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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

Effective Search Engine Optimization Strategies For the Small Business Owner

Consider This:

  • Internet Advertising Reaches $5.5 Billion in First Quarter
  • There are now 1.5 BILLION people online (210 million on Facebook alone)
  • Your customers have changed the way the shop and buy. Have you changed your strategy?

For small business owners the Internet has proved to be extremely beneficial. Unlike traditional forms of broadcast marketing the Internet provides several advantages that help small businesses reach more potential customers. Often referred to as “non-interruptive,” or “inbound” marketing, internet marketing does not require interrupting your potential customers to get you message across. Quite the opposite actually, search engine marketing is reaching out to those already looking for you!

While traditional advertising requires organizations to spend thousands of dollars on branding and promotional activities, online advertising and effective search engine optimization (SEO) yield better results and can be achieved with a much smaller investment. Moreover, results achieved online offer more lasting benefits than conventional promotions and your return is measurable.

More than 83% of people searching for goods and services begin their search online. Therefore, if a small business can attract just a fraction of these potential customers to its website and convert then into buyers it will increase its revenues significantly.

Internet marketing, which includes SEO and SEM, requires formulating and implementing effective strategies to draw more targeted traffic that can eventually be converted into customers. Although every business must optimize their websites in the search engines, for an e-commerce website it is an ‘absolute must’. An e-commerce site is a website specifically built for the purpose of transacting business online.

Small business enterprises engaged in e-commerce face fierce competition today. To stay ahead of the competition they need to be visible to their audience and quickly draw the attention of prospective customers.

Ranking higher in the search engines is the first major task, followed by a successful branding/PR campaign. Internet marketing is a direct response medium. Branding is important, but improving your site popularity and getting more visitors to your landing pages is much more crucial in the beginning.

For a small business owner to achieve her highest and best return on investment, it is crucial to first formulate a strategy before starting an internet marketing campaign.

Only after a well thought out strategy and budget are in place should you then move forward with your SEO and SEM marketing plan. Never has it been more important to “measure twice, cut once”.

“Internet Marketing Is Your Future. If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” –General Eric Shineski, former Chief of Staff, US Army

 
5 Steps to Online Marketing Success:

1. Know your Audience. This is the most important task since your entire internet marketing campaign is directed towards your niche audience. If you fail to know your audience you will target the wrong people and subsequently lose business. Keeping your ear to the ground and doing a little research will help you find the right strategy and make good decisions from the outset.

2. Set a Goal. Unless you have a well-defined goal, you won’t have any direction. As Tony Robbins writes, “it is no use climbing to the top of the ladder only to find out your ladder is leaning against the wrong house.”

Once you have your goals clear and know your desired outcome you can choose the optimal amount of resources and channel your efforts in the right direction. The budget for small business marketing can be estimated once the goal is set.

Goal Setting Questions to Answer before you begin:

1. How many visitors do I need to get to my site to reach my financial goals? How many am I getting now? * What is a good “Click Through Rate” for my industry? * Are my website pages, products and services properly optimized on my site before I begin an off site campaign? * What should I consider a successful return on investment? * What percentage of my online marketing plan will be “organic,” or natural and what percentage will be paid search (i.e. Google AdWords PPC)? This is an extremely important question to consider as it will determine the specific internet marketing initiatives you will take. See number 3.

2. Select the right SEO techniques. There are several SEO techniques that will prove helpful for your internet marketing efforts. A mix of various techniques is necessary to have a balanced SEO campaign. Basic SEO will include a balanced combination of Niche Directory Submissions, Social Media Marketing, On Page optimization through effective Meta title and description tags, great SEO content, a working internal link structure and a site map to name just a few.

Other important techniques include link building campaigns and excellent Press Release and article marketing strategies.

3. Very important, don’t forget to monitor your competition! Google your keyword search terms and see who ranks highest for your competition. Then, review their sites in detail to see what you can learn.  What are they doing that you are not?  How is their site different from yours? What keywords do you notice are being used the most?

Figure out what’s working for them and where can you make changes to your strategy to achieve similar results. Hint: Use Alexa and other traffic/competitive measurement tools to check up on your competition.

4. Measure the Results. Without measuring the results and properly analyzing how your website is performing you won’t know if your marketing efforts are bringing positive results.

However, keep in mind it can sometimes take 3 to 6 months to get tangible results from an organic online advertising and marketing campaign. Measuring the results periodically will help you identify if anything is wrong in your strategy or if you need to intensify your campaign.

Keep what works, change what doesn’t. Simple

5. Make proper adjustments. After measuring your results to determine what’s working and what’s not you will need to make adjustments. Again, internet marketing is a direct response medium and A/B testing is crucial for success.

Make changes to improve your results. This will be an ongoing process, not a one time deal. Google, Yahoo and even the smaller search engines continually change their search algorithms. So, what worked one month may not work as well the next month. Simple testing and making minor adjustments when needed will keep you ahead of the curve.

Now, more than ever you need to have an effective Internet Marketing campaign in place. Traditional advertising continues to lose market share while online marketing continues to grow at a staggering pace.

21st Century Marketing: The Rules Have Changed. Selling to people who actually want to hear from you is more effective than interrupting strangers who don’t.”
 
Seth Godin, International NY Times bestselling author of more than a dozen marketing books.  

If you’re not making excellent use of your online opportunities, I can assure you that your competition is or soon will be. Stay on top of your game by following the ideas outlined in this article lead your company to new heights this year.

Small Business Online? Using Affiliate Programs to Make Money Online

Small businesses online are the future of the economy and will most likely play a large part in getting it out of the current recession. With the world going virtual and more of the economy shifting to the internet, each new online small business creates more competition and the possibility of helping the economy get out of the current recession. The shape of the financial world is changing and the ‘nobodies’ of yesteryear are leveling the playing field online.

What exactly is a small business online? Is it the cottage industry of the past or is it the local businesses that go online to create a ‘store front’ on the internet? The answer is neither. An online small business, today, includes the hundreds of thousands of web owners who have blogs, forums, and websites and make money online using their talents, providing their services, and using the various affiliate programs to capture a share of the market.

Online Marketers-? While the traditional small business owner provided only a service; today, a small business owner can market various services and make money online. The service providers have realized the competition online is simply too much. No one company can easily capture a large slice of the market., which is why the service providers work with many affiliate programs simultaneously, providing lucrative percentages to individuals and companies who act as ‘resellers’. This way they are able to capture a large portion of the market without geographical limitations or increasing overheads.

Through becoming an online marketer, any person can become a ‘small business’ owner and create a small business online.

The virtual world provides tens of thousands of opportunities online. Some are scams, some are genuine; and while every article read online has to be taken with a grain of salt, if you read enough and research enough, the best affiliate programs in the business will get your attention. There are names like ClickBank and Commission Junction, which will be repeated over and over again, proving within the realm of fantasy, some reality remains to make money online.

There is no guarantee of success and there are too many variables in the whole scheme of things to allow even the best financial wizards to create predictors of success. Yet, there is so much scope, so much vision, and simply so much opportunity for growth that anyone who does not take advantage lacks the foresight to capitalize.