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

Make It Happen Blueprint Workbook

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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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When A Dream Becomes Reality

How "The Make It Happen Blueprint" Came To Be

17218638_10212525526323245_6703310731430754718_oOn the left, I’m pictured with David Hancock of Morgan James Publishing.

I met him at Experts Academy 5 years ago. Back then I didn’t know what my book would be about, or what it was titled or what would be in it. But I had a feeling Morgan James was part of that. So I stood in line where everyone else was pitching their books and I sheepishly said, “I don’t know what my book is yet, but when I have it, I’ll send it to you. I want you to stand here and pretend to hold a book and someday we’ll fill that space.” He said, “Awesome,” and handed me his card (not readily being handed out) and then added, “Send me that picture when you get home.” I did.

I kept in touch with him over social media. I self published my first book (The Time Blueprint for Entrepreneurs) and then I wrote “Make It Happen” a book on success & peak performance applicable for a wider audience. I initially self published that one, too, but I sent it to David with our picture and said, “I’ve already self published this one, but would you take a look at my writing and let me know if you’d be interested in my next book?” He responded within 24 hours and said, “I want this one, but I want you to add 15,000 more words.”

I added more content, rewrote other sections, sent it to three rounds of editing and then when they got the final manuscript, they gave me a publication date more than 10 months into the future.

It’s been a long process, but I’m so grateful for this journey. The picture on the left has been on my vision board since the first day we met 5 years ago.

This week, I got the picture on the right. I still don’t have a physical book yet, (as you can tell that’s just a color print).

But this is happening and I waffle between tears of joy & gratitude to being metaphorically in the fetal position. 😂

Some people ask me why my first published book wasn’t a marketing book. I’ve produced Marketing Mastery, a 4 disk audio & The Social Media Blueprint, also a 4 disk audio (in it’s 3rd revision). There’s a marketing book in me for sure. But my journey started first with understanding, implementing & creating new success practices. Without my own “Make It Happen Blueprint” I couldn’t be a marketing strategist or social media speaker.

While I’m sure this won’t be the end of the story, this brings you to the present.

 

I hope you’ll be part of this story.  I hope that you’ll purchase and read “The Make It Happen Blueprint” and that you’ll be sending me YOUR Make It Happen Moments. Whether they take 5 days, 5 months, 5 years or MORE to come to fruition your goals CAN be realized.

 

Create your dream, make a plan and make it happen!

 

– Michelle


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