Evaluate FIRST, Plan Second – Success Tips For Annual Business Planning

evaluate-first-plan-second-success-tips-for-annual-business-planningI am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. Visithttp://facebook.com/visasmallbiz to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business. The Page serves as a space where small business owners can access educational resources, read success stories from other business owners, engage with peers, and find tips to help businesses run more efficiently. Every month, the Page will introduce a new theme that will focus on a topic important to a small business owner’s success. For additional tips and advice, and information about Visa’s small business solutions, follow @VisaSmallBiz and visit http://visa.com/business.

Did you have a successful and profitable year? I hope you’re celebrating!

Did you miss the mark on some of your business and financial goals?  I hope you’re NOT in a depressive state and that instead you’re using this time to evaluate what didn’t work so you can make the necessary course corrections.

 

Whether you’ve reached your goals and are having a well-deserved celebration, or if you feel you came up short, the beauty of life is that tomorrow comes again, and so will the coming year.

Whether you’re celebrating, or learning from a rocky year, new plans for 2014 are needed.

NOW is the best time to evaluate.  I know it can be a busy time, but waiting until “after the holidays” will put you behind.

EVALUATE FIRST

Take some time to review both your personal life and your business.  For this conversation today, we’re going to talk about the five hats that you wear as an entrepreneur:

Creating

Marketing

Fulfilling

Managing/Admin

Learning

For each of the five categories, ask yourself three powerful questions:

What worked in 2013?

What didn’t work in 2013?

What needs to change for 2014?

The beauty of a new year is an opportunity to re-evaluate.  Once we know what we want to duplicate and do again, AND what doesn’t work that you can let go of – THAT is something to celebrate.  Entrepreneurship is one of the best stages for learning.

PLAN SECOND

Once you’ve done your evaluating, it’s time for a new plan.  If you hate the word ‘plan,’ like some of my clients do, create a MAP – a simple guide that will help you chart a new course in your business.

I use the same 5 Time Categories that we evaluated above.  Sit down with your laptop or a good old fashioned pen and paper and answer the following questions:

What do you need to CREATE in the new year?  Do you need to add new products or services to your portfolio?  If so, how many and when will you launch them?

What does your MARKETING strategy look like in 2014?  Review different mediums and make a plan for the whole year.  I know that some things will change or be added over the course of the coming months, but commit to being proactive in your promotion goals.  What mediums will you use?  Do your headlines and messages need to change?

Is there anything that needs to change in your FULFILLING process?  Do you need to change shipping suppliers or systems?  If you’re in a service-based business, do you need to change the way you meet or interact with your clients to fulfill contracts?

If you have employees, what needs to change in terms of how you MANAGE them? Do they need 1-on-1 meetings with you once a week to keep up with goals and to-do lists?  What new positions do you need to have in your business?

Even if you’re a solo-entrepreneur, I recommend that you use part-time virtual assistants on a temporary or permanent basis.  There are plenty of tasks that need to be delegated our outsourced so that you can be focusing on revenue-generating activities.  What plan can you put in place to hire your first employee or contractor?

Finally, what do you need to LEARN in the next 12 months?  What aspects of your business or your industry are you a little rusty on?  Are there association events you need to plan to attend and get on the calendar?   Keeping fresh is such a critical part of business longevity.

Remember, my equation for success is Success = VISION + ACTION.  First you need to visualize what you want for 2014, then you need to take the steps to make it happen!  A good plan includes GOALS and the ACTIONS you’ll take to reach them.

I carved out four hours this week to do this for my business.  I’ll spend about an hour on evaluation (I love to geek out with some white boards and post-it note easel pads) and then I’ll sit and strategize on how to create a banner year.   (If you want to see some of the images and another easy planning process from my planning meeting go here.)

Join me?

Originally Published on StartupPrincess.com on December 18, 2013

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Four Biggest Marketing Mistakes Small Businesses Make

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Marketing is a hot topic right now. For small businesses, it always is.

This time of year, I get more and more questions from friends, clients and listeners than any other time.  We’re evaluating our successes for the year, fretting about our failures and getting ready to plan for 2014.

I had a teleconference this week on this very subject.  If it interests you, you can download the teleconference here.

I go into greater detail on the call, but thought I’d share the fast version here.

The first biggest mistake is what I call reverse marketing.  Companies will look at the medium first and then define the message or objectives.  Like the name implies this is a backwards approach.  ALWAYS start with marketing objectives. THEN decide the mediums that will help you reach your goals.  Don’t look at Facebook and ask yourself, “How can I get exposure here?”  Look at your objectives and decide if Facebook is the right fit or not.

The second biggest mistake is only using FREE marketing outlets like social media.  Though I love social media and advocate it’s use as long as it supports your marketing objectives, you should also pay for exposure where appropriate.  You should be spending about 4-10% of annual sales on your marketing budget.

The third biggest mistake is failure to PLAN.  Most entrepreneurs are doing what I call “Pin The Tail On The Donkey” marketing.  They are blindly making marketing decisions without having objectives and without creating a solid plan.  I know, I know, you don’t like the word plan, but honestly, if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 1,000 times, “PLAN is the four letter word for success.”  Don’t shortchange your business or your future by not having a plan.  A days work in putting together clear objectives could mean doubling or tripling your sales.

I know it can be hard.  That’s why I created a tool called The Marketing Playbook.  A digital tool that helps you define your goals, write key marketing messages, schedule mediums, plan your online strategy, create a social media model that works for your business and MORE!  There is also a tab that helps you calculate your return on investment so that you know what mediums and campaigns were the most lucrative.  Until this fall, this tool has only been available to my private clients.  And for a limited time, you’re getting it for $50 off PLUS I’ve loaded it with bonuses.  Learn more and get your copy here.  Now, it’s easy and fun to plan your marketing!

The fourth biggest mistake is misusing social media.  I’ve talked about this a lot, but I’m surprised how frequently I see companies abuse the outlet.  Social media is NOT for sales.  It’s for seeding and service.  Sure, you can announce promotions and talk about products, but actually asking for the sale should happen less than 10% of the time.  There are four types of social media updates (I call them the four S’s!):

  1. Service – Provide value.  Share tips and information.  Don’t just talk about your product, own the industry you’re in.  BE the media.   Share newsworthy and valuable information.
  2. Socialize – Build a community of raving fans online.  Connect like minded individuals.  Ask questions through social media so people can share together!
  3. Sign – It is appropriate to use this as a way to share your freebies and opt-ins to grow your list.  You can also ask people to find you through other social outlets through cross promotion.  This should only be about 15% of your status updates, though, so don’t overdue it or you’ll turn off your list!
  4. Sell – Like I said, it’s okay to sell but on a limited basis (I talk more about why this is so important in the audio, so if you want to know WHY, listen here.) but make sure it’s still only 10% of your posts!

I hope as you are doing your annual planning, you’ll consider these costly mistakes.  Small changes can equal big paychecks!  And don’t forget to check out the Marketing Playbook.  The discount + bonuses only last until Cyber Monday, December 2nd!

Originally Published on StartupPrincess.com on November 20, 2013

Every Good Business Started As An Idea – Is Yours A Good One?

every-good-business-started-as-an-idea-is-yours-a-good-oneWritten by Francesca Escoto for Startup Princess

Is this a good business idea? Am I good enough to make it happen?  These are the two questions that people are really thinking about when they are considering a new business venture or launching a new project.

As a Startup coach, I work with entrepreneurs who want to turn their ideas into money, but have not figured out how to get from point A to point B.  Here are the three questions I walk my clients through when they come to me during their first year in business:

  1.     Is your idea worth something?

What is your product or service worth to your potential client?  Is it the relief of pain? Or is it the realization of dream, fulfillment of a passion?  People will buy something only for one of two reasons – they really need it, or they really want it.  You might have multiple business ideas running through your head right now.  Evaluate which of these ideas is actually addressing something painful, and which is making dreams come true.  The one that can do at least one of these two really well is your winner.

However, there are other people out there making dreams come true and relieving pain.  So another set of questions must also be answered:

  • Do you do this better than the competition?  This is a question of quality as it is perceived by the customer.  For example, you might be into helping relieve headaches.  You provide a natural alternative to painkillers.  Your clients want fast relief from headache.  Although your product has less side effects and has better long-term results, it does not relieve existing pain fast enough for your potential clients.  So, either you sell to people who want less side effects, or you improve your product to relieve pain faster.
  • Do you do this cheaper than the competition?  Continuing the analogy, perhaps you have found a way to alleviate existing headaches just as fast as your competitors, but you can do it at a fraction of the cost.  You can choose to price your product identically with your competitor and simply make more money in every sale.  Or, you can choose to pass on some of the savings to your client and compete on price.
  • Can you do this faster?  Faster is sometimes difficult to define, depending on your industry.  It can also be a tricky proposition.  For example, think of coaches that practically guarantee that you can have a thriving business in three months instead of one year.  Again, depending on your industry, waiting one year to start making profit is actually a very good expectation! Most businesses don’t even break even until Year 5!  If you truly can help your client achieve results faster, or if you can manufacture the widget faster than the competition, you can capitalize on the “early adopters”, the segment of your market that likes being the first to try new things.
  • Is your idea a disruption in the market?  Perhaps you go about solving the problem in a way that nobody else does.  Therefore, you don’t compete on quality, price or speed.  You compete on innovation.  Your solution is truly different when it changes human behavior.  For example, mobile technology has changed how humans interact with information.  The mobile phone is not just cheaper, higher quality or faster than a landline.  It is a different tool altogether, used to make phone calls among other tasks.  The evidence of this is that most people have both a landline and a mobile phone!  Mobil technology did not replace landlines, it solved problems that landlines could not solve.
  1.     How to Test Your Idea

Once you select an idea, ask yourself: why will people spend a dollar on this product or service?  Write down all the reasons you come up with.  Then, narrow it down to the top three reasons that, if you are wrong, would actually have the biggest impact on your success.  For example, if you are thinking of creating a line of tropical-fruit flavored sherbets, your top-three list of assumptions might be:

–          People enjoy tropical fruit flavors

–          People enjoy sherbets

–          People will buy sherbets year-round

If people don’t enjoy tropical flavors, you’re out of business.  If your ideal clients like tropical fruits in smoothies, not in sherbets, then you’re out of business.  If people will only buy your product during certain times of the year (and you are not prepared for a seasonal business model), then you might be out of business.

Before you invest your life savings into remodeling a 3,000 square foot sherbet-making facility, come up with the simplest, cheapest, easiest way to validate your top three assumptions.  In this scenario, that could be as simple as making a weekly batch of sherbet, each a different flavor.  Do that for one month, and each week have different people taste your product.  Ideally, you should charge for your product because it will tell you if people like it enough to pay for it.  Without any ego, listen to the feedback.

  1.     Incorporate the Feedback

Sometimes we assume people don’t know any better, and we dismiss their opinions and feedback. You don’t have that luxury.  In rare cases, you will be much wiser than your market.  For example, Ford could have built a better wagon to be pulled by horses, or he could have invented an engine.  Although his market did not know what a motorized wagon could even look like, Ford was able to lead his market with a vision of the future.  It worked.   If you are promoting a disrupting innovation, then feedback might or might not be as relevant in this phase.  However, lets assume that you are doing something really cool, though not as revolutionary as inventing the first car.

In that case, you will take the feedback you receive and iterate. Like crazy.  Every week, you will improve the sherbet experience: if people complain about the spoon, then you try a new one.  People suggest that setting a couple of tables would go great with the ambiance – so you do it.  Most of your clients tell you that the coconut sherbet does not have a pleasing texture – so you change it.

At some point soon, you will have a good-enough-to-launch model.  You are getting barely enough consistent feedback that you are onto something good.  That is all you need!  You are ready to launch your idea.  You are not completely out of the woods – now you have to prepare to serve a larger number of people.  There is a next set of assumptions that you can go prove:

–          If enough people know about this product, they will buy

–          When people try the product, they come back for more

–          Children will enjoy birthday parties here

You create new “tests” to find out if this set of assumptions is true.

Depending on your product or service, and the business model you are implementing, you can turn your idea into cash within three months.  This does not mean that you will have a thriving business overnight.  It means that, by starting with the simplest version of your product, you should be able to start selling within a short period of time.

What is your business idea?  What is keeping you from taking it to the bank?

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Francesca Escoto is speaker, author, and Founder & CEO of the Innovators Institute.  She’s also the host of her own radio show on the Woohoo Radio Network. She’s also a bestselling author. You can find her at http://francescaescoto.com/product/innovation-lab/

Originally Published on StartupPrincess.com on October 4, 2013

What I Wish I Had Known Before I Started My First Business

what-i-wish-i-had-known-before-i-started-my-first-businessI am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. Visit http://facebook.com/visasmallbiz to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business. The Page serves as a space where small business owners can access educational resources, read success stories from other business owners, engage with peers, and find tips to help businesses run more efficiently. Every month, the Page will introduce a new theme that will focus on a topic important to a small business owner’s success. For additional tips and advice, and information about Visa’s small business solutions, follow @VisaSmallBiz and visit http://visa.com/business.

If you could go back and give yourself business advice when you first started your business, what would you tell yourself?

I started my first business, Doodads Promotional Products, when I was 19.  I didn’t have any idea what I was doing.  I call myself an “accidental entrepreneur” because I never set out to own or start a business and this just landed in my lap.  I won’t bore you with the story except to say that I’m so glad I took that leap.  It hasn’t always been easy, but I Iove my lifestyle and all that Doodads has taught me.  I’ll be forever grateful for the startup bug that was planted in me.  I’ve started, sold and grown 8 other businesses since then.

That said, if I could go back and tell my 19-year-old self a few things about business this is what I would say: (Otherwise known as powerful things I learned the hard way…)

First, Business-to-business marketing (and business operations, for that matter) is very different from business-to-consumer marketing.  The sooner you figure that out the more money you’ll make.

Second, Just because your 19-year-old brain likes the font Tiki Surf doesn’t mean that it’s a good font for a legitimate business (just sayin’).  All that stuff that you read about branding and understanding your target market before you design the most important part of your brand, is true.  If you don’t know about branding, read a book or seek the advice of a professional before you pay for a logo.  You’ll end up redoing it later.

dooddadslogo doodadslogo1

Third, Track all of your marketing activities and expenditures and calculate your return on investment.  Don’t continue to pay for yellow page ads (remember this was the 90s!) when networking at the Chamber of Commerce lunches brings you more business.  In my business I learned that that people aren’t buying an imprinted pen, they are buying ME.  It’s about the customer service experience and the expertise you provide as a value added resource.  When I learned that I could be an extension of their marketing team and provide advice above and beyond promotional items, my business boomed.

Fourth, Build a powerful support team.  Every entrepreneur needs three levels of support.

Foundational Support – The people who work with you (employees, virtual assistants, contractors) that handle the tasks in your business that keep you from focusing on revenue-generating activities.

Friend Support – Find cheerleaders.  Some friends will be nay-sayers or will overwhelm you with not-so-helpful advice.  Build a friend network that is sitting at the front row of your events, promoting your company in an organic way and who support you in your efforts in life and business.

Mentor Support – Get coaches.  Learn from people who have gone before you.  Be moldable.  Take advice you’re given from the experts that land in your path.  Find trailblazers that will teach you how to “get there faster”.

Fifth, Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You don’t know it all.  Like number four, remember that though you are a smart 19-year-old, there are a lot of things you don’t know and understand.

Sixth, Marketing is like the laundry – the job is never done.  Marketing isn’t a project or to-do list item.  It’s a regular activity in your business that should be part of your daily, weekly and monthly focus.  Fill your pipeline and keep it flowing.  Evolve.  Times change.  Technology changes.  Try to stay ahead of the curve and think like a client.  How can you anticipate their needs?

Seventh, You will make mistakes.  Say “I’m sorry” a lot.  Own up to when you drop the ball.  People like honesty more than they like your excuses and blame.  Be real.  They are human, too.  Get back up, brush yourself off and don’t let pride hold you back.

I would love to hear, what would you go back and tell yourself before you started your first business?

Also, take a look at the information below.  Are entrepreneurs passionate?

Originally Published on StartupPrincess.com on September 23, 2013

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The Three Levels of Support Every Entrepreneur Needs – Excerpt From Make It Happen Blueprint

Read a portion of Michelle's book for free!

the-three-levels-of-support-every-entrepreneur-needs-excerpt-from-make-it-happenThe following summarized blog post is the chapter “Power Team” in my latest book “Make It Happen Blueprint“.  For the whole chapter and to read the rest of the book go to your favorite bookseller.  This book is available online and in brick and mortar stores near you.

Enjoy!

Practice – POWER TEAM

THE THREE LEVELS OF SUPPORT

Choosing your power team is just as important as choosing how to spend your time. You need the right people in the right place at the right time in your life. I like to think of the power team in terms of a pyramid with three levels. Each level serves its own purpose, and each is critical in its own way. Odds are that you already have people who support you on the various levels. As we discuss each one, think of who in your life fits in that category, and who else you could include to expand your power team and operate at your desired peak performance level. You may even want to write names down as they come to you. And remember, just as you need people on your team, peak performers are part of other people’s power teams as well.

1. Foundational Support

Every pyramid needs a strong base, and your power team is no different. The foundational support level is comprised of people who assist and can have responsibilities delegated to them. Since peak performers know their strengths and delegate the rest, they rely on the people in the foundational support level to help them get things done.

Lower Level Tasks

There are two types of tasks that are typically delegated. The first, is lower level tasks. These are things that should be handled by an assistant, a contractor, or someone at a lower pay level. That doesn’t mean the tasks, or the people doing them, are of lower value. Delegation is simply a way of dispersing tasks to the appropriate level of expertise.

I love Ken Blanchard’s book The One Minute Manager Meets The Monkey. In it, Blanchard talks about the concept that “All monkeys must be handled at the lowest organizational level consistent with their welfare.” This single principle has guided my professional life for the last 14 years.

Hire and train the right employees, contractors and vendors to help you do admin activities so you can focus on your core strengths.

Skill Based and Upper Level Tasks

The second type of task that can be delegated involves things that are either above your level of expertise or require skills that you don’t have. These are called skill based or upper level tasks.

For example, I have a client who is a graphic designer. After going through a delegation activity with her, I noticed she was spending one to two hours a week, sometimes more, on bookkeeping. As a creative person, she should spend most of her time creating art, graphics, and marketing materials. Instead, she was crunching numbers and tracking payments. Not only did she hate doing it, she really wasn’t good at it—no offense, of course.

Because she hated this task, she ended up dreading it every single week. Sometimes it got pushed into another week and then pushed into another week. By the time she got around to it she had to spend an entire afternoon, or even a full day bookkeeping and invoicing just so she could get paid. For her, bookkeeping was something she needed to delegate to someone else.

When I pointed this out, she said, “But Michelle, I can’t afford it.” So I asked her, “Well, how much do you make an hour?” She replied, “It depends on the project, but about $75 to $100 an hour.” To that I said, “Okay, so for the $150 to $200 a week you are spending on bookkeeping you could afford to hire a professional to do it for you.” Light bulbs went on, and I think she may have done a dance on the spot. The point is, as an entrepreneur you do not have to do everything yourself!

Take a look at your current to-do list. Better yet, look at some completed lists or back lists. If something is not in your area of expertise, and if it is not something you really want to be doing, you should be delegating it out to a professional who can do it better. Or, you might even consider finding an assistant (temporary or long-term) who can do it faster or for less money than it would cost for you to do it.

I learned this lesson early on when I started my first business, a promotional products company. I would spend a lot of time putting stickers on catalogs, writing the addresses, and mailing them out, before I realized I could have a neighborhood teenager do those things for significantly cheaper. Delegating the tasks freed up my time so I could focus on marketing and getting new customers. What was even better was the fact that I had some happy neighbor kids who were getting paid to do something other than flip burgers. They liked the money, they were learning to work, and I had time for more important activities.

If you’re an entrepreneur and could use additional help in this department, two chapters in my book The Time Blueprint For Entrepreneurs are all about the hows and whys of delegating.

If you’re not an entrepreneur, get creative about the ways you can utilize others strengths and resources to get the “monkeys” off your back and build the foundational level of your power team.

2. Core Friend Support

The middle level of the support pyramid is for our friends and family members. These people are our cheerleaders—sometimes, quite literally. They are the ones who are sitting on the front row at our events, by our sides during key moments in life, and celebrating every victory with us. They also have their arms around us when we lose. We can trust and rely on them.

Typically, this level is where people naturally have the most support. However, if you find yourself lacking in this category, I have a couple of suggestions to help you build a stronger power team of friends.

Connect with like-minded individuals. Networking events and social groups are a great way to seek out like-minded individuals. There are so many options! Professionally, consider chambers of commerce and other groups with potential to strengthen your business associates and friends. Personally, consider sports teams, clubs, and organizations surrounding interests or hobbies you enjoy.

Consider what kind of friend you are in return. With some honesty and transparency, some of my clients have discovered the reason they are weak on this power team level is because they haven’t been supportive of others, and now there’s a social void in their own life. Never fear, because it’s never too late to repair what might seem broken, or make connections with new people with similar interests.

One thing to note about this level is that the people in it often change over time. I’ve noticed in my life how friends change as my lifestyle and my circumstances change. With a handful of exceptions, the friends I had in junior high school are different than the friends I have now. I would assume that’s the case for you as well.

Also note that there are a lot of friends that I love but I don’t take their business advice.  They are  good sounding boards, but beware of advice you take from a friend.

3. Mentor Support

Mentor or coach support is the top level of support I picture mentors and coaches as being above me. In other words, they are the people who know what I want to know, and they have blazed a trail for me to follow. I want and need their support to help me get to my destination faster.

Mentors come in many forms. They can be a friends with knowledge or skill sets you want to learn. They can be business associates that teach and train you. Whatever form they come it, they are knowledge givers, coaches, and consultants.

I worked at a television station while I was in college. My boss was a nice, smart man who to this day is one of the most organized and polished people I know. He even had a specific system for ironing his shirts so the creases would be just so. He never had a hair on his head out of place, and all of his folder tabs faced in one direction.

I remember being surprised when he told me one day that he had hired a life coach. Honestly, I had to try really hard not to laugh out loud. I couldn’t believe Mr. Perfection needed help achieving more in his life. I critically thought, “If you can’t figure out how to handle your own life, you might have bigger problems.”

The irony is that I’m a coach now. I get it. Even though I am a coach and work with clients across the country and in various parts of the world, I still pay coaches to help keep me on my A-game. I find coaches with a skill or expertise that I want and then I learn from them. Coaches help me “get there faster” in my life and business, and I see my coaches as prime examples of the mentor support I’ve had to help me be a peak performer.

Though I have paid people to coach me, I have also used the help of free mentors, mastermind groups and accountability partners who I consider to be an important part of my power team.

The people you spend your time with can effect your projects and dreams in big ways. They can cheer you on, support you and help you grow, but they can also discourage you or be negative with their “let’s be realistic” comments. Be careful about who you include on your power team, and the time and energy investment you make in people who are raining on your parade.

I feel very blessed to have amazing people in my life at every level. I couldn’t accomplish what I do without employees, friends, family members and coaches who show up in powerful ways to help me be a peak performer.

Take some time to nurture your own relationships and help your power team understand what their support, at any level, means to you! Gratitude can be a great currency for strong relationships.

Who is on your Power Team?  Who has helped you on your entrepreneurial journey?

Get your own copy of the Make It Happen Blueprint PLUS see who’s on MY power team in this amazing High Performance Bundle offered until March 21st.

Originally Published on StartupPrincess.com on September 17, 2013

Loving Money – Book Review Money: A Love Story by Kate Northrup

loving-money-book-review-money-a-love-story-by-kate-northrupMoney.

Is your relationship with money helping you make more of it, or are you barely making it from paycheck to paycheck?

Enter Kate Northrup author of Money: a Love Story. Whether you’re relationship with money is solid or broken, Kate has great advice for having a healthy love affair with money.

Kate is an entrepreneur so her insights are unique to women like us who are in the trenches trying to create our own paychecks, and yet her advice is just as sound for those professionals working for other companies or organizations.

Kate is spot on and addresses what most other money books are missing: the mindset of money.  So many of us are carrying our mental baggage money from our childhood, our financial failures and so much more.  Kate offers simple solutions for kicking that baggage “to the curb”.

You’ll also love her quiz to test your current money paralysis (or your money strength!) Get you quiz for free here.

Her book is released today! Get it on amazon.

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Kate Northrup is a professional freedom seeker and creative entrepreneur. She created financial freedom for herself at the age of 28 through building a team of more than 3,000 wellness entrepreneurs in the network marketing industry. Her philosophy is that if you free yourself financially you can be fully present to your purpose on the planet. She’s committed to empowering as many people as possible to have the ultimate luxury in life: choice. Kate has spoken to audiences of thousands with Hay House, Wanderlust, USANA Health Sciences, and more. She’s also the author of Money: A Love Story, Untangle Your Financial Woes and Create the Life You Really Want (Hay House, September 2013). She continues to mentor entrepreneurs through her network marketing team, The Freedom Family. Find out more and take her free quiz to find out what your relationship with money says about you at katenorthrup.com.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Kate on Make It Happen Radio.  Download and listen here.  BONUS: In the second half of the show, I also share the four tips for getting unstuck in life or business.

Originally Published on StartupPrincess.com September 10, 2013

The Make It Happen Blueprint is Available WORLDWIDE

It’s here! I can finally say my book is available THIS MONTH! (Insert celebratory music!)

When I first self published this book three and a half years ago, I dreamed of this day when I’d have a publisher and full nationwide distribution.  I’m honored to be included on the following websites and retailers.

But don’t take my word for it.  Here’s what others have to say about The Make It Happen Blueprint:

“I do love this book. McCullough is real and relate-able. I was only in the first chapter when I felt hopeful and empowered. While some of her golden advice is aimed mostly to those working in the field of Business (which I am not), there is more than enough real-life help that a Homemaker can use too. She doesn’t create, yet another, list of things “I should be doing”, but attainable solutions to MAKE TIME for the other things I really DO need to do. These recommendations are easy to do. I am so thankful for McCullough’s inspiration and passion to share this knowledge; my life was immediately changed and improved for the goals her book motivated.” – Kristin Call; London, ENGLAND

“I used to be SO good about planning and doing, but over the past few years, I have become unfocused and thus, unproductive. As a mom of three and an entrepreneur, my two biggest time traps have been multi-tasking and compulsively checking email + social media. Michelle’s productivity action tips have been a powerful refresher course for me! I love how she simplifies things with steps that set you up for foolproof success.”  – Heather Allard, founder heatherallard.com; Rhode Island, USA

“Michelle McCullough has one of those minds you love to be around! She shares fresh ideas, content, and strategies for creating a life and a business that you love. Reading this book will elevate your life!” – Tiffany Peterson, Professional Speaker, www.TiffanySpeaks.com; Utah, USA

“As entrepreneurs we often feel alone. McCullough’s book Make It Happen reminds us that we are all in this together. She manages to rekindle your purpose as well as provide pertinent ideas and strategies to help you preform at your best. I love the way she provides a section at the end of each chapter to help you implement the things you read and learn in Make It Happen. Every purposeful entrepreneur should have this book on their nightstand!” – Nicole Carpenter, CEO of MOMentity.com and bestselling author of 52 Weeks to Fortify Your Family: 5-minute messages; Utah USA

“Michelle’s chapter “Raising Peak Performers” is great! I especially loved the story about her family theme and her son remembering it as he hopped out of the car on the first day of school. Michelle’s suggestions and principles really resonated with me and I believe they would absolutely help parents to raise children who thrive!”  – Tara Kennedy Klein, Author of “Stop Raising Einstein; Pennsylvania, USA

“The beauty of Michelle’s book & writing is that it is a lucid, unadorned reminder that we periodically need. It reinforces powerful practices which we often brush past and only remember when we fail to “make it happen”. I love her earnest voice and really personal examples.” – Vilasi Venkatachalam; INDIA

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Creating Your Corporate Culture – Even as a Small Business

creating-your-corporate-culture-even-as-a-small-businessI am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. Visit http://facebook.com/visasmallbiz to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business. The Page serves as a space where small business owners can access educational resources, read success stories from other business owners, engage with peers, and find tips to help businesses run more efficiently. Every month, the Page will introduce a new theme that will focus on a topic important to a small business owner’s success. For additional tips and advice, and information about Visa’s small business solutions, follow @VisaSmallBiz and visit http://visa.com/business.

Do you have a corporate culture?

The answer is yes.  Even if it’s not a planned corporate culture, everything you do in your business supports a corporate culture.

Some people think of a corporate culture in terms of a brand.  A corporate culture goes beyond branding – though your brand is PART of your overall corporate culture.

Take Google for example.  What words do you think of when you think of Google’s corporate culture?

Playful

Fun

Friendly

Connected

Customer Focused

Everything Google does upholds their corporate culture, from their logo (which is also part of their branding), to changing their homepage on holidays, and even to their campus in Silicon Valley.  Inside Google’s offices you’ll find indoor slides, pool tables, and free food.  Their employee cafeteria has a dozen choices to fit your mood and culture and you don’t pay a dime.

Is Google upholding their corporate culture from start to finish?  You bet!

So let me ask you this question: What is your corporate culture?  What words do you want people to think and feel about your business when they interact with you?

Does your branding uphold your corporate culture?

Do your customer service practices uphold your corporate culture?

Does your office uphold your corporate culture (even if you work from home)?

This line of questioning can be hard, especially for small business owners and solopreneurs, but I promise they will be helpful in creating a corporate culture that you’re proud of.

Even more than pride, I hope you create a corporate culture that helps you strive to provide the kind of experience that your customers crave and ultimately helps customers and prospects choose YOU over the competition.

Here are five tips to creating a corporate culture you love:

Brainstorm five words that you want to describe your corporate culture.  Depending on the business it might be fun, playful, attainable, connected, comfortable (like Google).  You also might have a list that looks something like this: professional, knowledgeable, classy, high-end, international.  See the difference?  Though it IS possible to want some words from both categories to ultimately create your corporate culture.  Look at your current product/service suite, look at your branding, but ultimately DON’T make the choices based on what you currently see.  Make your choices based on what you want it to be in the future.

After you have your five words, compare your five words to your current branding. Do your logo, website and promotional materials embody the words you selected?  If not, what needs to change?  How can you uplevel your brand to be in alignment with your corporate culture?

Case Study: Doodads Promotional Products

I started my promotional products company when I was 19.  At the time, I was working at an advertising agency and my BFF was a graphic designer.  She made a logo for me out of my favorite font at the time.  I was young and my business and lifestyle embodied that logo.

As I grew a little and when I made a geographic change in my life and my business, I looked at my logo and realized that it did not uphold the words I wanted to exemplify.  I still wanted to be fun and infuse that into my business, but I wanted people to think “professional and classy” first before “fun” so that they would know that I could take care of their marketing in a professional manner.  My logo change was a necessary uplevel to embody my corporate culture.

Compare your five words to your customer service strategy and practices.  Do your interactions on the phone, online and via mail uphold your corporate culture?  If not, what needs to change?

Compare your five words to your product/service offerings.  Do your products uphold the words you selected?  Are there products/services that are missing from your suite that need to be added?  Are there products or services you should eliminate to better uphold your corporate culture?

Check out your workspace, office and online store.  Does your work environment embody your 5 words?  Even if you work in a small space in the corner of your bedroom, what can you add to your work environment that will help you maintain the corporate culture you desire? You can still work in your jammies, if that’s what helps you, but sometimes I put heels on while I’m on my radio show to remind me of my corporate culture.  The space we are in truly does affect how we interact with our business.

Share with us!  What five words best describe your corporate culture?  Or what things have you done in your business to maintain a corporate culture, even as a solopreneur or small business?

Originally Published on StartupPrincess.com on August 15, 2013

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Is Your Customer Loyalty Program Strategic or An Afterthought?

is-your-customer-loyalty-program-strategic-or-an-afterthoughtI am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. Visit http://facebook.com/visasmallbiz to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business. The Page serves as a space where small business owners can access educational resources, read success stories from other business owners, engage with peers, and find tips to help businesses run more efficiently. Every month, the Page will introduce a new theme that will focus on a topic important to a small business owner’s success. For additional tips and advice, and information about Visa’s small business solutions, follow @VisaSmallBiz and visit http://visa.com/business.

As an entrepreneur, I dream of a business where money just comes in because clients are purchasing from me over and over and over.

I remember learning about the 80/20 rule in a college business class.  The 80/20 principle states that eighty percent of your business will come from twenty percent of your customers.

Is this the case for your business?

In my case, and in the case of many of my consulting clients, good customer loyalty programs can make or break your business.  In fact, customer loyalty and customer retention should be just as important, if not MORE important than lead generating activities.

My promotional products business, Doodads, has been around for 14 years this August.  In the beginning I did a lot of trial and error to grow my business, but I quickly learned that it was a lot easier to keep an existing customer happy than it is to get a new customer.  In fact, the 80/20 rule works here too.  It takes 80% more work to get a new customer and only 20% to keep that customer that already knows you to purchase again.

My customer loyalty program is designed to keep my existing customers happy.  To this day, over 85% of my business each year comes from repeat customers, a statistic I’m quite proud of.  In the business-to-business space, customer loyalty programs look a little different than in the business-to-consumer space.  Punch cards and bonus points don’t work as well for businesses; however, I do have some suggestions (If you have a business-to-consumer operation, still read these, because they can apply to you as well).

Here are three tips for business-to-business companies to encourage repeat business.

  1. Provide killer customer service. Though this sounds like Business 101, I’m still surprised how few of my consulting clients have an actual plan for providing top notch service to make customers happy.  I learned very early on that people aren’t really buying imprinted pens from me, they are buying ME.  I have A LOT of competitors, including online merchants that are willing to make pennies on an order.  As a result my clients often pay MORE to use me.  Why would they do that?  Because I make working with me easy (and hopefully a little fun, too). In addition, with my marketing background, I try to be a value added resource as they put promotional items into their existing marketing campaigns.  Though you don’t have to have that knowledge to be successful in the business, it’s part of my customer service strategy to help with other marketing tasks as well.  In your business might look a little different.

How can you apply this principle in what you sell or offer?  Whatever you do, make it as personal and direct as possible. In the digital age, it’s really easy to forget that actual conversations and small gestures go a long way.  If you don’t have a customer service philosophy, take some time to define it.  Like so many things, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

  1. Express gratitude complementary to the dollar amount received.  Handwritten thank you notes are ALWAYS appreciated and should be a bare minimum, but don’t stop there. Do you have clients that give you BIG orders? Thank them with lunch, a gift certificate, a nice gift or something else.  Gratitude can be futuristic currency.  Gratitude makes deposits in the relationship bank account.  You want them to remember you, and you also want to acknowledge that you know that they have other choices, and you’re grateful they picked you.
  2. Don’t be forgotten. Stay “in front” of your client.  I should add “appropriately”.  Some sales reps and business owners can go overboard here, but overboard is better than not doing it enough.  The goal with getting repeat business is not being forgotten.  Keep your clients up to date on new product offerings, promotions or industry information.  Keep in touch in various forms: email, social media and especially phone calls.  Don’t always call for a sale, either.  Where appropriate remember birthdays and key life events.  Follow up on their business goals and see how you can help.  Top of mind awareness is key in having clients purchase from you over and over.

Here are three tips for business-to-consumer companies to encourage repeat business.  In ADDITION to all of the above, consider the following:

  1.  When considering frequent card/punch card program and the like, remember three things:

Is the program easy to understand?

Is the prize at the end worth it and does it encourage repeat business?

Is it attainable?

If there is confusion about how the program works, people won’t participate.  If the discount, free meal, or gift certificate is so low or laughable, then people won’t participate.  If it takes too much to achieve it, people won’t participate.  And note that if you confuse them, insult them with a poor reward or make it impossible to reach or take too long it could actually HURT your business.  People will associate your business with a lame customer loyalty program and even if they like your product, service, store or restaurant, you may actually discourage future business.  Think about the customer loyalty programs that you like and participate in. What makes you like them and participate?  Whose punch cards are in your wallet?  Where do you like to shop for the free stuff? Design your program accordingly AND in alignment with your brand and industry.

Don’t be afraid to give things away for free or provide dollar amount bonuses for future purchases.  Remember that this is part of your marketing and business development plan.  Don’t blow out your budget, but do make it worth the time and effort to return online or in person.  Set your pricing accordingly to account for future freebies or discounts.

  1. In addition to a punch card like system, offer special bonus days/times/coupons for repeat business.  This can be done with bounce back coupons, regular or sporadic customer appreciation days or parties, etc.  They can be given at events, at your location, mailed or emailed.
  2. Participate in social media and provide benefits/discounts/perks for following you. One restaurant I frequent gave me a yummy chocolate chip cookie for liking them on Facebook, right on the spot.

Social media can be a great way to keep top of mind, so encourage your customers online and in your store to like you on Facebook and follow you on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, etc.  Share strategically and with a specific plan.  Don’t sell with EVERY tweet and status update.  Share things about your industry and employees.  Link to news on your blog or to third party sites that help you look like a news curator.   Be a hub and use your social media as a resourceful foundation for your brand, not a sales spewer.  Do social media RIGHT and can be a big part of your customer retention and loyalty plan.

I’ve been super impressed with a local clothing boutique called koodeker.  She ROCKS Instagram and her business proves it.  She has a huge following on Instagram and posts pictures of outfits put together, accessories, an item of the day, pictures about $5 shipping anywhere in the US and also gives shout outs and re-grams for customers who Instagram a koodeker outfit or piece.  Customers follow her and Instagram their outfits to get a mention.  Customers love to see the new items and because she’s made shipping so easy and affordable, customers don’t even have to go in the shop to get the latest thing.  That is genius Instagram marketing and customer retention through a social media outlet.

Remember that whether your clients are businesses or individuals, people do business with people and businesses who they know, like and trust.  Examine your company and your customer loyalty program and ask yourself, “Do my customers really know about my products and services?  Do they like what we offer and do we have a wide range of offerings for their needs?  Do they like our company philosophy?  Do they trust us as a company?  Do they know what working with us feels like and do they trust that?”  These can be great questions to ask in your next staff or management meeting.  Your company’s perceptions have a lot to do with repeat business and you don’t want to miss the mark.

I’d love to hear what works (and what doesn’t) in your business.  Let’s share and help each other grow!

Also, take a minute to Save or Pin the infographic below.

Originally Published on StartupPrincess.com on July 22, 2013

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Boundaries for Small Business Owners – Finding Peace Where Work & Life Intersect

boundaries-for-small-business-owners-finding-peace-where-work-and-life-intersectThis is a call for all the over-worked, tired, multi-tasking, schedule-full women entrepreneurs out there.  Are you feeling a little run down? What do you do to preserve yourself, your relationships and your business?

In my experience with my private coaching clients and as I meet with women entrepreneurs across the country, I have found that many women business owners have been parading around and proudly sharing their middle name: “Sacrifice”.

In our efforts to juggle our roles, many of us (myself included, at times) have felt the need to sacrifice our own needs and self-care for the benefit of our businesses, our families, our communities, our church groups and so much more.

Though I do believe that there are times when self-sacrifice (or marital sacrifice) is needed, as a general rule I think this practice is overused – leaving us tired, run down and in many cases it can negatively affect our business and it usually affects our relationships with family and friends.

Though I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes I have to be reminded of these tips, here are the three boundaries that I use to ensure that I can preserve time for myself and make sure my business isn’t effecting family time.

  1. I begin and end every day with myself. It might sound selfish at first, but if you aren’t currently doing this practice, I encourage you to give it a try and see how it works.  In my world, I call it my Power Up and Power Down Routine.

In the morning, I get up BEFORE my kids and often my husband to fill my own well.  Though the actual items may vary for each one of you, I do something physical to wake me up.  This isn’t typically my exercise time, but I’ll do some sit ups, stairs or take a quick walk outside to wake up my body and brain.  Then I read something motivational.  On my bedside table you’ll find 8-10 books at any given time.  I use this as my reading time.  Sometimes I’m reading the latest marketing book, other times I’m re-reading a chapter from my favorite success reference: The Success Principles, by Jack Canfield.  I also love to listen to my Ideal LifeVision and connect with my goals and mission.  I’ll also connect with my spiritual needs.

This time is so critical.  When I’m sick or get out of the groove, I can feel the difference in my day.  If I wait until my kids wake up, I feel two steps behind all day, and I feel like I’m running on empty.

In the evening, I review the next day’s schedule and review my action list (a.k.a. to-do list).  I like to review these before bed so that I’m not lying in bed wondering if I remembered to add something to my list, or questioning the time for my son’s T-Ball game or if lunch with a client is at 12:30 or 1:00 PM.  Then I ready something spiritual and pray to quiet my mind and reconnect. If my eyelids haven’t given in yet and I have more time I’ll continue reading in my motivational or learning books.  I put my brain and my body to sleep in a way that gives me incredible sleep and sleep is the ultimate secret to my success.

The Power Up and Power Down routines don’t necessarily have a time limit.  I know some love their “Power Hour” but sometimes I only need 15 minutes to get grounded and centered and I’m ready to move on.  Other mornings, I need longer.

To clarify, I do this before I do ANYTHING else.  Before email, social media, etc.  I don’t want to get caught up in work yet, or caught up in the life of family and friends before I can make sure I have the self-care I need.

I like to make sure my well is full before I meet the needs of my family, my business or other roles that I play.  When my needs are met I’m satisfied, fulfilled and I’m better able to deal with the hiccups that come throughout the day.

  1. I schedule time for my roles, just as I do meetings with clients.  When I mention at speaking engagements that I schedule time with my kids and my husband, I’m surprised  how frequently I’m criticized for being so rigid that I “schedule” time with my family and friends.  Why shouldn’t I?  I want my kids and my husband to know (and myself for that matter) that time with my family is just as important (if not more so) as lunch with a friend or a coaching call with a client.  I want to make sure that I’m spending good time with them each week.  We schedule time to go to the park or the pool and look forward to fun activities each week.  Scheduling fun activities with my kids also makes it easier for them to be patient during coaching calls and when I’m away speaking at events.  I like to make sure that date night is on the schedule before too many other things get in the way. I make my marriage a priority each week.  Preserving my relationships is more important to me than my business.  If my business thrives, but my family resents me for it, then I feel incomplete and out of balance.  But when I make my relationships a priority I feel more fulfilled and my support system has a firm foundation.

I “batch” my time in time blocks. I run three businesses from home and have two small children under five.  I’m a time management junkie and I’ve tried every system under the sun.  What’s great about time blocks is they can work with any calendar system you may use – digital or on paper.  Though there’s a lot more detail on this principle, simply put, I batch like items together.  I do all my marketing tasks in two 2-hour blocks.  I make my videos every week on Tuesday mornings in a 1-hour block.  I do my coaching calls on Thursday afternoons and Tuesday afternoons.  You get the idea.  What’s great about this system is that I put them on my calendar.  When I put my writing time on the calendar, I’m telling my brain to prepare, and I’m setting myself up to succeed in completing my book.  Time blocks are one way that I preserve my schedule and get everything done.

  1. Presence. With lots of responsibilities it can be easy to get distracted.  However, when I’m in my time blocks, I don’t let other things creep in.  I don’t take calls during my marketing time.  I don’t check my email during my writing time.  I don’t text with friends during date night (unless my husband is in the bathroom, *wink*).  I turn the notifications for Twitter and Facebook off on my phone so that I can check social media on my terms and not be distracted when I’m with my kids.  Presence is a key to my success.  When my relationships are weak, it’s usually because I let work creep into friend and family time when it shouldn’t.

Don’t get me wrong.  These can be easy things to say and hard things to actually do.  Trust me, I struggle with them too.  The truth remains, when I make self-care a priority, preserve my relationships and schedule my business success, sacrifice isn’t necessary.  And though I’m not the poster child for role preservation and boundaries, I can attest that when I’m rocking these four things life is a lot smoother, and my business thrives.

What tips do you have for boundaries for work and home life?

In recognition of the 50th anniversary of National Small Business Week, Visa Business created the following infographic highlighting eye-opening facts about small business owners and examining important small business trends.

I am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. Visit http://facebook.com/visasmallbiz to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business. The Page serves as a space where small business owners can access educational resources, read success stories from other business owners, engage with peers, and find tips to help businesses run more efficiently. Every month, the Page will introduce a new theme that will focus on a topic important to a small business owner’s success. For additional tips and advice, and information about Visa’s small business solutions, follow @VisaSmallBiz and visit http://visa.com/business.

Originally Published on StartupPrincess.com on June 19, 2013