Small Business – Growth Stage 3b – Meeting Demand

Yes, crazy demand is a problem that you want to have. But when you are in the trenches, there is nothing fun about it (Well it is for me, but I’m a freak). Things are going crazy, you are going crazy – You are simply too busy to think, never mind think strategically.

In this phase, it will seem like everything has gone to crap – Probably because it has.

I would love to be able to write an article that shows you how to meet demand across any industry, but the truth is, there are so many case specific scenarios that this post would be better fit for a hardcover book, than a few page blog post.

What I am going to do for you however, is tell you about a few things that you really need to watch for during this phase. These are all from my own experience and are serious issues regardless if you sell yourself as a service, manufacture a product, create information products, or are a marketer and drop-shipper.

Step up or Step Aside – Leadership needs to come in

This is a problem for lots of people, and there are two main reasons. First, to most, the business is their baby and represents their own blood, sweat, and tears. You have been in from the beginning and the success is directly the result of your effort, and your decisions. The draw of having your hands in the cookie jar and being in charge of everything is just irresistible. It’s hard to step out of that role.

Second, some people are just not good leaders. The skill set that is required to develop something is not the same as the skill set required to lead the troops and keep your head up in the strategic clouds. I believe you can learn to be a good leader, but to be a great leader, it takes both practice and an innate ability.

Whichever the case, someone is going to have to step up and away from the day to day and start to worry about the big picture. The simple truth is that there are just not enough hours in a day to do everything that needs to be done. If you try, you will fail and probably burn out in the process. To make matters worse, it is nearly impossible to wear both the strategic hat and the “doer” hat at the same time. I’ve tried several times and failed miserably in every case.

If you choose to become the “big picture guy” yourself…

Find some bright folks you trust, and put them in charge of that area you used to head up. Early on, their ability to communicate and make you feel comfortable are going to be more important than the actual skills they posses to do the job. Once you are OK with the concept of not being hands-on anymore, you can worry about finding the exact right person for the job.

If you choose to bring in a “big picture guy”…

Frankly, this is where people like me come in. You will want to either hire, or most likely partner with a person who can come in and help you to the next level. The reason I recommend partner is, because at this point, you REALLY want someone worth their salt, and they are not cheap. Players in this range are used to the six-figure income, and are not likely to join you for less than that. Bringing them on as a partner allows you to either pay substantially less as a base salary with a percentage of sales as the remainder, or even bypass salary all together for a flat percentage of sales (how I usually do it). The percentage they demand will be higher, but on the upside, if you don’t make money, they don’t make money.

The key to bringing on a new player at the stage is trust. Start small and shift more and more power over to them as you feel more comfortable. Do not micromanage or tell them how to do their job. Remember you brought them on because your DON’T know how to do it. Let them do their thing and come back to you. They probably won’t do it the same way as you, but their way will probably be better.

I haven’t really pitched myself in about 1000 pages of articles, so I might as well now. Seriously, give me a call. I might be able to help.

Strategy and systems will save your ass, not manpower.

Simply throwing more bodies at a problem is rarely the answer. It might be PART of the answer, but without organized systems in place, the utility of each new player added to the team will decrease the productivity of ALL players by an order or magnitude. Roles will overlap, things will get lost in translation, morale will plummet, and productivity will be a fraction of it’s true potential.

Here’s how you do it.

Have your strategy person, either you or me (hint hint) start evaluating your business model. Are there any things that could be done that will simultaneously increase your profit margin, reduce costs, and reduce the time to sale. If it’s all 3, then that is your low hanging fruit. As that subsides, start to look at the things that might satisfy 1 or 2 of the criteria and start attacking them.

I’m not saying that bring in more people is not a good idea. I usually is. What I AM saying is that blindly throwing more bodies into the works usually makes things worse.

An example from my questionable past

A few years back I partnered with a rockstar investment real estate broker in exactly this stage of the game. Sales were skyrocketing, demand was through the roof, but there was simply not enough hours in a day for him to get it done.

He was a super intelligent guy and a true freak-of-nature salesman, but he was definitely lacking in both the big picture view and leadership role.

After meeting him a few times and tossing some ideas around he agreed to bring me on as a partner. Because throwing me a salary would be too much for him, we agreed that I come on as a limited partner at first with 1/3 of the future net profits going to me. Once we doubled his sales, we would become full 50/50 partners. It was a pretty big leap of faith for him, and I appreciate his trust, but ultimately it wasn’t too much skin off his back since ultimately if I didn’t produce results, I didn’t get paid either.

His niche was selling properties (usually condos) in the $100-150k ballpark to both investors and parents/students of UF. The market was hot enough at the time that if you bought a condo your freshman year and lived in it with a few roommates, the rent and appreciation on the unit would pay your entire tuition for 4 years and still leave you with about $40k left over. It was an easy sell, and he sold LOTS.

The problem was that all real estate sales take about the same amount of time for the broker, regardless if it is a $100k sale or $1M sale. (In truth, usually the bigger ones are easier because buyers at the level are pretty familiar with the game. More legal, but less drama)

I realized right away that this was not a sustainable growth model.

After a bit or research and planning, I created a plan to take on no clients unless the property was over $500,000 and we had a very good chance of getting both sides of the commission. As you can imagine, for a top producer this is a HUGE change. He was ingrained to take any business, anyway he could.

My logic was that because he was so fantastic at converting calls to qualified leads, we set up a referral program to front our tier 2 prospects to other agents in exchange for 25% of the final commission. That allowed us to keep in place turnkey marketing programs targeted to smaller profit centers, and still earn a healthy side income on very little work.

With this strategy in place, we were allowed once again to focus on a new marketing plan to help roll in larger, more profitable clients.

We still continued to get calls every day for smaller clients, and many times, we had the perfect buyer ready to roll within the hour on the sale, but we had agreed to only focus on larger clients, REGARDLESS of how quick or easy we knew the sale would be. For weeks he would look over at me with puppy dog eyes begging to take on this easy client, and I would point to our business strategy on the wall. Eventually he got the idea and stopped whimpering.

As things began to take off, I began to further refine our strategy to squeeze every penny out of our time. We hired one assistant to take first tier phone calls and to set appointments freeing up his time. We also hired another general assistant that would do much of my front end marketing work and to keep track of all the new developments and marketing metrics. We finally brought in another new realtor who had just graduated with a degree in finance to manage many of the showings and to add another level of granularity to incoming prospects before they made it to either Tom or I.

The result:

Year 1 sales: $200k

Year 2 sales: $400k

Year 3 sales: $1.2 Million

It’s important to note that we didn’t bring on any help until year 3. As you can see we were able to DOUBLE sales with no additional help other than me. That was refocusing strategy and tweaking systems. But we did need to bring in help to take it to the next level. As I said, there is a time and a place to throw in more bodies, but it has to be to support the plan, and just not for the sake of more manpower.

Stay tuned. Next Article is going to be about declawing your competition.

Stay cool

JJ

Solving the Small Business Growth Paradox With HR Consultants

The small business growth paradox.

Every organization has personnel issues that require an immediate and accurate response. Employment regulations can be confusing and change constantly, making it nearly impossible for employers to stay informed.

There are often peaks in recruiting activities that require immediate attention, but the cost of hiring additional personnel to meet only today’s needs places small businesses in a serious dilemma. Such commitments to these short-term needs require expertise, but hiring experienced personnel is expensive. Hiring inexperienced personnel results in lost time due to the level of research required before the inexperienced personnel are properly prepared to meet the immediate demands.

What is a company to do?

Consider using a seasoned HR Consultant to help you. With an experienced HR Consultant, there is little to no time required for researching what to do or what best practices to incorporate into the current circumstance. HR Consulting professionals often cost less than hiring administrative support staff full time and are often able to commit to your company for longer periods of time.

Let’s look at these advantages closer.

Commitment: A good HR Professional is often sought after within any growing job market. Therefore, your experienced HR Professional is subjected to several job offers because of the high demand of this stressful career path. When faced with significant pay increases and possible circumstances better than currently experiencing, they often owe it to their families to consider other offers, even if they are content where they are.

Most HR Consultants have already been through this struggle and are seeking to be more devoted to one or two loyal clients that need their help getting the company established or to fill in for key personnel during absences. This kind of mutual commitment is beneficial to the business and also to the consultant.

Cost Considerations: This one is easy! Hiring any full time employee is expensive regardless of their experience level. You must consider the total fringe cost, which can often range from 30% to more than 50% of additional expenses for medical insurance and other insurance plans, worker’s compensation, social security, taxes, medicare, unemployment insurance, etc.

Aside from these expenses, you also have to factor what level of experience you are paying for when hiring a full time employee. Less experienced employees often spend such exorbitant amounts of time trying to learn the job that productivity of their time suffers. Their lack of experience ultimately costs the company more money. When employees have the extra time to improve their career skills, some employees choose to surf the internet or use their time for personal interests rather than preparing to be more successful the next time they are required to stretch outside their knowledge comfort zone.

An HR Consultant is often a seasoned professional that can perform a variety of functions with minimal research and often without needing guidance. HR Consultants can be utilized for short projects, start up phases, during absences of other full time staff or even by the hour if you simply need professional council. HR Consultants are in business to help save you money!

Online Marketing for Small Business Websites in 2012

Well, 2011 is over and 2012 is here. And unless you believe in the Mayan prediction that the world will end later this year, as a small business owner you are probably going over your sales and marketing strategy for the coming year, making sure you have covered all of the bases and beginning to implement it in full force. All signs point to virtual double-digit growth in online sales volume in 2012, so hopefully your small business has online marketing as a significant part of your overall strategy. Below are a couple of areas that all small businesses should be focusing in on to maximize their online revenue stream.

Mobile Sales

Mobile sales are any sales where the actual purchase derives directly from a cellphone, smart phone or tablet device. Sales from mobile devices are a boon to small businesses because they break down the traditional geographic barriers and increase their potential customer base. They are also important because in today’s world, where decisions are made on the go and consumers are constantly being bombarded by additional input, small business owners need to capture sales at the time when the customer is ready to buy. If they don’t, life will intervene and delay that purchasing action or worse, drive it toward your competitors.

Estimates predict that mobile sales will account for a whopping $11.6 billion dollars in revenue in 2012. Are you positioned to get your piece of that pie? Taking advantage of mobile sales means using all of the tools at your disposal to convince customers to buy and then giving them the power to act on that decision immediately. It means designing your website from A to Z for useability and readability on smart phones and tablets. It means choosing typography that is attractive and readable on smaller screens as well as large home computer monitors. It means having an overall website design that is fluid… one that looks and works great on any screen no matter what the size. It means having navigation that works just as easily with thumbs and forefingers as it does with a mouse. It also means taking advantage of the power of Social Media to present your company, brand and products in a timely and effective way.

Social Media

It should be no surprise that the rise of Social Media Marketing and Mobile sales are closely related. Last year, Facebook estimated that 350 million of its 800 million users (40%) accessed the site via mobile devices. More and more consumers are using Social Media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter to research different products and make buying decisions. More importantly, Social Media provides THE SINGLE BEST opportunity to engage with your customers and potential customers on a regular basis. Social Media networks are available 24 hours a day, meaning that you can present marketing to your potential customers 24 hours a day. Just as important is the opportunity to increase your brand awareness, and build and reinforce your relationships with your customers. Offering discounts, coupons and other promotions to people that visit your Facebook business page on a regular basis is a great way to get people coming back over and over again. Is your business on Google+ yet? Don’t discount the potential power of this relatively new social network. Many are speculating that companies who utilize the new platform will automatically do better in Google’s search engine rankings, regardless of how many people actually visit the page!

Replicate the Retail Experience

I believe this is one of the greatest opportunities for small businesses to capitalize on the mobile and social marketing trends of 2012. While many customers will continue to shop online for the sake of convenience (among other reasons), they still want the responsiveness and service available from taking to a live person. The traditional customer service vehicle of a small business online presence has always been email or the website form. However, there are a variety of live chat options available that can greatly improve a small business’s response time for customers, which will lead to greater sales now and better customer retention in the future. Given the relatively small cost of some of these options (some are even FREE), the Return on Investment is phenomenal. Any time you can give the customer what they want, when they want it, you are putting yourself in a great position to succeed! Finding ways, like implementing a Live Chat system for both and pre- and post-sales situations is just one way to provide the best possible customer experience.

2012 – Great Promise for Small Businesses

Those small businesses that learn how to effectively extend their traditional brick and mortar presence into the online marketplace will enjoy the greatest success in 2012. A seamless integration of these strategies will produce more customers, greater customer retention, and open up even more opportunities through word of mouth, links back to your website and more followers on your social marketing accounts.