Strategic Thinking in Uncertain Times

Posted by on Feb 02 2021

These are indeed uncertain times. COVID has upended all our carefully laid plans and we’ve all had to pivot in the past year.

For the most part, we really don’t know what’s going to happen over the next year, either. News of the vaccines give us hope, but there is still uncertainty about the outcome and timing. This “not knowingness” makes it hard to plan for your business.

You may be feeling somewhat anxious for you and your family, and for your business. You may be feeling overwhelmed or distracted, and simply trying to make the best business decisions you can, with not enough assurance that those plans will hatch.

I’ve lived through 9/11 and the Great Recession, and one thing I know for sure about dealing with uncertainty: Action alleviates anxiety. By thinking through some What If scenarios, and planning a course of action, you’ll feel much better about your situation. You might even have some Ah-ha moments to put you back on track!

Thinking through What Ifs

To create an action plan for your business that’s flexible enough to flow with whatever happens in the future, you need consider What If scenarios. This will ensure you’re in a strong position in the future. You don’t want to make decisions now that you’ll regret later.

I’ll focus on COVID-related changes in this blog post, but you can use this exercise anytime you need to rethink your business and marketing model.

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Steps to think strategically and make better plans

First of all, don’t stress over this exercise. Let the thoughts naturally arise as your brain begins to work on the questions you pose to it. Do carve out some time to ponder this exercise, preferably in a quiet place where you can let your mind wander.

Grab your note-taking tools and I’ll walk you through several ways to think strategically and consider those What If scenarios. After that, I’ll give you some concrete ideas on how to make wise plans and take smart actions over the next few months.

Step 1 – What are your goals for this exercise? What business outcomes are most important to you right now? Are you doing this exercise to plan for short-term results (3- to 6-month timeframe), or planning for the big picture results (1 or 2 years out)?

  • If you need to make money righ now, then your choices must be around how to accomplish that short-term goal.
  • If you need to stabilize your cash flow, retain your staff, get your invoices paid, then your choices will revolve around that.
  • If your cash flow is steady and you can weather this storm in the short-term, then focus on how you want to spend your time and money to maximize the use of your resources.

Step 2 – Download the worksheets

Step 3 – Let’s look at What If scenarios:

  • In the first column, indicate the possible What If scenario.
  • In the second column, indicate what that looks like in reality.
  • In the third column, write down how that would impact your business. This can be both positive and negative impacts.
  • In the fourth column, write down what you can do to mitigate any problems and/or take advantage of any opportunities.

There are two types of scenarios to ponder

First, we’ll look at “Timeframe scenarios,” then we’ll look at “Economic scenarios.”

  • Timeframe scenarios are focused on how long the uncertainty will last.
  • Economic scenarios focus on the financial impact of the uncertainty and how to plan for it.

The What If impact of Timeframe scenarios

In this example, the first set of What Ifs is around how long this pandemic will last, and how that will affect your clients and your business. You can use this timeframe scenario for any business strategy question that concerns thinking about the future and how it will play out. I’ll use COVID as the example, but that’s only one topic for timeframe scenarios in your business.

The first place to look is at the timing of events, and ask yourself What If questions about it, like:

  • What if this pandemic lasts 3 months, 6 months, 18 months?
  • What if it acts like our seasonal flu and comes in waves throughout the year?

Look at this example Strategic Thinking worksheet PDF to see how I filled out each column.

First Column

For example, in the first column, you’ll write:

What if the pandemic comes back in waves, and many businesses are occasionally in a lockdown situation where everyone is under “stay at home” orders?

Second Column

In the second column, you’d write down what you think will be happening in the world, in your town, in your business, and with your clients, if this What If Scenario is true.

So, what if this pandemic still comes in waves? You’ll write:

Many people would still be temporarily or permanently unemployed. Some of them might be getting stimulus money or unemployment checks. Many people who can, will be working from home, while others will be required to go to their workplace. Corporations will have to adjust their goals and budgets, but will still have needs that your business could fill.

What will your clients need and want if this scenario is true? You could write:

If most of your clients are still under “stay at home” orders, is there an opportunity to reach out to them in an online way where in the past you always did things face-to-face?

Third Column

In the third column, indicate how this impacts your business and marketing model.

You might write:

  • Will they have enough money to purchase my products and services?
  • Will they have excess money that they previously spent on in-person purchases that they will now use to purchase from me?
  • Is there a service I previously offered in-person, that can now be offered online?

Fourth Column

In the fourth column, write down actions you can take to mitigate any risks or challenges you see coming up. Also include ways you can take advantage of any opportunities that will arise or take advantage of any assets you have. Those assets can be your knowledge, your skills, your process, your mindset, your existing or new products or services, your cash reserves, etc.

For instance, I wrote this blog post about strategic thinking because I had to do this exercise myself when the pandemic started last year. I work with small business owners, and I did the What If analysis to help me map out 2020. I’m doing it again to map out 2021. In the first column, I wrote, “What if this stay-at-home order continues on and off? My audience will be looking for ways to strategically think through redesigning their business and marketing model quickly, figuring out how to pivot. So, this is an opportunity for me and my business to get out into the world and teach them how to do that.” (And then I created a video webinar in April 2020 to help my clients through the process.)

In the fourth column, you might write:

  • Talk to my clients to discover what their current and new needs are.
  • Look through my product and service offerings to see if they need to be changed.
  • Consider what it would take to do more national marketing. Determine if the revenue it would generate would offset the expense of changing marketing tactics, and when would that break-even occur.

The What If impacts around Economic scenarios

The second set of What Ifs are around the economic impact of events and decisions, and how that will affect your clients and your business.

In the first week of the pandemic, 3.3 million Americans claimed new unemployment filings. That was a massive spike in new unemployment claims. The previous week, there were only 282,000 new unemployment claims. Almost a year later, and we’re still at 847,000 new claims each week.

Many non-essential physical businesses are closed or on reduced capacity, from restaurants and retail, to manufacturing, schools, and many more industries.

How long will this unemployment and financial situation last and how deep will it be? Of course, we don’t know. Many people who initially were out of work have now gone back to work.

Let’s do some What If scenarios around that, as our example for an Economic scenario. Then you can see how these economic questions affect your business.

What if the pandemic eases up by the end of the year and all businesses begin to open — how long will it take businesses to recover the momentum we had before the pandemic began in our country?

One scenario is that it might take only 3 months to bounce back. Another scenario is that it takes 6 months or 12 months (or longer) to bounce back.

  • If one of these scenarios is true (a quick bounce-back versus a slower one), what would that mean for your clients and your business?
  • And how will you manage your business during that time? Will your offers or pricing need to change? Do you need to cut costs or increase cash flow?
  • Are there any opportunities to help your clients if the economic downturn lasts a long time?

There are opportunities in all of this uncertainty

Right about now, you might be throwing up your hands in despair. This is a lot of thinking and pondering! Don’t walk away from this strategic thinking work.

There are opportunities here for you if only you’ll look for them.

For instance, at the beginning of the pandemic, Facebook ad rates were extremely low because many bricks-and-mortar businesses we’re advertising on Facebook. For a small amount of money, you could get out in front of your audience with an offer, some free education, or just to get more widely known.

I wish you much success with thinking big about your business and the direction you’ll take in the coming year.

   

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Category: Business Strategy & Planning

Cleanup and Planning: Quarterly and Year-End Checklists

Posted by on Dec 14 2020

It’s here — the end of the last quarter of the year! It’s time to do some “good housekeeping” in preparation for the year-end of your business.

At the end of the year, it’s important to both close-out the old year properly as well as plan for the new year. I recommend you start this process early so that there isn’t a last-minute rush to complete your year-end closing tasks. Even better, do this quarterly so that you remain caught-up with the tasks. Here are some ideas that you might want to add to your quarterly and annual checklists:

Year-End Cleanup and Closing Tasks (some of these can be done quarterly, too!)

  • Enter all revenue and expenses into your record-keeping system.
  • Send final invoices for the current year.
  • Reconcile your bank account records with bank statements.
  • Estimate your last tax payment for the current year (many self-employed people make quarterly estimated tax payments…the final payment is usually due on January 15)
  • Mail holiday cards and gifts to clients/customers
  • Make holiday offers to clients/customers
  • Clean out old files/emails
  • Create year-end accounting reports and compare your actual numbers to your goal numbers for year
  • Tally business-related mileage for quarter/year
  • Tally expenses by vendor and prepare 1099’s if needed
  • Contact your accountant and discuss year-end tax planning

Planning Tasks for the New Quarter/Year

  • Write a list of goals
  • Write a list of tasks that need to be accomplished in order to achieve those goals
  • Write a list of projects you’d like to start or complete
  • Create an updated marketing plan
  • Create an updated budget
  • List the topics you’d like to study, the classes you’d like to take, or the books you’d like to read, to keep you up-to-date with your industry and business skills
  • Schedule upcoming classes you’ll teach and distribute that Calendar of Events to clients and staff

Cleanup and planning tasks don’t just happen in December and January. If you review these tasks quarterly, they won’t sneak up on you on December 31.

   

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Category: Business Strategy & Planning

The 7-Question Sales Script

Posted by on Dec 08 2020

sales scriptWhen speaking with prospective clients or mastermind group members, it’s helpful to know in advance how to frame the conversation and design the flow of the meeting.

The goal of the sales conversation is to determine the needs of the client and to see which of your products and services are the best fit for them.

Selling has gotten a bad reputation because consultants try to sell to anyone with a pulse and a wallet. If you approach the sales conversation as a mutual and respectful opportunity to find out the needs of your prospective client, you won’t feel so slimy and “salesy.” After all, you are in business to help others achieve their goals, right?

Are you and your prospect a good fit?

The only way you’ll sell your services to a prospect is to discover if the two of you are a good fit. There are three questions you want to answer in the sales conversation:

  • Does this prospect have a problem I can help them solve?
  • Are they motivated to solve it right away?
  • Do they have the money to invest in my products and services?

Your sales conversation agenda is geared toward finding the answers to these three questions.

If they’re not a good fit or motivated to take action, you’ll have a difficult time closing the sale. If they don’t want to spend money, you’ll have a rough time.

The steps in the sales conversation process

  • Step 1: Determine your goals before the meeting
  • Step 2: Determine their needs and wants
  • Step 3: Determine their motivation level and their timeline
  • Step 4: Determine their budget
  • Step 5: Determine which of your products and services are a good fit
  • Step 6: Answer questions and handle objections

Step 1 is crucial. What do you want to get from the conversation? Do you want to close the sale immediately in the meeting? If it’s a long sales process, your goal might be to have them accept a written proposal to review, or schedule a meeting with the next-level decision makers.

Steps 2 through 4 are accomplished by asking your prospect good coaching/consulting questions and listening fully to their answers.

The 7 questions to ask in a sales conversation

  1. What are your goals? (For instance, if you’re talking to a small business owner, you might ask, “What are you trying to create for your business? Do you have a clear vision of where you want your business to be a year from now?”)
  2. What does your world look like today? (This helps establish a baseline. The goal for them is to get from where they are today to where their big vision takes them a year from now.)
  3. What’s stopping you from reaching your goals? (It’s important to find out what’s holding them back. Do they need practical knowledge and skills? To outsource work to you or others? Or do they need personal development help, like making decisions, creating action plans, managing time, and dealing with limiting beliefs?)
  4. What outcomes do you want from working with someone like me?
  5. What happens if you don’t work on your problems now? (Let them imagine what their world will look like if they procrastinate. For instance, you might ask, “How will you feel if you don’t reach your goals?” or “What happens if you don’t solve this problem?”)
  6. What’s your timeframe for getting help or solving this problem?
  7. What’s your budget?

There are deeper levels of sophistication when writing your sales script and having a sales conversation. However, these seven questions will get you moving in the right direction as you’re perfecting your sales skills.

Question #2 is tricky

You want to discover their root need, not just the symptoms of the problem. For instance, they might tell you they want to increase sales or build a bigger business, but sales have been sluggish for them. Sluggish sales are a symptom of the problem, not the root problem. Ask probing questions to discover why this has been happening for them. Be prepared for this common answer: “I don’t know.” Part of the reason they’re hiring you is to get clarity about why things aren’t going the way they want.

Finding the matching service or product

Once you get through these seven questions, suggest which of your services (or products) is the best fit for their needs and budget.

Don’t be afraid to offer them something that’s more expensive than their budget, if you can justify why this is the best solution for them. Unless you’re working with a corporate client, most people won’t know their budget, or they’ll only have an intuitive sense of what they’re willing to pay. If they’ve hired other consultants before, they might have a more concrete range they’re willing to pay. If they don’t have a budget in mind, tell them the fee for working with you, the determine if they have resistance to that fee level.

If their timeframe or budget doesn’t lend itself to one of your standard services, can you offer them a different service or product that might work for them? Recently I had a conversation with a prospect who wanted to know when the next live Facilitator Training class was. I told her it would be in two months, but her next opportunity to facilitate was in five days! So, instead, I offered her my online self-study course which she could consume in the next five days and be ready for her upcoming meeting without waiting for the live, in-person class.

Don’t forget the final step in this process

Ask for the sale. If you think they’re a good fit, tell them you’d like to work with them. Give a timeframe for when you could begin working together. Explain why your services or products are the right fit based on their needs, timeframe, and budget. And if you don’t think it’s a good fit, tell them so.

   

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Category: Marketing and Sales

The REAL Reason Santa is so Jolly – He’s Self-Employed!

Posted by on Dec 01 2020

Believers and non-believers alike know that Santa Claus is a happy person. For that matter, so are Mrs. Claus and all the elves (even the ones who want to be dentists). In a world of trouble and strife, why are these folks so jolly?

The simple answer is that Santa is happy because he is self-employed. He’s doing what he loves to do and he has the freedom to create the business and life of his dreams. While running a family business can be complicated, with Mrs. Claus by his side, they deliver a perfect product to a cheering clientele.

Imagine that you owned a business where you had to deliver your product or service only one night a year to an audience eagerly awaiting your arrival. The other 364 days a year are spent in product development and listening to your customers. If that doesn’t make you jolly, what will?

But that’s not all. Each year, Santa’s audience of little children (and some not-so-little ones, like me) write letters to him, telling him exactly what they want. Getting your customers to be that specific — and to get them to put it in writing — certainly reduces the need for market research.

Marketing is easy. Word-of-mouth referrals blossom among the children who love him, and social media and the Internet only makes it easier to spread the word. He doesn’t use Facebook and Twitter to send out endless “buy my products” posts. Instead, he uses them to create relationships and to listen. Santa is GREAT at listening.

And how does Santa get paid? With love, cookies and milk, which are in constant and unending supply. He has no doubts about abundance or whether his clients will pay on time.

It shouldn’t surprise you that Santa has intricate and extensive leadership skills. He doesn’t make toys himself; he gets the elves to do it for him. He instills in them the passion, meaning and purpose of the corporate mission, and they eagerly make toys all year long, happy and singing. There are no recorded instances of elf employment protests. Santa knows how to respect and motivate the craftspeople who work for him. He puts the “elf” in self-employment.

But Santa doesn’t sit on his laurels (because, in fact, it hurts to sit on laurel shrubs). Every year his strategic team comes up with new products and services sure to delight his audience. Notice I said, “team.” Santa can’t do it alone and he recognizes the need to surround himself with those who are smarter than he is in their specialty field. I think it was Santa who first said, “None of us is as smart as all of us.”

To all of you who own your own business, and to those who dream of one day being your own boss, I wish you the brightest of holiday seasons. We can all learn a thing or two from Santa Boss, can’t we?

   

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Category: Running a Strong & Efficient Business

Tweaking the Steps Along Your Marketing Sales Path

Posted by on Oct 14 2020

ecommerce pathDo you sell products and services via the Internet?

Do you get the results you want?

If you don’t get the results you want, it’s helpful to re-visit each step of your “marketing sales path” to see where tweaks can be made.

Do a little marketing detective work

For instance, let’s say your sales path starts with an email broadcast, which directs the reader to your website. Here are the different statistics you will want to analyze to see what’s working and what’s not.

  1. Open Rate: Open rates, on average, hover around 20-25%, and in some industries, open rates go as low as 15%. (See Mail Chimp’s Open Rate by Industry table. Here’s HubSpot’s version of the Open Rate by Industry.)  About half of all email users will open their email with the graphics turned on, which sends a “beacon” back to the email server to indicate “This person opened an email.” If they don’t have their graphics turned on when reading emails, then they won’t show up in your Open Rate. So, if your statistics show an open rate of 10%, that means that it’s closer to 20%.
  2. Check Click-through Rates: Just because someone opens an email doesn’t mean they read it. One way to calculate whether people are actually reading your emails is click-through rate (CTR). CTR is the percent of people who clicked on a link in your email which took them to your website. You can get this statistic either from your email company or from your website statistics. You’re either calculating CTR (number of people who clicked compared to total emails sent) or CTOR (number of people who clicked compared to total emails opened.) There are a lot of opinions, pro and con, for whether you should put links in your emails or simply put the full text in your emails. Read more about that here in my blog post “Include Full Articles or Only Links?”.
  3. Check Your Website Statistics: Once they click through from the email to the page where you are making your offer, how long are they staying there? This number helps to guide you as to whether they’re actually reading the web page text or not. If your web page is too long, poorly written, or doesn’t clearly explain what you’re offering, people may be turned off. Or perhaps the text isn’t formatted in a way that’s conducive to reading. If they’re not staying long enough on the page to read it, it’s time to re-write the page. HINT: to determine how long it really takes to read the entire page, read it out loud to yourself. That will slow you down so that you read every single word as if it were the first time you’d seen the page.
  4. Bounce Rate: If they read the website text, does it answer all their questions? If not, they may click away from your website and never return. Check your bounce rate. Bounce rate is expressed as a percentage of the people who visit one page of your site, then leave immediately without looking at other pages on your site. Google says the average bounce rate is between 40-60%. If your bounce rate for your page is less than 40%, you’re doing great! If it’s over 60%, you need to tweak that page.
  5. Call To Action. What are you asking people to do once they read your page? A strong call to action matters.  Let’s say you’re selling a class. Should the call to action be “buy now?” Maybe it would be better as “register now” or “click here to register.”
  6. Sales Rate: Did they buy? Which payment option did they use?

Which traffic sources give you the best results?

Every step along the sales path is an opportunity to tweak your technique. Your e-commerce path might start with web traffic from a search engine (so good SEO is important) or it might start with online referrals from other sites. Perhaps you’re using sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to send traffic back to your site. Check each of these “sources” in your website statistics to see which ones yield the most traffic.

To do that, first go to the Landing Pages section of Google Analytics. You’ll find it under the Behavior section of the menu. (Behavior>Site Content>Landing Pages)

landing pages

Then use a very cool feature of Google Analytics, the “Secondary Dimension,” which allows you to select a page you want to focus on and drill down to each source of traffic and how much each source sent traffic to individual landing pages.

To do this:

  1. In the Landing pages table, click on the URL of the page you want to study. This will bring up statistics only for that page and help you drill down to get specifics for that page.
  2. Above the “Page” column, you’ll see a button that says “Secondary Dimension.” Click on that, and a drop-down menu will appear of all the different statistics you can get about that page.
  3. Select “Acquisition” then “Source.” This will show you all the sources of traffic to this specific page. Check the Time on Page and Bounce Rate for each source, to see which one yields the best results.

source

NOTE: When source says “(direct)” that means that people came directly to this page without going through an additional website. These are the people who click-through from emails or type your URL into their browser.

If people are reading their email in a browser-based email system, like Gmail or Yahoo Mail, the source might say Google or Yahoo.

Once you find the right combination of the steps above that brings the best results, you then repeat that over and over again.

By the way,  I recommend you use Google Analytics, if you are not already using it. It’s free and it gives you a ton of good information about how your marketing campaigns are doing.

Do You Find These “How-To” Types of Posts Helpful?

Let me know if you find this helpful and if you’d like to see more of these step-by-step “how-to” types of posts!

   

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Category: Internet & Social Media Marketing, Marketing and Sales
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Can You Explain Your Target Audience in 15 Minutes?

Posted by on Sep 26 2020

I had a tough discussion with a client yesterday. She needs to hire a marketing manager, but would rather first find a person who knows her narrowly niched target audience intimately, and then teach them the marketing skills they’ll need to do their job.

I suggested to her that she turn it around. It would be far easier to first find a marketing expert who had all the skills she needed, and then to teach her new team member about her target audience. It’s too much of an uphill slog to have to teach someone all the marketing, administrative and technical skills that make a marketing manager great.

She said she couldn’t do it that way

I asked, “Can you explain your target audience, their needs, philosophy, and psychology (to someone not familiar with your industry) in 15 or 30 minutes?”

She said no, that it would take “days and days” to explain her target audience to someone.

It was clear that she felt her new marketing manager needed inside information into her industry in order for them to do their job well. I countered that a skilled marketing manager knew how to learn about a new target audience, as that’s their job.

She was so deep in the weeds of her industry that she thought her marketing manager needed to know everything about it. My guess is that they wouldn’t need to know every single detail about a new industry. What they would need is a high-level overview of who the customer was and what they struggled with. They could learn the nuances over time, as needed, and would ask questions as they needed to fill in the blanks.

What about you?

Do you know your target audience so well that you could provide a high-level description to your new team member in a short time?

If not, why not?

You must have a clear description of who your target audience is at a detailed level (demographics and psychographics). Included in this description should be what their primary goals are and the types of problems that get in their way to achieving their goals.

Here are some examples

  • I work with small business owners with 10 or fewer employees and help them with creating efficiencies in their business so they can get off the treadmill and start enjoying their business again. My customers are typically male between the ages of 40-55.
  • I teach new novelists how to create characters, design scenes, create dialogue, and map out their novel so they have a plan for moving forward with their writing.
  • I help new corporate managers, typically ages 30-40, learn how to recruit, hire, retain, and fire employees.

With these high-level overviews, you can then flesh them out with more demographics and psychographics for clarity, but if you can’t explain your target audience in one or two sentences, you need to go back to the drawing board.

   

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Category: Business Strategy & Planning, Marketing and Sales

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