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Getting Help During Difficult, Uncertain Times

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I’ve been wracking my brains trying to figure out how to help everyone during this uncertain and changing time. I don’t have space in my calendar to work with people one-on-one, so I redesigned my existing Compass Master Program into a group mentoring program. This way you can get help quickly.

This program for small business consultants, coaches and anyone who markets directly to the small business owner. Your clients need you more than ever, and things will be a shifting business environment over the next 3 months.

The Compass group will meet twice a month for the next 3 months.

We also have a private LinkedIn group, so you can start getting help as soon as you join the program.

Our focus will be threefold:

  1. Helping you to create a business and marketing model to get you through the next 3 months — one that is flexible enough that it can change as world events change, but wise enough that it doesn’t erode what you’ve built or put you in a poor position later this year.
  2. Solving challenges that arise over the next 3 months, some we can see coming and some unforeseen.
  3. Discovering new ways you can help new and existing small business clients.

Whether you call yourself a coach, consultant, trainer, designer, or any other type of service professional, if you are serious about assisting other small business owners and solo entrepreneurs, then this program is for you.

Our first Compass group meeting is April 7.

We meet together twice a month for three months.

You will have access to me immediately through our private Compass LinkedIn group so you can get help right away.

I have been a small business consultant for over 20 years. I’ve worked with small business owners in 48 industries, all over the globe. I’ve owned 5 businesses and sold 3 of them. I bring that wealth of knowledge and experience to Compass, to help you navigate through this uncertain time.

Got questions? Let me know, I’m happy to help you determine if Compass is right for you. But first, read the Compass Master Program page where I’ve answered the most frequently asked questions.

Thanks, be safe, be well. We can navigate this together.

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Category: Business Strategy & Planning, Rethinking Your Business, Running a Strong & Efficient Business

7 Tips for Managing Information Overload

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Do you ever have that disturbing feeling that trying to squeeze one more piece of new information in your brain will render you senseless?

Information overload causes stress and a loss of productivity. We’re so busy gathering information that we never get into action around implementing all these great ideas. And we can’t seem to put our fingers on the important information that we’ve gathered!

Here’s even more bad news: when you take in too much information, according to a Temple University study, you begin to make more errors, and worse, make more bad decisions. Can your business really afford that lack of clear thinking? (Don’t even get me started about how a hyper-connected lifestyle is bad for your physical and emotional health!)

Here are 10 tips for managing information overload

Regain control of your brain, your time and your tasks with these ideas:

  1. Remember the most important rule: YOU are in charge of your To Do list. YOU are in charge of your calendar and YOU are in charge of how much information you’re willing to receive each day. Trying to take multiple classes at once, or trying to read more than one book at a time, is a recipe for information overload. It doesn’t allow you any time to assimilate and implement. Be selective and base all your decisions on achieving your goals while mirroring your values.
  2. Get things out of your head and on to paper. When you take new information, your brain naturally tries to process it, to make connections, and apply it to your real life. Trying to keep all that “thinking” in your brain makes you feel muddled, anxious, confused. Doing a brain dump — writing down your ideas, even in a quick list format — will help clear things out.
  3. Take the most recent class you’ve attended or the most recent book you’ve read, and create a Top 3 Action Items list. Don’t create a massive To Do list of every great idea from the class or book. Instead, choose the top three actions you can take within a month, and put only those tasks on your To Do list. Once they’re done, you can always go back and choose three more. The point here is two-fold: start implementing what you’ve learned, and do it in such a way that you don’t overload yourself.
  4. Make the decision to make a decision. I know, it sounds silly, right? But if ideas and information are running around in your head and you’re not willing to either act on them or let them go, you sabotage yourself and hold yourself in a perpetual state of overload. Stop doing that to yourself. Instead, tell yourself, “Today I will make a decision,” then do it. You’ll feel better immediately.
  5. When you are drowning in information, stop piling on more. It’s okay to stop watching the evening news. It’s okay to stop reading articles or checking social media sites several times a day. Each time you interact with an information delivery system, guess what? More information is shoved in your face. By taking a vacation – even a short one – from any information delivery system, you get immediate relief from information overload.
  6. Use tools like Evernote or One Note to have a central location for storing information. As important as storing information is, retrieving it easily is even more important. That’s why I moved from paper notebooks to Evernote for storing notes when taking classes, reading books or perusing articles. Evernote allows you to tag each note with keywords and sort them into folders. Notes are completely searchable, so you can have all the information and ideas at your fingertips.
  7. Do you have competing goals? Work on one at a time. For instance, today I wanted to accomplish three things: write this blog post, create my class schedule for the next nine months, and work on a class agenda for a new program I’m designing. All of these things are exciting, and all need to get done soon. All require research and paying attention to incoming information. But only one of the three had a deadline: writing this blog post today. So I put the other things on the back burner and focused solely on writing this blog post. Once it’s done, I’ll choose one of the other two projects to work on next. You have to be willing to let go of some information, even exciting information, so you can focus on your priorities.

I’d love to hear from you: how do you cope with information overload? Are there techniques or software products you use to help you manage absorbing, processing and retrieving information?

15 comments for now



Category: Managing Projects, Tasks & Time, Running a Strong & Efficient Business
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Avoid Pricing and Discounting Mistakes

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In 2008, Pizza Hut saw its sales drop because of the Great Recession. Competitors were lowering their prices and offering discounts — and Pizza Hut figured they had better offer a discount if they wanted to compete with Dominoes Pizza and Papa John’s Pizza for a dwindling market.

So in 2009, Pizza Hut began to offer a large cheese pizza with three toppings for $10 (the normal price was $15). Then they sweetened the deal by offering unlimited toppings for the same $10 price.

And sales rose.

That’s a good thing, right?

Fast forward to 2011. The economy was easing and Pizza Hut (and the other pizza competitors) now wanted to reinstate their normal pizza price of $15.

And customers resisted.

Why? Because of two psychological triggers:

  1. People had gotten used to paying only $10 for a pizza with unlimited toppings. When you increase the price back to the “normal” $15, people see that as a raise in price of 50 percent, conveniently forgetting the pre-2009 pricing.
  2. When you lower your prices, you devalue your product or service. You’re basically telling people, “It’s not worth $15, it’s only worth $10. We’ve been overcharging you all along.”

What do you do when sales are sluggish and you want to offer a discount, but you don’t want to imply that your products and services are worth less by lowering the price?

Enter the Concept of Adaptive Pricing

Here’s the psychology behind the concept: Customers have different needs, and place different values on the various aspects of your products and services — price being just one aspect they consider.

For example:

  • Many customers value access to a live instructor above learning on their own, so if they have questions they can get help immediately from the instructor. Therefore, they’re willing to pay more for a live class than a self-study program.
  • Some customers place value on group brainstorming and sharing of best practices to shorten the learning curve, and are willing to pay to be a member of a mastermind group.
  • Other customers value private one-on-one services and are willing to pay a premium price to get your total attention to find solutions to their problems and think strategically.

By knowing what your customers value — and creating pricing and discounts based on those values — you can increase customer satisfaction and sales at the same time.

But My Customers Want Low Prices!

Be careful of your own psychology: you might be a budget shopper yourself, but not all your customers are. If you constantly offer things for a discount (or for free!), it’s more about your own feelings about money and pricing than the needs of your customers.

For every customer who wants things as cheaply as possible, there are customers who demand extraordinary quality and are willing to pay for it. Just look at the different price/value levels of department stores (from Wal-Mart to Neiman Marcus) and you’ll see that there are huge ranges of quality, service, experience and price needs among customers.

Don’t assume your customers want cheap prices and are willing to take a lower quality service or product in order to get the lowest prices. Price based on the value of what you’re offering, and on your branding strategy. Are you the Wal-Mart of your industry or the Neiman Marcus? (Or somewhere in between?)

So, You Want to Offer a Discount

Great! Offering a discount has a lot of benefits for your business. Pay attention to your strategic purpose behind the discount — to increase sales, to increase demand, to test a pricing strategy, or to get the word out about a new product/service — and price accordingly.

When you offer your discount, test to see if your goals have been met. You may be assuming a discount will produce a certain results, and you could be wrong. Tracking your results is the only way to know for sure. (The numbers don’t lie!)

Three Adaptive Pricing Techniques to Use in Your Business

Versioning

For customers who are concerned about price above all else, offering them your product or service in a different version at a lower price-point will serve them while still keeping your sales up. Here’s an example:

  • You teach a 5-week class where students submit their homework assignments to you for review and analysis, and have access to you during class to ask questions. That class is priced at $599.
  • For the budget-conscious student, you offer similar material in a self-study version $399, (and they don’t have access to you at all if they purchase the self-study version).
  • For customers who want more private access to you to learn the topic and apply it specifically to their own business, they join an ongoing mastermind group that includes both the class and the mastermind group access for several weeks after the class.

Each customer has a different need — and by creating three versions of the service, you meet the needs of each type of customer.

Additions for Free

Another adaptive pricing technique is to offer an “extra” or “bonus” for free, but keep the base price of your product and service the same.

For example, you could offer your mastermind group to your customer at full price, but then offer them a free additional hour of your time. Walt Disney World theme park had a great success with offering their Buy Four Entry Tickets and Get Three Free package.

But don’t offer pseudo free bonuses unrelated to the product or service that customers are buying. Customers are now savvy to the free bonuses that many internet marketers offer (like: “Buy Our Ebook and Get $40,000 Worth of Bonuses Free”), and it just makes people think you’re trying to fool them, lowering trust and harming the relationship.

Unbundle

Everyone is telling you to combine a whole bunch of your offerings together, then give the customer a special price. But what if your customer doesn’t want everything in the bundle?

Consider offering your main product or service at full price, and then offering upgrades at a reduced price.

  • You could offer your live event for $1,200, then offer an hour of private consulting time for an additional (discounted) fee to those who are attending the live event. Or you could offer them an ongoing mastermind group for an additional fee.
  • Or you could offer them recordings of the live event for an additional fee. That way, customers can choose which upgrades are valuable to them and you can clearly see which upgrades are the winners in the eyes of your customer.

Final thoughts…

The key here is to know your customers, and know what they value when it comes to purchasing services and products. If you’re not sure, test out several pricing strategies and see which one pulls in the most revenue.

It’s also important to stop offering discounts when they are no longer needed to boost sales.

Be strategic and think through your pricing ideas before implementing them so they don’t come back to bite you later!

26 comments for now



Category: Running a Strong & Efficient Business

Why I Always Read Email First Thing Each Morning

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Time-management pundits are always harping on how we waste time reading emails first thing in the morning. I think they’re full of manure.

First of all, a Marketo study found that 58% of people read email first thing in the morning, many reading email before they even eat breakfast. Is it just addiction — or is there a good reason for it?

As a small business owner, I have a HUGE reason for reading email first thing in the morning: my customers matter to me more than anything. Most of my clients, students and mentoring group members communicate with me via email, so taking care of their needs first thing in the morning is simply good customer service.

Why do the time management folks act like email is evil? Because we don’t segregate “important” email from “read this when you get a chance” email.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with reading email first, just like there’s nothing wrong with writing your blog post first each morning or doing yoga first thing or working on a major project first thing. You have to pick your priorities and you have to focus on the task at hand. It’s all about goal setting and self-discipline.

  • For instance, I do not use my personal email address when signing up for ezines and email newsletters. That way, my personal Inbox doesn’t get crowded with non-essentials and stops a lot of spam from ever reaching me. If something is in my personal Inbox, it’s because it’s important, like an email from a client, student or my business partner. (A colleague told me that she has 2,500 new emails each morning. My question to her is: WHY do you allow so many emails get into your personal Inbox? They can’t possibly all be of the same importance level.)
  • Another reason I read email first is that it’s the only real quiet time I have during my working hours. Typically the phone doesn’t start ringing until 9AM and using the pre-phone time to read email allows me to focus.
  • I’ve delegated much of my email reading to my business partner who handles any routine customer service questions from people who have bought my ebooks or audio programs, or students who have lost their login ID.
  • I quickly scan my new emails and only answer those ones that are most urgent. I leave the rest of them for later in the day, after I’ve done my other daily prep work.
  • Finally, I read email first because it’s when I’m the freshest and smartest. Do you really want to be writing emails when your brain is fuzzy?

If email is an important part of communicating with your customers then go ahead and read it first thing. Just pay strict attention to whether you’re keeping focused on the Communicating With Customers task or veering off to read articles, news, jokes, quotations, or watching YouTube videos of Surprised Kitty instead of doing your work. Set a time limit, say 30 minutes, and get through the most important emails first.

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Category: Managing Projects, Tasks & Time, Running a Strong & Efficient Business
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Lurker Alert: The Art of Audience, Student and Mastermind Group Engagement

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Who are those people who attend your mastermind group or class but never talk (or who friend you on Facebook or Twitter, but never respond)? And how do you get them talking?

Back in the mid-90s when I first went online via CompuServe (remember those days??), we noticed that for every 10 people looking at the message forum, one person was interacting and the other 9 were logging on and reading the message threads, but never interacting. Back then, we called them “lurkers” — people who didn’t participate actively in discussions, and this 10:1 lurker ratio was commonplace back then.

Fast forward 25 years, and we find that Lurker Ratio of 10:1 still exists – in online message forums, in my classes and webinars, in mastermind groups, and any other place where groups of people congregate offline and online.

In some places, especially Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other online social media forums, the lurker ratio is closer to 100:1 — for every 1 person who participates, there are 100 people just reading and absorbing the conversation.

Why?

There are a number of reasons why people don’t comment on Facebook or blogs:

  • too busy
  • nothing to add
  • feeling shy
  • hard to use your technology

That’s why they use the “Like” button on social media: if they don’t want to leave a comment but want to let you know that they’re interested, they click it.

Jakob Nielsen calls it Participation Inequality. I see it most often with “virtual” groups of people who meet online or through video conference meetings.

Want to learn how to start a mastermind group? Click here to get my free video tutorial on how to start a mastermind group of your own.

But here is what I think is most important:

We all have something to add to a conversation — our feelings, our experiences, our knowledge, our questions. What comes from within counts for a lot with me. I love when people leave comments on my blog, interact in my classes, or join the discussion in a mastermind group meeting.

And let’s face it: the whole point of a mastermind group is to brainstorm together, right? Conversation brings immense value.

In your business, you want to build connections and relationships with your customers and your entire audience. Being aware of the lurker ratio when you’re using social media for marketing — as well as in your classes, groups and online message forums — will help you gauge the quality of your connections and relationships.

For all types of classes and mastermind groups, here are some guidelines:

  1. In live, in-person classes and mastermind groups, the lurker ratio is much better. There’s something about being face-to-face in a sharing environment (especially with a good teacher or mastermind group Facilitator) that brings people out of their shells and encourages them to participate. In my live classes and groups, I’d say that for every 100 people who attend, 30 will be lurkers. 10:7 isn’t a bad ratio!
  2. The larger the group, the larger the lurker ratio. Social psychologists call this the social loafing phenomenon.
  3. The longer the event, class or program, the lower the lurker ratio. Sometimes it takes while to get people warmed up. They might not begin to participate actively in the discussions until they get a feel for the others in the meeting.
  4. If you want high participation in your classes and mastermind groups, you have to build in interaction into your plan. Don’t wing it: plan it. Design discussion-starter questions that get the group talking within the first five minutes of every meeting.
  5. Pay attention to those who don’t ask questions or make comments. Call on them by name, or say, “Let’s hear from someone who hasn’t commented yet.”
  6. If your class or mastermind group includes an online message forum, set some rules. For instance, in some of my classes I’ve set this rule: each week all students must post one new message and reply to two messages that someone else has posted.

For social media engagement:

  1. Studies show that you get 65% more engagement if you post before noon, as compared to afternoons and evenings. My experience confirms this with my audience: they’re much more active in the morning on social media. Test it to see if it’s true with your audience, too.
  2. Don’t just post thoughts, ask questions, too. Instead of simply saying, “Hard work yields results,” consider adding a question to that statement, like, “Do you find this to be true for yourself?” Invite responses and comments.
  3. Comment on other people’s posts. It’s a two-way street. If all you do is post your own articles and thoughts, but never respond to someone else’s blog posts and Facebook posts, why should they communicate with you? It’s all about building relationships.
  4. Engagement isn’t just commenting. Make sure you put links in your blog posts to other posts that are related. When someone reads a blog post and clicks on a link, that’s engagement, too.
  5. Respond back. When someone responds to your blog post or social media post, respond back and acknowledge it. They need to know you heard them.
  6. Let them see you. Too many small business owners hide behind their content. They post links to articles on Facebook and Twitter, but they never share any of their own story. I don’t mean those “I used to live in a box but now I live in a mansion” stories…I mean everyday stories about what you’re doing, what you’re thinking, what you’re reading or watching, and even what you’re eating. Give them a window into your personal life. Yes, you can keep most of your personal life as private as you like — but telling them you made Chickpea Burgers for lunch isn’t an invasion of privacy, it just plain fun! 🙂

If your lurker ratio is still 100:1, take heart — it means that for every one person who responds to your post, 100 are reading what you write!

These are just a few of the tips to get people to join the discussion. I’m sure you have your favorite ways of getting your audience involved, yes? I’d love to hear your stories and thoughts!

47 comments for now



Category: Creating, Marketing & Teaching Classes, Internet & Social Media Marketing, Running a Strong & Efficient Business, Start and Run a Mastermind Group

9 Tips for Summer Business Cleanup and Planning

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Many businesses slow down in July and August, so summertime is a great time to get reorganized for autumn. September always reminds me of “back to school season,” the beginning of a new year.

While there are always plenty of tasks for organizing your office, remember to focus on your upcoming marketing campaigns and projects so that you don’t get that overwhelmed feeling come September and October.

Here are nine great tips for getting ready for September’s busy season this summer.

  1. Enter all revenue and expenses into your record-keeping system. If you don’t have a record-keeping system for your business finances, create one. You can use Quick Books or Quicken Home & Business to keep your records in tip-top shape, and get great reports to measure your financial success and the growth of your business.
  2. Reconcile your bank account records with bank statements. I don’t know anyone who really loves to reconcile bank statements, but as a business owner you have a responsibility to know where every penny enters and exits your business. Just the other day, while reconciling my bank statements, I noticed a $745 deposit that never showed up in my business checking account!
  3. Estimate your tax payment for the current year; typically you’ll have one more estimated tax payment to make in autumn and a final one for this year that’s due in early January of next year. Have a plan for saving money towards your tax payments so that you’re not caught short when the tax man cometh.
  4. Clean out old paper files, emails, and books you never read. Now’s the time to do a clean sweep of your office! You’ll feel so much better without the clutter.
  5. Speaking of books: take a look at your bookshelf and make a note of which books you’d like to read by the end of the year. You can choose them based on a topic you’re interested in studying, or just select them intuitively. If you’ve been wanting to purchase some new books, now’s the time to visit the bookstore or Amazon.com and browse their selection. And don’t forget your local library: why pay for a book that you just want to scan but don’t want to own?
  6. Compare your financial and other goals to your current reality. Are you moving towards your goals? What tasks do you have to do to make sure you complete the goals you’ve set in the time frame you’ve chosen? Make a task list and assign deadlines to even the smallest task, so that you’ll be on target for the year. And why not start day dreaming about your goals and projects for next year?
  7. Organize your desk. Put things that you need often in a logical place and things that you rarely use in a drawer or cabinet.
  8. Figure out a system for keeping track of your To Do list. The biggest anxiety producer that people face is having to keep all their tasks in their head.
  9. Plan next year’s vacation! Hey, why not??

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Category: Running a Strong & Efficient Business
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