New audiobook is now available at Audible and iTunes

February 4, 2013

Do you feel trapped…stressed out and unhappy…burning the candle at both ends…trying to meet the never-ending demands of your business and wanting some semblance of a personal life too?

Set Yourself Free! You can control your business rather than it controlling you. You can have a thriving business…and enjoy it! There is a way out of your prison and you hold the keys.

If you prefer to listen, check out the audiobook. The hardcopy is still available at Amazon.

Set Yourself Free – How to Have a Thriving Small Business… And Enjoy It!  by Stan Simkins with Juli Baldwin


Déjà vu… All Over Again?

April 12, 2011

At a recent mastermind group of small business owners that I facilitate (www.capitalfamilybusiness.com), I had a guest who posed a question to the other owners. It went something like this (hold onto your seats!):  “I’m wondering if I should hire a sales person for my company?”  That certainly seemed to be an innocent enough and relevant question until he said “None” to the question posed back to him: “How many sales people do you have now?” Imagine that this 3rd generation successor to a 10-person business-to-business service company (industry not mentioned for confidentiality) didn’t even regard himself as a ‘sales representative’ for his company. He said he didn’t regard himself as a
‘natural’ sales person, didn’t care for the role and that they had no other staff people in this role but ‘made it through 3 generations strictly on
word-of-mouth referrals and customer retention.  That sure is impressive to hear and perhaps the answer he wanted to hear was “No, you don’t need to hire a sales person.” Then again, maybe he was hoping we’d say “Sure, go hire one.” Then perhaps he could go tell his parents
that he was right and that 15 other business owners agreed with him (assuming that he was using the group to give him moral support for such a position).

However, what ensued as I watched in dismay was a non-stop ‘mindset’ of denial. No matter what good advice was offered, he had a pat answer already formulated for each seemingly valid idea or question. He sounded like he had heard these same ideas once before and had thought about them (for at least 30 seconds each!) and concocted what would appear to be a valid excuse to DO NOTHING about ANYTHING he asked us about. Sadly this is often the case with some small business owners and they don’t see the pattern of their thinking/mindset.

This mindset of ‘don’t make me do anything that will take initiative, risk, change, work effort or impose ACCOUNTABILITY on me’ reminded me why I was motivated write my new book, Set Yourself Free – How to Have A Thriving Small Business… And Enjoy It. Prior to writing the book I had struggled with trying to define exactly what it was that I have done for 45 years to help small business owners. No, it wasn’t about the operational, marketing and financial issues that full-service consultants do. Rather, the defining element of what I did was ‘changing mindsets’ of owners and managers so they could get out of their own way!

If the young man in the above example could only have recognized his resistance to change and avoiding work and its impact on his business (having lost market share), perhaps he might have been more open to what was presented to him by some savvy business owners.

So why was did I title this particular blog ‘Déjà vu all over again?’  Because I learned afterwards that this owner did the same ‘dance’ with another similar group of owners not long before this meeting. Perhaps he was ‘shopping’ for a different answer than he was getting from each group because the most obvious answer to all of us at the meeting was: “Huh! Are you serious? Of course you need a sales person.” I wish I could tell you that he was just ‘getting several opinions’. If you were there, you would conclude (as the other attendees did) that he was just being thick-headed.

Just remember, it’s all about ‘mindset’. Learn more about that in my new book: Set Yourself Free – How to Have A Thriving Small
Business… And Enjoy It.

P.S. Few acquisitions ever get done in less than 6 – 12 months from start of search…sometimes as long as 2 years!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Feel free to call me at 518.369.7101 or email me at: stan@fambizdoc.com


Strategizing for Growth – Developing A Sales Forecast (conclusion)

March 14, 2011

As stated in my last blog, this phase is the stumbling block for many small business owners and managers. Most owners and sales managers feel that taking a ‘broad brush’ approach is all that is needed. For example, just taking a fixed percentage to last year’s sales and increasing or decreasing that figure to derive next year’s sales. It sure is an easy way to get a number, but it doesn’t do justice to the intended forecasting process.

The goal isn’t to prove that you are clairvoyant but rather to make you think about what you will do to achieve a certain goal of sales – ideally by market, product and/or customer segment. In other words, it is supposed to serve as a basis for action.

This process should involve communicating with ‘vested interest parties (e.g. sales force members, customers/clients and vendors) and research into your market place, examination of competitive forces, economic research if available in your markets, and consideration of other elements such as potential acquisitions, and reductions in your product/service line.

Consideration also needs to be given to new customers who may represent large accounts but whose figures are not ‘annualized’ by the forecast method. Similarly, a lost ‘major’ account can skew the forecast if proper consideration isn’t given by the method used.  Suffice it to say, there are many other elements that need to be considered to develop a reliable sales forecast. If this blog stops you from using the  time-worn “X % higher than last year” method, I will have accomplished my goal in this blog.

HOMEWORK:  Give some serious thought to how you might best approach developing your sales forecast and set a date to communicate with ‘vested interest parties’ about your sales forecasting process (as described above). I welcome your feedback on this blog and feel free to reach out for help from me at stan@fambizdoc.com. Also, please check out my new book, Set Yourself Free… How to Have a Thriving Small Business – And Enjoy It.


Strategizing for Growth – Developing A Sales Forecast

March 7, 2011

This phase is the stumbling block for many small business owners. Their first response is “I don’t have a crystal ball and I’m not an economist!” Who could argue with them…but I don’t let them opt out on those excuses. Of course, nobody can predict the future (though many make a living convincing others they can!). However, one can examine the past and look at current conditions to establish a ‘feasible range of occurrence’. After all, one has to start somewhere in the planning process. As we gather more information, we can adjust those ranges and the ‘confidence %’.

The whole point of this process is not to suggest that we are prophets but to define scenarios and how we might achieve them and deal with them – operationally as well as in terms of marketing and sales. If there is anything I want to get across in all the blogs I will write, it is that owners and managers must be ‘open to discovery’ and the way to that discovery is to identify realistic potential scenarios, think about them, strategize about them (i.e. develop alternative paths and actions) and then MAKE A CHOICE and run with it until you determine it needs some adjusting. Staying status quo should be a CHOICE…not a default for inaction, indecision or sheer terror!

I hope you’ll visit me next week to pick up on this process of forecasting. You’ll see the ways that some use which lead to fallacious insights and poor planning… but are often used because they seem logical.

These ‘doses of insight’ are best presented in small quantities so you have time to work with them and see how they fit for your company. I welcome your feedback…good bad or ugly! Thanks for taking the time with me.

 HOMEWORK:  Gather your past 3-5 years sales information (by customer and product if available). Take a look at your current new account develop activity and statistics. Have them handy for the next blog.  You’ll be glad you did because you’ll learn the ways NOT to develop a sales forecast (common errors) and some tips for getting it to make sense!

As always, feel free to contact me at Stan@fambizdoc.com and be sure to go back to read my earlier blogs.  You may also want to read my new book, Set Yourself Free – How to Have a Thriving Small Business… And Enjoy It.


Strategizing for Growth – Clarifying Your Marketing Strategies

February 28, 2011

It’s one thing to plan but another to execute. Execution is where I find the biggest disconnect between success and failure. Whether we will build market share or try to steal it takes different execution strategies. Such factors as how we will brand our product, service or name or what form of packaging we use can totally impact our success. Such things as pricing levels and whether we will conduct a variety of tests can impact our success in major ways. Even seasonality issues and the channels of distribution we will use are all tied together. None of these issues should be viewed in a vacuum or separately on its own merits.

Marketing involves considering and managing multiple dynamics for multiple variables. Even determining your hours of business requires examination. For example, some chiropractic offices open very early in the morning and close early because they cater to a senior generation for whom these hours are more convenient, while others open later close later, and have hours on weekends because they cater to younger, working patients. That is a simple example of how knowing your market demographics and psychographics can make a difference in how you service customers. Knowing this, you might find that your competition isn’t considering these factors and it might be an opportunity to capture market share simply by changing your hours of operation or how you advertise or position your practice.

The point of this blog is to get you thinking about and defining your current marketing strategies and to challenge them and test them as well as identify new strategies and test them.  If you don’t do this you might be accused of insanity because you are doing the same old thing and expecting a different outcome. Then again, don’t stop doing what is working!

Next week we will talk about how you can satisfy the communication goals in your marketing process so please take the time to work on clarifying your marketing strategies.  If you need more guidance on this topic or prior blogs, always feel free to contact me at stan@fambizdoc.com and don’t forget to order a copy of my new book, Set Yourself Free – How to Have a Thriving Small Business… And Enjoy It.


Strategizing for Growth – Positioning Statement

February 21, 2011

 How hard can it be to compare your product or service to the competition, list the attributes of importance, indicating how each builds an emotional relationship with the customer? It seems easy at first but small business owners simply say “We give better service… bla bla bla” without any specificity or without defining what that means to the customer or how it might be tied to an emotional component in the customer’s buying process.

Everyone in sales knows that decisions (regardless of how logically based) are based upon emotional elements to a large degree.  The question, “Why should I buy from you?” must be satisfied for a customer to choose your company. Some call this the USP – Unique Selling Proposition. Others call it the differentiators. Our goal is to have the customer logically and emotionally tell themselves, “I’d be a fool to buy from anyone but you!” To make this happen, we must position ourselves so they can form that frame of mind about our company. Rather than relying upon each prospect to identify these differentiators, we need to lay them out in our marketing materials and communication processes so they are obvious as well as subtle at the same time.  Think about what matters to your customers, define how what you offer satisfies (or exceeds the expectations of the customer) in visible terms, describe what their value is to the customer and demonstrate why they are superior to the competition. However, take it past a feature-benefit pitch.

For example, the competition may make a product that looks like what you offer, but at a lower price. Yet, you are the clear market leader with a proven record of on-time service, lower maintenance cost and down time, superior quality and product life-cycle. Making that ‘position’ clear so that your sales staff can take advantage of the fact that the competition’s main product line isn’t in what you are offering (i.e. it’s a sideline item) and that they have just entered your market and written reviews about their product are not flattering… including high maintenance costs and down time. This is not to be confused with competition bashing— not what is being advocated. Instead, playing on your strengths.

So, what would you be saying if I met you in an elevator and asked why I should buy from you instead of your competition? Okay, I’ll give you more than 30 seconds before we reach the 30th floor!

See you next week as we head toward the home stretch in this series on Marketing. As always, I welcome your feedback at stan@fambizdoc.com and be sure to look for our new book, Set Yourself Free… How to Have a Thriving Small Business – And enjoy it.


Strategizing for Growth – Identify New Target Markets

February 14, 2011

If you’ve followed this series of blogs and been faithful to the homework, then you have developed your SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats), set quantitative and qualitative objectives (e.g. number of units to be sold; improvements to product safety), and are thinking about new target markets. The whole point of this process is to determine scenarios and how we might achieve them and deal with them, operationally as well as in terms of marketing and sales, despite the obstacles we may believe are in our way.

One easy way to identify new target markets is to simply examine the competition’s target market and determine if it is something you could service or sell to. Oftentimes the markets we serve evolved without a plan (i.e. opportunity knocked on our door or we relied on an existing customer base); so we fail to look outside our current marketplace. Our competitors can sometimes be divining rods to new market opportunities… or which markets could be a death trap to our business! There is sometimes a benefit to not being the first to enter a new market. I remember an expression I learned in a college class, “Never be the first to try or the last to lay the old aside.” Then again, sometimes being first can provide the advantage of building brand that has lasting power to create a barrier to entry.

Another way to identify new target markets is to look outside of your current geographic market for territories that have similar characteristics as your own or who have an unmet level of supply or service that you excel at. Also, you may consider an entirely new type of client (e.g. residential customers where you were only serving commercial companies).  Of course, cost, staffing, and time considerations have to be weighed, but that comes after we first identify the new target markets. This process is one that is more like brainstorming and we don’t want to edit out any of these at this point. That will come with further analysis of cost, time, staffing, and profit potential.

I’m confident you get the point and can use your own imagination, experience and creativity to fill the rest of the blanks on this topic.

Tune in next week and you’ll hear one more piece to this process – after which we will discuss the dreaded topic of developing a Sales Forecast!

HOMEWORK:  If you haven’t finished all the pieces of the plan so far, take the time to do so. You will have a wonderful tool with which to grow your business. If you are just joining us, go back to the previous blogs and begin the process. You have time to catch up!  Of course, always feel free to reach out to me. I am here to help you move forward in your process of planning.


Strategizing for Growth – Identifying New Target Markets

February 7, 2011

In this series of blogs about Strategizing for Growth, we have covered the SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Strengths) and developing quantitative and qualitative objectives. Our next step is to identify new target markets. This doesn’t necessarily mean industries or areas we haven’t sold before, but perhaps a segment of customers where the competition seems to have a stronghold … and perhaps for good reasons — until now!

You may have developed some new features or overcome some major deficiencies that allowed the competition to dominate that customer segment. So now is the time to take your ammunition, load it and shoot it at the prospects so that you can gain that market share. It will require an understanding of the primary and secondary markets of that segment (so you don’t waste bullets on less-valuable targets. You also need to look at demographics (the characteristics of the customers – e.g. employee and/or sales size, SIC code, own/lease) and psychographics (the psychology of that market; e.g. why they prefer what they buy or from whom they buy it).

This is not an easy process and a common pitfall is failing to be thorough and not using critical analysis to define these characteristics. Don’t rely on off-the-cuff guesses. Do some homework on this and it will pay dividends. With information in hand, you want to develop what marketing professionals call Positioning Statements. Simply compare your product or service to the competition, listing the attributes of importance and which ones build an emotional relationship with the customer. Yes, the fact that your sweaters are the only ones available in ‘Army green’ may excite some buyers (perhaps Army vets)!

More on this next week and we have plenty more in store. I’ll be interested to hear how some of you are applying these simple marketing plan principles.

HOMEWORK:  Take your sales team and identify the markets you now serve, assess them and see if you can identify new target markets – even if you don’t think you have the resources to go after them!


Strategizing for Growth – Part 1 – Conducting A SWOT Analysis (conclusion)

February 2, 2011

As we wrap of Section 1 (Conducting A SWOT Analysis), I can’t help but say that it’s the most neglected area I find in looking a business owners and how they get into trouble. Failing to determine the threats to your company (i.e. what factors (internal or external) could significantly impact your success) is like driving on the Audubon at 95 mph with a blindfold on. Something as simple as staying abreast of government regulations or industry trends can identify threats years in advance that could have changed the marketing or product development strategy of a company.

For a small retailer hardware store, knowing the growth pattern of certain ‘box’ stores could significantly impact their own expansion plans. For example, a local retail hardware chain might concentrate their entire marketing strategy around their knowledge of the ‘geographic route of expansion’ of certain ‘box’ store (i.e. large national chains) so they are sure to focus on areas that aren’t adequately served by the box stores. While this information isn’t published years in advance, some intelligent analysis and research can help identify such potential trends.

Threats can be even more significant in their impact than weaknesses because they are often elements over which we have no direct control but which, if identified early enough, can be things we can adapt to or take defensive measures. Threats are generally external, but sometimes they can be internal; e.g. significant unresolved conflict among key members in the business (sometimes family members).

For first timers at the SWOT analysis, I want you to know that I realize this all may sound like something out of a textbook (which is somewhat true!), but I promise that if you conscientiously do the exercise described then you will be pleasantly surprised by the insights you will gain. These insights will help you to be a better planner…and therefore a more likely better implementer of your ideas.

QUESTION:  Now that you have a snapshot of your company, are you prepared to look into the crystal ball and determine what your future holds? That’s next week!


Strategizing for Growth – Part 3 – Identify New Target Markets (conclusion)

January 26, 2011

If you’ve followed this series of blogs and been faithful to the homework, then you have developed your SWOT analysis, set quantitative and qualitative objectives (e.g. number of units to be sold; improvements to product safety), and are thinking about new target markets. The whole point of this process is to determine scenarios and how we might achieve them and deal with them, operationally as well as in terms of marketing and sales, despite the obstacles we may believe are in our way.

One easy way to identify new target markets is to simply examine the competition’s target market and determine if it is something you could service or sell to. Oftentimes the markets we serve evolved without a plan (i.e. opportunity knocked on our door or we relied on an existing customer base); so we fail to look outside our current marketplace. Our competitors can sometimes be divining rods to new market opportunities… or which markets are a death trap! There is sometimes a benefit to not being the first to enter a new market. I remember an expression I learned in a college class, “Never be the first to lay the old aside nor the last to try.” Then again, sometimes being first can provide the advantage of building brand that has lasting power to create a barrier to entry.

Another way to identify new target markets is to look outside of your current geographic market for territories that have similar characteristics as your own or who have an unmet level of supply or service that you excel at. Also, you may consider an entirely new type of client (e.g. residential customers where you were only serving commercial companies).  Of course, cost, staffing, and time considerations have to be weighed, but that comes after we first identify the new target markets. This process is one that is more like brainstorming and we don’t want to edit out any of these at this point. That will come with further analysis of cost, time, staffing, and profit potential.

We could devote many more pages on this topic but I’m confident you get the point and can use your own imagination, experience and creativity to fill the blanks.

Tune in next week and you’ll hear one more piece to this process – after which we will discuss the dreaded topic of developing a sales Forecast!

HOMEWORK:  If you haven’t finished all the pieces of the plan so far, take the time to do so. You will have a wonderful tool with which to grow your business. If you are just joining us, go back to the previous blogs and begin the process. You have time to catch up.


Strategizing for Growth – Part 3 – Identifying New Target Markets

January 19, 2011

In this series of blogs about Strategizing for Growth, we have covered the SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Strengths) and developing quantitative and qualitative objectives. Our next step is to identify new target markets. This doesn’t necessarily mean industries or areas we haven’t sold before, but perhaps a segment of customers where the competition seems to have a stronghold … and perhaps for good reasons — until now!

You may have developed some new features or overcome some major deficiencies that allowed the competition to dominate that customer segment. So now is the time to take your ammunition, load it and shoot it at the prospects so that you can gain that market share. It will require an understanding of the primary and secondary markets of that segment (so you don’t waste bullets on less-valuable targets. You also need to look at demographics (the characteristics of the customers – e.g. employee and/or sales size, SIC code, own/lease) and psychographics (the psychology of that market; e.g. why they prefer what they buy or from whom they buy it).

This is not an easy process and a common pitfall is failing to be thorough and not using critical analysis to define these characteristics. Don’t rely on off-the-cuff guesses. Do some homework on this and it will pay dividends. With information in hand, you want to develop what marketing professionals call Positioning Statements. Simply compare your product or service to the competition, listing the attributes of importance and which ones build an emotional relationship with the customer. Yes, the fact that your sweaters are the only ones available in ‘Army green’ may excite some buyers (perhaps Army vets)!

More on this next week and we have plenty more in store. I’ll be interested to hear how some of you are applying these simple marketing plan principles.

HOMEWORK:  Take your sales team and identify the markets you now serve, assess them and see if you can identify new target markets – even if you don’t think you have the resources to go after them!


Strategizing for Growth – Part 2 – Quantitative and Qualitative Objectives (conclusion)

January 17, 2011

I mentioned in an earlier blog that if you don’t know where you want to go then ‘anywhere will do’. Stephen Covey espouses that one of the ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ is to ‘start with the end in mind’. Simple as it sounds, I can’t begin to count the number of business owners who are working diligently to ‘make a buck’ but can’t really show you anything in writing that reflects their SPECIFIC intentions or expectations.

This is where that leap of faith to suspend your disbelief is needed. So many business owners won’t allow themselves to articulate the answer to ‘what would I want if I knew I could not fail?’ So, let’s start out with just a ‘wish’ and then let’s believe in its possibility enough to be willing to take the time to carefully analyze what is achievable in terms of sales growth, margin improvements, staff acquisition, productivity gains, equipment resources process improvements, and the like. But for the purposes of this section (the marketing plan), simply visualize what you might see in terms of improvements that will have a positive impact on sales… and the marketing that ties into achieving it.

Take time to identify areas where you might want to direct your attention to gain more sales opportunities. For example, could your sales team make a better effort to get referrals from current customers or perhaps do a better job up-selling them? The point of this exercise is to have you identify all the potential areas that could be pursued and them speculate what might be the possible consequences (realistically speaking) of those efforts… and then analyze that ‘output’ to make an educated forecast.

Note that the difference between a forecast and a projection (at least to me) is that a forecast is a projection based upon some past evidence where a projection is without the benefit of such information.

So, give it your best shot but don’t be shy about using some ‘gut instinct’ in the process.

QUESTION:  Do you feel like you’re making progress? If not, drop me a line (stan@fambizdoc.com) because I am happy to help you tap into your full potential and this process can do that! The purpose of this blog is to help you build your business…not just espouse theory.


Strategizing for Growth – Part 2 – Quantitative and Qualitative Objectives

January 12, 2011

If you have conscientiously completed the SWOT analysis that means you really know what you have to work with and what you have to work on to achieve your objectives. Now the question is: what are your objectives? That’s where the rubber meets the road because that involves more than picking a sales target for the next twelve months.

This step is a stumbling block for many owners. Their first response is “I don’t have a crystal ball and I’m not an economist!” Who could argue with them…but I don’t let them opt out on those excuses. Of course, nobody can predict the future (though many make a living convincing others they can!). However, one can examine the past and look at current conditions to establish a ‘feasible range of occurrence’. After all, one has to start somewhere in the planning process. As we gather more information, we can adjust those ranges and the ‘confidence %’.

The whole point of this process isn’t to suggest that we are prophets but to determine scenarios and how we might achieve them and deal with them – operationally as well as in terms of marketing and sales. If there is anything I want to get across in all the blogs I will write, it is that owners and managers must be ‘open to discovery’ and the way to that discovery is to identify realistic potential scenarios, think about them, strategize about them (i.e. develop alternative paths and actions) and then MAKE A CHOICE and run with it until you determine it needs some adjusting. Staying ‘status quo’ should be a CHOICE…not a default for inaction, indecision or sheer terror!

I hope you’ll visit me next week to pick up on this. I think these ‘doses of insight’ are best absorbed in small quantities and I hope you will read them more than once so they sink in and so you can identify how you will use them…and then start to use them. I welcome your feedback…good, bad or ugly! Thanks for taking the time.

QUESTION:  Do you have a mental picture in your mind of what ‘success’ will look like…

                             financially, operationally and structurally?

P.S. If you’d like to move more quickly to develop your company’s marketing and sales plan, just pop me a note and I’ll give you some advanced tips… but also feel free to check out our business website: www.management-advisory-group.com


Strategizing for Growth – Part 1 – (continued)

January 5, 2011

Conducting A SWOT Analysis (continued)

In our last blog, we left off with a brief discussion of the SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats).  We spoke about defining your company’s strengths, so let’s move on to an equally important area:  describing its weaknesses.

While owners and managers have no problem discussing their strengths, one common weakness I find in many plans is the failure to adequately identify and deal with the weaknesses in the company. It is tantamount to a confession that they don’t know what might hold them back from achieving success or don’t feel the weaknesses matter very much. It is essential to face these issues head on so the reader (e.g. a banker, a key manager) knows you are prepared for all events.

Weaknesses can be segmented into categories: workforce, equipment and systems, finance, sales and marketing resources, and management issues. For example, difficulty in recruiting skilled workers, lack of space to add production capacity, lack of short-term working capital, underperforming sales members, and management conflict are respective examples of these categories of weakness. But even more crucial to determine is which of these, in relation to the competition, is a potentially ‘lethal’ element to growing your company in relation to the competition. All companies have weaknesses and what matters is which weakness, in relation to the competition, is going to undermine your competitive advantage. While your company may need improvement in recruiting skilled workers, maybe your competition is even worse at it… which could be an opportunity for you!

Take the time to do this analysis very carefully and thoroughly because it can make a huge difference in the strategy that you develop.

Next week we will talk about the step most owners enjoy a lot more than defining their company’s weakness:  identifying the opportunities.

QUESTION:  If you had all the resources to gain market share, where would you be going after it?


Strategizing for Growth – Part 1 – Conducting a SWOT Analysis (continued)

December 29, 2010

In our two previous discussions about performing a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) for your company, we covered identifying the strengths and weaknesses in your operation. Now comes the fun part – identifying the opportunities that fit your ‘sweet spot’ (what really separates you from the competition in terms of product and market segments at which you excel).

Companies often get caught up in ‘fighting the fight’ almost out of habit or by chasing the competition without thinking strategically about what their ‘best suit’ is… thereby neglecting opportunities where they could deploy resources more wisely. Ideally, you should identify opportunities that match your talents and resources but which represent areas of weakness for your competition. To top that, one could only hope that these opportunities represent areas for which there is significant existing unsatisfied demand. Getting all three of those conditions is like getting 3 cherries on the slot machine at the same time!

Sure, this sounds like ‘pipe dream’, but I could give you numerous examples that we have identified with our clients once we sat down with them and took a hard look together.  One example was a client in the machined parts business. While everyone was caught up chasing military contracts (because it didn’t take much marketing…just a lot of bidding at low prices), our client looked at the medical parts industry and saw incredible growth potential. By putting together a well-prepared marketing plan coupled with recruitment of a talented team of sales specialists, they were able to capture a significant amount of sales volume— at much better margins than with military contracts.

It is easy to get caught up in the daily minutia and to also become so conservative so that we don’t look outside the existing view of our business. The result can be missed opportunities. It’s one thing to consciously pass up on an opportunity (as every opportunity is not necessarily right for us); but to miss out by default hurts even more.  So, be sure to take time to identify and assess opportunities for growth as an integral part of your planning process not only for yourself but also because that opportunity may fall into the hands of your competition.

We’ll wrap up our discussion of the SWOT analysis in next week’s blog. We’ll cover an area that, if neglected, could be the ‘blind spot’ that undermines all you may do to properly plan:  Determining the threats to your company.

QUESTION:  If there was one thing that could put your company in a ‘tizzy’, what might it be?


Strategizing for Growth – Developing A Marketing Plan – Part 1

December 22, 2010

Conducting A SWOT Analysis

If you read last week’s blog, hopefully you have decided it’s time to develop a strategic marketing plan to gain market share during these difficult times. In my 44 years of experience, I find that the majority of small business owners never had a WRITTEN marketing plan. I’ll be happy to send you some outline materials that can guide you through the process if you send me a note at: stan@fambizdoc.com.

Because my blogs are purposely brief, I will discuss a single element each time so have the opportunity to implement each step as we go along.  Of course, you are welcome to contact me… and read my upcoming book, Set Yourself Free…How to have a thriving small business and enjoy it, to learn more. Also take advantage of some of the tools on my business website:

www.management-advisory-group.com

In the meantime, here is the first step. It’s called a SWOT analysis (not SWAT as in Special Weapons And Tactics) and it helps you create a snapshot of where you stand and is essential before you go to the next step. It involves the following four analyses:

  •  Assess your strengths (and those of the competition)
  •  Define your weaknesses; i.e. what holds you back from being your best or beating the competition
  •  Identify the opportunities that fit your ‘sweet spot’ – e.g. what really separates you from the

              competition or product and market segments that you excel at.

  •  Determine the threats to your company; i.e. what factors (internal or external) could significantly

              impact your success

When assessing your strengths, you must be specific and not rely upon over-used clichés like, “We give great service”. Instead, convert that into tangible ‘what’s in it for me’ values that are important to your customers. For example, “We have a 99% on-time delivery track record compared to the industry standard of 95%. That 4% difference usually results in tens of thousands of dollars labor savings to our construction clients because field workers are not standing around idly waiting for materials to start the job.”

Next week we will discuss the next step which is often one of the most neglected.

QUESTION:   If you had to identify the one area that most holds you back from growth, what would

it be and how do you plan to overcome it?


Strategizing for Growth – When the competition is hunkering down

December 15, 2010

In my last blog, I suggested that difficult times like we are now experiencing may be an opportunity for SOME…particularly those who are financially strong, well-organized, are composed of a strong team of workers and managers, have good sales staff and marketing systems and have may even have excess production/service capacity.

Cutting the cost of gaining market share:  If I told you that you could save tens or hundreds or thousands of dollars (maybe millions) by acting now – not 3-5 years from now – in order to gain market share, would that get your attention? Well that’s been my experience over 44 years. While others are reducing marketing budgets, succumbing to predatory pricing practices (because they don’t have strong sales and marketing systems/staff and/or because they don’t examine their product mix…and on and on), you can be taking advantage of their weakness while capitalizing on your strength.

So, as simplistic as it may seem to some, let me pose this question (you’ll get the hint if your reply is in the negative): Do you have an updated marketing plan? If you do, does it reflect the reality of TODAY’s environment?   Did it get created with staff involvement or did you just ‘get it over with by yourself? Do you believe the sales forecasts have any real ‘meat’ to them or are they just a ‘bull’s eye on a dart board’ that you picked to ‘get it over with”?

Few small business owners ‘love’ doing the marketing planning process and especially the sales forecasting portion… the  way it should be done. 

Getting stuck in day-to-day routines is no excuse for avoiding good planning. We’ll talk next week about how to make this less painful …and one that will actually get you excited about the process.

Question: If you knew you could significantly increase your chances for success, would you invest 40 hours to get off the ground with a written marketing plan?


Times Are Tough – Is hunkering down the right strategy?

December 8, 2010

I’ve been through enough business cycles in 44 years to know that we are experiencing one of those cycles but with deeper and longer lasting impact than any before my professional career. Yet, I’m of the opinion that tough times for some become opportune times for others. I’m told that fortunes were made even during the Great Depression. So with that theme in mind, let me suggest that the answer to the question, “Should you hunker down in tough times?” is: “It depends on your situation.” Sorry for using the old “It depends” response that so many advisors seem to rely on. However, let me give you more clarity and direction… and what we share with our clients.

In my experience working with over 300 small businesses in more than 80 industries, I see a consistent pattern:  if you want to gain market share at the least cost, do it during lean times. What better lean time could there be than now in the past 50 years? If you are a solid company (i.e. strong financially, well-organized, strong team of workers and managers, good sales and marketing systems and staff, excess production/service capacity), then you definitely want to be developing a growth strategy that takes advantage of competitors who have decided to lay low. This doesn’t mean go wild and throw money and other resources into the wind. It simply means that you should develop a strategy, coupled clear focus and an action plan that takes advantage of the weaknesses of your competition and capitalizes on your strengths.

Next week:  learn more about the specifics of how you go about this process.

Question: Is your company poised to go after market share in tough times?


Is Your Sales Staff Holding You Hostage… The Resolution

December 1, 2010

In last week’s blog, I raise a common problem that many small business owners face… feeling like they are a hostage to a small sales team (or for that matter, any other job position with little ‘excess capacity’).

So what’s a small business owner to do?  Some owners believe they can do little to resolve this dilemma, but when it comes right down to it, our biggest problem is often simply a lack of resolve and good planning. Here are just a few ways you can set yourself free from lagging sales staff:

  • Have an ongoing recruitment program
  • Set measureable activity goals – number of calls, percentage of contacts, percentage of first/second/third appointments, percentage of closes, etc.
  • Establish an effective compensation program that rewards results, not just effort
  • Provide feedback and coaching for accountability, not just improvement
  • Implement and use a good contact management and customer relationship management system that monitors sales staff activities (I’ll be discussing these software solutions in future blogs, but if you’d like to know more before then, kindly drop me a note at stan@fambizdoc.com.) 

Question: Which sales activities are you tracking? What do you especially like and dislike about the systems you use for such purposes?


Is Your Sales Staff Holding You Hostage?

November 15, 2010

When you have a small sales force, as do many small businesses, it can be a scary thing if you lose even one salesperson. Consequently, many small business owners continue to put up with poor productivity in the name of stability. We often rationalize our inaction with reasons such as, “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t” or “I’m only paying them commission for the sales they make.” Or we keep underperforming salespeople because we fear the perceived repercussions of holding them accountable – that they will quit and take their customers with them. 

Do you notice a common theme here? All of these reasons have to do with our mindset as owners rather than what our sales staff is – or isn’t – doing. In other words, our sales staff isn’t holding us hostage – we are!

In my experience working with over 300 small businesses in more than 80 industries, most salespeople don’t lack the selling skills necessary to do their jobs more effectively, although there is always room for improvement. And while they “talk the talk” about wanting to prospect for new business and close more sales, the real issue is whether their activities and activity levels are adequate to achieve their sales goals.

Are you familiar with the saying, “Inspect what you expect”? As owners, we have to know the true story of what each salesperson is doing vs. what they say they are doing. If you’re not getting specifics and tracking actual behaviors, you’re a sitting duck for all the “BS” some sales staff will throw at you to convince you they’re working hard or are just victims of a tough economy. (In a tough economy, you have to work even harder…not just complain more loudly!)

Tune in next week to my blog on what small owners can do about this.