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Owning A Business – Part Eight

If you’ve been reading the first seven installments in this series, you probably realize owning a business is more complicated than most people believe. Yes, you can just hang a sign and get started, but becoming as successful as  you dream you can be takes more than that.

One bit of advice we offer clients is to build key relationships. Yes, you need capable, qualified people around you within your organizational structure. They are the backbone of your corporate culture. You also need professional people as counselors outside of your company.

Your banker or financial institution comprises one piece of that advisory board. That person needs to know what’s going on within the business so they can be supportive during lean times and offer suggestions to enhance your margins. For that to happen, you need to communicate with them on a consistent basis.

Same goes for your Certified Public Accountant (CPA). This individual may not need to meet with you on a monthly basis, but he or she is available to provide guidance on cash flow and other aspects of your financial statements.

A third piece of your advisory panel is your legal counsel. Attorneys are there to minimize your risk and protect your assets. Have yours review legal documents such as contracts, non-disclosure agreements, and yes, even your advertising to prevent any legal liability. It’s better to pay legal fees up front than to lose your company over a technicality.

Your insurance agents are part of your team as well. Meet with them whenever something changes in your business, such as acquisition of a new piece of equipment. Make sure you have adequate coverage for eventualities, and trust that person to scale back on premiums when they can (as President Reagan often said; Trust But Verify!).

We would be remiss to not include your marketing and business consultant. Engaging the right people saves you money, and helps you make money in the process. Ask for recommendations and interview the candidates for your comfort level instead of taking the first one you meet.

Brand Your Work – Work Your Brand

Owning A Business – Part Six

Business owners often struggle with financial issues. Examples are finding additional sources of revenue to keep cash flowing, and controlling cost factors that can prove crippling. In some cases with owning a business, the vicious cycle is unending.Revenue streams

Consider soft drink companies that discover revenue streams with certain products or market areas. They carve niches in those areas and pursue market share against their competitors. At some point, market saturation occurs and while the revenue stream doesn’t dry up, it doesn’t produce at the same level consistently. In fact, it may slowly ebb.

The solution is to look for alternatives. This is where professional consulting advice can prove valuable in assessing market acceptance. Adding new consumers in different markets is one option. Adding different products is another option that involves the risk of diluting the existing market. Instead of owning 40 percent of market share, the company has divided that percentage into – perhaps – 30 percent for one product and 10 percent for the other.

The company has also incurred the cost of developing an additional brand, adding production capacity to get the product into the consumer’s hands, labor, and the marketing expense of advertising. Those costs may be justified if market research verifies the need to diversify and identifies consumer demand sufficient to warrant the effort. The hard decisions come when market research shows the demand doesn’t exist or diversification is not a viable option.

If a business owner has commissioned sales people, cutting back on those costs is often one of the first considerations, when it should be the last. Remember how revenue is generated: Sales! Look instead at more efficient production or distribution methods. Consider changing processes or procedures to trim waste and enhance margins. People should come before profits, and most business owners realize that – but without profits it’s hard to stay afloat.

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Owning A Business – Part Five

Now that you know who your customers are, what they’re buying, and the value you offer them, it’s time to consider the message delivery channels. This is generally considered to be the area where you advertise your business, and it is one of the most challenging aspects of business ownership.

Get your message through

Choosing the right method to deliver your message is important.

Where do you spend your advertising dollars? You need to know what you want your ads to do:

  • Create exposure
  • Increase brand awareness
  • Get paying customers in the door
  • Generate a return on the investment
  • Build brand loyalty

Modern advertising theory holds that customers must first know you exist. They will then investigate and vet you to determine if you’re legit and how you’re different. Then they purchase. Age, gender, lifestyles, and other consumer demographics determine how best to deliver your message.

When you think about texts, most people respond almost immediately when they hear the text message alert. Whether it calls them to action on your behalf is another matter.

Consumers will vet your company by checking out your website or social media presence, so take care to ensure it achieves your goal and purpose of being relevant to the message.

TV commercials can build brand awareness and create a sense of urgency, but remember most consumers with a DVR (digital video recorder) fast forward through commercials.

Direct mail and other print channels can be effective if targeted to specific consumers and delivered with a definite call to action. Newspaper and magazine ads can work if the message resonates with the readers and are designed for maximum impact.

As the business owner, consider engaging a professional marketing firm to manage your advertising, but you must make the ultimate decision on how much to spend and where. If your ads fail to achieve your objectives, make the necessary changes.

Brand Your Work – Work Your Brand

Owning A Business – Part Four

When you have clarity on your products and/or services and know your target audience, take the time to go back to the reason you wanted to own your business. This is the foundation of the value proposition you, your company, and its products and/or services offer to consumers.

What is your value proposition?

Clients want to know what makes you different.

Your value proposition identifies what makes your business different.

One of the most common questions business owners are being asked today: What makes you different?

What the consumer is asking, in essence, is why should I buy from you?

 

Let’s look at the example of what a value proposition might look like for owning a storage facility as your business venture. In most communities, there is usually more than one storage facility because we humans have accumulated stuff we don’t have room for in our homes.

So what are distinguishing features of your facility that appeal to potential customers?

Do you offer 24-hour access? Is it lighted outside and in each unit? Is it paved or gravel? Are there concrete floors? Are units insulated? What do you charge per month? Do  you offer discounts for longer rental periods? Are pallets available to raise items off the floor?

Once you have answers to questions your prospective clients are likely to ask, compare your facility to the competition and you should wind up with a fairly solid value proposition that differentiates you from those competitors. Maybe it’s location and convenience or ease of access for trucks and trailers.

When a prospective customer asks what makes you different, you need to give them a succinct value proposition. In the case of storage units, it might be that you offer clean, safe, and economical protection for their assets.

Take the time to think it through, and when you have your proposition, see how it resonates with customers. Modify it if you must. We’re here to help if you need assistance.

Brand Your Work – Work Your Brand

Take Time

There’s a Moody Blues song with these lyrics:  “Time waits for no one.  No, not even you.”

Moody Blues coverWhile the Moody Blues are an amazing group and the song is wonderful, the line is profound and poignant, especially in this era of smart phones and instant gratification.  Even though the instant gratification term is seldom used any more, the syndrome remains.  We, as human beings, want answers and information right now.  We want to act now and be done with whatever it was we were doing so we can move on to the next project or activity.

Through it all, time does not wait for anything; the clock keeps ticking.

Stop for a minute or two and answer these questions:

1) Did you make any mistakes today because you were trying to move too quickly?

2) Did you ignore an important person in your life because you didn’t have time for them?

3) Has your day been extraordinarily stressful because you can’t seem to get everything done?

If you’ve been honest with yourself and answered “Yes!” to any of these questions, it’s time to slow down a bit and take time to think.

Consider whether you have too many tasks on your “To Do” list and how many of them are simply “crap” you put on the list so you don’t forget to do them.  Checking your E-mail is a good example.  Does it really need to be on the list when you know you’re going to check it several times a day any way?  It’s like putting “Take a Shower” on your “To Do” list.  It’s routine and a task you’re not likely to forget, so why stress yourself out by adding it to the daily tasks?

Here’s the key:  When you make up your list of priorities for the day, take the time to think about what are the top five that MUST get done.  It might only be one or two tasks, and that’s okay.  You will have accomplished your objective if those two to five items are finished by the end of the day.  Think, too, about what’s most important.  It might be taking your son or daughter to a ball game.  Yes, that’s important, even to a busy corporate executive.

Your work will always be there, unless you can delegate it to someone else (remember, you still have ultimate responsibility), but your children grow up and leave the nest before you know it.

Think about what’s most important to you, personally, as well as professionally.  Time with your spouse doing what she or he likes to do.  Time with your children doing whatever.  Time with yourself just thinking, reading, napping, hiking, exercising, enjoying time alone, or listening to the Moody Blues.

Time is not going to wait for you to make up your mind.  The time you took to read this blog is gone, and it’s not coming back.  We hope you found some value in it, and that it was worth the time spent.  If you’d like help managing your time, click on the slogan below and give us a call.

Brand Your Work – Work Your Brand

Missionary Zeal

If you lack passion for your business, it’s time to give some thought to why you’re doing what you’re doing.  Missionary zeal is essential for business owners to ingrain into their company or organization.  It becomes the defining element of their corporate culture, the reason for your existence.

150px-USS_Benfold_DDG-65_CrestThere is an excellent book on leadership by Captain D. Michael Abrashoff called It’s Your Ship and sub-titled Leadership Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy.  Abrashoff created the best ship in the United States Navy by realizing that the destroyer he commanded, the USS Benfold, was more than “his” vessel.  It belonged to every sailor on board and the standard military protocol of command and control was less than ideal as a management technique.

The captain found that the more every member of the crew knew they had ownership of their ship and that he cared about them and their role on it, the higher the level of performance could be expected from everyone.  His vision was to reinforce that the ship’s mission was combat readiness.  Pure and simple.  That vision was communicated with the expectation that every sailor on board was important to achieving that mission.  It was, without a doubt, their ship!  The fact the USS Benfold became the best damn ship in the Navy proved his approach.

Does that same missionary zeal apply to your organization?

Do your “sailors” feel as though they can help accomplish the mission?  Do they even know what the mission is?  Do they care?  If they don’t, the reason may be that they don’t believe you care about them or what they do.  Do you listen to their suggestions?  Do you implement those recommendations, or sweep them under the rug?

More importantly, do your sailors understand the corporate mission?  Do you, as the business owner or CEO, convey your vision for the company’s success?  If you are unsure or unclear, it may be time to seek professional counsel and re-visit your corporate culture.  It’s okay to embrace change if it is warranted.  Insanity has been defined as continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different result.

Your mission needs to clearly define your reason for existence, cutting through all the verbosity.  Are you in business to provide a service or a product to consumers?  Or to make money?  It should be both, but if you answered “Yes” to only making money, you need an independent third party to help you figure out how to do it.

Brand Your Work – Work Your Brand

 

 

Communication: Critical

Communication is critical to business success.

When you look at business plan formulas and study different models, there are two key ingredients woven through every one of them,   One is the reason for existence, or the corporate mission and vision.  Without a mission, success is hard to define and largely a matter of luck.

The second essential that is critical to whatever plan is put together is communication!Communication Diagram

Communication is the thread that is woven into and through the success of any organization.  If it is weak at any level, the message can be lost and the consequences will be seen on the bottom line.  If lines of communication are strong throughout the company, substantial profits can be gained.

Communication starts with the corporate mission.  It should be clear why the company is in business.  This falls on the owner to know the reason for the company’s existence and to communicate that vision throughout the entire organization and to the consuming public.  If the ownership has a hard time defining that vision, imagine the impact that has on everyone else involved with the company.

A consistent message must be communicated within and throughout the company, from management to employees and back as part of the culture.  All levels of the organization must sing the same song.  Managers must be open to suggestions from staff, especially those on the front lines of production or customer service.  Staff, especially those involved in sales, have a direct line of communication with customers, so their voices must be heard.  What they can communicate to the organization as feedback from consumers can mean the difference between long-term profitability and going out of business fire sales.

Everyone is part of the same ship and can make the difference between sinking or sailing.  The owner’s vision also defines his or her leadership style.

The company must communicate clearly with its customers and potential consumers.  If the customer is getting conflicting messages, often generated by word-of-mouth from other consumers, the likelihood of continued sales goes down dramatically.  Consistency is important in the message delivered to the public, but so is the value of consumer perception, whether it matches the company line or diverges.  Despite what business owners may think, people do talk about companies and ask what makes them different.

The key is to facilitate open and honest communication throughout the organization.

Business Plans & Branding

Developing your corporate brand begins with your business plan.

Circle B brand

Some professional advisers insist that business owners should complete their own business plan.  We agree – to a certain extent.  The business owner must provide the input to a business plan.  Without the owner’s commitment to completing and implementing a plan, however, the process is a waste of time.

A business owner knows what they want to do but may need the skills of a more experienced planner to compile the plan more effectively and obtain financing.  Many people in business also don’t know what they don’t know, which means having someone with the expertise in many different areas to assist can save time and money.  Expertise in leading a sales team may not translate well to budgeting and financial projections.  Being proficient in production techniques may leave something to be desired when it comes to choosing advertising channels or defining consumer markets.  Professional consultants earn their fees by having the knowledge that proves beneficial in a variety of areas.

The first step in starting a business involves some soul searching and market research.  When Brand Irons meets with a prospective client, it is essential to be open and honest in the discussion.  We look for commitment to the process of planning as well as to the long-term success of the business concept.  We also recommend a feasibility study to assess the economic and market conditions, potential profitability, and other financial considerations before deciding to proceed.

Spending a little money up front to know the idea has merit is a wise investment.

While the cost of a feasibility study may be daunting, if the results indicate a better-than-average potential for return on investment (ROI) and the owner decides to go forward, the foundation of the business plan has been put in place.  Assembling the rest of the plan and crafting a strategic model to implement is relatively simple once the decision is made to proceed.

What few people who want to start a business realize is that only one out of every 50 business ideas is commercially viable.  That’s a 2% success ratio!

With the proper guidance from business and marketing consultants such as Brand Irons, you can craft a brand identity for your business based on the foundation provided by your business plan and strategic model.  Your business is unique, which is one of the reasons you need professional assistance in compiling a brand strategy that is consistent with the unique nature of your business and capitalizes on your assets.  The result is a more focused approach to marketing your business and reaching your desired audience.

Brand Your Work – Work Your Brand

E-Mail Etiquette


We’re going to share some thoughts about Electronic Mail, commonly known as E-mail.  It’s been around for a long time, in Internet terms, and it’s been the subject of controversy about it’s impact on the U.S. Postal Service and regulation of the Internet, among other topics.  Not long ago it was thought to be doomed and relegated to the scrap pile.

It’s still here!  Some thoughts on E-mail correspondence from the perspective of marketing your business and branding your products … along with some other thoughts.

Send E-mail button

Keep it short.  The nature of E-mail is the message should be brief.  Although wider bandwidth is now available to transfer larger files, the reader of your E-mail is expecting it to be a message that can be quickly read, digested, and responded to, if necessary.  If you have to elaborate, do it in the attachment and capsulize what is attached in a short message in the body of your E-mail.

If you find you’re exchanging E-mails back and forth with someone in a short period of time, pick up the phone and call them.  You can convey some emotion on the phone.

Identify the subject.  You undoubtedly have certain people – like family and friends – whose E-mails you open automatically, whatever the subject.  For everyone else, put the content of the E-mail in the Subject line.  Granted, it may mean they won’t open it if they believe it has no relevance but the odds increase if that subject line catches their attention.

Be proper.  All capitals indicate swearing or yelling in text and E-mail correspondence.  Take the time to use correct grammar and punctuation in your E-mails.  Think of it as though you were sending the recipient an actual printed letter mailed in an envelope – but also think of it as a reflection of your brand and your business.  Avoid run-on sentence structures.  Keep sentences short and readable.  Separate major points in paragraphs, so your E-mail is easy to read.  Recipients rarely read the entire E-mail.  Remember that.

It’s your image.  Create and use a signature for your E-mails that reflects the brand you want to create in people’s minds.  Provide contact information so they know how to reach you, including links to your websites and blogs and perhaps a phone number.  Add a disclaimer if you’re relaying confidential information, which means you may want more than one signature unless every E-mail you send contains confidential information.

If you’re upset and want to send a nasty reply to someone, we advise that you write your response but wait a day before you hit the “Send” button.  If you still feel the same way the next day and don’t need or want to re-write the E-mail, go ahead and hit “Send.”

Be careful.  E-mail correspondence may be used against you in a court of law, so caution is urged when using it in personnel issues, contracts, or other potentially legally damaging areas.  You should have an E-mail policy for your company and employees, and if you do, get it reviewed by your legal counsel or human relations consultant.  You can also use E-mail to market your products and/or services, and consultants can be engaged to help with this, too, but be wary of getting branded as a spammer.  Get permission first, if you can.

Keep in mind that hitting the “Send” button doesn’t always mean the recipient receives your E-mail.  Check your Spam filter every once in a while to see what we mean.

Brand Your Work – Work Your Brand