your business is most important.  You might strive to be described as:

     Having quality offerings (product and/or services)

     Providing superior customer service

     Nurturing happy, long-time employees

     Achieving business longevity

     Fostering a good customer experience throughout their journey

     Fun, conservative, irreverent, ethical, etc.

Now is the time to think about words used to describe your business.  Are they favorable?  What can you do to make a positive impression that results in the best word selection when referring to your business?

If negative words are used, find out why.  Respond as favorably as possible, perhaps with planned corrective action.

Words matter.  Start listening, looking, and acting today.start now sign

Customer Experience

April 3, 2022

Customer experience can make or break your business. 

How customers feel about your company is not only a personal experience but one often shared on social and digital media.

Whether superior or hellacious, these more extreme customer experiences are often shared, repeated, and form the basis of your business’ overall reputation.

Therefore, it is essential for your business to ensure your customers get the best experience possible.  And, when they don’t get the best experience that you handle the shortfall(s) quickly and effectively.

Let’s look at what makes a favorable customer experience today.

  • Easy interface online and in-person – the information flow with the customer should be seamless and low effort.
  • Personalization – basic personal information from your customer’s name to past preferences has become table stakes; with advanced technology and multiple visits, the bar has risen to include style and tone of communication, suggestions, and anticipation of needs or wants.
  • Genuine interest – most customers want you to engage with them and show a genuine interest.
  • Knowledgeable resource – you must be the expert in what you do and the product/service you provide your customers.
  • Privacy – personal data, and preferences, will be protected and not shared without permission.
  • Receiving value – customer always want to feel they have gotten a good deal, or what they paid more for was well worth it.

To deliver good customer service, your business needs to build a culture of customer service and the capabilities to make it happen.  The customer experience should be considered in every decision your business makes.

The business owner and/or manager must support the objective of delivering best-in-class customer experiences.  All employees should be trained and compensated on delivering superior customer service.  

Even if an employee does not directly touch a customer, their work ultimately effects the customer’s experience; therefore you need to make sure the employee understands his/her role in making the customer experience optimal.

Understand your customer and what is important.  Your employees should be able to articulate and deliver a positive customer experience to your customers.  Also, your approach must be agile to change with customer needs and wants.

As you set-up or change work processes consider your customers’ expectations across areas such as getting help or service; remember, customers like to maintain control and want personalization.

To be successful:

  • Link your customer experience with strategic priorities, such as growing revenue and/or market share through increased customer attraction, engagement, loyalty, and referral.
  • Consider the whole customer experience or journey the customer takes with your business; changes and/or problems in one area can and do effect other areas.  Find and fill those gaps and problem areas to ensure the entire customer experience is consistently superior.
  • Be innovative, creative in coming up with improvements to your customers’ experiences.  Generate bold ideas, use a customer-centric mindset, and then assess the feasibility of them.
  • Prioritize what customer experience practices will make the biggest difference.
  • Feedback from your customers is critical.  You think and hope you are delivering a solid customer experience; but are you?  Ask your customers.

In summary, for your business to thrive you must focus on and deliver superior customer service.  Doing so begins with you, the business owner and/or manager.  Start making it a cultural and business imperative today.

Value Creation

March 2, 2022

Value creation happens when a business uses its work and resources to create something of value that is sold to a customer base.  In turn, the business earns a profit for what it has created and the customers have a want or need fulfilled. 

Every day value is being built (or destroyed) throughout your business; so let’s look at how to create value.

Value is created through the organization’s purpose, strategy and business model taking into account all resources, capital, and relationships in an integrated way.

A good place to start is clarifying the purpose (or aim) of your company; purpose is not what you do, but why you do it.  The clearer the purpose of your company, the easier it will be to communicate it, get stakeholders on board to fulfill it, and decision-making becomes simple as the measure is whether it supports your purpose or not.  Purpose adds direction as business stakeholders make the little decisions moment-by-moment.  Those little decisions and actions over time have a tremendous impact.

A winning value creation strategy is essential to define where and how a company can excel in systemic change, sustaining the core, creating the new, and delivering it fast.

Next, think of your business and its business model as a complex system of value creation techniques.  Look at each element separately and as part of the whole business and see where enhancements can be made to add value.

  • Production or Service Delivery – compare your cost of a process or product to industry averages. Greater efficiency creates greater profits.  Profits come from the creation of value in production or service delivery.
  • Sales and Marketing Process – when your customer first learns the value you can provide to them; profits come from the communication of value through your sales process.  Here are ways to determine whether you’re creating value through your sales and marketing process:  focus on higher profits; identify the salespeople or marketing channels that lead to repeat sales, who create loyal customers; and use A/B testing on your sales and marketing strategies to learn what works best.
  • Technology Advantage – use technological approaches to manage customer experience, relationships and support.   Integrate software and technical applications to track and maintain customer accounts and information.  Automating various processes to help streamline customer service can also help you create value in your business.
  • Right Tools and Resources Utilization – collaborate with team members to determine which resources and tools can boost overall customer value.  Tools like surveys and market analysis can help your business increase the value it offers to customers and create a lasting business that leads to growth and success.
  • Product Development Improvement – enhance the product development processes of your company.  Use data from market analysis and evaluating customer demographics to support designing and planning new products that meet demands.  Also, address customer concerns and input to find methods of development that produce high-quality offerings that customers are willing to purchase.  By improving the product development cycle, you can create offerings that give more value to customers.
  • Investments – learn where to invest company funds to support growth and add value to the business.  Investing in marketing, sales, and customer service training for your teams can also add higher value to your organization.

Also, think how stakeholders (owners, customers, employees, and suppliers) are relevant to the purpose and techniques of your company.  Then find a way to fulfill what their expectations are from you.  By doing this, you will have viable partner commitments that permits versatility and value creation in our business.

Meaningful engagement with key stakeholders enhances understanding of the positive and negative impacts of doing business, and informs a continuous assessment of material issues informing strategy and its implementation through the activities in the business.

Business success comes from value creation for owners, customers, employees, and suppliers. Let’s look at each critical stakeholder group.

OWNERS

Business owners need to play an increasingly active and critical role in strategic guidance, oversight and effective decision-making in order to create value. 

Further, owners need to develop skills that contribute to the creation of a high-performing board culture.  Hone the ability to challenge other directors, investors, executives and experts through positive exchanges focused on the key issues that underpin value creation.

Creating value for owners (shareholders) translates into increase in stock price (if you are publicly traded), and future likelihood of investment capital.

CUSTOMERS

Value creation is not a matter of selling or convincing your customer to buy something.  Rather, how your customers perceive value is based on their perception of your product or service; make your offering something they want or need to buy.  In turn, this makes marketing and selling to customers easier. 

Identify what points of value your potential customers seek.  Here are some tips to improve value creation.

  • Understand customer needs – perform market analysis and learn about what your organization’s customers look for when making purchases.  Find ways to meet unique customer needs or wants, create lasting value with your business’s offerings, and build customer relationships.  Also, businesses that strive to fulfill customer needs/wants are better able to build trust and rapport within the market, leading to repeat business and increased revenue growth.
  • Improve customer support – customers value businesses and organizations that focus on providing exceptional service and support.  Evaluate your organization’s current customer support processes and collaborate with teams on ways to improve these aspects of customer experience.  Make it easy for customers to ask questions about products, troubleshoot issue, and connect with businesses through automated and professional support services.
  • Increase convenience features – create more convenient methods for customers to engage with your business, make purchases and use your organization’s products more easily.  Streamlining checkout methods within an online shopping platform or create bundled offerings for related products are two ways that can make the customer experience more convenient.
  • Promote value propositions – the value proposition represents the value customers find in a product or service minus the costs of purchasing the offering.  For example, the value of an offering may be higher for customers if they know they can rely on the offering over the long-term, resulting in a willingness to pay a higher cost for the longevity/quality they receive.  Creating and promoting the value propositions that are inherent to your company’s products can help engage customers and inspire them to make purchases.
  • Outdo competing offerings and prices – revaluate competing businesses to determine what methods and products provide the most value to your existing and targeted customer markets.  Then, find ways to create similar offerings that are unique to your business.  Creating alternatives to competitors can encourage new customers to purchase from your business; it will boost your business’s value and give value to customers as well.

Creating customer value is essential for growth and increasing revenue.  Customer value helps businesses maintain lasting relationships with customers.  Also, business that successfully increase customer value can often expand into more markets, develop innovative offerings, and build competitive advantages in their industries.

Value creation for customers helps sell products and services, creating value for employees results in higher efficiency.

EMPLOYEES

You don’t achieve your goals alone; you need the support of your employees to succeed.

Value creation involves creating value for your team, which translates to the increase in employee retention rate.  [See February 2022 blog for ideas to increase employee retention]

If your employees are happy, their productivity will increase, and that’s exactly what you need to help your business grow.

To receive that support, you must provide value to your employees; it goes beyond a job and a paycheck, which is enough to get them to show up for work.  You also need to appeal to their hearts and minds.

Effective employees want purpose.  Both Boomers and Gen Y found motivators like “a great team” and “the ability to give back to society through work” to be more important than money.

Help teams develop effectively; ensure teams have the necessary skills to boost value and reach customers.  With experienced and skilled teams, companies are better able to meet customer needs and provide offerings that create lasting customer value.

Value for employees includes being treated respectfully and being involved in decision-making.  Employees also value meaningful work; excellent compensation opportunities; and continued training and development.

When people feel valued, they’re more likely to go above and beyond for the organization.  They’re quicker to hold themselves accountable for their part of a project. Most importantly, they’re happier in their roles, which means they’re less likely to leave.

When leaders disregard opportunities to connect with their team and show employees their appreciation, they lose a secret weapon in building a dedicated, long-term team.

Make employee appreciation a daily habit.  Here are some ways to show your employees some appreciation:

  • Make small gestures – such as a note of appreciation, an email of acknowledgement, or call of encouragement can make a positive impression.
  • Create new opportunities – this is a way to win employees hearts and minds; let your employees take on a leadership role, a challenge of a big visible project, or invest in their learning at a workshop or conference.
  • Be specific and personalize – with your expressions of appreciation and recognition.
  • Show your employees trust – one way is by not looking over their shoulder, that their work is good enough for them to move forward on their own.
  • Make business upgrades – in facilities, technology, etc. to help make your employees more comfortable and efficient.
  • Take time to connect with your employees – find out how they are doing in their lives both in- and outside of work.
  • Establish mentorships – pair new employees with longer-term ones; both will benefit.
  • Give ownership to employees – this is a great way to motivate, especially when an initiative is of interest and leverages their expertise.  This will empower them to succeed, plus will inspire others by seeing them do well.
  • Be transparent and honest in conversations – especially when giving feedback and delivering hard truths.

Professionals in marketing, sales, customer service and other areas can work together to implement approaches to creating high value for customer that build customer engagement and achieve more sales.

SUPPLIERS

The potential of a supplier’s value creation derives from multiple dimensions including cost of offering, capacity to provide it, as well as commitment to deliver consistently.  Additional supplier value can be derived from:

  • Innovation – they are experts in their field, who has potential to easily offer you a solution to your development product or strategy. 
  • Advice – offered on what you need, not what you want to hear.
  • Their own growth and improvement of offering – their success will help ensure you obtaining ongoing value.
  • Integrity – having similar values makes doing business easier.

The best suppliers will regularly give you new ideas and suggestions to improve your business.  There is much to be gained by having a stable/long term supply base as long as they assist you to grow by improving aspects of your business.  The stability and support of your suppliers is essential when you are growing and/or your business is seeing changes in its market.

When both sides, business and supplier, benefit from the total value created by the relationship, but the degree of value capture varies.  The value perceived by the supplier is greater than that perceived by the buyer, which consequently encourages the former to boost its efforts even further to ensure that the relationship continues.

In summary, value creation is an essential base to support a profitable and lasting business.  You can create value in your business through involving other: your shareholders, customers, suppliers and employees, plus by putting your resources to best use.  Remember that value creation does not happen in a day, it takes time, so start working on it now.

P.S. Sustaining value is achieved by retaining and protecting value internally in the organization and distributing value externally to shareholders and stakeholders.  Ideally, there needs to be a balanced approach between the retention of value derived by the organization and the distribution of value to its stakeholders aligned to purpose and value objectives.